Is this criss-crossed marriage "valid"?

Hey Gang,

A question for whomever out there knows the nuances of this stuff:

I have a friend (honest, it’s a friend!) who was baptized as a baby in the Bulgarian-Orthodox church.
She got married in a civil ceremony, and she and her husband have been married for fifteen years.
Her husband was brought up Protestant and baptized in the Protestant church when he was a teen.
My friend is now an atheist, while her husband attended RCIA last year and became Catholic.

Several months after becoming Catholic, he was told by someone in the church that his marriage may not be valid in the eyes of the church now.

Is this correct?
If it’s not “valid”, what must they do to make it so?

fyi, there is no way my friend will do any sort of marriage service inside the church or sign any paperwork or anything like that.

They asked me my thoughts, and I told them: “I’ll ask the gang at the forum!”

Anyone know?

thanks and all best,
DG

First of all, it is exceptionally important which Protestant church the man was Baptized in. Very, very important. Saying a Baptism is Protestant says nothing about whether his original Baptism was valid, which is important for knowing if the marriage is Sacramental or not.

Secondly, it needs convalidation, which is something probably the man should discuss himself with a priest. I’m not as familiar with the nitty-gritty details of convalidation, so hopefully someone else can fill in the blanks there.

Thirdly, why is your friend reticent about even signing paperwork? Is she antagonistic towards the Church? If not, does she consider signing paperwork religious in nature if done at a church??

Thanks SMGS,

His baptism is considered valid by the Catholic church…he had to give them the certificate so they check if it was, and they said YES, it was.
(So I guess that means the marriage is “sacramental”?)

My friend feels very uncomfortable signing any document that is church-related and related to her. I wouldn’t say she’s “antagonistic” but…does not feel good about it. She feels it would be dishonest of her to sign something that “validates” her marriage by a church if she doesn’t believe in the church and it’s teachings.
You might say it goes against her non-beliefs, so to speak.
I can see her point in this.
Wouldn’t the Catholic church, too, expect and want the person signing the document to believe in or be honest about what she is signing?
(I don’t even know if a document needs to be signed at all for this sort of thing, but if it does, just throwing it out there that she would not want to do it).

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I would think you might want to ask for this thread to get moved to the Liturgy and Sacraments forum… :wink:

That being said, the relevant questions would seem to be:

  • At the time of his marriage, was the marriage considered valid in the Orthodox church? (I think the answer is ‘no’, but I’m not trying to present myself as an expert in Eastern canon law.)

  • If the marriage was valid in the Orthodox church, is that a church with whom the Catholic Church has reciprocity in terms of its sacraments? (Some Orthodox churches have sacraments which the Catholic Church recognizes as valid.)

  • If their marriage was not valid at the time they entered into it, and the wife would have no interest in a convalidation, then there might be the possibility that the husband might be able to act on his own and receive a radical sanation in order to regularize the marriage.

Your friend should go to his parish priest and talk with him about the situation. He’ll likely need the help of his diocesan canon law office…

…and by the way, during all of this…should he be receiving the Eucharist???

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Your friend needs to pursue things with a knowledgeable priest, possibly at the diocesan Tribunal.

I believe the Orthodox are like Catholics in terms of having specific rules people must follow in order to be validly married. And like Catholics, I believe that Orthodox Christians who get married civilly are not considered validly married by their Church. That means the Catholic Church wouldn’t consider them validly married either.

Someone in an invalid marriage would correct that by talking with his or her pastor about convalidation.

It my understanding that marriages between non-catholics are presumed by the Church to be valid unless proven not to be by the appropriate marriage tribunal. There can be no presumption of invalidity in the case presented.

I’d like to point to another possibility here.

The rule that your marriage must be in the church only applies to Catholics.
A registry office / civil marriage between 2 protestants is assumed valid unless proven otherwise.

The presumed validity of this persons marriage predates his reception into the Catholic Church and it is therefore to be presumed valid unless proven otherwise.

It is also normal procedure for the validity of a marriage to be addressed prior to reception into the church. It may be assumed that this was done even if not in a formal or detailed manner.

So: unless there is strong evidence against the validity of the marriage it is to be assumed to be valid until proven otherwise.
Therefore there is no obligation on the person to discontinue his martial relationship while he chaos things out in more detail if he feels it necessary to do so.

Yes it’s worth checking but you need the advice of a specialist cannon lawyer.

Except that we’re talking about a marriage between an Orthodox and a Protestant. Since it wasn’t valid in the Orthodox church (my presumption, since it didn’t take place in a church or by a priest), then the question is: if the Catholic Church recognizes that Orthodox Church’s sacraments, and if the Orthodox Church doesn’t see that marriage as valid, does that mean that the Catholic Church (automatically (?)) sees it as invalid? (I mentioned that I have no expertise in eastern canon law, remember? :wink: ) Know what I mean? Kind of like a ‘lack of form’ argument, vis-a-vis the Orthodox Church, that might speak to invalidity?

It applies to Orthodox, too. Moreover, the Orthodox have an additional requirement: the marriage must be blessed by a priest (no deacons!). :wink:

That’s why it seems that there might be a particular wrinkle here.

A registry office / civil marriage between 2 protestants is assumed valid unless proven otherwise.

That is because Protestant congregations do not have any requirements of ‘form’; therefore, a marriage by two Protestants anywhere is valid, presuming consent and lack of impediments. This is a different sort of case, since the wife is Orthodox. The Orthodox do have requirements of form.

It is also normal procedure for the validity of a marriage to be addressed prior to reception into the church. It may be assumed that this was done even if not in a formal or detailed manner.

Good point. One hopes that, in the case of his reception of the Church, especially given the Orthodox angle, they didn’t overlook this matter.

That’s true if the other parties are Protestants or non-Christians. The rules for Orthodox Christians are different. I’m not an expert in this area, but know enough to know that blanket statements may not apply to the Orthodox.

For example, the USCCB issued a pamphlet called “When a Catholic Marries an Orthodox Christian” (see usccbpublishing.org/client/client_pdfs/7-050BI.pdf) that says in part:

As a general rule, the Orthodox do not allow their faithful to be married in a non-Orthodox ceremony. For example, the dialogue between Catholics and Eastern Orthodox in the United States has recommended that all weddings between their faithful take place in an Eastern Orthodox ceremony, since this is the only way the Orthodox party can remain in good standing in his or her church. If the Orthodox party does not practice his or her faith, a Catholic ceremony might be the best option.

Similarly the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America says (at goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/marriage/interfaith/pastoralguidelines)::slight_smile:

In order to remain in proper canonical and spiritual standing with the Orthodox Church, Orthodox Christians must be married by an Orthodox priest, in an Orthodox Church, and in the manner prescribed by the priest’s service book. and also

Orthodox partners should be made aware that if their marriage is not solemnized by the Orthodox Church, they are no longer in good standing and are not permitted to receive the sacraments or participate in the sacraments as a sponsor(2) .

Bottom line for the OP, check with someone who is knowledgeable about Orthodox requirements for marriage (such as someone at the Tribunal). Local parish priests may not be totally familiar with this. (Similar issues come up with Orthodox Christians who wish to become Catholic. They are not in the same category as Protestants who wish to become Catholic but pastors don’t always appreciate the distinction.)

Not that I know anything about canon law, I can tell you about my convalidation experience.

My husband was Eastern Orthodox, I am currently unbaptized. Last year, we both decided to become Catholic and attend a parish in the Roman Catholic Church. He came into the Catholic Church last year and is Eastern Catholic.

When we married, we married at city hall and not in the Orthodox Church. If we had gotten married in the Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church would have viewed our marriage as valid. Because we didn’t get married in the Orthodox Church, we have to get our civil marriage convalidated.

I don’t know all of the details with regards to canon law, but due to our circumstances, the dispensation for our convalidation had to be granted by the Holy See. I think it had to go to Rome because I am unbaptized. I don’t know for sure. :shrug: Fortunately, our dispensation came in this week so we are doing our convalidation next week and I can be baptized at Easter Vigil. :extrahappy:

So, talk to a priest, who will likely have to talk to the Tribunal. As others have said, a convalidation will need to be done by a priest, not a deacon. I heard from our priest that the Tribunal at the archdiocese finds our case fascinating.

[quote=“Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches”]Canon 781 – If the Church must judge the validity of a marriage between baptized non-Catholics:
1° there is to be concern for the law by which the parties were bound at the time of the celebration of marriage in the light of can. 780, §2;
2° with regard to the form of the celebration, the Church recognizes any form prescribed or admitted by the law to which the parties were subject at the time of the celebration of the marriage, provided that the consent be expressed in a public form and, when at least one of the parties is a baptized member of an Eastern non-Catholic Church, the marriage be celebrated with a sacred rite.

[/quote]

Just so that no one reads this and is confused: this is the canon law of the Eastern Catholic Churches, not the canon law of any Eastern Orthodox Church. In DaddysGirl’s original post, the wife was a member of an Orthodox Church at the time of the marriage, and so, Eastern Catholic canon law would not apply. (For that matter, it still doesn’t apply now, since neither of them are Eastern Catholic.)

It is true that neither party is bound to the CCEO, but I chose this code because it demonstrates the mind of the Church in determining validity, and I would think that a valid marriage for one sui iuris Church is a valid marriage for them all, and likewise for invalidity. It is just that the CCEO envisioned Orthodox intermarriage to be common for Eastern Catholics, and so wrote specifically about those situations.

… in the case when one of the spouses is a subject of an Eastern Catholic Church.

I would think that a valid marriage for one sui iuris Church is a valid marriage for them all, and likewise for invalidity.

Fair enough. Orthodox Churches aren’t ‘sui iuris’ Churches under this definition, though; only the Eastern Catholic ones are, wouldn’t you say? :wink:

It is just that the CCEO envisioned Orthodox intermarriage to be common for Eastern Catholics, and so wrote specifically about those situations.

Agreed. But we’re not talking about a case of intermarriage between an Orthodox Christian and and Eastern Catholic Christian, so this does not apply in this case.

You didn’t seem to understand. What I am saying is that the 23 Catholic Churches have a single standard for determining validity. Since the husband is a Latin Catholic, the question of the OP is whether this marriage is valid in the eyes of the Catholic Church. I produced evidence which says it is not, according to the laws of 22 non-Latin Churches. I doubt that the law of the Latin Church will say anything different in this case.

Hmm… but, at the time of the marriage, the man was Protestant and his wife was Orthodox. I’m not seeing how the law of the Catholic Church – Eastern or Latin – has any bearing on that particular question. :shrug:

I produced evidence which says it is not, according to the laws of 22 non-Latin Churches. I doubt that the law of the Latin Church will say anything different in this case.

I agree that the marriage seems invalid. However, it is invalid not based on the law of the Catholic Church (given that the couple weren’t subjects of the Catholic Church at the time of their marriage), but rather, invalid based on the law that bound them at the time. :wink:

The Church acknowledges the law that binds Orthodox to the prescribed form of marriage when it comes to a decree of nullity. See Dignitas Connubii:

vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/intrptxt/documents/rc_pc_intrptxt_doc_20050125_dignitas-connubii_en.html

The priest or RCIA director probably was unfamiliar with the Orthodox.

They need to contact the diocesan judicial vicar, someone familiar with such nuances particularly because she is still Orthodox (regardless of being non-practicing), and that could make things a bit tricky.

This is not a matter for amateurs. This is a question for a canon lawyer with a lot of familiarity with the Orthodox Churches.

Thank you, everybody…for your thoughtful and helpful replies.
Wow. Okay.
I’m going to tell them everything you all said. As Ike says, this is not a figuring-out for amateurs. Time to consult the experts!

Much appreciated.

best,
DG

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