An Annulment Question

Dear Grace,
My daughter was married in the Catholic Church and later divorced, with no children. Due to her financial situation, she has not been able to pursue an annulment, as she was told that it would take about four hundred dollars to initiate one.

She is now contemplating marriage to a Catholic man who has never been married. They know that having her first marriage annulled will take a long time. A very good friend of theirs is a Protestant minister and he has offered to marry them. My question is: Would they be jeopardizing the possibility of ever renewing their vows in a Catholic Church if they get married by this Protestant minister until an annulment is granted?

Grace answers: Whether or not your daughter and this man will be able to marry in the Catholic Church later will not depend on her having been married by a Protestant minister, but rather on whether or not she has had the Catholic marriage to her first husband declared null. But what guarantee is there that this will happen? The truth is there is no guarantee. So, you see, your focus is not on the most important aspects of the whole situation.

This is a very serious case. Here we have two Catholics who are considering marriage to each other, but one of them is not free to marry in the Catholic Church. And the sad thing is that many couples and their families who find themselves under these circumstances often make the mistake of being primarily concerned with how they will “fix” the problem later instead of looking clearly at the consequences of what they are about to do.

Canon 1108 of the Code of Canon Law states the following: “Only those [Catholic] marriages are valid which are contracted in the presence of the local ordinary [bishop or vicar general] or the pastor or priest or deacon delegated by either of them, who assist, and in the presence of two witnesses.” In your daughter’s case, therefore, if she marries this man, they will be living in an invalid marriage, one that will not be recognized by the Catholic Church. This is because their “marriage” will not be celebrated using the proper “form of marriage” — as stated in the canon quoted above.

In other words, Catholics married in a Protestant church (unless they have a dispensation from the canonical form) do not have a valid sacramental marriage. This dispensation seems unlikely in your daughter’s case, as she will still be married to her first husband (in the eyes of the Catholic Church) at the time of this second marriage. In fact, she will only be marrying in the Protestant church because she may not presently marry in the Catholic Church.

Your question, however, is overlooking a very crucial issue. When Catholics marry outside the Church, as your daughter is contemplating, they break communion with the Mystical Body of Christ — the Church. Because this break in communion causes them to be in a state of grave sin, they will not be able to receive the sacraments while the situation persists and until they have been reconciled with God and the Church through the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession).

Do you realize what this means? It means they will not be able to receive Holy Communion while they are married outside the Church. It means not being able to receive Jesus! Think about that carefully. The choice here is between union with a human person and union with God when we have chosen one knowing that it bars us from the other, as this would. We may not want to see it that way, but in essence, that is what it means. We are sometimes willing to walk away from Him rather than others. Do we really believe that Jesus is present in the Holy Eucharist? If we do, then how could we do anything that would separate us from Him?

Consider also the fact that those Catholics who marry outside the Church, knowing that is it seriously wrong, commit mortal sin. What if something happened and they died in this condition? They would run the risk of eternal damnation. This is another aspect we do not wish to think about. But it is true.

You say that your daughter has not initiated an annulment process because of her financial situation and the fact that she was told it would cost four hundred dollars. I hate to ask this, but are you certain this is the reason? Quite often, people use this as an excuse because, frankly, they do not want to go through the whole thing. The annulment process is a lengthy investigation and can be costly. However, if a person petitioning for a decree of nullity truly cannot pay the cost, that person must state that. No one is refused who honestly cannot pay. Consider this, though: What will the cost be for the wedding they are planning? Is it not more important to spend the time and the money on making sure that they are free to marry in the first place? Would they not be much happier knowing that they had pleased God in doing the right thing?

© Copyright 2005 Grace D. MacKinnon

For permission to reprint this article, or to have Grace speak at your event, contact Grace MacKinnon at

Grace MacKinnon holds an MA in theology and is a syndicated columnist and public speaker on Catholic doctrine. Her new book You may also visit her online at

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