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John Akin wrote:

Hi guys,

  • What is the Paulist Privilege or Pauline Privilege and what is the scriptural basis for them?


  { What is the 'Paulist Privilege' or 'Pauline Privilege' and what is the scriptural basis for them? }

Mike and Eric replied:

Hi John,

Although I highly recommend you read all the Quick questions my colleague Eric has referred to, I thought it was important to pull out the relevant portion from This Rock Magazine.

Source: Catholic Answers — Quick Questions — This Rock Magazine — December 1993
Beware the perils of Pauline Privilege!

A Pauline Privilege is the dissolution of a purely natural marriage which had been contracted between two non-Christians, one of whom has since become a Christian. The Pauline Privilege is so-named because it is based upon the apostle Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16.

In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul gives instructions concerning problem marriages.

In verses 10-11 he discusses sacramental marriages, (marriages between two baptized people), and indicates that they are indissoluble. It is possible for a husband and a wife in a sacramental marriage to separate, but they cannot remarry. They must remain separated and not attempt to marry again, or they must reconcile with one other.

In verses 12-16 Paul gives instructions concerning the thornier case of a couple who have only a natural marriage. A sacramental marriage, one that communicates supernatural grace, requires that both partners be baptized. If neither is or only one is, their union is only a natural one. Sometimes one party to a natural marriage converts and becomes a Christian, which can cause the marital problems that Christians are expected to face (Luke 12:51-53, 18:29-30).

While natural marriages should be preserved if at all possible (1 Corinthians 7:12-14, 16), they can be dissolved in some cases. Paul tells us in verse 15 that if the unbelieving spouse refuses to live with the Christian partner, the unbeliever can be allowed to withdraw from the marriage, leaving the Christian partner unbound, free to remarry.

The Pauline Privilege thus may apply when the Church dissolves a natural marriage after one partner has become Christian and there is a just cause, such as the non-Catholic's refusal to live at peace with the Christian partner.

The Pauline Privilege differs from an annulment because it dissolves a real but natural marriage. An annulment is a declaration that there never was a valid marriage to begin with.

The Pauline Privilege does not apply when two baptized people marry and later one quits being Christian. These people had a sacramental marriage forged between them, and this marriage is indissoluble, even if one partner is failing to fulfill his marital responsibilities. In that case 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, which concerns such problem marriages, applies.

The Pauline Privilege also does not apply when a Christian has married a non-Christian. In those cases, a natural marriage exists and can be dissolved for a just cause, but by what is called the Petrine Privilege rather than by the Pauline Privilege.

The Petrine Privilege is so-named because it is reserved to the Holy See, so only Rome can grant the Petrine Privilege (which it seldom does).

A biblical precedent for the Petrine Privilege, where some of the faithful marry unbelievers and then are permitted to divorce them, is found in Ezra 10:1-14, where the Jews put away their foreign (pagan) wives.

Mike and Eric

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