Dear Catholic Exchange:
I read your article on divorce and re-marriage, but I'm a little confused.
My sister (a catholic) married a divorced Catholic six years ago. They were married by a protestant minister. Anyway, the marriage ended in divorce and because she didn't get married in the Catholic Church, my family is convinced that she is free to marry one day in the Catholic Church.
Thankfully, she has gone to Confession about her sin of marrying a divorced Catholic. However, I could have sworn I read an article a while back where even those married outside of the Catholic Church need to seek an annulment. Is this true? Does she need to seek an annulment within the Catholic Church before she can get married within the Catholic Church?
I am very sad over the whole situation, but want to make sure I have my facts straight because she comes to me for advice. They have a two-year-old daughter and now my sister has begun dating. (Long story short, she married this guy because he told her the annulment process was in the works and was just about to go through. Foolishly, she believed him and thought they'd just get married in the Church once the annulment process was complete. Turns out during their marriage he was carrying on an affair and is now married to wife #3.) My sister has been through a lot. She has returned to her Faith, and is hoping one day to marry a nice Catholic man. Is she free to date? The whole situation weighs heavily on me and I want to make sure the advice I give is in line with our Catholic teaching.
Greetings in Christ!
Your sister is blessed to have someone like you looking out for her.
In response to your question, in a sense both of you are right. Her marriage outside the Church had what is called a "lack of form," in that it wasn't a Catholic marriage. So, based on what you wrote it doesn't appear that there would be any reason why should couldn't eventually marry in the Catholic Church.
However, because it was an attempted marriage, she would still need to file paperwork to get an official Church decree stating that this previous union had a "lack of form" and thus was not a marriage. The Church has this requirement because of her duty to make sure that the couple is free to marry in the Church. This generally could be handled by one's pastor. It's a relatively simple procedure that sometimes is taken care of during a couple's engagement period, because the party who was previously married outside the Church assumed that he or she was free to marry. Even though this sort of nullity procedure should be a "slam dunk," it does add stress during the engagement process as one has no way of knowing exactly how long it's going to take to get the decree. One really should not seriously consider marriage until he or she has gone through this process and has officially established his or her freedom to marry. Therefore, I would encourage your sister to see her pastor or another priest she trusts now to get it taken care of before she starts dating another man.
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