Married twice to the same woman in the Catholic Church


Greetings. My apologies in advance for a lengthy post. My hope is that a priest can respond and advise:

I’m a cradle Catholic.
My father is an ordained deacon in our diocese.
I fell away, far away from the Church for over ten years. During that time I was married in a civil ceremony entirely devoid of anything religious.

I then had a profound “reversion”, thanks be to God, and met my second wife. We were married by my father in a Catholic Church in our diocese in 2001 with full approval from the parish priest and have since been blessed with thirteen years of fruitful marriage and three children. We are very active in our parish and go to weekday Mass together often. I’m a lector and my wife is a Eucharistic Minister.

I heard on Catholic Answers Live that second marriages in The Church needed to be “normalized”. I met with our priest a few months ago and told him that I’d been married outside the church in a previous marriage. He’d asked if I’d received Nullity and if a Lack of Canonical Form form was completed before our marriage in 2001. I told him I assumed so wherein he instructed me to check with the diocese. After doing so, I found that in fact the proper forms had not been completed. Our priest explained that I’d need to fill out those forms, submit them and then have a very short ceremony to bless our marriage. Our priest was sensitive to our situation and in helping us along the way. I refrained from lectoring and my wife and I refrained from receiving Communion for the month and a half it took to complete the process at the end of which the diocese issued a declaration of nullity for my first marriage outside The Church. Our priest did day that in the eyes of the Church our first wedding in The Church was not valid and therefore was as if it had not happened which troubled the both of us.

We met with our priest and didn’t realize that the Convalidation was like a second wedding. We pulled in the associate pastor as my Best Man and the church secretary was my wife’s Maid of Honor but prior to that my wife and I gave our confessions; my wife gave her confession first. When we convened in the church, I could tell my wife was upset and shaken. She whispered to me asking if our priest said we were cohabitating and she said he castigated her about it because she hadn’t confessed cohabitation. At the end of my confession, our priest told me the same thing, that I needed to confess the sin of cohabitation which caught me off guard.

How could we have been sinning for thirteen years when we had no idea that our marriage was not valid???

It troubled both of us to the point that I met with our priest again and asked him how we could have been sinning when we believed our marriage was absolutely valid for the last thirteen years. He said some sins are objectively wrong. He said that admittedly our level of culpability in our situation was low.

Please advise. Thank you and God bless you all.


It sounds like you’ve already been advised. What additonal advice are you seeking?


I have theological questions regarding how it is possible that the first church marriage wasn’t valid in light of the fact that it is acknowledged by all that the other marriage is the one that wasn’t valid. Illicit I could see, but there was clearly the proper form, matter, minister, and intention, so whether or not it was licit it surely must have been valid, right?

Beyond that question though, I don’t see what the issue is. It seems it’s all wrapped up with a neat little bow now; isn’t it?

P.S. If you are asking how you could be sinning without knowing it, your knowlege and consent of the will is only a condition of the sin being mortal. Venial sins can be unintended.


I am not a priest.

You said you were married in the Catholic Church with the approval of the priest. Sometimes those are still invalid due to a mistake that was made on the part of the priest. When that happens, a radical sanation may be used to correct the lack of delegation, approval, or undispensed impediment, and it does not required new consent. Both the simple convalidation and the retroactive convalidation (radical sanation) are new marriage from the moment of the grant, but the difference is that the original consent is used for the radical sanation. If you truly did not believe that your marriage in the Catholic Church was invalid, then the priest should have persued the radical sanation instead to avoid an invalid convalidation. The reason is this:CIC

Canon 1157 The renewal of consent must be a new act of the will concerning a marriage which the renewing party knows or thinks was null from the beginning.


Why did you refrain from Communion and lectoring if you were some how under the impression that your marriage was AOK prior to the convalidation? Validly married couples are not prevented from doing either, after all.


This is a tricky thing… knowing what you now know about the state of your marriage, do you repent having done it before–meaning, would have done it had you known it was wrong or would you do that again?

It is obviously clear what the answer is, but it must be stated in Confession to be absolved. If you look in iirc Deutoronomy, the book with all the rules, it says, When a man **realizes he has sinned **(in the particular way) he shall… go to the Temple and perform (the matching penance.

I think the younger priests have better training in Cnfession and moral theology than before, but I think they need to be most pastoral in the Confessional when explaining it, as some of this is completely new to us.


Allegra: If you thought you’d received advice that seemed wrong to you, would you not seek a second opinion? I’m not saying I received advice I did not want to hear; rather, I did not understand the advice given or if in my particular situation my wife and I had sinned.

Paragraph 1862: “One commits venial sin when, in a less serious matter, he does not observe the standard prescribed by the moral law, or when he disobeys the moral law in a grave matter, but without full knowledge or without complete consent.”

We believed we were in full observance of the standard prescribed by the moral law. The proper forms were not completed thirteen years ago when we were married in The Church which we only found out about much to our surprise and confusion several months ago. There wasn’t an iota of knowledge on our part. Had we known thirteen years ago that our marriage wouldn’t have been valid and chose to live in an invalid marriage all of this time anyway? Absolutely not.

Can you give a few real life examples of venial sins that would be unintentional?

Would this be a valid example? A person in a crabby mood snaps at his spouse. He did not intend to do so. It happened in the moment. He realizes what he did was wrong.

Take that example back to my situation: We certainly did not intend for our situation to happen. We had no active participation or knowledge of the oversight and had no realization of the occurrence or our first marriage in The Church being “wrong”.

Another example: If a person lived in a foreign land and did not know all the social customs and norms of the new society they were living in and inadvertently offended someone by giving what they thought was a compliment but instead offended the recipient, would that be a venial sin? I’m trying to wrap my mind around this.

It was explained to us by our priest that our marriage in 2001 was actually not valid, unbeknownst to us. Therefore, he said technically we should refrain from receiving Communion until the convalidation. We received a blessing instead at each Communion. I refrained from lectoring to avoid scandal as it’s my understanding that a lector should be in good standing.

I’m afraid I don’t understand the question. Are you asking if I’d confessed the sins committed while cohabitating when married civilly to my first wife? Most certainly and many years ago.


But what about AFTER it was explained to you that a convalidation would be required? What scandal did you think needed to be avoided then, and why? Did you continue having marital relations after you were told your marriage needed to be convalidated? Could the priest have thought that you had continued even if you hadn’t?


We did not explain our situation to others in our parish after we found out about the need for a convalidation. Therefore going abruptly from receiving Communion for years to abstaining for a bit over a month I thought, and our priest did not disagree, that it would have been rather odd to see a lector not receive Communion.

In regard to your question about relations: Good question. As weak as it may sound, I don’t have an answer. We NFP and my wife had a horrible sore throat around the time we found out about our situation. We may or may not have just after we found out about the lack of form. Our priest did not tell us that in addition to abstaining from Communion we also needed to abstain from relations so it wasn’t something on our minds.

If I understand your question, you posit that our priest was telling each of us in confession that we must confess cohabiting from the time we found our our first marriage in The Church was invalid to the time of the confession, a period of a bit over a month? I don’t think that was it. He would have been making an assumption since he asked neither of us if we had relations during the brief period and in manner my wife took as stern she believed he meant cohabitation for the last thirteen years.


Once it was determined that your marriage was not valid, I believe moral law requires that you live as brother and sister until the situation is “regularized”. This would be the period of time that I think it would be necessary to confess, if at all. Prior to that time, the culpability would be none, as far as I can tell. After you discovered the problem, you would be expected to separate in some sense. A more extreme (and unfixable) situation would be if two people discovered after marriage that they were brother and sister, separated as children and raised in different adoptive families. It would be difficult and delicate to deal with it, but moral law would require that they separate permanently. Thankfully, your situation was fixable.

It is a little stunning that this was allowed to happen. Surely your father, as an ordained Deacon and officiant at the marriage, would have known? Or the pastor of the church? It is a standard part of pre-marital questioning to ask about previous marriages of the parties. The officiant is required to determine that the parties are free to marry.


You can’t sin “on accident.”


Just an aside, in the circumstance you describe it would merely be extraordinarily unlikely to be fixed. Dispensation can be given for marriage along the collateral line, though it is only very rarely done when someone is so closely related as that, but it has happened at least once that I know of.


Au contraire, any action opposed to the will of God is a sin, but if it isn’t on purpose it can’t be mortal. Besides the catechism the OP quoted earlier one could also consider (for example) St.Teresa’s Interior Castle where she describes the importance of avoiding all willful sin and laments that do to our fallen nature unintentional venial sin will be with us until we die.


My concern here is that in the diocese where the OP married in the Church there may not have been a requirement to file with the diocese.

I know that in my parish the Bishop allowed the priest to deal with this during the marriage preparation: bring in the original marriage documents, the divorce papers and a recent certificate of marriage. No marriage recorded in the baptismal parish? Free to marry. Done. No need to send it to the Tribunal.


Indeed, my father knew of my prior marriage outside The Church. In fact, as I recall, he had said initially that he was not certain as to whether I could be married in the Church; he explained the situation to the pastor of his church. My wife and I were instructed to attend an Engagement Encounter retreat at a Catholic retreat center which we did, and I believe that was it. I do not recall if we needed to complete any other paperwork. In all of this I wondered if NO paperwork including legal paperwork had been filed. However, I’ve confirmed that we have been legally married all this time.

My father, I believe, was diligent in making sure he was able to marry us. In fact, since all of this has recently taken place, he feels very badly about it. He’s baptized all of our children, nieces, cousin’s children and it meant a great deal to him, as it did us, that he married us in The Church.


It is quite unfortunate so many priests lack proper knowledge of marriage law in the Church (and sometimes common sense too).

You should seek the assistance of a competent canon lawyer. From everything you have written here, your marriage was NOT invalid. Contact the St Joseph foundation for help.

You have nothing to confess, and if your priest ever brings up your confession with you outside the confessional, that is a violation of the seal.


yep. Pater Noster’s marriage 13 years ago was validly done lack of form paperwork or not.

I am appalled at the actions taken by the priest.


Ditto 1ke.

I don’t know all the technical aspects of how the Church views this situation, but because this is a lack of form case the prior attempt at marriage is simply invalid, paperwork or not. As a result, the parties are free to marry. On top of that, they went to marriage prep and said their vows in a Catholic Church, therefore there is not question regarding the vows. At worst, I can see this situation being illicit due to the lack of the parish filing the proper paperwork, but valid nonetheless.


There is the presumption of the valid consent, but with impediment:


Canon 1107 **Even if a marriage has been entered into invalidly by reason of an impediment or defect of form, the consent given is presumed to persist until its withdrawal has been established. Canon 1085.1 A person bound by the bond of a previous marriage, even if not consummated, invalidly attempts marriage.
Canon 1085.2 Even though the previous marriage is invalid or for any reason dissolved, it is not thereby lawful to contract another marriage before the nullity or the dissolution of the previous one has been established lawfully and with certainty.


By definition, you did not sin. You had no knowledge that your marriage was not valid, therefore, there was no sin.

What would have been sinful was an intercourse that occurred AFTER you discovered that your marriage was not valid.

If there were any such incidence, that would need to be confessed. But there is no sin of fornication prior to that point.

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