A while back (OK, it was in June) I posed a question to one of the blogosphere's resident experts, Jimmy Akin. At the time, I asked him for permission to share the post with our readers here. Jimmy was very quick to answer (my thanks to him for the graciousness, thoroughness, and speed of his response), but alas I've been woefully slow in linking to it. But now that I'm hard and fast in catchup mode, I figured it was better late than never.
The question itself revolves around the validity of a non-Catholic marriage when it is conducted in a denomination that recognizes the legitimacy of divorce and remarriage. We know that the Church has a presumption of validity in civil or non-Catholic marriages, but my question went to the state of mind that exists between the participants and their own denomination. It was triggered by a number of divorced non-Catholic friends I have who either have an attraction to Catholicism but haven't acted on it, or haven't demonstrated such an interest but based on belief and disposition would, in my opinion, make good Catholics.
So what do we do with these divorced people if they fall in love with someone and express a desire to remarry. Were their marriages valid if they had, in the back of their minds, the (at lesat subconscious) belief that they could (not would, but could) divorce if things didn't work out, and perhaps find someone better another time?
Jimmy's answer in its entirety is here. I'd reprint the exchange, but I think it would be more fun for you to read it all at his site, because you should be reading his site if you aren't already. Basically, the answer to the question is this: the marriage might be invalid depending on circumstances, but just being married in a denomination that recognizes divorce and remarriage is not in itself a reason to declare the marriage invalid.
I wonder if the Church's thinking on this will evolve. Whether they admit it or not (and I don't speak either about or for my friends on this score), I think a lot of people do go into marriage with the idea that it's ok to divorce and remarry if it doesn't work. Do they suffer from an ignorance of true Christian teaching, the teaching that is affirmed in the Catholic Church? Do they realize that and now accept the teaching of the Church and the reasoning behind it? And does that make their previous marriage invalid?
I'm certainly not one who wants to make annullments more common; I agree with those who think we've had way too many of them for too long. Still, there's a soft spot in my heart for those who married outside the Church and were deceived by a denomination that implicitly, if not explicitly, taught them that if it didn't work out they could start again. They may have thought they were getting married, but they were holding back in some way, not fully giving themselves over to God in their vows. Perhaps the Church needs to come up with a streamlined, easier way to decide such cases - a way that upholds teaching while at the same time making it seem less insurmountable for these people to enter the Church if they so desire. Any thoughts out there?