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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Married Out of the Church

MARIA:

I would like to know if a person married in civil rites to a non-Catholic 40 years ago, then separated after five years of marriage and with 3 children needs an absolution from the Pope even if the person after separating confessed her sin and received absolution from a priest?

FATHER JOE:

It may be that you are confusing “absolution” with “annulment” but in either instance the Pope would not normally enter the picture. Given that the person who married a non-Catholic is a Catholic, the civil marriage ceremony would have no standing in the Church. A simple declaration of nullity would be all that is required should that person want to marry in the Church. The amount of time that has passed since the attempted marriage and separation, even the instance and number of children, would be inconsequential to the ecclesiastical grounds against it being licit. Church law requires that Catholics have their marriages witnessed by a deacon or priest unless the appropriate dispensations have been granted. The absolution of a priest after a divorce or separation is a separate matter; however, if a Catholic should cohabitate with a civil law spouse, absolution could not be given.

If the person who married a non-Catholic were also a non-Catholic at the time of the civil ceremony, then the Church would consider that marriage as lawful and binding. If there were a divorce and either party wanted to marry in the Catholic Church, a formal annulment case would have to be entered and adjudicated by a Church Tribunal to determine the true validity of the prior bond. If the first marriage is shown to be binding and genuine, no second marriage could be permitted until the death of one of the spouses.

MARIA:

Further to my question, since you said that the Catholic/non-Catholic couple who entered into marriage through civil rites and have separated, only requires nullification, who will perform this then? The Catholic woman has no intentions of getting married but is guilty of the mortal sin she committed against God so wants to have an absolution from the Pope if possible.

FATHER JOE:

A declaration of nullity comes from the Tribunal and the Bishop. The application and supporting documentation is sent to the Chancery. A copy of the civil license, divorce decree and the baptismal certificate is part of the package. There is little other documentation because a civil union of a Catholic outside the Church is NO MARRIAGE. The declaration of nullity is NOT an annulment strictly speaking. A formal case ANNULMENT regards a bond that fulfills the external norms of the law: two witnesses, before a priest and deacon, proper dispensations, and jurisdiction. If a Catholic marries in the Church then the presumption is that the marriage is genuine. A formal case requires testimony by people who saw problems early on and an essay by the petitioner.

If the person you are talking about does not intend to get married (again), she should simply see a priest and receive absolution. The Pope has nothing to do with her case. There is nothing more to be done. As for the previous marriage, if it were out of the Church, then forget about it. As far as the Church is concerned, it never happened… sacramentally, that is.

MATT:

Indeed Father Joe is correct, making a good confession and receiving absolution is all that is required. Sure, it would be great to see the Holy Father, but make that trip after you have seen your parish priest. Make it a joyous trip rather than an act of penance. See a priest, make a good confession and allow the joy and peace of Christ to return to your heart. Know too that my prayers are with you.

JULIA:

Father Joe, thanks for your insights.

I am dealing with a marriage related situation, too, but not of me.

My sister is being married at 54 for the first time. She has cohabitated with the gentleman she is marrying (whom I know) for about 15 years. They even bought a house together about 7 years ago. The man is divorced. No decree of nullity is being sought. They are being married at a facility which has set ups for both a wedding ceremony and a reception. A minister (not sure who or the denomination or if they are of a mainline denomination or one of the more flexible type) is presiding. To top it all off the whole matter is happening on Holy Saturday. They consider themselves proud to be Catholic but not in agreement with all parts of the Church’s law. For example, they are as outraged as are the majority of us re: the President’s ongoing smackdown on religious freedoms. I love my sister, but am really torn. There are so many situations here where I feel I will be witnessing to illegality if I go to the ceremony or the reception. “Keeping the peace” is not my main concern, as there are many young nieces and nephews whom I feel are subtly “taught” in this situation (that one just does what one wants). Do you have thoughts on this matter? Ugh, to put it colloquially!

FATHER JOE:

I have sometimes urged participation for family peace. But there are way too many elements that are wrong in this situation. She is not proud enough to be a Catholic given that she spurns basic Catholic values and practice. Marriages are NOT permitted on Holy Saturday. Of course, her attempted marriage will not be in the Church. Let us call the situation what it really is: after years of fornication, cohabitation and adultery, she now wants a piece of worthless paper to say they are married. Tell her you love her but let her know that you are exercising your RELIGIOUS LIBERTY in not participating in such a farce.