Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Canonical conundrum no. 1

I thought I might, from time to time, post some interesting (well, to me anyway) hypothetical questions against which folks could test their canonical acumen.

FACTS: A Roman Catholic man wants to present himself for ordination to the permanent diaconate. He tells you that many years ago, he civilly married a divorced woman. They remained together for some years until she died of natural causes. He has not remarried, in the Church or out, since. He asks whether, in respect of his marital status, he is eligible for the permanent diaconate.

Q. 1. Do you need additional information to answer his immediate question?

Q. 2. If you do not need additional information, is he eligible for orders?

Q. 3. If he is not eligible, what option(s), if any, might he have to address that fact?

No hints, so don't ask. Answer in about a week. Good luck!


R. 1. Lawyers are generally happy to have more information on cases, but here, everything one needs to know in order to respond accurately to the question has been presented.

R. 2. As things stand now, this man is ineligible for holy orders, including the permanent diaconate. Although not every invalid attempt at marriage renders a man "irregular" for orders under 1983 CIC 1041.4, an attempt at marriage (even a civil marriage, which is why one does not need to know whether the wedding was in the Church) with a woman who is already married validly renders the man "irregular" for orders. It does not matter that the wife is now dead; it is this kind of attempt at marriage that triggers an impediment, not the state.

R. 3. There is something the man could try. Notice that the irregularity for orders arises only if, inter alia, the woman is in a valid marriage. So, how does one try the validity of a marriage after the death of either spouse? One has resort to 1983 CIC 1675.1 which provides for the impugnment of marriage after the death of either (or both, for that matter) spouse if the question of its validity is important for the resolution of another controversy. Such is obviously the case here with regard to the man's eligibility for holy orders, and either the man or the promoter of justice could present the libellus (1983 CIC 1674). Naturally, all the requirements of law would still have to be met in adjudicating the case, but it could be filed.

As I have said many times before, the answer to a canonical question is seldom found within a single canon. Thus, it pays to know the whole Code.