Monday, March 28, 2011

The Re-marriage of Fallen-away Catholics: A Review of the Motu Proprio Omnium in mentem

A Catholic man, a well-known personality, became a Born-again Christian and married a Baptist woman without securing the required dispensation from the Catholic authorities. After a few years, they break up and get a civil annulment from a Philippine court. Now he wishes to remarry in the Catholic Church with a Catholic woman. Can he do it?

The Canon Law on Mixed Marriages and the so-called Disparity of Cult

There are two phenomena regulated by Canon Law which oftentimes are confused: mixed marriages and disparity of cult.

A mixed marriage is one contracted between two baptized persons, one of whom was baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it, and another who is a member of a Church or ecclesial community which is not in full communion with the Catholic Church. According to c.1124 of the Code of Canon Law, such a marriage cannot be celebrated without the express permission of the competent authority. Canon Law further stipulates that such permission can be granted by the Local Ordinary if there is a just and reasonable cause, but only if the following requirements (called cautions) are met: (1) the Catholic party declares that he/she is prepared to remove dangers of falling away from the faith and makes a sincere promise to do all in his/her power to have all the children baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church; (2) the other party is informed at an appropriate time of these promises which the Catholic party has to make, so that it is clear that the other party is truly aware of the promise and obligation of the Catholic party; (3) both parties are instructed on the essential ends and properties of marriage, which are not to be excluded by either party (c.1125).

Can.1126 further establishes that the conference of bishops is to establish the way in which these declarations and promises, which are always required, are to be made, what proof of them there should be the external forum and how they are to be brought to the attention of the non-Catholic party. In practice, many dioceses in the Philippines now require the non-Catholic party to sign a simple document to this effect.

Failure to follow these norms by itself does not invalidate the canonical marriage thus contracted, but it renders it illicit─i.e., if done with full knowledge and consent, it would be gravely sinful for all involved (starting with the witnessing priest of course who should know better).

Quite a different matter is the so-called impediment of disparity of cult established by c.1086, which stipulates:

§1. Marriages between two persons, one of whom is baptized in the Catholic Church or has been received into it and the other of whom is non-baptized, is invalid.

§2. This impediment is not to be dispensed unless the conditions mentioned in cc.1125 and 1126 [i.e., the cautions for mixed marriages] are fulfilled.

In other words, whereas in the case of an unauthorized mixed marriage is only illicit but valid, the presence of the impediment of disparity of cult─unless lawfully dispensed─renders the marriage invalid from the start.

The Motu Proprio Omnium in mentem

The Apostolic Letter “Motu Proprio” Omnium in mentem, issued 26.X.2009, dealt with two unrelated matters: a clarification of the ministerial function of deacons, and the obligation of the canonical form of marriage for those faithful who have left the Church in a formal way. Saving the first matter for a future article, let us focus now on the second clarification.

The Motu Proprio dealt with the obligation of the faithful who have left the Church in a formal way─e.g., the typical fallen-away Catholic who joins the Born again movement─to follow the ecclesiastical laws regarding the canonical form of marriage, the required dispensation from the impediment of disparity of cult and the need for permission in the case of mixed marriages.

It did this by taking away from the previous redaction of cc.1086, §1 (establishing the impediment of disparity of cult), c.1117 (requiring the canonical form if at least one of the parties of marriage is a baptized Catholic) and c.1124 (requiring permission from the Local Ordinary for a mixed marriage), a phrase which limited the scope of the Catholic party to one who “was baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it and has not by a formal act defected from it.” Thus, in the new redaction of the aforementioned canons, the phrase “and has not by a formal act defected from it” has been deleted.

The crux of the matter is that many problems arise as regards the separation of the faithful from the Church. The papal document explains it:

“First, in individual cases the definition and practical configuration of such a formal act of separation from the Church has proved difficult to establish, from both a theological and a canonical standpoint. In addition, many difficulties have surfaced both in pastoral activity and the practice of tribunals. Indeed, the new law appeared, at least indirectly, to facilitate and even in some way to encourage apostasy in places where the Catholic faithful are not numerous or where unjust marriage laws discriminate between citizens on the basis of religion. The new law also made difficult the return of baptized persons who greatly desired to contract a new canonical marriage following the failure of a preceding marriage. Finally, among other things, many of these marriages in effect became, as far as the Church is concerned, clandestine marriages.”

In sum, what the motu proprio has established is that even if a Catholic separates from the Church, he/she is still under Church Law, even if he disregards it. If he/she marries a person who is not validly baptized without due dispensation (from the impediment of disparity of cult) from the Local Ordinary, that marriage would be invalid.


Since our Catholic personality married the Baptist woman (invalid baptism) without dispensation from the impediment of disparity of cult, that first marriage was invalid. Thus, after securing a civil annulment, he is free to marry (not re-marry) in the Catholic Church with a Catholic woman.

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