A strange twist that sounds ridiculous from The Anchress blog. Maybe, the Synod for Marriage and Family will fix it.
Divorced Protestants who would like to marry in the Catholic Church are often surprised to learn that they need to petition for an annulment of their previous marriage. Even the Catholic party will object, “But, he’s not Catholic like I am. Why does he need an annulment?”
Mixed religion couples are even more baffled when the bride and groom each have a previous courthouse marriage: the Protestant’s previous marriage is presumed valid by the Church and therefore needs a full investigation of its validity, but the Catholic’s previous courthouse marriage, not having had the proper form, was invalid. The Catholic needs only provide the marriage license, divorce decree, and a current baptismal certificate to document that the marriage was never recognized by the Church. No investigation required. Just a little paperwork.
What’s the reasoning for this difference? Protestants are not bound by the canon law requirement that marriages take place in a recognized sacred space, but the Catholic Church does recognized their marriages; therefore, the Church presumes the validity of their marital bonds no matter where they said their vows. Catholics however are bound by canon law: to marry validly, they must marry in accordance with its requirements.
Annulment petitions can take years to process, and there’s no guarantee that they’ll be granted. When an annulment is denied or unable to be pursued, a marriage in the Church isn’t possible. Sometimes this also means that a Protestant who wants to become Catholic cannot enter the Church.
Oftentimes a Protestant will seek an annulment because she is civilly married to a Catholic and they would like to have their marriage recognized by the Church so that Catholic spouse can once again receive the sacraments and the Protestant can go through the RCIA process and become Catholic. The Church cannot convalidate (recognize) their current marriage, however, if either of them have a previous valid marriage. Because of this, Protestants who want to convert to Catholicism sometimes find the way barred.
There’s a workaround, but in a way it’s just as upsetting. If the couple divorces or otherwise permanently ends the relationship, then the Catholic can start receiving the sacraments again and the Protestant, who’s no longer in what the Church considers an adulterous relationship, can become Catholic. Sure, the Church seems to say, you can join us, but you have to end your marriage first.
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Kyle Cupp is the author of Living by Faith, Dwelling in Doubt. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.