INQUIRY TOPICS > Irregular Marriages, Annulment, and Convalidation

Catholic Marriage Convalidation and "Radical Sanation"

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Dave Armstrong:

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In order to avoid what is called a "defect of form", a baptized Catholic who gets married must do so in the Catholic Church. Ours was "half-and-half": my wife was subject to the "defect of form" because she had been Catholic. I never was. So when I was received into the Church and my wife returned, we did the whole marriage ceremony too (presided over by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.).

A couple who is now Catholic (or where one person is not but is willing to go through with such procedures for the sake of his/her spouse, children, etc.,), but has "marriage issues" can either go through the ceremony of matrimony or receive what is called a "Radical Sanation". Catholic Answers has an article about the latter.

Note that the article mentions "a dispensation for a marriage ceremony outside the Church". I don't know how often this occurs or what is involved (see, e.g., CCC, #1633-1637). It also talks about getting a radical sanation even without knowledge of one of the parties:
If your spouse would have an extremely bad reaction to the sanation procedure, then, for the sake of domestic peace, he would not need to be told about it: "A sanation can be granted validly even when one or both of the parties are unaware of it, but it is not to be granted except for serious reason" (CIC 1164). The extreme reaction of your spouse could count as the serious reason needed for this.

This (if possible to obtain) is probably the best course for a Catholic married to a person who is quite opposed to Catholicism. One EWTN page explains the difference between a convalidation and radical sanation (the latter makes the original vows retroactively valid and the former is a new set of valid vows). It also mentions one partner being able to do this:

Reasons for a radical sanation include a situation when one party will not cooperate in having the marriage convalidated through a ceremony . . .Apparently some priests have told couples they need not worry about such details of marriage convalidation. Another EWTN page (Fr. Mark J. Gantley) decisively answers this:

If a Catholic is married outside the Catholic Church, then the marriage must be convalidated. This is true whether the marriage involved a Catholic and a non-Catholic or two Catholics.The necessity of "ecclesiastical form" is discussed in CCC #1630-1631. This is my understanding of Church teaching. I'm not infallible, of course, but I have backed myself up with official Catholic sources, solid apologetics material, and priests from reputable and orthodox websites (I humbly submit that some priests who have been giving out goofy, erroneous information concerning these matters might do well to do the same, since this is a very serious matter).

For even more detail, one can consult the Code of Canon Law, that discusses marriage in its entires: #1055-1140. Here are a few of these:

Can. 1108 §1 Only those marriages are valid which are contracted in the presence of the local Ordinary or parish priest or of the priest or deacon delegated by either of them, who, in the presence of two witnesses, assists, in accordance however with the rules set out in the following canons, and without prejudice to the exceptions mentioned in canon 144, 1112 §1, 1116 and 1127 §2­3.

Can. 1117 The form prescribed above is to be observed if at least one of the parties contracting marriage was baptized in the catholic Church or received into it and has not by a formal act defected from it, without prejudice to the provisions of can. 1127 §2.

Can. 1118 §1 A marriage between Catholics, or between a catholic party and a baptized non-Catholic, is to be celebrated in the parish church. By permission of the local Ordinary or of the parish priest, it may be celebrated in another church or oratory.

§2 The local Ordinary can allow a marriage to be celebrated in another suitable place.

§3 A marriage between a catholic party and an unapprised party may be celebrated in a church or in another suitable place.


--- Quote from: Dave Armstrong ---Note that the article mentions "a dispensation for a marriage ceremony outside the Church". I don't know how often this occurs or what is involved (see, e.g., CCC, #1633-1637).
--- End quote ---

It's fairly common.  It requires that permission be sought in advance (before the wedding) and the couple still must fulfill any of the Church's other requirements, unless they are also dispensed.

Here are some examples of cases in which a marriage outside the Church might be approved:

[*]One of the spouses has a long history in another faith and wants to be married in the family church.[*]One of the spouses has a parent, relative, or close friend who can legally perform a marriage ceremony such as a judge or a Protestant minister.[*]One of the spouses is from a different city and has no family and no church relationship in the town where the wedding will take place.
[*]Serious reasons exist to have the marriage performed in an unusual location such as an overseas military chapel when a priest-chaplain is not available, or a hospital room.[*]A priest will not be available to perform a Catholic marriage ceremony for an extended period of time.[/list]Note that in the second case, the judge or minister may also be permitted to witness the ceremony in a Catholic church, and in any of the above, the presence of a priest, deacon, or other designated "official witness" makes the ceremony validly recognized by the Church.  With approval of the bishop, anyone can be named an "official witness" who will certify after the ceremony that vows were exchanged willingly.

I know of a judge who was also a Catholic deacon, and of a Catholic judge who was granted permission to marry his children in his own courtroom (and he also served as the Church's "official witness").

Under certain circumstances, a judge or Protestant minister might even be allowed to perform a marriage ceremony in a Catholic church (without a mass, of course) that might or might not be recogized by the Church depending on the situation.  One example might be a wedding scheduled in a Protestant church that burns down a few days before the ceremony.  We did have several such ceremonies in the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina in the months after the storm as many churches of various faiths shared the facilities that were still standing.

So we actually have a multiplicity of possibilities, and we have to distinguish between saying a couple is married "in the Church" (meaning in a manner recognized by the Catholic Church) and "in the church" (meaning inside the building).

The key is that in any of the above situations, the bishop's approval must be sought and granted in advance.

Just a question for clarification, if a convalidated marriage is dated as starting the date of convalidation, is there somewhere in the record that shows that the marriage was begun earlier or does it appear from the church record that the children are illegitamate?

This is the reason I was worried about getting an anullment at first. Which reminds me of something else I was wondering... but that it for a different catagory.


--- Quote from: mrsbmoo ---Just a question for clarification, if a convalidated marriage is dated as starting the date of convalidation, is there somewhere in the record that shows that the marriage was begun earlier or does it appear from the church record that the children are illegitamate?

--- End quote ---

It actually is not recorded anywhere that the children are legitimate or illegitimate, but according to Canon 1134-1140, children of a valid or putative marriage are legitimate, and children of a marriage made valid are legitimated.

In other words, if the marriage is considered invalid by the Church, the children are illegitimate.  If the marriage is made valid by the Church, the children are made legitimate.  There is no "effective date" of the legitimacy; they either are or they aren't.

So let's look at a common example.

A couple is married by a Protestant minister or a judge.  This is a putative marriage ("commonly accepted or supposed; presumed to be valid") so the children of this marriage are legitimate even if the marriage is later declared null.

The couple divorces and one spouse marries another.  This is not a putative marriage since the spouses are both still in recognized marriages and are therefore not free to marry.  Therefore, the children of this marriage are illegitimate.

This spouse files for a declaration of nullity from the first marriage.  It is granted.  The second marriage is then convalidated.  The children of this second marriage are then legitimated.  The date of legitimacy is irrelevant; they either are or they aren't, as far as the Church is concerned.  The only real issue involving illegitimacy are some technical requirements involving religious life or ordination, but they are easily overcome.  In other words, in the Church today, it is really a non-issue.

(Note that I referred to one spouse just for simplicity.  Also, I deliberately avoided the question of children from more than two marriages because Canon Law is not explicit in such a case, and I do not consider myself qualified to answer.  I believe the children would be considered legitimate on the grounds that the marriage was putative, but I am not really qualified to express a valid opinion.)

Let's consider a similar case in civil law.  A couple elopes to Las Vegas and is married.Their marriage is legal and binding, and their children are legitimate.  Ten years later they discover that the license of the person who performed the ceremony had expired the day before.  He was not qualified to perform the ceremony.  After ten years of a supposedly legal and valid marriage, they discover they are not married.  does that make their children illegitimate?  Technically, yes.  They run to get a marriage license and find a justice of the peace to marry them, and they get married again.  Does that make their children legitimate again?  Were their children legitimate for 10 years, then illegitimate for a few days, then legitimate again?

The fact is that they thought they were married legally and morally.  When they found out they weren't, they fixed it.  At the end of the day, the children they conceived, raised, and nurtured, are a product of their marriage and their love, and are legitimate.  They did the right thing.

Doesn't a convalidation do the same thing, except to make it valid in the eyes of God and the Church?  It is the right thing to do.

A final note:  Children who are otherwise illegitimate can be made legitimate on declaration from the Holy See.

Dave Armstrong:
I could be wrong on this, but I believe "legitimacy" is mostly a civil or legal term. If a couple is married in the sense of contractually, as far as the state is concerned (i.e., with a marriage license), then there are no illegitimate children (if I am correct in this). The Church determining whether a sacramental marriage was present, is another, more involved consideration.

Again, l as I understand it myself (without "looking it up," etc.), an "illegitimate" child would be one that is born to parents who had never been married in any way, shape, or form (either in the civil or sacramental sense). 

I should add that, I think people today are not nearly as concerned with illegitimacy per se (in terms of acceptance of the child), seeing that they are happy the mother chose to let her child live at all. We're happy to see the gift of life upheld. Better to be "legitimate," but far better to be an "illegitimate" child than a butchered one who never even got to see the light of day.


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