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Kendric Page wrote:

Hi, guys —

My inquiry is about Catholic conversion and marrying a baptized Catholic. I'm currently divorced from a marriage that took place in a courthouse. Neither one of us were either Catholic or baptized. The only thing that we share together is my son. My friend who is a baptized Catholic has never been married or had any children.

  • Will it be possible for us to unite in marriage given the circumstances of my past?


  { Since neither of us were previously Catholic or baptized, can I now convert and marry a Catholic? }

John replied:

Hi, Kendric —

It sounds like it should be simple enough. Your wife-to-be will need a dispensation to marry a non-Catholic unless you convert. It sounds like your previous marriage can be easily dissolved since two non-Christians were getting married. I say non-Christians because you said neither of you were baptized at the time of this marriage. You may have been believers but technically you need to be baptized in order to be considered a Christian.

We are not canon lawyers. This is a matter that you and your bride-to-be need to discuss with a priest. There will be some extra hoops anyway because you are not Catholic but I believe it should be possible.


Mary Ann replied:

Kendric —

Because you are converting, you could possibly get a Pauline Privilege dissolution of the previous union.

The declaration of nullity might not be long and complex to achieve, but you do need to start the process with your local pastor as soon as possible. Some of the parameters would be:

  • What did you think marriage was when you married?
  • Did you intend permanence?
  • Did you intend children?
  • Did you marry without pressure:
    • of circumstances or
    • other people?
  • Was there any material information withheld by one party from the other?

These are the sorts of things.

Mary Ann

Eric replied:

Mary Ann —

  • Doesn't the Pauline privilege require that there be a situation where the conversion of one partner to Christianity causes conflict with the non-Christian partner?

    (1 Corinthians 7:12-16, Canon 1144)


Mary Ann replied:

Hi, Eric —

Non-sacramental unions are also valid and indissoluble, assuming that the couple fulfilled all conditions for a valid marriage. All marriages are presumed valid, until found otherwise.

As for whether there has to be conflict, I don't know.  If the other partner doesn't want to convert or keep the marriage, that may suffice.

Mary Ann

Eric replied:

Hi, Kendric —

Based on Mary Ann's reply:

  • you probably need a declaration of nullity;
  • It is not guaranteed and may take a year or longer;
  • you should consult the parish priest to start the annulment or look into other possible options such as the Pauline Privilege.


Fr. Jonathan, our priest/canon lawyer contact replied:


John's answer was not a good one. His answer could easily be interpreted that the woman has only a short process.

Mary did better indicating the Pauline Privilege was an option; however, that is for the Tribunal to determine rather than the Parish priest.

First, the marriage in question is not a sacramental marriage because they were not baptized but it was a valid natural marriage. Therefore, the woman is not free to marry the Catholic man until her first marriage is dealt with in some form. The usual way is for her to begin the process of a declaration of nullity and that indeed begins with a meeting with the parish priest.

As Eric noted, the Pauline Privilege is based on 1 Corinthians 7:12-16. It provides for the dissolution of the marriage of two unbaptized persons, even if consummated, when one of them is baptized and the other still non-baptized leaves the marriage. The couple could only seek this from the diocesan bishop if the first husband is willing to participate and answers the questions. If he is not in the picture, you can't do it.

The questions are basically if he is willing to receive Baptism and live peacefully with the baptized party. If the answer to both of these questions is negative then he is seen as departing the marriage. There need not be any conflict. One more thing — the privilege cannot be used if the fault of the departure of the unbaptized person was that of the baptized person after the Baptism.

You can see all this in Canons around 1143 and 1144:

Canon 1143

§1. A marriage entered into by two non-baptized persons is dissolved by means of the Pauline Privilege in favor of the faith of the party who has received baptism by the very fact that a new marriage is contracted by the same party, provided that the non-baptized party departs.

§2. The non-baptized party is considered to depart if he or she does not wish to cohabit with the baptized party or to cohabit peacefully without affront to the Creator unless the baptized party, after baptism was received, has given the other a just cause for departing.

Canon 1144

§1. For the baptized party to contract a new marriage validly, the non-baptized party must always be interrogated whether:

  1. he or she also wishes to receive baptism;

  2. he or she at least wishes to cohabit peacefully with the baptized party without affront to the Creator.

§2. This interrogation must be done after baptism. For a grave cause, however, the local ordinary can permit the interrogation to be done before baptism or can even dispense from the interrogation either before or after baptism provided that it is evident at least by a summary and extrajudicial process that it cannot be done or would be useless.

I hope this is helpful, feel free to use this information.

Fr. Jonathan

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