Greek Orthodox Annulment

Dear Catholic Exchange:

My daughter was married in the Roman Catholic Church. She divorced her husband who is Greek Orthodox. He had their marriage annulled in the Greek Orthodox Church and is now remarried and has a daughter by his present wife. My question is: Is my daughter free to marry?




Dear Joan,

In answering your question, I will presume that your daughter and her Greek Orthodox husband were indeed free to marry in the first place and that the correct Catholic form was utilized.

The short answer is that she is not free to marry. In order for her to marry again in the Catholic Church, she must obtain a declaration of nullity through the Church.

This isn't to say that she doesn't have grounds for an annulment. Rather, it's simply the case that the Catholic Church, in fidelity to Christ, necessarily exercises jurisdiction when it comes to one's freedom to enter into the Sacrament of Marriage. See generally my article entitled "What God Has Joined."

The Catholic Church does not recognize annulments granted by the Greek Orthodox Church. Canon 1401 of the Code of Canon Law states: "By proper and exclusive right the Church adjudicates: 1) cases which regard spiritual matters or those connected to spiritual matters." More specifically pertaining to marriage, canon 1671 states: Marriage cases of the baptized belong to the ecclesiastical judge by proper right. In Dignitas Connubii, article 5.1 states: Causes of the nullity of marriage can be decided only through the sentence of a competent tribunal. Of course, the term "Church" in the above refers to the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church is larger than the Latin rite and certainly recognizes the decisions of Eastern Catholic Churches that are in union with the Roman Pontiff as they would enjoy legitimate competency in accordance with the above provisions. However, since the Orthodox Churches do not accept the supremacy of the Roman Pontiff, they sadly lack such competence.

The following is a citation from Dignitas Connubii — Norms and Commentary published by the Canon Law Society of America, which summarizes the matter:

Given that the Church accepts as authentic only those declarations of nullity that are issued by an ecclesiastical tribunal of the Catholic Church, should other tribunals or institutions declare the invalidity of a marriage the Church would not recognize the substantive outcome of that decision. This holds not only for Catholics who approach a tribunal, but also for those subject to other non-Catholic jurisdictions, secular and religious, from which a declaration of nullity might have been obtained. The declaration issued by an illegitimate forum would be without effect for the purposes of establishing the freedom of the spouses to exchange consent. The cause would have to be submitted anew to a legitimate ecclesiastical tribunal for consideration.

Therefore, should your daughter desire to marry again in the Church, she would need to get a decree of nullity with regard to the previous marriage. Her pastor should be able to help her with this and answer more specific questions she might have in this regard.

United in the Faith,

Leon Suprenant

Catholics United for the Faith
827 North Fourth Street
Steubenville, OH 43952
800-MY-FAITH (800-693-2484)

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage