From a reader…
My brother, who was baptized in the Catholic Church as an infant and received the sacraments of Holy Communion and Confirmation at the usual ages for our diocese, was received into the Greek Orthodox church by chrismation in 2003. He did that shortly before going through a Greek Orthodox marriage ceremony to a Greek Orthodox woman who was allowed to remarry in her church. The woman was divorced from her Greek Orthodox husband and had a child with him during their short marriage together. I did not attend the chrismation or the wedding ceremony.
Would my brother be considered to be defected from the Catholic Church? Also, after the chrismation ceremony would he be required to follow the Catholic laws for entering into a valid marriage? (I do realize that the woman he went through the ceremony with was not from the standpoint of the Catholic Church eligible to marry, but let’s leave that aspect of the situation aside for the moment.)
For this answer, I turned to a trusted canonist who also posts here, Fr. Tim Ferguson. The following is his response:
This is some highly complicated canon law. When the 1983 Code of Canon Law came into effect (November 27, 1983) something never before heard of entered into our canonical system: the notion that one could, by some formal act, defect from the Catholic faith and thereby free oneself from the obligation to observe certain ecclesiastical laws, most notably, the law of canonical form for marriage. Since the Donatist controversy had been settled in the fourth century, the operational principle of the Church had been – semel Catholicus, semper Catholicus.
The 1983 Code did not, technically, allow someone to cease being Catholic, but opened up the notion that one could be free from certain ecclesiastical laws by one’s own actions – not by a dispensation given by the hierarchy (though, it could be legitimately argued that the norms of the 1983 Code themselves represent the actions of the hierarchy. That’s a great discussion for canonists, theologians, Latinists, and a 20-year old bottle of scotch).
In 2006, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith clarified just what an act of formal defection entailed. An act of formal defection requires three things: a true decision to leave the Church, a manifest action of one’s decision in written form, and the reception of that decision by a competent ecclesiastical authority (e.g. a bishop or one who takes the place of the bishop, or at least the proper pastor of the one defecting). The prevailing understanding is that these three conditions, as they make up the definition of the formal act, are essential and apply from November 27, 1983 – any supposed formal act prior to that point did not actually free the person making such an act from the requirement to observe canonical form.
With the motu proprio Omnium in Mentem, of October 26, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI closed the loophole and has, effectively, returned the Church back to the position before November 27, 1983. While it is still possible to formally defect from the Catholic Church, such a defection has absolutely no canonical effect.
So, on to our interlocutor. Unless the gentleman in question wrote to his Latin Catholic bishop stating that he intended, by his reception of chrismation in the Greek Orthodox Church, to formally defect from the Catholic faith, and unless the bishop received that letter and accepted it as a formal act of defection (which he would have signified by ordering a notation be made in the gentleman’s baptismal record, then the gentleman in question never left the Catholic Church. His reception of chrismation was actually a simulation of a sacrament, because confirmation (the Latin equivalent of the Greek chrismation) cannot be repeated.
Now, another curve ball – while Catholics are obliged by ecclesiastical law to observe canonical form and marry before a Catholic priest or deacon with the appropriate faculties, since March 25, 1967 (by the decree Crescens matrimoniorum), Latin Catholics marry validly when they marry an Orthodox person in the Orthodox Church. Permission from the Latin bishop is only required for liceity, not validity. (Eastern Catholics could validly marry an Orthodox person in the Orthodox Church in 1965, but we don’t need to get into that here).
And the final curve – from what we know here, it does not seem that the woman this gentleman attempted to marry was actually free to do so. We’d need to know more about her first marriage, of course, but unless that first marriage lacked Orthodox canonical form, or had been declared null by a Catholic tribunal, then she wasn’t free to marry and her attempt at marriage to our still-Catholic friend appears to have been invalid.
The whole matter will need to be sorted out by the local Catholic tribunal, which, hopefully, will have some expertise in Orthodox matters, but the bottom line remains the same – the man is still Catholic, and still obliged to observe ecclesiastical law.
Moderation queue is ON.