Does belief in divorce, gay marriage, etc., make sacramental marriage impossible?


Required for the validity of any sacrament is form, matter, minister, and intention.

When it comes to marriage, I believe, the form is the same as the minister: the couple themselves, i.e., a baptized man and woman. The matter is the free exchange of consent to marriage. So, presumably, the intention must be to actually contract a marriage.

But a marriage, by nature, seems to be a very specific thing. It is complementary, indissoluble, exclusive, and permanent. Since this just is what marriage is, it would seem that one must consent to all of them for the sacrament to be efficacious: otherwise, whatever I’m consenting to just isn’t marriage, and since I don’t intend marriage, I’m not married.

So I propose that marriage cannot be sacramentally affected where one or both members of the couple believe in divorce, gay “marriage,” polygamy, etc., because they lack the proper intention to contract a marriage.



Divorce is a fact of life. So one would need to explicate what “belief in divorce” meant.

If, by that, you mean that one or both parties entering a Catholic marriage believed that their marriage was permanent “unless something intervened which would result in divorce”, then it is possible that a tribunal would find that there was not the intention, on the day of the marriage, to confect the sacrament. One or both of the parties held that the marriage could be “dissolved” by a marriage sacramentally, then it would seem that they did not enter the sacrament with the necessary intent. I would leave that to a Canon lawyer.

As to gay “marriage”, if the parties marrying intend to enter into a permanent, exclusive marriage with openness to life, I am not sure that believing that gays should also be able to marry would be a defect. I think it is the intent of the parties at the time of the marriage that matters, not whether they have some ideas, extrinsic to that intent which are not consonant with the sacrament. Again, I would leave that to a Canon lawyer.

The latter seems a bit like asking if someone can validly receive the Eucharist if they believe that Christ is truly present, while at the same time thinking that their Presbyterian neighbor should be able to receive also.


I don’t see why someone “believing” in gay marriage, etc., would affect their intention to contract their own heterosexual marriage. Could you explain?


Except that marriage enjoys the favor of the law. Therefore, if you did everything according to the form of marriage, didn’t have any impediments, and expressed consent, then you would be married validly (and sacramentally). (If, later on, it were to be proven that, for example, there was a defect of consent, it might be possible to receive a decree of nullity; but, until such a time, you would be validly, sacramentally married.)

So I propose that marriage cannot be sacramentally affected where one or both members of the couple believe in divorce, gay “marriage,” polygamy, etc., because they lack the proper intention to contract a marriage.

It depends on what you mean by “believe in” – if you mean that a person believes that divorce is ok (and therefore, that marriage isn’t indissoluble), then that’s a defect of consent. However, that doesn’t automatically nullify the marriage. On the other hand, if by “believe in” you mean that you hold an opinion – but aren’t planning on doing it yourself – then this wouldn’t be an obstacle to marriage.


I think if that were true, marriage tribunal offices would be pursuing that course in annulment proceedings. But I have never heard of that used as grounds for nullity.


Yes, this is what I mean by “belief in divorce,” i.e., belief that if we get a permission slip from the state then my sacramental marriage is dissolved. This part, at least, seems unquestionable to me, since one would essentially be lying about the nature of the union they are committing to.

It’s definitely an interesting question. The problem with gay “marriage” is that, in order to believe that it’s a thing, one has to subscribe to a radically impoverished view of the nature of marriage. Is the deformation resulting from that view sufficient to mean that one is not really consenting to marriage?

See above. Marriage just is, by nature, complementary (and other things). If you reject this aspect of marriage then you are, by nature, just rejecting what marriage is, which means that, whatever you’re consenting to, you aren’t consenting to marriage, i.e., you lack the proper intention necessary to contract marriage.

Well, no. You either are or aren’t sacramentally married; that’s an objective state of affairs. The tribunal simply issues a judgment about which state of affairs prevails, i.e., a decree of nullity is a recognition that no sacramental marriage ever existed. I’m asking about the objective state of affairs, not the subjective/epistemological principles that the Church employs re: judgment of whether or not that state of affairs exists. I can agree that the Church always ought to assume sacramental validity barring contrary evidence; I’m asking whether these beliefs constitute “contrary evidence.”

It depends on what you mean by “believe in” – if you mean that a person believes that divorce is ok (and therefore, that marriage isn’t indissoluble), then that’s a defect of consent. However, that doesn’t automatically nullify the marriage. On the other hand, if by “believe in” you mean that you hold an opinion – but aren’t planning on doing it yourself – then this wouldn’t be an obstacle to marriage.


Except that the objective state of affairs is “validly married unless proven otherwise”.

I can agree that the Church always ought to assume sacramental validity barring contrary evidence; I’m asking whether these beliefs constitute “contrary evidence.”

Not unless they’re brought before the tribunal in the context of a nullity proceeding. Therefore, the answer continues to be “no, this does not constitute ‘contrary evidence’”. :wink:



Again, no, that is a juridical/epistemological limitation put in place to prevent abuses of the canonical process. You either are married or you aren’t. The tribunal’s job is to determine whether you are or aren’t. This is why decrees of nullity don’t dissolve marriages, they simply recognize that no marriage exists. If you accept this (as you must) then you cannot possibly believe that people are “validly married unless proven otherwise.” That would be the equivalent of saying that you are validly married until it is discovered that you never were, which is nonsense. If you never were, then you never were.

Really, I’m trying to abstract subjective considerations like these out of the equation entirely. It seems to me that, since marriage has an objective meaning and essence and end, you either are consenting to that institution or you aren’t, and whether or not that’s the thing you’re consenting to doesn’t have much bearing on how much thought you’ve given it. Which is to say that people may well be entering invalid marriages for non-culpable reasons, but that doesn’t make their marriage any less invalid.



Pardon me if this gets rather far into the weeds of canonical minutiae.

My understanding is that the matter and ministers are the same–the baptized man and woman who are not impeded from contracting marriage. The form is the external expression of marital consent. The intention is supposed to be the same as what is expressed in the form.

To your main point–yes, the consent of the couple has to be in accord with what marriage actually is. If it is not, they are not consenting to marriage. As others have pointed out, “belief” is a bit nebulous. The key is what the person actually intended/willed when he/she got married: marital consent is an act of the will (c. 1057.2). Someone can be in error about marriage, firmly convinced that “Of course, some people get married, it doesn’t work out, they divorce and they are then free to marry again.” But, if he/she still has the intention of entering an indissoluble marriage, that error was irrelevant. In the words of the Code, it “did not determine the will” (c. 1099). Any other error about marriage is examined in the same way: if it did not determine the person’s will (in other words, the person wanted to have a true marriage even though in error), the error doesn’t matter.

Ignorance might be a bit more relevant these days. Canon 1096.1 says that if one wants to marry, he/she must at least not be ignorant that marriage is a permanent, heterosexual partnership, ordered to the procreation and education of offspring, through the conjugal act. As the years go by, it may be the case that even Catholics could actually be ignorant that marriage is a heterosexual partnership. I don’t think we are there yet, and even if a guy says “Oh, sure, two dudes can get married”, when he gets to the altar he might not be able to claim that he was actually ignorant that a real marriage has to be heterosexual and that complementarity is an essential aspect of the relationship he is about to enter. It will be interesting to see what develops along these lines in jurisprudence.

As far as the issue of marriage being valid unless/until proven otherwise: certainly, every marriage that is properly contracted is presumed to be valid–by the law–unless or until proven otherwise. We can’t really say that a marriage is valid until proven otherwise as that gives the impression that it goes from valid to invalid by means of a judicial sentence. This is a presumption that should correspond to the objective reality. The presence of the legal presumption does not mean we can’t talk about hypothetical cases. Obviously, nothing I’ve said above has any connection to a real case or means anything for someone who married while in error or ignorant about essential aspects of marriage.

I wouldn’t say that this is about “contrary evidence” but is about possible facts in support of a ground of nullity (c. 1096/1099).



What you discover is that, although you might have thought you were validly married, you discover that you were, in fact, only putatively married. You don’t change in your person, but in your knowledge.

If you never were, then you never were.

Unless the marriage is dissolved naturally, through the death of a spouse. At that point, there is no way to determine that you “never were”; it’s not like you’ll reach the pearly gates and St Peter will say, “I know you thought you were married, but you really weren’t. So, all those years of marital intimacy? Yeah – venial sin. Enjoy your stay in Purgatory!” :rolleyes:


Out there with the frogs? (Sorry… :p)

So, to further my question, here is Canon 1096.1: “Can. 1096 §1. For matrimonial consent to exist, the contracting parties must be at least not ignorant that marriage is a permanent partnership between a man and a woman ordered to the procreation of offspring by means of some sexual cooperation.”

It says “between a man and a woman” and our hypothetical is a man and a woman marrying, one of them having the idea that gays should be allowed to marry too. As the couple is in compliance with 1096.1 (male and female), is the Church interpreting that as sufficient in the given case, or is it a requirement of mens to confect the sacrament? Another way of saying it: is the canon written for the couple, or for the Church as definitional (and therefore applicable to all priests, bishops and deacons as a matter of conduct of official witnessing)?


Excellent! This answers my question exactly. Thanks so much for your input.

Right, you don’t change “in your person” because your objective state of affairs was decided at the moment you contracted (or failed to contract) your marriage. In other words, validity doesn’t depend on the tribunal’s ruling.

Certainly you are obligated to act as if the marriage is valid until proven otherwise, but this is part of the same juridical limitation. In a similar way, I either am or am not guilty of a crime, and even though the justice system is obligated to treat me as innocent until proven guilty, the jury’s ruling does not change my objective guilt or innocence.


The proper consent must be present (lifelong, exclusive, and granting moral and reasonable conjugal gift) and the couple must assent (no scandal) to the teaching of the Church, even without understanding what the Church teaches.

It the consent is incorrect and it is not known to others, then it secretly invalid, yet it is presumed valid. Then two baptized Christians entering into marriage, when properly disposed, receive the Holy Spirit when properly disposed, but not when secretly having invalid consent. It seems that a couple would want to receive the help of the Holy Spirit. Between the properly disposed and baptized:

  1. Do not receive grace while invalid:

*]consent publicly invalid
*]consent secretly invalid - may be validated secretly
2. Do receive grace:

*]consent valid, unconsummated - may be dissolved
*]consent valid, consummated



It is addressed to the couple who, themselves, must not be ignorant of the basic nature of marriage as defined here. This is the minimum intellectual knowledge required in a person in order for him/her to be able to consent to marry. We cannot consent to that which we do not know and this canon sets the bottom rung of what a person has to know.

In addition to what I said before, I will say that whether or not the issue of “gay marriage” would have impact here (in the area of ignorance) is questionable since people would be led into error as to the nature of marriage. They would not be ignorant.

Error is a mistaken judgment. Ignorance is a lack of knowledge that, practically, does not allow a judgment. If a man is thoroughly convinced that any two adults can marry, including himself and the woman at the altar, he is in error. He’s not ignorant.



So then the question will be for the tribunal, is the error sufficient to result in a decree of nullity. Which is where I think you were, to begin with - that is not yet defined.

Thank you.


Hello again,

The problem (well, not really a “problem”) is that the canon on error (c. 1099) only says error concerning indissolubiliy, unity (i.e., fidelity/monogamy), or sacramental dignity can impact valid consent. An acceptance of “gay marriage,” as far as I can tell, would not really have any contact with any of those three areas. So, what would the relevance be? I’m not sure and it is truly above my pay grade to even suggest any course of development in these canons.



Does any one have any thoughts on how the Church will Rule on whether those that participate in gay marriage will be denied the right to Communion like the Church applies to remarried previously divorced couples of the opposite sex.

thank you,


No ruling is necessary. Those in a state of mortal sin ought not to receive Communion. This goes for those who are gay and have civilly “married”, those who have divorced and remarried (without obtaining a decree of nullity), or anyone who has committed any mortal sin (e.g. sexual sins, lying, stealing, etc. etc.). There’s no need to issue any further statement.


Thank you Joe.

I fully understand your logic. Is there something you could refer me to that would confirm that those who participate in a civil gay marriage commit a mortal sin and the sin remains everlasting until the gay marriage is annulled or civilly terminated and a proper confession is made?

I have watched a few discussions where Catholic theologians describe the reaction of the Church to gay marriage and I do not believe the fact that participating in such an Act would be a mortal sin and ban the receiving of Communion/Sacraments during the term of the gay marriage was mentioned. I received the opposite impression from His Eminence, Timothy Cardinal Dolan’s discussion on Cspan…

Thank you again,


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