Marriage vows while impaired

My husband and I were married several years ago in the Catholic church. I have often wondered if our marriage is valid.

We had a large wedding (big families) and my husband-to-be had a case of stage fright. :slight_smile: Before the wedding, “the guys” took him across the road to the tavern for a few beers to take the edge off. It worked; however, he was impaired during the wedding. Not fall-down drunk, but I could see signs of questionable judgement.

Couple that with a negative pre-Cana experience (my then-fiancee usually left feeling picked on because he sometimes has trouble verbalizing his feelings) and the fact that our celebrant got in hot water and is no longer a priest, and I am wondering if we need to renew our vows or have our marriage blessed.

I should probably ask our pastor, but he’s running three parishes and is hard to catch! :slight_smile:

I can see how you may feel that you missed out on something if your husband was buzzed at your own wedding, but it isn’t like he didn’t know what he was doing. You were engaged, you both knew that was what was happening that day. Your husband’s experience at pre-cana was unfortunate, but it isn’t like it was a test for marriage. It is designed to be a teaching tool, or to get you both to learn how to communicate about issues during marriage, before you marry. As far as the priest leaving the priesthood, he was a priest when he married you.

I don’t think anything you described makes/made your marriage invalid. :slight_smile:

Talk to your husband and ask him: If your friends hadn’t taken you across the street and gotten you to down a few, would you have still gone through with marrying me that day? Did you feel as if you were not ready to say yes, or did you feel you wanted to say yes but you were nervous about being in the “big show”?

Now…here is your chance to be very patient and let him know that you are going to let him “edit” what he says after it comes out of his mouth. Here is your chance to give him a secure setting to keep talking until he’s satisfied that he’s found the right words to say what he feels. Here is your chance to say, “The Pre-Cana thing didn’t let you do that, but I want you to know that I want to learn how to let you do that. If you’ll be patient with me, I’ll be patient with you, and we can just talk.”

If he says, “No, I love you, but I wasn’t ready to make my vows that day, and I would never have done it if my friends hadn’t pushed me into it”, then ask him if it was just that day, or if he’d marry you now. Remember, you have to assume going in that he’s going to say some things he doesn’t mean or that he will put them badly. He has a hard time putting things the way he wants to say them, so you not only have to strictly avoid putting words in his mouth, but also have to give him a chance to take words back, so he’ll feel entirely safe talking to you, and will not fear being picked on or put down for saying what he does not mean. If he says no, you have problems to work through (and I don’t know how they will play out). If he says yes, then ask him if he’d like to have a chance to make his vows again, in front of five people instead of five hundred, just so you can both say them the way you wished you could have on your wedding day.

If he’s having a hard time, just say, “It’s a hard question, I know. Just think about what you want to say, and we can talk another time. I just have felt that maybe you felt forced to marry me by what I expected and what everyone else expected, and that isn’t the way it is supposed to have been for you.” If you want to hear the truth, you have to make it safe for him to tell the truth without sending you off the deep end. Otherwise, he’s going to be very tempted to just tell you what you want to hear, you’ll know it but won’t know what the whole truth really is, and you’ll be no better off than before.

After you’ve talked to your husband, perhaps you’ll have a better idea of what to say to your pastor. If your husband insists that he gave full consent and has meant it ever since, after all, you don’t have a problem with validity. Maybe communication that can get better, but few of us don’t have some of that!

You should definitely “assume” it is valid. Also, the priest doesn’t marry you. You marry each other. The priest is simply a witness. Marriage is a sacrament by the bride and groom.

I agree with the woman above, that you could ask your husband what his thoughts were then. I would assume that even buzzed, its valid. Unless someone was black mailing him or major external pressures were influencing his decision, the original marriage should be valid.

Yes…the canon law is that the marriage is valid unless shown positively to be invalid.
Can. 1060 Marriage possesses the favor of law; therefore, in a case of doubt, the validity of a marriage must be upheld until the contrary is proven.

I am more concerned that she does not feel sure that he married her without reservation. His friends may have meant well, but they shouldn’t have let the groom drink that much. Working this out may turn out to be the thing that sets this couple off to rectifying the situation that shows up sometimes, such as at pre-Cana, and that would be a very good thing. It will take patience and trust on her part, but if he can feel free to talk to her without a mistake penalty, if she can learn to let him take some things back for re-wording and forget about the ill-written first draft (perhaps–I’m just guessing) then maybe she won’t feel the insecurity of not knowing what he feels. That is what I would really want for this couple, because I would assume that the consent was entirely valid, too, if not ideal.

Thank you for your replies. I was searching for an official list of impediments, and I think the Canon 1060 was the kind of answer I was looking for. (I did find an official list of impediments, and it was in Latin!) I am not feeling insecure about his intentions at the time of our wedding, but the events I described have given me pause.

Oh, if you don’t have any reason to believe the alcohol altered his intentions in any way whatsoever, I would not worry about this. If he was so impaired that his vows could not possibly be valid no matter what his intentions, the priest wouldn’t have been able to officiate at your wedding. We’re not talking about too impaired to operate heavy machinery, because that limit has to do with reaction time and muscle control, not intention. We’re talking about too impaired to fully appreciate what he’s saying. That doesn’t require a quick reaction time like driving does. It just requires that he could be relied upon to give the same answers as he would give when fully sober…you know, not so drunk that you could ever get him to sign real estate papers for a house he didn’t want to buy. He would know this! If he says he meant what he said, then he meant what he said.

That doesn’t mean that you won’t worry, though. If you’re not feeling good about this yet, I’d have a talk with your pastor. I think he’ll be able to help you put your fears to rest.

Marriage is always presumed to be valid unless a valid tribunal (or the bishop ordinary) finds otherwise. Can 1060, 1107.

Impaired judgement, provided coercion was lacking, doesn’t axiomatically render it void. He would have had to have lost the use of reason. Mentally ill folk are allowed to enter valid marriage, after all, provided they have use of reason, understand the nature of the commitment, and are not otherwise impeded (by ordination, impotence, prior marriage vows, or other impeding vows.)

If you have reason to believe he was beyond use of reason, talk to your pastor about it.

Also note: Giving Consent prior to the wedding itself (which is a normative part of the preparation) is normative. If he was sober and manifested consent prior, his being intoxicated during is only a minor issue, provided he was still able to use reason, and gave that same consent then.

Further note: almost every marriage has periods of regret. It’s normal. (The Devil hates marriage.) Despair not. (The devil loves despair.)

And another note: the status of the priest is almost immaterial - if he was granted the faculty to witness weddings on behalf of the church, the marriage itself is valid, since that faculty can be granted even to laymen. (Can. 1112, 1116). If he was invalidly ordained, the blessing would be invalid, but not the marriage, as you as a couple consenting makes the marriage. (Can 1057)

Can. 1057 [INDENT]§1. The consent of the parties, legitimately manifested between persons quali-fied by law, makes marriage; no human power is able to supply this consent.

§2. Matrimonial consent is an act of the will by which a man and a woman mutually give and accept each other through an irrevocable covenant in order to establish marriage.

Can. 1060 Marriage possesses the favor of law; therefore, in a case of doubt, the validity of a marriage must be upheld until the contrary is proven.

Can. 1095 The following are incapable of contracting marriage:1/ those who lack the sufficient use of reason;

2/ those who suffer from a grave defect of discretion of judgment concerning the essential matrimonial rights and duties mutually to be handed over and accepted;

3/ those who are not able to assume the essential obligations of marriage for causes of a psychic nature.

Can. 1107 Even if a marriage was entered into invalidly by reason of an impediment or a defect of form, the consent given is presumed to persist until its revocation is established.


It is almost certain that the celebrant who “got in hot water” lost his faculties to act as a priest, but that his Holy Orders were valid and he had perfectly fine faculties on the day he officiated at your wedding. Even now, he’s still a priest–Holy Orders leave an indelible mark–even if he has had his faculties to act as such taken away. You see, it is not enough for any priest that he have valid Holy Orders in order to act as a priest. He must also have permission from the local bishop. For instance, priests are routinely given the faculty to confer the Sacrament of Confirmation at Easter Vigil, but do not have the faculty to do that under normal circumstances at other times of the year. Other priests might “get in hot water” and be allowed to celebrate Mass privately, but not in public. It just depends, but unless your “priest” was really some imposter your bishop had never heard of who had never been given faculties in your diocese–because as Aramis points out, even a layperson can be given the faculty to officiate at a wedding–the “hot water” is a total non-issue for you.

Well, I figured as much about our priest still having the authority to officiate – knowing that a man and woman marry each other, and a third person does not “marry” them – I went through a trial of faith, though, ten or so years ago, when sexual abuse came to light, and nearly every priest who had directly affected my life and childhood was found guilty of a serious crime and removed from his position. Dark days for many of us. It was like, well, the priest who taught us in high school is gone, the priest who gave us First Communion is gone, the priest at our wedding is gone…

Oh, wow, you got hit hard. I know several priests who stood accused or who asked to be returned to the lay state so they could marry, but not so many as that!

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