Hypothetical about divorce and remarriage

  1. Suppose there are two baptized Catholics, John and Mary, who contract a valid sacramental marriage. Several years later, John abandons the Catholic religion, obtains a divorce, and marries Jennifer in a civil ceremony. Several years after that, John runs into Mary by chance in a coffee shop, realizes how much he still loves her, and accepts that Catholicism is true after all. Since John and Mary are still considered married by the Church, would there be anything wrong with him going to Mary’s apartment and having sex with her that evening, or should he divorce Jennifer first?

  2. If the answer is that there is nothing wrong (although it may be imprudent), would this change if there is a civil law prohibiting adultery? It may seem rather surreal to imagine a sexual act that the Catholic Church allows and the state does not, but in this situation it would happen!

He would be deceiving Jennifer, who he has led to believe is his wife and expects his fidelity.

No. And. No. If the two spouses are validly married in the Church, adultery does not exist between the two parties.

I am tempted to ask if you are John, or Mary, or Jennifer, in this scenario? In any case, I would probably advise: “Run! Run for your life!”

Haha, I know that “hypothetical” is often a cover for a real situation, but in this case it’s a genuine hypothetical. I have no marriages or divorces under my belt, just an overactive imagination.

I do not agree - IMHO

Marriage has two factors - civil/legal and spiritual/sacramental

At this point John has a civil but not sacramental marriage to Jennifer and a sacramental but not civil marriage to Mary.

He should obtain a civil divorce from Jennifer … reconcile himself with the Church and then obtain another civil marriage with Mary - all before spending the night in her apartment with her …

The civil aspects of marriage confer certain rights upon the spouses - legal protections - dispensation of property - insurance, inheritance etc. … Both Jennifer and Mary have a right to the legal aspects - Jennifer if her civil marriage is ending and Mary if her future with John is to continue … John needs to man up and do the right thing for both women before he moves into the bedroom [of either lady] again

What he should do is get himself some SERIOUS counselling!

I don’t know if it’s adultery, but it is a rather terrible thing to do to Jennifer. That’s not to say that he should stay with Jennifer, but I think there’s an obligation to end the illicit relationship with her.

Real life can be messy, though.

Methinks he should clean up his act re: both women a priori.


I will add that the relationship with Mary takes priority. Ideally, things should be put in order with Jennifer such that there’s no deceit (this doesn’t mean not emotionally hurting Jennifer… that can’t be avoided), but Mary is his wife and his first responsibility.

and try as I might, I just can’t think of a single reason where “hey mary, nice running in to you after I just up and left. let’s got b ack home and get busy” would be caring about her well-being.

actually, yes, there would be something wrong with that scenario from a catholic perspective. although they are still technically married, adultery gives the innocent spouse the right to sever conjugal life.

he can’t just suddenly waltz back in to her life and expect things to go back to normal.

there are huge issues here, how does she know he’s not going to do it again? I’m all for marriage reconciliation but it does not happen over night. plus, he needs to deal with the Jennifer situation as well. yes, in the civil realm, he would need to divorce her, for legal reasons.

and his first order of business is go to confession asap, I would think

I’m surprised people didn’t see the underlying current in your hypothetical.

It nicely points out another reason why the Church is imprudent to allow the state to have authority over it’s sacraments.

The one I usually use is the idea that a Catholic must get a certificate from the state to explore the validity of one of Her sacraments…

Until the Church “divorces” itself from the state in this matter, marriage and the concept of it will be corrupted. I.e. Divorces and remarriages, gay marriages etc.

  1. John and Mary are married.

  2. John doesn’t divorce Mary due to his faith crisis. John divorces Mary due to a marital crisis. Don’t confound the two.

  3. Any sex John or Mary has, outside their marriage is adultery. They are not annulled.
    Therefore John is commiting adultery with Jennifer.

  4. John meeting up with Mary in a coffee shop years later and deciding it would be great to go back to her apartment with her and have sex .

Hmm so is John going to immediately move back in with Mary? Is John immediately going to his home with Jennifer , grab his toothbrush and clothes , say hasta la vista Jennifer, I am off to have sex with Mary tonight and live as her husband again?

Or is John going to cheat both women by lying to them both?

The sin, and the ‘crime’ against both women, and the insult and offence to God , is in the dishonesty if John lies about his whereabouts, his actions, his intentions; and the emotional injury caused to the women.
What does God believe in this sudden -
'Catholicism is true, the one true Church I suddenly believe in again, mentality,
so hey I am suddenly still married to Mary and can have sex with her.

God isn’t fooled by our conniving.

You reckon Jennifer will say no worries John , its been a great few years, here let me help you pack , what time is dinner with Mary?

You reckon Mary is going to say yep let’s get hot and steamy tonight husband, just go grab your stuff from Jennifer’s house, I will make room in my closet.

Do you see where the wrongdoing starts here? Where the sin will exist?

Jesus said Love one another as I have loved you.

This would include the way oth women are treated in thought, word and deed.

Hypothetically John is a selfish jerk and both women should run fast!

Isn’t this the concept of a film with Alec Baldwin and Meryl Streep?

The Church doesn’t give the state “authority over sacraments.” The state has authority over civil matters (which arise in the context of a marriage validly celebrated).

The one I usually use is the idea that a Catholic must get a certificate from the state to explore the validity of one of Her sacraments…

But the Church isn’t saying “the state trumps the Church in this matter.” Rather, it’s simply a matter of recognizing that it would be an untenable situation for the Church to have declared null a marriage that still is considered civilly valid. So, the Church says, “you cannot investigate the potential nullity of your marriage while simultaneously continuing to claim that it’s civilly valid.”


Which is why I pointed out the two aspects of marriage - the civil and sacramental … Plus getting himself right with the Church …

If reconciliation is on John’s mind - with Mary * … he needs to end his civil marriage with Jennifer [as she has rights in civil law and deserves what would be her civil legal rights] … John then needs to get right with the Church - be reconciled … and then he needs to re-marry Mary civilly in order to restore her legal rights - ALL BEFORE he enters into any physical relationship - should Mary desire to restore the marriage …*

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