Saturday, September 20, 2014


My comments first: When a marriage that has failed and ended in civil divorce is placed on trial in an ecclesiastical court of the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church must make the determination if the presumption of the sacramentality of the marriage was present or not. In the authority given to the Catholic Church by our Lord to "loose and bind" the Catholic Church in justice may declare a marriage as a sacrament invalid from its beginning after the proper canonical trial that proves such a thing.

Grounds for an annulment which must meet the "proof" test of witnesses to include the former spouses would be 1) lack of due discretion at the time of the wedding; 2) lack of belief or understanding of the Catholic meaning of the Sacrament of Matrimony; 3) reserving the right to be unfaithful to the vows at the time the vows are made; 4) refusal to have children; 5) mental illness at the time of the wedding; 6) undue pressure to get married especially from parents or a desire to escape parents through marriage. There are many other grounds that must be proven too!

Sometimes there are no witnesses apart from the former spouses themselves. In these situations, the spouse's testimony should be sufficient!

Protestants are dispensed from the Catholic form of marriage. Their first marriage, even if common law is viewed as sacramental. I believe this is a grand mistake. The Catholic Church could declare these marriages simply unions, valid but not sacramental (meaning those that are done outside of any Christian denominational Church). A lack of proper religious form could be cited as the grounds to free a Protestant to have their second marriage convalidated.

A Catholic who enters marriage outside of the Church, even if free to marry, and does so without a Church dispensation is not considered to be in a sacramental marriage. No annulment is needed for this type of marriage only proof that the person was Catholic and decided not to be married in the Catholic Church. Something of this sort could be declared for Protestant marriages too!

As well when Protestant marriages end in divorce and there is a remarriage, and then one or the other wants to become Catholic, the annulment procedure for them should focus in on the Protestant's understanding of marriage as their particular denomination teaches. If it lacks what the Church teaches, especially as it concerns Holy Matrimony as a sacrament, then the annulment should be granted in an expeditious way without involving too many other Protestant witnesses who might be hostile to the process.

Pope Establishes Commission to make Marriage Annulment Procedures Simpler

On August 27, 2014, the Holy Father decided to proceed to the Establishment of a special study Commission for the reform of the canonical matrimonial process. Regarding this decision, the following is made public.

This Commission will be presided by H.E. Abp. Pio Vito Pinto, Dean of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, and will be composed of the following members: H. Em. Card. Francesco Coccopalmerio, President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts; H.E. Abp. Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, S.I., Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; H.E. Abp. Dimitrios Salachas, Apostolic Exarch for the Greek-Catholics of Byzantine Rite; Monsignors Maurice Monier, Leo Xavier Michael Arokiaraj and Alejandro W. Bunge, Auditor Prelates of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota; Fr.  Nikolaus Schöch, O.F.M., Substitute Promotor of Justice of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura; Fr. Konštanc Miroslav Adam, O.P., Rector of the Pontificia Università San Tommaso d’Aquino (Angelicum); Fr. Jorge Horta Espinoza, O.F.M.,Dean of the Faculty of Canon Law of the Pontificia Università Antoniamum; and Prof. Paolo Moneta, formerly professor of Canon Law at the Università di Pisa.

The work of the Commission will start as soon as possible and will have as its goal to prepare a proposal of reform of the matrimonial process, with the objective of simplifying its procedure, rendering it more slender, and safeguarding the principle of the indissolubility of matrimony. [Original source in Italian]


Cameron said...

Fr., non Catholic Christians are not bound to Catholic marriage laws!

It is not of divine constitution that you have to get married in a Catholic church and have it witnessed by a Catholic cleric to marry sacramentally!

Two Catholics can technically get married in a cave and have their two best Catholic friends witness the marriage and this can be sacramental, assuming that they can't possibly marry according to the ordinary laws of the Church.

Protestant marriages are assumed to be sacramental! A valid marriage between two Protestants is necessarily sacramental!

George said...

2) lack of belief or understanding of the Catholic meaning of the Sacrament of Matrimony

This is problematic. The Catholic Church does recognize marriages outside of her. It does not require those married outside of the Church to be re-married in a sacramental ceremony. If it did so, then this would be a moot point. This is because inside or outside of the Church, the marriage is "brought into being" by the wedding couple themselves. There are exceptions, but most marriages are planned well in advance of the ceremony. It is not an extemporaneous decision.To require a "belief or understanding of the Catholic meaning of the Sacrament of Matrimony" would (using that standard) invalidate virtually all marriages outside the Church and even (let us be realistic) some marriages within the Church itself.
What God(not man) has joined together...

I see no problem applying the following to a Non-Catholic marriage in determining in the eyes of the Church if it is valid:
1) lack of due discretion at the time of the wedding; 3) reserving the right to be unfaithful to the vows at the time the vows are made; 4) refusal to have children; 5) mental illness at the time of the wedding; 6) undue pressure to get married especially from parents or a desire to escape parents through marriage.

MR said...

So, Fr. McDonald, does this answer the communion for the remarried debate? This is good news for the traditional teaching, right?

Pater Ignotus said...

I don't think this statement: "The Catholic Church could declare these marriages simply unions, valid but not sacramental..." is correct.

The sacramentality comes not from the form of the ceremony (in a Protestant Church) but from the Baptism of the two persons and the promises they make to each other.

It is also incorrect to say that, "Protestants are dispensed from the Catholic form of marriage." Protestants were never, in the first place, bound to or obliged to marry according to the Catholic form, so there is no "dispensation" given or implied when they marry in their own churches.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

PI you are correct about what you say, but the Church could change it, its a law just as it is a law that a Catholic must be married in the presence of a Catholic priest or deacon unless dispensed.
Since it is law, it could streamline annulments for protestants when they need these either to become Catholic or marry a Catholic.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

The Church recognizes the sacramentality of Protestant marriages until the validity of it is proven or disproven in a Catholic court of law.

It is the annulment procedure and grounds for annulment that can be adjusted!

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

MR--I think so and I hope so. If there is a streamlined annulment procedure and annulments are granted when there is proof that the marriage wasn't sacramental, then this should solve the problem. For those whose marriages are proven to be sacramental even after divorce and they've remarried, they simply can't receive Holy Communion unless they separate from their spouse or live as brother and sister. In an life/death emergency, though, these Catholics could receive the sacraments.

Anonymous said...

The "grounds for annulment" are so vague and loosely written that they can be "interpreted" to provide loopholes big enough for a person with good connections and financing to drive through in an 18 wheeler. allows us Catholics to avoid saying the dreaded "D word".

Pater Ignotus said...

I don't think that the Church has the authority to change Divine Law.

The sacramentality of marriage comes from 1) Baptism and 2) Consent.

To change this, the Church would have to say that Baptism doesn't matter, that it does not incorporate one into Christ and the Church. That the Church cannot do.

Or, the Church would have to say that the consent of the couple (which presumes the intention to enter into a life-long covenant dissolvable only by death)does not confect the Sacrament. That the church also cannot do.

I don't think the church can "declare" that protestant marriages are not sacramental since, by their nature, they are.

We could not do this any more than we could "declare" that the Eucharist in the Orthodox Churches is invalid . . .

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

PI I think you miss my point, I'm saying that it has to be a religious service by a minister. This law would apply to Protestants. Those that are common law or merely recognized by the state would not be considered sacramental due to lack of religious form.

The Church legislates what the formula of baptism must be even for Protestants.

The Church legislates that Catholics must be married by a priest or deacon or dispensed it they don't--so a Catholic that gets married in a protestant church to a protestant without the dispensation is not in a sacramental marriage, even though both are baptized--the Church says so.

Pater Ignotus said...

Good Father - No, Protestants are not required by 1) Divine Law, which is unalterable, or 2) Catholic ecclesiastical law, which is alterable, to marry in a religious service in order for their marriage to be valid and sacramental.

Our ecclesiastical law does not apply to Protestants.

The Church does not tell Episcopalians or Baptists or any other Protestants what they must do in order to Baptize validly one of their members.

The Church does say, "If your baptism was not done in what We (The Catholic Church) consider to be a valid manner, then the Baptism is not valid."

The Church rightly legislates what is required for its own members. The Church cannot legislate what is required for non-Catholics.

George said...

My comment above applies to the marriage validity of non-Catholics coming into the Church. There are a lot of other scenarios of course, such as a Catholic
procuring a divorce ( validly married in the Church with no subsequent annulment, with or without possible required conditions present to have gotten one ) and then marrying outside the Church.

George said...

If for 2)" lack of belief or understanding of the Catholic meaning of the Sacrament of Matrimony", you are referring to an understanding of and willing acceptance of the permanence of marriage, the life long commitment, then I understand now. You were not saying that the non-Catholic had to understand what a sacrament is and signifies according to Catholic teaching- which was my understanding. Still, this seems to me to be a more subjective than objective criteria. When the man and woman (as is done in most wedding ceremonies) answer I do to " in sickness and in health,unto death do you part", how can we realistically determine if they had a good understanding of what that meant? Few couples all starry-eyed and blissful truly understand what will be demanded of them and the difficulties that will be encountered. Even so, I would say most couples understand enough of what those words mean. And many stay married. The problem is that in today's society all too many do not want to endure an persevere through thick and thin, no matter what comes. What is a big help to Catholic couple is that they have available to them a lot more sources of God's grace to draw from.

Supertradmum said...

Father, I am sorry so many of your readers do not understand that if a Protestant wants to marry a Catholic and was married as a Protestant before and the wife or husband is still living, that Protestant marriage is recognized by the Church as valid and an annulment must be sought.

I know this as I helps a canon lawyer with such a marriage 30 years ago or so, when I was helping out with this situation.

The Anglican man could not marry the Catholic woman until his first Protestant marriage was seen as null and void.

Those who are writing contrary do not understand that the Catholic Church recognizes all Christian marriages as valid until proven otherwise.

Sorry, readers, but Father is correct.

George said...


That's one of the things I was trying to convey in my comments. If you understood otherwise then I was not successful.

Pater Ignotus said...

Tradmum - I don't think anyone is disputing that "if a Protestant wants to marry a Catholic and was married as a Protestant before and the wife or husband is still living, that Protestant marriage is recognized by the Church as valid and an annulment must be sought."

If a non-Catholic person married to a Catholic in an invalid marriage wants to enter the Church, that person's prior marriage (as well as any prior marriages the catholic may have entered) must be declared null and the current marriage to a Catholic must be convalidated (Blessed) before that non-Catholic is received into the Church.

Anonymous said...

All of this being done without the input of Cardinal Burke who is presently THE Canon Lawyer of the universal church. Pettiness from the chair of Peter. How common of Rah Kramden.

Bill said...

The variability from diocese to diocese of the implementation of the Tribunal processes needs correction, in my view. Moreover, the presumption of sacramentality is taken to extremes: My wife was raised an atheist in the PRC, as was her first husband. She divorced him in this country, after having suffered abuse at his hands. The Tribunal process here required a full annulment case, although it seems to me that the Petrine Privilege should have applied.

Still, let me set aside that specific case. Let me speak, instead, to the matter of how cases are handled. My case took 33 months, start to finish. My wife's took 36. In Tennessee, my uncle's case was completed in 12 months, and with far less paperwork.

I have no issue with paperwork or process, but I do find inequitable the wild differences in a canonical process in adjacent dioceses. I do think that processing time should be managed with care, as the process usually reopens old wounds.

Pater Ignotus said...

Bill - The speed at which a formal case can move ahead in a tribunal depends on many things.

First is the availability of tribunal staff. In our diocese, the priests on the staff all have other, full-time assignments. Although they devote themselves to the tribunal work, a funeral at the parish can take up to 6 to eight hours to "work" from anointing the dying, to meeting with the family, to celebrating the rites, to traveling 90 miles to the place of burial. If that priest devotes one eight hour day per week to his tribunal work, then that "day" is lost that week due to the pastoral needs of the parish he serves.

Second, in my experience, many applicants are notoriously bad about sending in the needed paperwork in a timely manner, especially the list of witnesses that is requested. Some are really good, but too many are very, very tardy.

Third, when the involvement of an outside professional, such as a medical doctor or psychologist, can add to the length of time needed to process a case. We all know that if you call many doctors today, you can get the First Available appointment in 8 or 10 weeks! Miss that one slot, and you have another couple of month to add to the calendar.

Fourth, some cases are more difficult to decide simply due to the particulars. The grounds used by the tribunals are universal, but the facts in each case are particular. One case may be "open and shut" while another may require clarifications and more clarifications from witnesses, respondents, or petitioners.

I agree that things can be done to make tribunals run well - and these should be done.

Bill said...

PI, you have, as so many do, assumed the fault lies on the supplicants, or on uncontrollable circumstances, or anywhere but the Tribunal and its staff.

My wife's case depended in part on testimony which was provided in Mandarin -- with prior agreement from the Tribunal office -- and which then sat in a file for 14 months. When we discovered the issue, we contacted a local priest fluent in Mandarin, and he translated the testimony that week. According to the case log, the file had been opened and reviewed quarterly, with no updates indicating any action on the needed translation. Yet the lack held the case in stasis.

In my own case, and in my wife's, we responded in timely fashion to the copious demands for testimony.

During the same interval, I was witness to my uncle's case in a neighboring diocese. I received one questionnaire, with 13 questions. All pertinent, and with no wasted motion. My witnesses, on the other hand, received 8 page questionnaires, and the feedback I received from one witness was that the questions asked for knowledge unlikely to be known to any but husband and wife.

My point, again, is not to quibble with the process, or with the canons. But wildly different implementations in different dioceses are one symptom of something which clearly needs fixing. We are all bound by the same canons, and the process should be standard.

Pater Ignotus said...

Bill - When you find a way to standardize individual humans, then you will have your standard annulment process.

And, yes, I do know, as a matter of fact, that MANY petitioners and witnesses are the cause of much of the delay in processing cases. The letters I get from our tribunal often state "We have had no contact from Person X or Witness Y since writing to them. Please see if you can get them to respond."

MR said...

Now Card Nichols (a "progressive Cardinal) has defended the traditional teaching:

And Card Burke has spoken up again on the issue: