The Catholic Church’s Teaching on Marriage
The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is created by God and governed by his laws. Since the institution of marriage is of divine origin, the Church’s teachings concerning the dignity of marriage apply to all marriages, not merely those of Catholics. All people who are capable of giving consent can marry; in turn, consent makes marriage (c. 1057).
The Church teaches that marriage is also a covenant between a man and a woman which establishes an indissoluble and exclusive partnership (c. 1056). It is a vocation which fosters the good of the spouses and naturally leads to the procreation and education of children (c. 1055).
The Church holds that a couple’s spiritual bond is sealed by God and does not end, even if the emotional and physical bond has ended in civil divorce. Moreover, the Catholic Church shares the belief of other faith communities and of society that marriage is not just the private affair of a couple, but rather it is a public reality, affecting both the civil and religious sphere of society, and serves as their foundation.
For a Catholic, a valid marriage results from four elements:
- both spouses are free to marry (i.e., no canonical impediments exist);
- both freely exchange their consent (i.e., no coercion or fear involved);
- in consenting to marry, they have the intention to marry for life, to be faithful to one another, and to be open to the procreation and upbringing of children; and,
- rooted in the requirements of canon law, their consent is exchanged in the presence of two witnesses and before a properly authorized cleric (bishop, priest or deacon) or authorized delegate; this requirement is referred to as “canonical form”.
Only members of the Catholic Church are bound to follow the above-described canonical form. Consequently, the Catholic Church recognizes, as valid, marriages that are celebrated by non-Catholic individuals who are free to marry (i.e., not bound by a previous union).
For example, the marriage of two baptized non-Catholics, or the marriage of a baptized non-Catholic and a non-baptized person, is presumed to be valid, whether it is celebrated before a civil official or a non-Catholic minister. The marriage of the two baptized non-Catholics is also considered a sacrament, in keeping with the theological perspective of the Catholic Church.
The Catholic Church also respects the natural bond of marriage that is entered into by non-Christians (e.g., two Buddhists who marry). The Church considers the marriage bond between non-Christians to be as equally binding as those of Catholics.
The respect and recognition given to marriage in the above scenarios is rooted in Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels, the writings of Saint Paul, and centuries of the Christian tradition.
Therefore, although not every marriage is a sacrament, every marriage between a man and a woman is presumed to be valid, unless determined otherwise (c.1060). Like marriages in the Catholic Church, whenever there has been a public exchange of consent, the validity of these marriages is presumed until the contrary is proven.
Hence, a Declaration of Nullity is necessary when a Catholic Party wishes to marry either a divorced Christian (a Catholic or a non-Catholic) OR a divorced non-Christian in the Catholic Church. An alternative route that might be explored is the dissolution of a previous marriage.
The above Annulment Process resource link provides answers to frequently asked questions about annulments. If you would like to discuss the process, contact your local parish or the Chancery Office.