Is Your Marriage Valid?
February 2, 2014
Does the Catholic Church recognize your marriage? – Part 1
Every year I meet several parishioners who were not aware that unless their marriage was recognized by the Catholic Church as a valid marriage that they would not be able to receive any of the sacraments. It is a very important fact to know that if you are in a marriage that is not recognized by the Catholic Church you may not receive the sacraments such as the Eucharist (Holy Communion) nor be able to go to confession until your marriage situation is rectified. It is a very serious sin for a Catholic to marry outside of the Catholic Church without an official dispensation from the bishop and without marriage prep done through one’s local parish. It also nullifies your privilege to be a godparent for Baptism or be a Confirmation sponsor. In some cases the Baptism of your child may be delayed to address your marriage situation. The good news is there is help available to try and fix your sacramental dilemma.
Though some of you were well aware of this, there were some who were shocked to find this out because no one, including their parents, mentioned this when they decided to get married outside of the Catholic Church. In hindsight some expressed their regret not having gone to see their priest first to make sure that they were approaching holy matrimony in the right way.
Nevertheless, if you were one of those whose marriage needs to be “blessed” in the Catholic Church, please contact me immediately so that I can assess what needs to be done to take care of your situation. The proper term is to “convalidate” your marriage. It’s not really a blessing as that is only a generic term we use. A convalidation is an actual wedding that will need to be administered. Don’t worry, it’s not a big wedding that you’re normally familiar with. The ceremony lasts as little as 5 minutes and it’s free.
I am writing to offer you help in getting your marriage convalidated so that you will be able to go back to going to confession and receive the Eucharist once again. But I also want to make it clear that this does not prevent you from going to Mass where you know you are always welcome. It is only the sacraments that you may not partake in until we convalidate your marriage.
You might be wondering just how long does it take to convalidate a marriage. It varies from the couple’s situation. If neither was married previously, I have convalidated a marriage in less than 10 days from the first time we met. In this case all you will need are recently baptismal certificates, a copy of your marriage certificate and for your witnesses to fill out forms and we’re set to do the wedding.
For those who had a previous marriage, we do need to take an extra step called the “annulment” process before a new marriage can be administered. This could take as little as 2 weeks to a year or more depending again on the couple’s situation. Overwhelmingly, most annulment cases are granted. A few days ago on January 24 Pope Francis addressed all the church tribunal judges that deal with annulments to take their work with a merciful spirit that is “pastoral, impartial and imperturbable” (not easily upset or excited, just learned this now!). The pope’s address inspired me that this is the right time to reach out to my parishioners who are in need of the sacraments especially Holy Matrimony. After going through our sacramental records, I will send out a letter soon to all those who currently do not have a Catholic marriage. If our record is a mistake, please accept my apology for the incorrect information and will place the correct information in your permanent sacramental record.
In our parish we are blessed to have a canon lawyer, Tara McIntosh, who has helped me a lot in the annulment process. She has generously offered to do the prep work and, if necessary, act as an advocate for those who apply for the annulment. Between the two of us we have gone through several annulments for parishioners and lots of convalidation marriages. I actually have done far more convalidations than regular formal weddings at Saint Francis de Sales!
Next week I will cover more information on convalidations and annulments.
Your shepherd in Christ,
February 9, 2014
Does the Catholic Church recognize your marriage? – Part 2
An annulment is not the same as a divorce granted by the civil court. A civil divorce simply undoes the legal marital obligations that the couple previously and lawfully agreed upon for life. What the civil law nullifies does not have any effect to the sacramental bond that may have been forged by the couple before God. “What God has joined together let no man put asunder!” (Matthew 19:6). A legally divorced couple is likely still married in the eyes of God. The cliché “till death do us part” means that until the other spouse dies they will always remain married even after divorce. No civil judge has the power to undo what God has joined together. If this is still unclear, read the teaching of Jesus on marriage in Matthew 19:1-12 and you will understand it better.
So what is an annulment? An annulment is a declaration that the marriage was null from the moment that it was originally contracted—thus where the word “annulment” comes from. In a nutshell, the only way for a person to remarrythat is acceptable in the eyes of God is if the previous marriage bond was declared to be null & void, in other words, the permanent marriage bond DID NOT occur. The Catholic Church did not make this up, it was Jesus who insisted it: “I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery” (Matt. 19:9). In an annulment process the Church seeks and investigates possible grounds that could have invalidated the marriage bond. That’s the “unlawful” part that Jesus was talking about. The only way to determine this is for the individual to speak to the parish priest regarding his or her failed marriage. We have a canon lawyer (Tara McIntosh) in the parish who helps me with the annulment cases and has generously offered to assist me in this parish drive to reconcile Catholics in their marriage.
Couples (with at least one Catholic party) who are both in their 1st marriage but not married in the Catholic Church only need a convalidation ceremony and don’t need an annulment process. This includes both a Catholic/Catholic or Catholic/non-Catholic marital combination. Non-Catholic/non-Catholic 1st time married couples are recognized marriages in the Catholic Church. If they convert to become Catholics (even if only one of them) they do not need to have their marriage convalidated.
This is not as complicated as it sounds when I discuss it with you personally. It’s just that there are so many combinations of circumstances of people getting married. For the average person this looks complex: Catholic/Catholic, Catholic/Protestant, Catholic/non-Baptized; Catholic/Jewish; Catholic/Orthodox, Protestant/Protestant, Protestant/Orthodox, Catholic/atheist, Catholic/former Catholic, and more. This is just for starters! How about this: Catholic/previously married Catholic, previously married Catholic/1st time married Protestant, etc…. Get the scenario? Even though there is a lot of sorting out to do we will do that for you. Tara and I will simply it and walk you through. Contact me in the parish now so that we can get started with your convalidation and/or annulment process. Next week I will cover some of the grounds for annulment.
Your shepherd in Christ,
February 16, 2014
Does the Catholic Church recognize your marriage? – Part 3 (of 3)
A marriage sadly ending in divorce does not automatically mean that the marriage bond is no longer there. Remember, once a sacramental marriage is validly conferred on wedding day there is no power except death that can break that bond. An annulment is a declaration that there was a critical defect prior to or at the time of the exchange of vows. During the initial meeting we try to find what ground could reasonably challenge the validity of the marriage. Then the marriage tribunal in the diocese will try the case composed of judges, advocates, notaries, etc. The testimonies of the petitioner, respondent, and the witnesses play a major role during the trial. Take my word for it, there is a lot of training and professional counseling involved in the annulment process. This explains why there is a cost ranging from $45-$750 to process an annulment [NOW FREE ($0) OF CHARGE IN THE ARLINGTON DIOCESE SINCE 7.1.2017].
The easiest to process are those referred to as Lack of Form cases. These are marriages that involve at least 1 Catholic who married outside of the Catholic Church without dispensation. These are easily and automatically ruled invalid and can be processed within a week once the simple documents are submitted (see Part 1). So those of you out there who did this, whether you need an annulment or not, are not in a marriage recognized by the Church and may not receive communion or any of the sacraments until we convalidate your marriage in the Church. See me now!
Here are some of the common grounds (and example cases) that need a Formal Annulment process. 1) Couples of childbearing age but at least one did not intend to have children. 2) Deception. At least one did not disclose pertinent information that would have caused the other not to enter the marriage. This could include a variety of problems such as violent/criminal past, infidelity, married for the other’s wealth, disordered personality, same sex attraction, secret boyfriend/girlfriend, substance or porn addiction, etc. 3) Force or fear. Woman gets pregnant and now has to get married but was not really initially planning to marry; another case is if one believes it is a now or never chance to marry or to get out of the house; “shotgun” or at least the spirit of it type of weddings. 4) Not intend to marry in an exclusive & faithful relationship. Proven cheating the other prior to marriage. 5) Incapacity to enter marriage. One or both had mental health issue such as depression, mental duress, etc. 6) Lack of discretion. This is a wide range that we can discuss in private. 7) Non-sacramental marriage. Some referred as a Privilege of the Faith cases that could either be dissolved by the local bishop or by the pope directly (and I’ve had 3 of these that 2 popes personally read & approved!). 8) Prior bond. There was a previous marriage.
These are just the more common types of annulment grounds that most of us deal with. Tara McIntosh and I will figure out the ground(s) we will use once we’ve met. The other question you may have is whether all annulments are automatically granted. The simple answer is no but most of them are especially if everything was carefully prepared. But I can tell you this we will do our best to give you the best representation. I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging so I won’t publicly mention the percentage of my success rate in getting an affirmative decision on everyone who initially approached me to get an annulment. But if you ask me in private once you’ve decided to seek an annulment I will gladly tell you. [You might want to hold on to your chin because your jaw might drop to the ground when you find out!] So don’t delay and contact me now so that we can get started on helping you get back to the sacraments and give the best and most important Valentine’s gift you could give to each other.
Your shepherd in Christ,