|ROME, 14 OCT. 2008 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
Q: Bishop Philip Boyce of Raphoe, Ireland, once said that cohabiting
couples must not receive Communion (see ZENIT, Jan. 23, 2006). I have
two related questions: 1) Are civilly married couples considered
cohabiting if not married in church? 2) If a civilly married couple,
never married in church, divorce and one or both eventually want to get
married in church with a different partner, will they be allowed to?
F.N., Coquitlam, British Columbia
A: The answer would depend on several circumstances and on the
religious status of the couple.
If at least one member of the couple is Catholic, then the Church
would not recognize the civil marriage as valid and the couple's status
would be practically the same as a cohabiting couple.
This is because positive Church law ties the validity of a Catholic
wedding to following the proper canonical form. Since this is positive
and not divine law the local bishop has the authority to dispense from
the canonical form. This is usually granted if for some serious reason a
Catholic wishes to marry according to a non-Catholic religious ritual.
The dispensation is rarely, if ever, accorded when a Catholic wants to
marry according to a civil ceremony.
If a couple of civilly married, baptized non-Catholics were to become
Catholic, then their status would depend on whether their former
community recognized the validity of civil marriage or not. If their
civil marriage was recognized as valid, then, in the eyes of God and the
Church, that marriage would also be sacramental. This is because the
Church considers that all valid marriages between baptized persons are
automatically sacramental even in those cases where the particular
religious community does not number matrimony among the sacraments.
If a civilly married couple receive baptism, then the baptism itself
transforms their valid civil marriage into a sacramental marriage and
this fact is noted on the baptismal register.
In both of the above cases if there is some well-grounded doubt as to
the validity of the original bond (for example, if the terms of the
civil wedding created a presumption against making a lifelong
commitment), then the couple should be wed on entering the Catholic
Addressing the second question, we can say that if a Catholic had
entered into an invalid civil wedding, and later divorced, in principle
he or she could marry someone else in the Church.
It is possible that the same rule would apply in the second situation
mentioned, but each case would have to be examined on its own merits to
determine the sacramental validity of the previous Christian marriage.
In general the law presumes the validity of such a marriage until the
contrary is proven (Canon 1060).
The previous civil bond of someone who divorced before baptism would
not usually constitute an obstacle to being married in the Church. If
necessary, the previous marriage could be dissolved in virtue of the
Pauline privilege (Canon 1143).
It is important to note, however, that marriage in all of the above
cases require the permission of the local bishop, especially if the
person has civil obligations toward the spouse and children arising from
a previous bond (Canon 1071).
Likewise, before any of these weddings can take place, Canon 1085.2
requires that "the nullity or dissolution of the prior marriage is
established legitimately and certainly."