Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Marriage and Annulments But Were Afraid to Ask


Does divorce mean excommunication? Does annulment mean your kids are illegitimate?

If I get an annulment, are my children illegitimate?

The children are never considered illegitimate. The legitimacy of children is determined by the laws of the country, not by the Church. Just as a divorce does not make children illegitimate, neither does an annulment granted by the Church. Canon law states that children born of a supposedly valid union are legitimate children. Therefore, if the marriage is later shown to have been invalid, the status of the children remains unchanged: they are legitimate.


Why can’t divorced and civilly “remarried” Catholics just go to confession and then receive Holy Communion? It’s been said that a Catholic who’s committed murder can go to confession, be absolved and receive Communion, but a divorced and civilly remarried Catholic cannot? What’s the difference?

There is a lot of discussion about this question at the present time. Essentially, what we are talking about here is trying to remain faithful to Christ’s teaching on marriage while at the same time attempting to reassure people who have experienced the pain of a failed marriage that they should still live their faith even though their new situation does put them at variance with the Gospel teaching.

When two people get married in Church, it is presumed, as we said earlier, that it is a valid marriage. Since both spouses are joined by God in the sacramental union, any other relationship that is marital in nature impacts on their sacramental marriage. If two Catholics subsequently divorce and remarry civilly, they freely enter a new union which, regretfully, cannot be recognized by the Church. They know this and the Church knows it too. Since the civil divorce does not bring about an annulment, and since the sacramental marriage remains intact, we are faced with a situation where the parties enter a relationship which is going to be characterized by the sin of adultery.

Catholic teaching holds that an act of adultery can be forgiven in confession provided the spouse is repentant, amends his or her life and wishes to return to the marriage. If the spouse has no intention of reassuming the marital life blessed by God but rather wishes to persist in the new irregular situation, then we are dealing with a different case.

Can confession solve the problem? Going to confession to seek forgiveness for committing the sin of adultery and then continuing to live in the second relationship raises a question over the sincerity of the desire to amend one’s life. We can perhaps recall the words of Jesus to the woman caught in adultery. He pardoned her offence but instructed her not to sin again.

This impacts too on the question of Holy Communion because the Church teaches that its sons and daughters are to be in the state of grace when receiving the Eucharist. If this is not the case, if a person is living in an ongoing relationship and without the intention to regularize the situation, then the Eucharist is received in an unworthy way.

What can often happen is that a person can feel as if he or she does not belong any more to the Church only because he or she may not approach Holy Communion. This is not true. On the contrary, the person should be encouraged to participate, to play a role in the community, to pray, attend the sacraments, do good for others, educate his or her children in the ways of faith and strive to conform his or her life to God’s will despite the irregular nature of the situation.

Finally, in relation to the marriage question, the person should make a serious enquiry into the possibility of the marriage being investigated with a view to a declaration of nullity. The local bishop will be helpful in this matter.

If a person is divorced but never enters a second relationship or civilly remarries, can he or she receive Holy Communion?

Yes, of course. To take an example, we all know spouses who sadly have been abandoned and whose marriages have ended through no fault of their own. Similarly, we have heard of cases where couples simply cannot live together any longer. Canon law, in fact, allows in certain circumstances for the separation of the spouses while the marriage bond continues. In this case there is nothing hindering the spouses receiving the sacraments. The difficulty only arises when a second union is entered.


Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.

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