Can a non-Christian (or Non-Catholic) Enter the Catholic Church While Being in an Invalid Marriage?

I have heard stories that certain couples who had married civilly and had attempted to receive an annulment for a prior marriage, and were not given a decree of nullity, were then unable to enter the Catholic Church. I’d like to know if there’s something being withheld in these stories I hear, or if it is true that reception in the Church can be denied to these persons. I have two questions on this:

  1. Say there’s a non-Christian, who was never baptized, and who could not receive a decree of nullity for their first marriage. This marriage occurred when the person was very young, and civil divorce happened within a year or so after the wedding. This person’s current civil spouse is Catholic, and after trying to have their marriage blessed in the Church by obtaining a decree of nullity (and not receiving one), they both still decide to raise their children Catholic and have them baptized. The non-Christian spouse wishes to be baptized also, as that person affirms everything the Church believes and believes that Christ is truly our Lord and Savior. Can this person be denied baptism? If the answer is yes, is the sole reason baptism is denied because this person is currently in an invalid marriage and their first spouse is still living?

  2. Say there’s a non-Catholic Christian (let’s say, a Methodist) who couldn’t receive a decree of nullity for their first marriage. Like the person in the first question, this Methodist also had a short marriage, remarried a Catholic civilly, and both spouses want to raise their children Catholic. The Methodist spouse affirms everything the Catholic Church believes and wishes to be received into the Catholic Church by making a profession of faith and receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation. Can this person be denied doing so, and is it solely because this person is currently in an invalid marriage with their first spouse still being alive?

Thank you for time.

A marriage in which one of the spouses is unbaptized is considered a natural marriage. It is called a natural marriage because by our very nature human beings have the ability to form the marriage bond with another person of the opposite sex. A natural marriage is considered able to be dissolved based on 1 Corinthians 7:12.

Someone who is baptized, however, has an indelible mark on his/her soul. The soul is marked in such a way that every act of a baptized person, whether good or evil, is done precisely as a person marked as belonging to Christ. This means that when a baptized man and a baptized woman exchange marriage vows, they do so as belonging to Christ in a unique way, and even their very act of marriage becomes a Christian form of worship of God. A sacramental marriage is therefore considered to be indissoluble (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).

In your situation #1 the unbaptized person can apply to have his or her first marriage (a natural marriage) dissolved (pauline or petrine privilege depending on circumstances). If the individual wants to become a Catholic the Church can dissolve the natural marriage and afterwards validate the marriage with the Catholic spouse.

In your situation #2 if the Methodist individual had married an unbaptized person then he or she would be in the same boat as situation #1. If, however, the Methodist person had married another baptized person then that marriage would be considered a valid sacramental marriage and therefore indissoluble. The marriage would have to be proven to be invalid from the very beginning (i.e. an annulment) in order for the Methodist to be permitted to marry again.

Anyone who enters the Catholic Church is expected to be living in accordance with the teachings of the Church. Therefore if someone is unable to attain an annulment it would be an impediment to entering the Church if they were in another marriage. Otherwise the Church would be publicly welcoming someone into the Church who is living in a relationship contrary to the Church’s understanding of marriage.

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