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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Need to Be Thorough with Marriage Cases

QUESTION

In 1976 at the age of 18, I married a man in my local parish. It was a very bad situation and we only lived together 2 months and then divorced. Due to low self-esteem at the time, the following year I became pregnant and married another man in a civil ceremony. He was abusive and the marriage ended after 5 months and then divorce. A year or so after this, I met a wonderful guy (my current husband) and we married a few years later in his Lutheran church (he converted to Catholicism in 1999). Around our 5-year anniversary I petitioned for an annulment, and it was granted by the Archdiocese Tribunal. Not until recently did I hear that I should have brought up the second civil marriage to be looked at well. My assumption was that the first marriage was my impediment to having my marriage blessed in the Church. So in 1987, my husband and I had our marriage blessed. In 1998 my second (civil marriage) husband died. So, my question is this: Is my current and happy 40-year marriage valid since I didn’t know that the second marriage could pose an issue? It was blessed while my second husband was still alive. Do we need to have it blessed again?

RESPONSE

Did not the priest or DRE or RCIA team investigate the marriage situation and ask that his union with you be validated prior to your husband’s reception into the Catholic Church?

I take it that you are a Catholic and that the first marriage was in the Catholic Church.  This marriage was annulled.  I assume that the second marriage was not in the Church.  Given that the first bond was formally annulled and your third marriage was con-validated in the Church, I am at odds to understand how the priest and Tribunal would have missed the second marriage.  Are you sure there was no mention of it.  Given the data sheet and the essay or story you shared, it would logically come up.  The paperwork itself asks the question about prior unions.  Divorce or no divorce, the first union would have invalidated any subsequent attempt.  Further, Catholics are required to have their marriages witnessed by a priest or deacon.  Technically, the second marriage would not have required a formal annulment but there should have been a declaration of nullity because of lack or defect of canonical form.  This is accomplished by filling out a simple form, as well as providing copies of the marriage license, divorce decree and baptismal certificate.  I have to think the court was aware when you received the formal annulment and declared you free to con-validate your current marriage.  Here in the Archdiocese of Washington, such is spelled out: “Any subsequent marriage whatsoever on the part of either party to the marriage in question must be listed, without exception. There is no marriage that does not need to be addressed in some way by the Tribunal if a party’s present freedom to marry is to be established. Marriages prior to the one in question should be listed on the pre-nuptial questionnaire, if the Petitioner is preparing for marriage, and then adjudicated.” I am not a canon lawyer and you may want to quietly follow up with your own local Tribunal.  My best guess is that the matter was caught and you have forgotten it— given that you acted in good faith and everyone was professional— thus placing your marriage on good footing. 

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