Home Diocesan News Bishop encourages couples in irregular marriages to seek reconciliation
Bishop encourages couples in irregular marriages to seek reconciliation Print E-mail
Written by Msgr. Peter Polando, Special to the Exponent   
Friday, 17 November 2017 15:42

During this past month of October, Bishop George V. Murry, S.J., made his annual appeal to those Catholics in the Diocese of Youngtown who are in irregular marriages (married outside the Catholic Church) to consider the opportunity to reconcile their marriages within the Catholic Church.


The annual appeal began after the diocesan Presbyterial Council – the consulting body of priests who advise the bishop about matters within the diocese – in 2009 recommended that the bishop make an annual effort to encourage couples married outside of the Church to reconcile their marriages and thus be in full communion with the Church. The response has been heartening.

It is the hope of Bishop Murry and the priests that all Catholics have access to the sacraments and share in the unity of the Catholic Church.

A Catholic who is in an irregular marriage should make an appointment with his or her pastor, deacon, or parish leader to discuss the various situations that have made the marriage irregular.

For example, should the couple have been married outside the Church (e.g., in a civil ceremony, on a beach with a minister, in a non-denominational Church, etc.) without the permission of the Catholic Church, but desires to be practicing Catholics, they should contact their local Catholic parish for further discussion.

If a person was civilly divorced and attempted marriage for a second time or more, that person should contact the local Church personnel to begin the annulment process, which is specifically for those persons – whether Catholic or non-Catholic – who have validly entered into the state of marriage.

What is an annulment? An annulment, or in Church language, a declaration of matrimonial invalidity or nullity, is a decision of the Tribunal, or ecclesial court, of the diocese which makes rulings concerning the validity or invalidity of a particular union.

A ruling of invalidity means that in the eyes of the Catholic Church, an essential element was missing from the union in question from the very beginning – e.g., coming before God and the community without coercion, the intention of having a lifelong commitment to marriage, and being open to having children – invalidating the marriage from the start.

This declaration does not deny that a real relationship may have existed, nor does it necessarily imply that the union was entered into with ill will or moral fault. Rather, an annulment states that the union lacked at least one of the elements seen as essential for a true, valid, sacramental Christian marriage. An annulment does not seek to establish guilt or innocence but rather validity or invalidity.

In the United States, a Church annulment has absolutely no civil effect. The granting of an annulment will not affect anything that is determined by civil law such as alimony, child custody, visitation rights, division of property, and the like. Church law itself ensures the legitimacy of children born of a marriage that has been declared invalid (canon 1137). While recognizing that divorce occurs, it is most important to realize that not every marriage can be declared invalid. In fact, the Catholic Church law presumes in favor of the marriage bond.

A person seeking reconciliation with the Church through the annulment process will be asked to submit some public documents, such as civil marriage application forms, divorce decrees, and baptismal certificates, along with a case history. A case history may include a typed report drawn up according to an outline presented by the parish contact person that is a brief biography of the couple. Church law requires that the testimonies of both parties be corroborated by witnesses. These four to six witnesses are individuals who knew the parties before the marriage and can testify to the allegations concerning the union from its beginning. The witnesses will be sent questionnaires from the Tribunal staff. The answers given by the witnesses to the various questions concerning the couple seeking the annulment should include several statements or more that will enable the Tribunal judge(s) of the case to make a fair and balanced decision. The more quickly the witnesses respond to the Tribunal, the quicker the case proceeds.

The Tribunal is unable to promise that a case will be completed within a specific time frame but it is usually within a year. Moreover, not every petition results in an affirmative decision. Different factors may delay its conclusion, such as the ability to secure the testimonies of witnesses. The better prepared a case is and reviewed by the personnel at the parish level, the more efficiently it will proceed at the Tribunal. Inquiries regarding a case should be made through the parish contact person. It is the prayer of those who work in the Tribunal, along with the bishop and the Church, that those in irregular marriages make an effort to reconcile your marriages within the Catholic Church.

Msgr. Peter Polando is judicial vicar for the diocesan Tribunal, rector of St. Columba Cathedral, and pastor of Christ the Good Shepherd Parish, Campbell.


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