Marriage Is Forever...Or, Is It?
Not long ago, I read an editorial in The Pilot, entitled "Marriage is Forever." I stopped for a moment and pondered, "Well, on the one hand ... but, then again, on the other hand."
The phrase "marriage is forever" underscores our belief that marriage is indissoluble. In other words, marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power or for any reason other than death (c. 1141).
However, when affirming this truth it's important to know what we mean by the word "marriage." As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "The Lord Jesus insisted on the original intention of the Creator who willed that marriage be indissoluble. He abrogates the accommodations that had slipped into the old Law. Between the baptized, 'a ratified and consummated marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power or for any reason other than death' (CCC, 2382). The Church does not have the power to contravene this disposition of divine wisdom (CCC, 1640)."
The Catechism and the law (c. 1141) define a consummated and sacramental marriage as indissoluble. It is important to keep in mind that once the faith community defines what marriage is, conversely, it is defining what it is not. In the same manner once the faith community defines that this quality belongs to this particular marriage, it is conversely defining that the same quality is not identically attached to every type of marriage (c. 1056).
A consummated and sacramental marriage is indissoluble. So conversely, a non-consummated marriage is dissoluble. It can be dissolved. A non-sacramental marriage is dissoluble. It too can be dissolved.
A marriage which is not consummated can be dissolved by the Church
The Holy Father, for a just cause, at the request of one or both of the parties, will dissolve a valid, sacramental marriage that is not consummated (c. 1142). He will also dissolve a valid, non-sacramental marriage that is not consummated (c. 1142).
There are specific legal procedures to be followed in these cases (c. 1697-1706). Ultimately, the Apostolic See alone adjudicates the case. However, the local tribunal instructs the initial phases of the case at the request of the bishop. Everything is then forwarded to Rome.
The present procedures respect the personal dignity of both parties. These cases are processed with a great deal of discretion and tact. They are in fact rare.
When an allegation of non-consummation surfaces, efforts are made to determine the parties' willingness to submit a petition of this nature to Rome. Given the sensitive nature of the case, parties may wish to exhaust another avenue first.
The law presumes consummation after the spouses begin living together (c. 1061). Rather than attempting to prove the contrary, parties may allege non-consummation as an indication of a defect of consent. In this instance the tribunal investigation would focus on the possibility of a declaration of nullity. If this declaration is in the affirmative, a case for non-consummation would be avoided.
A marriage which is not sacramental can be dissolved by the Church
A marriage is sacramental if both of the ministers are baptized Christians (c. 1055). So conversely, if one or both of the parties is not baptized, the marriage is not sacramental. It is however a valid marriage. Through their consent the parties have brought about a union of husband and wife. This union is blest by God. Whether the union is between Muslims, Jews, Hindus or Buddhists.
So for example, if a Jewish man marries a Jewish woman in the presence of the rabbi, the Catholic Church considers that to be a valid marriage. We would not call it sacramental however, as neither minister is Christian. Yet "marriage is forever" and so the parties are bound to the commitment for life.
However, if they divorce and the Jewish man wishes to marry an unmarried Catholic he is unable to do so. The church considers him bound to his first marriage for life. Once the Church recognizes a marriage as a valid, any question of invalidity must come before a church tribunal. However, anyone whether baptized or not, can bring a case before a church court (c. 1476).
A petition of this sort would only occur if the subsequent marriage involved a Catholic. The faith community at large is concerned for its individual members. The marriage of any member of the Church affects all the members (c. 1059). Marriage is both a private and public reality.
In this instance of the Jewish marriage there are two options. The first is the formal procedure which calls into question the consent of the two parties as it existed on the wedding day - a declaration of nullity. The second option involves a dissolution of the Jewish marriage. It is possible to dissolve a non-sacramental marriage according to church law.
There are two processes in church law which dissolve non-sacramental marriages. One procedure is called the Pauline Privilege and supervised by the bishop (cc. 1143-1147). The other procedure is referred to as a Favor of the Faith. In this instance the pope dissolves the marriage in question. Respect for a person's ability to practice the faith is an underlying principle of these legal proceedings. The Boston Tribunal processes a small number of these cases each year.
Next, the importance of church courts ...