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civil marriage/annulment
Question from Troubled on 11/14/2006:

I have a question regarding civil marriage and annulments that has been troubling me. Both parties to be married are Catholic. One of the persons has been divorced and has not sought an annulment. The couple is planning to be married civilly because they want to be married on a beach. The divorced person plans on seeking an annulment after they have been civilly married. My question is will this jeopardize the annulment. There are valid grounds for one, but since they have decided to remarry outside the church, won't the church tribunal look at this as some sort of defiance to the moral law? After all the civil marriage is really the same as living together, a mortal sin, which they are doing already anyways. This is so troubling to me because it seems that so many Catholics are being married outside the church and then still participating as full members of the church. It creates scandal especially when there are children involved etc. Your thoughts would be appreciated. Thank you.

Answer by Rev. Mark J. Gantley, JCL on 11/14/2006:

You are right to be concerned about scandal. So few people today seem to share concern over leading other people astray through their bad example.

The marriage on the beach will be invalid. That is, it is null and void. In the eyes of God and his Church, after the attempted ceremony, the couple will still not be married. They will objectively be considered living in adultery (according to the teachings of Jesus) and will not be permitted to receive the sacraments.

By saying, "there are valid grounds for one," I assume that you mean that this is the finding so far of the Tribunal for one of the parties.

The fact that the couple has attempted a new marriage will not prevent the one party from still petitioning a Tribunal for a declaration of marital nullity. The Tribunal still will be used to people doing stupid things.

I would note that civil marriage is not exactly the same as living together. Pope John Paul II wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio on the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World #82: "There are increasing cases of Catholics who, for ideological or practical reasons, prefer to contract a merely civil marriage, and who reject or at least defer religious marriage. Their situation cannot of course be likened to that of people simply living together without any bond at all, because in the present case there is at least a certain commitment to a properly-defined and probably stable state of life. ... Nevertheless, not even this situation is acceptable to the Church."

Of course, I am not saying that this couple is not in mortal sin. After all, at least one is still bound to a prior marriage.

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