21 May 2014

Validity of Marriage

Sub Tuum. 

Recent comments attributed to Pope Francis, relayed by a member of the Sacred College, appear to suggest that around 50% of all marriages today are not valid. Whatever was or was not said, it is a simple fact of doctrine and Canon Law that all Catholic marriages enjoy the favor of Canon Law and are presumed valid until proven otherwise. (CJC 1983, Can. 1060, et al.)  In fact, the marriages of Protestants who convert that were contracted prior to their conversion are considered valid until proven otherwise. A Protestant convert who is divorced and re-married, for example, must still have that first Protestant marriage annulled for the current marriage to be able to be recognized and to be eligible to receive the Sacraments. Thus, as Christians we ought to presume all marriages as valid until proven otherwise, excepting, of course, those marriages contracted after a civil divorce without ecclesiastical annulment. It is not our individual place to judge the validity of a marriage. 

So who decides the validity of a marriage? First, the validity must be brought into question. Most often this is the result of a married couple receiving a civil divorce and then approaching the Church to petition for an annulment. This is done typically by a Diocesan or Metropolitan Tribunal, acting under the Apostolic authority of the Bishop Ordinary or Metropolitan Archbishop respectively. In brief, the judges weigh the evidence. Witnesses may be called, and the party who did not petition for the annulment may certainly speak in favor/defense of the bond of matrimony. The tribunal investigates the conditions at the time the marriage was contracted. Thus if both parties gave valid consent, "falling out of love" later in the marriage or even marital infidelity is not sufficient grounds for an annulment. (The legal scenarios pertaining to marriage can get quite complex, so this is not intended to be an exhaustive discourse of the tribunal process).  If the tribunal finds that the marriage was indeed invalid, then a Decree of Nullity is issued, rendering the sacrament null and void. If, however, the tribunal upholds the bond, the two persons are still married in the eyes of God and His Holy Church. 

Does this all apply for Old Roman Catholics? Absolutely. Some jurisdictions have sadly abandoned this essential part of Catholic doctrine, but then this is not much different than the broad heresies plaguing the Catholic Church as a whole. True Old Roman Catholicism, which is and has always been a part of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, maintains and must maintain the sanctity of marriage. One cannot grant a dispensation that negates the needs for an annulment. To do so would be to give direct material cooperation to grave sin; and even worse is that it is done by a cleric charged with the safeguarding of souls! 

A few other common misconceptions:  

1. An annulment is NOT "Catholic divorce."  No earthly power may dissolve a valid marriage; not even a Pope.

2. It is FALSE to say that divorced persons, even those who re-marry without an annulment, may not participate in the life of the Church. However, they may not receive the Sacraments, excepting the Viaticum.

3. Persons who divorce, receive an annulment, and then re-marry are NOT "divorced and remarried." The first Sacrament was null and void.

So, it is not fair to state prima fascie that 50% of marriages are invalid. For the faithful, for example, even to suspect that would be to go against Canon Law and the moral theology behind that Canon Law. All marriages (again, excepting those where it is clear that there was a divorce and re-marriage without annulment) must be presumed by the clergy and faithful until they are properly challenged and found sacramentally and legally null and void by a competent ecclesiastical tribunal.