Do I need a formal annulment?

I was baptized Catholic as an infant and practiced the Catholic faith until I was 17. However I was never confirmed. I then stopped attending Mass and started going to a Protestant church. I was rebaptized, and then started having doubts about the Protestant faith. I left that church and was thinking about returning to the Catholic Church when I met a woman from a different Protestant church. I started attending her church and we were married by her minister.

We separated within two years of our marriage and were divorced civilly shortly thereafter. I then returned to the Catholic Church, received the sacraments of penance and confirmation, and have been a practicing Catholic (again) for about five years.

I asked a couple of priests shortly after returning to the Church if I needed a formal annulment and was told that I did not due to a lack of canonical form (Catholic married outside the Church without a dispensation).

I’ve recently been discerning a vocation to the priesthood and discovered Canon 1117, “…was baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it and has not by a formal act defected from it…” Since then I’ve talked to a couple of priests and received several different interpretations on whether being rebaptized into another faith would constitute a formal act.

I’ve started the annulment process, but I’m curious about whether I really do need a formal annulment. Is there any formal Church teaching on what constitutes a formal act?

Let’s try to sort out the individual questions here:

[list]Does my attempted rebaptism constitute a formal act of defection from the Church?[/list]

Generally speaking, yes. However, you have been reconciled with the Church, confirmed, and have been a practicing Catholic for about five years. Canon 1117 would not prevent you from becoming a priest. It refers to the state of a Catholic contemplating marriage.

[list]Would my former marriage have been presumed valid by the Church even though it was not performed according to canonical form?[/list]

Because you had been a member of a non-Catholic church at the time of your marriage, you were not formally bound to follow the Catholic form of marriage. The Church would presume the marriage to be valid. If your wife was also baptized the Church would presume the marriage to be sacramental.

[list]Do I need an annulment from the Church?[/list]

Generally speaking, in order to determine the freedom of the spouses, the Church wants to look at anything that looks like a marriage. Even if you had been a Catholic at the time of the marriage attempting an apparently invalid marriage because canonical form was not observed, the Church would want a marriage tribunal to look at the marriage and confirm its nullity. In your case, it is very possible that your marriage can be presumed valid and sacramental by the Church and so an investigation of its status is all the more necessary.

If you have further canonical questions as your annulment case progresses, I suggest talking to a canon lawyer in your diocese or contacting the St. Joseph Foundation, which has canon lawyers on staff.

**Recommended reading:

Annulments and the Catholic Church** by Edward Peters

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