On Civil Marriage

What is the Catholic Church’s stand on civil marriage? Is it recognized by the Church as a valid marriage? I would report this on my Theology class.

Thank you.

not enough info and there are many variables
yes the Catholic Church recognizes as valid the marriage of two non-Catholics who are otherwise free to marry, where no impediments exist in natural law, and who comply with applicable civil law and the rules of their own religious body, if any.If the parties are both baptized, the marriage is valid and sacramental. If either or both parties are not baptized it is a valid natural marriage.

Obviously two persons of the same sex may not marry, no matter what civil law says, because there is an impediment of natural law. Someone who has been validly married before to a living partner is not free to marry anyone in any circumstance unless and until the invalidity of the first marriage is established in a church court, because there is an impediment. and so on.

A Catholic who marries without following applicable Catholic canon law is not validly married, no matter what the civil law says.

if you are in a theology class you should already have the resources in scripture and canon law as part of your texts to answer this yourself. look it up.

Marriage is unique in that it is not only a sacrament but also a legal institution in civil law. The Church recognizes the legal authority of the state to conduct marriage and to regulate them: for example, issues of joint-property, inheritance, even dissolution of the marriage.

Whether or not a civil marriage is also a valid sacrament is a different issue. This is one of those “it all depends on…” issues.

To understand the question, we have to know what you are trying to get at when you say “a valid marriage.” Do you mean a valid sacrament? or do you mean a legal institution?

For example, the Church recognizes that if two atheists are married by a justice of the peace, they are legally married (but that marriage is not a sacrament). If two Catholics are married by a JP, they are likewise legally married, but it’s not a sacrament.

Could you clarify the question a little more?

Non-Catholic marriages (neither are Catholic) are considered valid when using a valid public form of marriage for them, which is whatever the non-Catholic church accepts. It could be a civil marriage.

But, Catholics must marry with the approval of the Catholic Church for it to be both licit and valid. (It would not be normal to receive a dispensation to marry in a civil marriage, but it is possible to get a dispensation for lack of form in a retroactive convalidation, which uses the consent from the prior civil marriage for a marriage that begins from the time the dispensation is granted.)

[LEFT][FONT=Arial][size=1][size=2]It is possible to get permission:[/size][/size][/FONT]
[size=1][FONT=Arial][size=2]1. to marry a baptized non-Catholic (Canon 1124), with a dispensation from Disparity of Worship or Cult (Canon 1086, §2).[/size][/FONT][/size]
[FONT=Arial]2. to marry a Catholic who has notoriously rejected the Faith (Canon 1071, §1, 4º) or to marry a lapsed Catholic.[/FONT]
[FONT=Arial][size=1][size=2]3. for a marriage ceremony in a non-Catholic church or oratory. (Canon 1118, §2)[/size][/size][/FONT][/LEFT]

Sacramental vs Natural:
If a Catholic is married to another Catholic or a validly baptised non-Catholic, with the approval of the Catholic Church, then it is a sacramental marriage.
If a Catholic is married to a non-baptised or invalidly baptised person, with the approval of the Catholic Church, then it is a natual marriage.

The Church views two types of marriage. A natural marraige, and a Sacramental marriage. Anyone outside the Church can get into a natural marriage, and this will be valid. A civil marriage will fall under natural marraige. For those within the Church, we are obligated by faith and baptism that we receive a Sacramental marriage. Therefore a civil marriage is not valid for Christians.

Also, a Church would tolerate civil marriages in some cases for its faithful, but would advise them to live a chaste life as if a brother and sister until they receive a Sacramental marriage. Instances usually are for legal purposes. Like when bringin in a spouse of another citizenship into your country. You may want to get the papers rolling along while in the process of planning your Church marriage. So a civil marriage may precede the Sacramental marriage. Also, there may be some countries who’s laws do not recognize religious ceremonies as legal marriages. So couples would have to get married first in civil court before proceeding to a wedding in a church.

Hypothetical situation: a lapsed Catholic marries a non-baptized person in a civil ceremony. Then later, the lapsed Catholic returns to the faith, and shortly after that, his or her non-baptized spouse becomes baptized in a recognized Protestant baptism (say from a church where there is no doubt, such as Episcopal/Anglican/Lutheran).

Neither have impediments in natural law (never been previously married). As an additional twist, the non-Catholic does not want a convalidation ceremony.

Why isn’t it a sacrament? Is it because when two Catholics marry they are obliged to marry according to canonical form; therefore, a civil marriage would be automatically null and void (assuming no dispensation has been granted).

The Catholic, lapsed or not, as long as there was not a written formal rejection of faith accepted by a Catholic bishop, is bound to canonical form of marriage (marry before two witnesses and presided over by the Local Ordinary, pastor, or a priest, or deacon, or a lay person with the faculty to assist at a marriage in conformity with the laws of the Church). When there is undispensed lack of form it is not matrimony. It would become sacrament at the moment of the grant of the radical sanation.

Of course both natural marriage and sacramental marriage are presumed valid until proven not to be.

If the Catholic wants this to be valid, a radical sanation is a possible solution that does not require approval of the spouse. There must still be valid consent (which is presumed if there was a public celebration of the marriage originally). It it a favor which uses the prior consent (from the civil marriage) to convalidate (create a new marriage from the date of the grant) and a dispensation for lack of form. Other dispensations or permissions may be added such as permission for mixed religion, or dispensation for disparity of cult. In your example, the first attempt was with disparity of cult, and if convalidated would require permission for mixed religion.

Well it is presumably a valid civil marriage.

It is most likely NOT a valid marriage from the POV of God and the Church since the lapsed Catholic was still subject to the canonical laws of the Church regarding marriage. I’d go so far as to say the possibilities of it being a valid marriage are slim enough as to be better off left unmentioned.

The desire or lack thereof of the non-Catholic to have the marriage convalidated does not impact the validity of the marriage. But if the Catholic party wants the marriage to become valid then there is the possibility of radical sanation. If that path is followed then in effect the marriage DOES become valid retroactively. …though not sacramental until such time as the partner was baptized .

…in which case my entire post seems like something of a time paradox. :stuck_out_tongue:

For radical sanation (retroactive convalidation) the sacrament begins at the moment of the grant and is not retroactive. The retroactive refers to canonical (juridicial) effects not divine, originally legitimization of children, right of succession, rights to dowry, etc. It is called a legal fiction.

All convalidations (simple and retroactive) are new marriages. When both spouses do not agree to give new act of consent, then a simple convalidation would be invalid, so a retroactive convalidation may be possible instead which uses the prior consent.

The Church cannot invalidate civil law. Therefore they are recognized as married by the state but not by the Church. Everyone who has received Baptism is expected to comply with Canon Law. Even lapsed Catholics. It may not be an issue for them while they are lapsed, but if they do come back to the Church they have to follow Church law and go through a process.

Its not a Sacrament because what is required to make a marriage Sacramental is for it to be witnessed by the Church through a representative (ordinarily, an Ordained minister, deacon/priest/bishop) and to receive the blessings of the Church.

Ah. OK.

You don’t have to be Catholic to have a Sacramental marriage. 2 baptized non-Catholic Christians who marry (either civilly or in their own church) are considered to be in a sacramental marriage. Only when one or both parties of the marriage are not baptized is it considered a valid natural non-sacramental marriage. Also, when a Catholic marries and non-Catholic baptized Christian and conforms to cannon law they are also in a sacramental marriage.

For a marriage to be Sacramental, it has to be witnessed or validated by the Church. Unless the Church grants dispensation of form to a Protestant Minister, then there is no witnessing by the Church to the marriage. This is why the SSPX cannot perform valid Marriages. Since they do not have the faculties from the Church, they cannot witness for the Church even though they are valid priests with valid Orders. What more for Protestant ministers who are neither ordained validly (or not ordained at all) nor do they have any faculties from the Church. Unless of course there is dispensation, but two Protestants will not ask for dispensation from the Catholic Church.

If you are referring to two non-Catholic (baptized) Christians then the Latin Church does not consider them bound to Catholic form in order to have a valid sacramental marriage.

If you were referring to a marriage attempt involving at least one Catholic party that wasn’t clear to me from your post.

Actually the church teaches that a valid marriage between to baptized Christians is a sacramental marriage. In order for a Catholic to enter into a valid marriage they must marry in accordance with cannon law, if they marry another baptized Christian (Catholic or non-Catholic) then they are in a sacramental marriage. If two baptized non-Catholics enter into a valid marriage they are also in a sacramental marriage, since neither party is Catholic then they are not required to follow cannon or ask for a dispensation from the Catholic church…


The reason why it isn’t a sacrament is because the 2 Catholics make a conscious decision to avoid/ignore/disregard the ministry of the Church. So yes, it’s because they are obliged to marry according to canonical form.
It would be null-and-void as far as a sacrament is concerned. It would still be a legal marriage strictly according to civil law; unless/until they get a civil divorce or annulment. And it would not be “automatically” null–they would still have to go through the process of petitioning for a decree of nullity before anyone can officially say that.

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