Hitting a brick wall


I converted to the Catholic Church in 2008. I was baptised Anglican, but went to a Catholic School, my mother converted many years ago but only in 2008 did I realise that the time was then right. I was accepted into the Church and have attended mass (not taken communion of course) every week, sometimes twice, have studied the liturgy, attended retreats…

Now I’m so unhappy. I have been married to a catholic for over 30 years. We’ve had a lovely, faithful marriage and supported each other all of the way. In other words, a perfect marriage. We were both divorced so we got married civilly 30 years ago. Now he’s been widowed for the last 9 months and we’d like to get married in the Catholic Church. But there’s a problem…

33 years ago I divorced. I was an Anglican, he was nothing (probably baptised but not sure) and we married in a registry office when I was 19. The marriage was terrible - after enduring 6 years of abuse and violence I finally ran for my life and got divorced. Now I can’t get married in the Church without having that first marriage annulled. But, according to the Catholic tribunal I have to get all kinds of papers from my ex-husband. I can’t. I don’t know where he is, never had more contact with him, am scared to get in touch now. Without this information I can’t get married. I’m psychologically marked by that marriage (I should’ve have counseling at the time because of the abuse I suffered, but didn’t) and I’m devastated, totally. Is there any hope for me? My poor present husband can’t even take communion because of me! I never imagined this would happen - a non-Catholic getting married civilly, is considered a sinner! My poor husband. I feel like killing myself.


Don’t fret! This type of situation happens ALL the time. Many petitioners do not know the whereabouts of their former spouses. Make an appointment to meet with the parish priest and he will guide you through the process. It is not quick, but you will be asked to provide the last known whereabouts, and the tribunal will take it from there. They will likely use the internet, databases and other people-tracking resources to locate an address or two, and send letters to him, asking him to participate in the process, which is his right to do. At least half do not reply, or outright refuse to participate.

Either way, even though the duration of the case may be lengthened by a few months to allow for this phase, the process will ultimately move forward. Either he refuses to participate or they cannot locate him. Once a reasonable effort has been made to locate him and offer him the chance to respond, the case moves onward.


Ah. thank you :slight_smile: (I’d rather he didn’t even THINK about me, but if that’s the way it has to be, so be it…).

Thank you for your reply. It’s my husband I’m so sorry about, he was so excited about taking communion again :frowning:



I don’t know what this means. To whom did you speak at the Tribunal?

Anyway, you don’t have to get anything from the other Party. While the Tribunal *may *be willing to do some investigating regarding an address, it is your responsibility to provide one (see canon 1504.4). It does happen that sometimes the other Party cannot be found. That does not mean the case cannot proceed. It does mean, however, that you would be expected to recount what you have done to try to find a current address (i.e., internet search, attempted to contact him at previous locations/phone numbers, asked his relatives where he is, etc.).

You do need to provide documents such as the marriage license/abstract and divorce decree but these are not in the possession of the other Party.

I suggest speaking to the Tribunal again and seeing if they can put you in touch with a canon lawyer who can assist you in this process.



No need to get a canon lawyer or contact the tribunal directly at this point, unless she desires to. The parish priest is the one who can guide her through the process. He may even have a parish delegate (such as a deacon or trained layman) for the first part of the application process.



I know how things usually proceed and see your point. However, she has already approached the Tribunal and " it" has (apparently) already given bad advice or the Tribunal itself is not operating in accord with the requirements of law. Someone with greater canonical “weight” might be helpful in clearing things up. What else are canon lawyers for?



It does seem awfully unfair. I don’t live in the UK - I live in Portugal (although I’m a Brit and my first marriage was in a British registry office and my divorce was in the UK too). My current husband is Portuguese. I went to the Patriarca (which is the higher level above the parish church but before the Bishop) because my parish priest said he couldn’t deal with it. I really, really don’t want my ex-husband involved - he may be nasty and, basically, I don’t want to bring my name to his mind. Hopefully he’s forgotten all about me (like I had him before all this started up). After all, it is 33 years. I think, searching my soul and conscience, that what I’d really like is for my husband (whose ex-wife is no longer alive so he’s a widower) to be able to take communion. But the “higher” priest (actually there were two of them) today told us that could only happen if we lived as “brother and sister”. I can’t believe how cruel they’re being - I keep bursting into tears at the very thought of contacting my ex.
Maybe I should forget about getting married. Is there any way my husband can take communion without this stupid “brother and sister” business? It would mean so much to him and I think that would be enough for me.


You will not be contacting your ex-husband at any point–the tribunal will handle that. You need not have any contact with him. You will simply need to provide the last known address for him, and indicate any other knowledge that you may have of his whereabouts. The rest is up to them in this regard.

I can appreciate that you do not wish him to even think of you, but it is a matter of justice. He is entitled to know that a review of his marriage is taking place. He may indeed get nasty to the tribunal, but they are big people and are quite accustomed to that. It happens all the time. That should not deter you from doing what is right, moral and a positive thing for you and your current husband, in the long run. Most, if not all, of the tribunal’s communication with him would be through the mail, anyway. He can say or think whatever he likes; none of that is your concern, and it is a fleeting moment, anyway. The questions that you will answer, though perhaps painful at first, will be an occasion of healing a few months down the line, much the way a good confession is. Trust me, it will be more than worth it, and you will look back at this brief period in your life as more than worth the good that will result in your life, your current husband’s life, and possibly even your ex-husband’s life. He may already have matured, or may end up ultimately maturing because of this experience, as well. You have no way of knowing, as time passes and people grow. Your lives will move on and God’s grace will be there for the offering. Offer up any pain and discomfort to Our Lord, uniting yourself’s with His pain and the sorrows of Our Lady. It will all work out in the end; I promise. :tiphat:


As another post suggested meet with your parish priest. I have been aware of such cases and there is always something that can be done to cover the needed basis. I see no need for a victim of abuse to have to get in touch with a past abuser, no matter how long it has been. Don’t lose hope and hang in there. I will pray for you.


The great thing about hitting a brick wall is–It feels good when you stop doing it!:smiley:



Thank you, and bless you everyone who has answered. I was really at a low point yesterday after meeting these two priests but now I feel better. I will “butch up” and try and go ahead with the annulment and, as you say, it’ll come out alright in the end.
I’m so glad I found you and thank you again for your valuable advice, it’s much appreciated.


I’m a bit confused. You say you’ve converted in 2008. Then you say you attend Mass without taking Communion and are civilly married to a Catholic. I take it to mean that you decided in 2008 to start going to a Catholic parish but have not officially been received into full Communion?


Yes, Phemie, that’s exactly right. I converted in 2008 but my husband (who’s always been Catholic) was divorced so I couldn’t take full Communion anyway. Unfortunately his ex-wife died, leaving him officially a widower. But, now we would like to marry in Church (we’ve been married for over 30 years civilly) and we thought that it would be a relatively simple process, but we find that I’m the fly in the ointment - something I never ever dreamed would cause a problem. I didn’t think that my own first marriage nearly 40 years ago (in a civil ceremony) and my subsequent divorce because of abuse when neither I or my first husband were Catholics would be of any interest whatsoever to the Catholic Church. :slight_smile: My bad.


There have been times when I have had to excuse myself to go to the restroom and often someone will say “Hope everything comes out alright!”:smiley:


Was this a civil marriage only? If that is the case it may not be that complicated. Certainly talk to a priest or canon lawyer.


I think you may misunderstand conversion [though technically a Christian from another faith tradition does not convert - another discussion] … if you formally were received into the Catholic Church via the RCIA process - this should not have been a surprise because your marriage situation should have been discussed with you [and I understand this very well - I too was a divorced non-catholic who married a divorced catholic and then came into the Church … double applications for annulments being required and wondering why the Church had to decide on my previous Justice of the Peace marriage :shrug:] …

So what is sounds like is that your husband returned to Mass attendance with you … and due to your not being a Catholic and his being divorced and remarried refrained from partaking of the Eucharist … but you were never formally brought into Communion with the Church - is that correct? If not you were not very well catechized in your RCIA process :confused:


Dear Sue, if you are having trouble getting the help you need from your priest in Portugal there is another way that you can try. According to canonist Dr. Edward Peter’s book “Annulments and the Catholic Church” you do not have to apply for a declaration of nullity in the diocese in which you are currently living, you can also apply in the diocese in which the wedding took place or in the diocese in which your ex-husband now lives. It is unfortunately a well known fact that it is more difficult to obtain an annulment in some countries than in others. (I think that Pope Francis means to address this problem at the synod on the family next year, but you don’t want to wait for that.) You might have an easier time applying in the UK. Since we have been living in Rome, I have seen how easy it is for Europeans to travel around Europe. Would it be possible for you to return to Britain and get this started? You could make all of your contacts with the local parish or diocese by e-mail, see them while you were at home, and finish by e-mail or snail mail. Snail mail is most common method of contact during the annulment process in the US anyway. The Portuguese church officials might be uncomfortable handling the annulment process of someone who was not Portuguese. For one thing, all of the documents would have to be translated into Portuguese. I hope that my suggestion gives you some hope as to how you might proceed. You should also get a copy of Dr. Peter’s book since it will answer many of your questions. I am sure that it is available on Amazon. You have my prayers for a quick resolution to your situation.


Thank you Irishgal! Everyone has been so supportive. I have talked to a priest and a canon lawyer and they’ve told me the same thing: my civil marriage at 19 when I was Church of England and my husband was Plymouth Brethren (therefore both baptised) is considered “binding” in the eyes of God and a sacrament. After 5 years I divorced him because of abuse and humiliation.
This is in no way a criticism of the Catholic Church nor the Catechism, it’s just that it seems so unfair that my first marriage was in no way religious in my eyes at the time–never occurred to me (I was so young and immature). The marriage turned out to be so bad I had to run away from home to get away before I divorced him. Now, I’ve been married (again civilly) with my Catholic husband so happily for over 30 years without a problem and the Church refuses to recognise it or allow us to marry in the name of God. I know my merciful God does recognise it, I believe totally in Him and I’m at peace with Him.Would He punish me because I felt I had to run for my life? Of course He wouldn’t. Would He be happy that I’ve lived a fulfilled and happy life with my present husband, totally faithfully, for over 30 years? Of course He would (and is).
Part of the problem, Irishgal, is that, in order to get that first (and largely forgotten) marriage annulled, I have to relive that traumatic marriage in detail (many of which I buried in my mind–they asked, for example, when the first beating started and I honestly can’t remember, although I’ve tried and gave myself nightmares) with these canon lawyers. I didn’t have counselling at the time of the divorce, although I should have, and it’s causing me psychological problems now remembering them. AND the court say they will have to contact my first husband and that scares the pants off me–I don’t want him even thinking about me. In any case, I don’t know where he is and don’t want to know.
Sorry for the waffling! It’s just so good to have a place I can speak with my heart without feeling judged.


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