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Thrown Off Therese wrote:

Hi, guys —

Thanks for being here!

You have probably answered this question but, situations seem so complex and unique when you're in them, I can't find the exact question and answer in the knowledge base.

Here goes:

Twenty-five years ago, my husband, a non-practicing but confirmed Catholic, and I, a non-practicing, baptized Protestant, married in an outdoor ceremony conducted by a Congregationalist minister we found through a friend. We have raised two children.

Four years ago, my husband suddenly asked for a separation quickly followed by him filing for divorce. By the laws of my state I could not prevent the divorce, so I begged, pleaded, and tried very hard to prevent the divorce but did not legally contest it (so as to preserve our assets and the well-being of all of us as well as possible). The divorce was granted three years ago.

My husband confessed during that tough time that he had been having an affair and in fact had decided to make a future with the affair partner, whom he has since married. I have no idea what that wedding entailed (regarding whether it was a Catholic wedding).

I converted to Catholicism last year through RCIA and love being Catholic!

My family was harmed by these events and I am very confused about my status, my duties, and what possibilities are open to me. I feel a calling to heal my family by supporting my husband in somehow rejoining us and bringing us together as a cohesive, strong, whole as God meant us to be. I have faith that my husband will one day see this as the right thing to do.

  • So, why am I feeling this duty?
  • Am I married seeing my vows were forever and I never agreed to forsake them?
  • Seeing that neither of us were Catholic and were married outside the Catholic Church, was I ever married?
  • Can I one day marry someone else and, if so, what would have to happen first?
  • Is it right in God's eyes to feel the duty I described, and does that duty conflict with a desire to one day have a new union with someone else?

Therese

  { Am I still married and how do I handle this call to heal while trying to find another mate? }

Mike replied:

Dear Thrown Off,

We recently lost our priest-helper who has been assisting us in answering questions like yours. (He was appointed a Bishop by Pope Francis.)

We are trying to find a replacement priest who is faithful to the Church and who is also able to address canon law issues on an array of Church topics, especially those related to marriage.

I've resent your question to the team. If they can answer your question, they will. It just a matter of how soon.

In the meantime, keep in touch with your local pastor and priests and take their counsel.

Mike

A Familiar friend replied:

Dear Thrown Off,

Based on the information you presented in your note, I can clarify a couple of points, and I'll offer a recommendation.

Even though your husband was not practicing the Catholic faith at the time of the wedding, the Church considers him a Catholic then and now. At the time, he still had the obligation to follow Catholic Church law when he sought to marry. He had the duty to seek permission from his bishop (a dispensation) in order to marry a non-Catholic, and also a dispensation in order to marry without a Catholic clergyman to witness the vows.

Based on your description of the facts, I assume that he did not get those permissions.

If that is the case, it is quite possible that the vows you and he took in full sincerity may have not been binding. This is an important matter: it determines whether you are free to marry, whether you have an obligation to remain faithful to the original marriage, whether he has an obligation to return, and so on.

It is possible that a defect at the beginning of a marriage can make it be invalid, despite the years you and he spent together in good will. A judgment of invalidity also would not change the legitimacy of your children under Church law.

We volunteers at AskACatholic are not trained canon lawyers and have no authority to render judgments about particular cases, so I recommend that you consult your pastor about this. Make an appointment and describe the facts to him. He (or a church staffer) can meet with you to review the history of your first marriage; then you would submit the information to the local marriage tribunal of the diocese for a determination about the possible nullity of the marriage.

The procedure would be, in effect, an annulment case, and would lead to an official judgment based on the facts and Church law. It might not even take very long: cases that hinge on a procedural issue often are decided relatively quickly: that is, in a few months instead of a year or so.

Regardless of how the question of nullity turns out, it is clear that the breakup of a marriage is a real loss for you and for the family, and I can only express to you our deepest sympathies and prayerful best wishes.

A Familiar friend

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