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Tom wrote:

Hi, guys —

Neither my wife nor I are Catholic. She is a Jew and I am a non-baptized Protestant.

For awhile now, I have contemplated converting to Catholicism, as it speaks to my heart and
I believe in the divinity of Christ and the infallibility of the Catholic Church.

My wife has no interest in converting.

  • If I convert, wouldn't the Church be setting up a situation whereby I would be committing fornication with my wife, given, (I assume), that the Church would never recognize my marriage with my wife?

It seems like quite a conundrum, yet I must be missing something, because I have been informed that conversions can take place after the couple has been wed:

  • either in a different (faith|religion), or
  • married civilly.

Bear in mind, my wife would not accept any re-marriage through the Church . . . not that the Church would marry us, given her Judaism.

  • Can you advise me on this marital conundrum?


  { Since I'm contemplating converting to Catholicism, can you advise me on this marital conundrum? }

Fr. Jonathan replied:

Mike —

His Marriage is perfectly valid so nothing would need to be done, however if either spouse is in a second Marriage, it would be more complicated.

Fr. Jonathan

Mary Ann replied:

Tom —

You are validly married, assuming you both were of sound mind and free will, able to consummate the marriage and open to life. These are the basics for any marriage. The Church respects your marriage and would not remarry you.

Mary Ann

Tom replied:


Fr. Jonathan said:
. . , however if either spouse is in a second Marriage, it would be more complicated.

Actually, yes, my wife is in her second marriage. She is Jewish and has secured a legal Jewish
(and civil) divorce.

  • In what way does this complicate a Catholic conversion for me?

I assume that the Church would deem her first marriage as binding and our current marriage as invalid.

Hence, I suppose the Church would consider us in an adulterous relationship?

Hmmm... That would be problematic.

  • Is there no realistic recourse beyond dissolving our union?


Fr. Jonathan replied:

Hi, Mike —

Tom's wife would need to get her first marriage to be declared invalid, if the man is still alive.

Tom should speak with a priest or to his local Catholic Tribunal. The fact that she has secured a legal Jewish divorce is unfortunately irrelevant to our law. The case may qualify as a Pauline Privilege case. Whether it does, or not, is up to the local Bishop.

I could obviously give more detail, but it really is better for him to speak with a priest or the local Tribunal. If he does qualify, in the eyes of the local Bishop, and witnesses cooperate, it could be a relatively simple process.

Fr. Jonathan

Tom replied:

Thanks for that information.

  • Would my wife's ex-husband have to take any action in the event that I pursue a
    Pauline Privilege?
  • Does he need to respond to a petition?

Quite frankly, he never would. He goes to great length to make my wife's life miserable wherever he can, and he has no love for me.

  • If he refuses to cooperate, are you saying, he actually has the power to block my conversion to Catholicism?



Fr. Jonathan replied:


Yes, Tom would need to pursuethe Pauline Privilege. However, if she does a regular declaration of nullity, the process can continue, even if he refuses to participate.

I think it is important for Tom to realize that the Church he is entering takes Marriage and the Sacraments very seriously. We have an understanding of the sanctity of Marriage that is uncompromising.

This is causing Tom to have to be patient which is part of being a Catholic. Nevertheless, when he does enter, he will enter realistically knowing that to be a Catholic involves personal sacrifice and obedience to the teachings of the Church.

Fr. Jonathan

Tom replied:

Dear Fr. Jonathan,

I will indeed be patient and, if it is the will of God, then I will convert to Catholicism.

I have one additional question. I thought a declaration of nullity was used in the event one of the parties is Catholic.

  • Because I'm a Protestant and my wife is Jewish, would a declaration of nullity apply to us?



Mike replied:

Hi, Tom —

A declaration of nullity is just a declaration that a marriage never occurred; contrary to what you may have heard, it is not a Catholic divorce.

You are Protestant now but, if you were interested in joining the Church, the Church would have to review any previous relevant marital issues, not because the Church is trying to be a pain, but because She has to keep faithful to Our Lord's words on marriage being a life-long commitment between one man, you, as a Catholic, and one woman, your wife.

If I misstated anything, I'm sure Fr. Jonathan will comment.


Fr. Jonathan replied:

Hi, Tom —

I think that I would say the same thing but with different language:

The Catholic Church has seven Sacraments, one of which is Marriage. However, Marriage did not originate with Jesus — Marriage, as an act of God, existed long before Jesus raised Marriage to the dignity of a Sacrament. This means that Abraham and Sarah from the Old Testament were married in the eyes of God,
i.e. we recognize their Marriage as valid. It is obviously not a Sacramental Marriage but it is clearly a valid Marriage in the eyes of God.

Similarly, when two Jewish people get married today, we recognize it also as valid and from God even though those Marriages are clearly non-Sacramental.

The Church calls this a Natural Marriage. (i.e. valid and from God).

What it takes for a Natural Marriage is:

  • two people consenting to each other before someone hearing the vows, and
  • two witnesses.

For this to happen, it doesn't even have to be in the context of a religious ceremony. What makes it a Sacrament is if both parties are baptized (e.g. two baptized Lutherans who marry in this way, is a valid Sacramental Wedding even though they are not Catholic.)

To be complete, you should know that Catholics are bound by the obligation to be married before a priest or deacon (or have a dispensation to not be) otherwise their Marriages are manifestly invalid because they did not follow the proper form.

Non-Catholics are not bound by proper form so almost all marriage ceremonies are valid ceremonies whether they be Jewish, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, or atheists.

In your case, two non-Catholics get married and then are divorced. Now one of them wants to be married to a Catholic. The Church doesn't recognize civil divorce because civil divorce is about a contract and not about the consent of the couple.

In our Catholic theology, we recognize that it is the consent of the couple that makes a Marriage binding. Therefore, the non-Catholic is still bound by their consent to the former spouse.

A Declaration of Nullity is a study to see if there was a serious flaw in the consent. The Marriage Tribunal studies and reviews the marriage and either declares the Marriage, valid or invalid. If it is declared invalid due to the consent, the non-Catholic is deemed free to marry and the Church then recognizes the new marriage.

Similarly, if a non-Catholic who has been married before, is divorced and remarried and then wants to become a Catholic, that person would need to do two things:

  1. have the first marriage declared null, and
  2. have the second marriage made valid by a separate ceremony.

otherwise the person is not currently in a valid marriage with their current spouse: the consequence for that is that they cannot receive Holy Communion. (i.e. it would be silly to bring an adult into the Church who could not participate in the Sacraments).

I hope that this is helpful,

Fr. Jonathan

Tom replied:

Hi, guys —

I thank you both for your help.

Your information and assistance has been comprehensive.

Please say a prayer on my behalf.


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