Papal Dissolution of an Unconsummated Marriage


I have a question regarding (I believe) the Petrine Privilege.

Canon 1142 states: For a just cause, the Roman Pontiff can dissolve a non-consummated marriage between baptized persons or between a baptized party and a non-baptized party at the request of both parties or of one of them, even if the other party is unwilling.

What is the theological underpinning of this permission of the Pope? This has even been dogmatically defined at the Council of Trent – albeit in a slightly different context, but the principal remains the same: the Church can dissolve valid, sacramental marriages that are not consummated.

Trent defines: Session XXIV, Can. 6 on the Sacrament of Matrimony: If anyone says that matrimony contracted but not consummated is not dissolved by the solemn religious profession of one of the parties, let him be anathema.

The reference says: Cf. c. 16, X, De sponsal., IV, I. but I have no idea what that means. I found this free ebook online, but I’m not positive that it’s the correct document, nor can I read Latin (and Google Translate isn’t working out for me): /books?id=83pPAAAAcAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

I know that the Church teaches that marriage is dissoluble, but what makes this the exception?

The Gospel of Mark says: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother (and be joined to his wife), and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

The only answer I can come up with is that the prohibition against dividing what God has joined assumes that the two have, indeed, become “one flesh” - i.e., consummated their marriage.



You have answered your own question. Unless the marriage is consummated, they never became “one flesh”. The marital act is a physiological union. It is the only physiological process that requires two individuals to accomplish. One can’t naturally perform an act open to creation of new life by one’s self. The husband and wife become “one flesh” to accomplish the process and, one hopes, create new life. Once a valid sacramental marriage is consummated, it is indivisible in the eyes of God.


Correct. Also, in the case of a marriage between a baptized and an unbaptized person the marriage is actually not sacramental and so can be dissolved even if it has been consummated. This is, if I’m not mistaken, what is known as Pauline Privilege as opposed to Petrine Privilege.


Perhaps someone can answer this for me: why is it that many correspondents on this site continuously cite the writings of ancient counsels, such as The Council of Trent -as just cited in this thread, when much of their dicta has been superceded by modern Papal writings or modern religious counsels, such as V II? Is it that they are ignorant of contemporary Church teaching, or they just don’t accept modern teaching?


These “ancient” councils (thought the Council of Trent is a comparatively modern one) are of perennial significance as far as doctrine goes. Sure, in some disciplinary matters they have been superseded by current canon law. But what relevance does this bear on this particular question? Is there some aspect of Church policy that has changed regarding marriage that is relevant to this question?


For something to be superseded, does not mean that the previous version must be forgotten. Rather, to understand the current law you need to know the roots/basics and trace its development to its current form.


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