Canon law means you can check out but you can never leave Catholic Church

Marriages in ‘non-Catholic churches, beaches, before Elvis impersonators’ considered invalid

 British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds, who married at the weekend, were both baptised Catholics as children and though the British prime minister was later confirmed as a member of the Church of England, canon lawyers say once you are baptised Catholic you remain a Catholic. File photograph: Will Oliver/EPA

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds, who married at the weekend, were both baptised Catholics as children and though the British prime minister was later confirmed as a member of the Church of England, canon lawyers say once you are baptised Catholic you remain a Catholic. File photograph: Will Oliver/EPA

 

One of Ireland’s leading canon lawyers has explained how a valid marriage in the Catholic Church’s tradition must meet three requirements.

Rev Prof Michael Mullaney, President at Ireland’s national seminary, St Patrick’s College Maynooth, said the couple party to such a marriage “must have capacity (ie the requisite freedom and knowledge to give such matrimonial consent), be free from any impediment in canon law and marry according to canonical form.”

This latter stipulation means they must marry before “the local Ordinary (usually refers to a bishop), priest, deacon and two witnesses” or a suitably Church- appointed lay person and two witnesses.

The “necessary pre-marriage preparations and catechesis are also required although not for validity,” he said.

Impediments to valid marriage in canon law include age. Both parties must be old enough to marry and usually this is in accord with the relevant civil law. Another impediment would be a previous marriage, whether conducted in the Catholic Church, in another church, or by the State, and not yet declared null and void.

Other impediments include where one of the parties is a priest or deacon; impotence; where there is a blood relationship between the parties, or where abduction/other crime is involved.

Fr Gary Dench, a canonist with Brentwood Cathedral in Essex, pointed out that marriages “in registry offices, hotels, non-Catholic Churches, beaches, (before) Elvis impersonators” and such, “do not require a formal annulment procedure” in the Catholic Church as such marriages involving baptised Catholics “are invalid” in the eyes of the Church.

In a Twitter thread, he said that under canon law once you are baptised Catholic you remain a Catholic and that defection from the Church was no longer recognised as possible “following ‘Omnium in Mentem’ (For the Attention of All) in 2009, promulgated by (Pope) Benedict XVI.”

On this issue, Rev Prof Mullaney said “the term ‘formal defection’ from the Catholic Church was introduced in the Code (of Canon Law) in 1983 but it was removed from the Code by the motu proprio ‘Omnium in Mentem’ (October 26th, 2009).”

This, he said was because experience “showed that this new (1983) law gave rise to numerous pastoral problems. First, in individual cases, the definition and practical configuration of such a formal act of separation from the Church proved difficult to establish, from both a theological and a canonical standpoint.

“Secondly, many difficulties surfaced both in pastoral activity and the practice of marriage tribunals in the interpretation of ‘formal defection’ with no clear consensus emerging on criteria for formal defection. To avoid further confusion it was removed.”

It was also the case that it was understood in canon law that “the ontological character of baptism can never be lost or renounced. Therefore, once baptised, a Catholic is subject to canon law in regard to the sacramental celebration of marriage,” he said.

“There was also the mistaken impression that apostasy, heresy or schism were identical to formal defection, as these do not necessarily involve a decision to leave the Church,” he said.