Issues of Faith: Decrees of Nullity

Civil Marriage is what the government does, Sacramental Marriage may occur at the same time as a civil marriage but they are not the same thing.  A civil marriage can end in divorce, a Sacramental Marriage cannot.

SACRAMENTAL MARRIAGE is a permanent bond.  Death is the only parting of two souls bound in a Sacramental Marriage.  This bond is so important that EVERYTHING depends on the answer to the question, “Was this marriage that ended in divorce merely a civil marriage or DID A SACRAMENT OF MARRIAGE EXIST?”

The authority in the Church with the responsibility for discerning through careful investigation the existence or lack of existence of a Sacramental Marriage is the Tribunal.   Pastoral care takes a different direction depending on the decision of the Tribunal and what the divorced person must do to live a Catholic life after their divorce.

Meanwhile, before the decision of the Tribunal, the person who has had a civil divorce must live a chaste life with the assumption that their marriage was Sacramental.


The Tribunals have the sad task of attempting to discover the truth from the day of the wedding to determine if the essentials for a Sacramental Marriage existed–ON THAT DAY.  If the Tribunal finds enough evidence that one or more essentials were lacking on the day of the wedding vows, then they will issue of DECREE OF NULLITY.

A Decree of Nullity is NOT a Catholic divorce, it is a studied determination that on the day of the wedding NO Sacramental Marriage occurred. The Tribunal of the diocese looked at the facts and determined that there never was a sacramental marriage.  A second Tribunal from another diocese will look at the evidence and confirm or dispute that finding. A disputed decision will go on up the ladder and might eventually be investigated by the authorities in Rome.

A Sacramental Marriage will NOT be issued a Decree of Nullity. Period. If the Tribunal finds that the marriage was Sacramental then it will be upheld as an unbreakable bond.

Each decision has implications for the pastoral care of the divorced person.


If a divorced person’s marriage is found to be Sacramental, that person must remain single until they either reconcile with their estranged spouse or the spouse dies.

The pastoral care of the divorced person whose marriage was found to be Sacramental requires a lot of support and loving encouragement.  They need help to learn how to live their faith as a permanently single person.  No matter why the civil marriage ended in divorce, the existence of a SACRAMENT of Marriage means they remain married in the eyes of the Church even if they do not reconcile.  This does not change no matter what the spouse does.

The permanently single person will need to find ways to meet their need for social contact that does not lead them into near occasions of sin nor put them out there as if free to marry.  They will need to work on forgiving their spouse and to work on growing in virtues.  Finding ways to fill their time so that they avoid temptation and decrease the pressures of loneliness are important too.

The permanently single person should be encouraged to return to the sacraments and to participation in parish life.  This will help them to find fulfillment in their state in life.


If a person with a civil divorce receives a Decree of Nullity, that person never had a Sacramental marriage. There is no bond to defend and so this person is free to marry in the future. The civilly divorced person still needs to forgive the other person and then do an examination of their own conscience to find their own faults and seek remedy for them. Emphasis on the virtues and growing in those virtues will help them accept the grace of God.  Catechesis must include discipleship so that Church teaching is implemented fully in everyday life.







Issues of Faith: Decrees of Nullity — 2 Comments

  1. These cases are always complex and sometimes take a very long time to resolve. Lots of prayer and patience are needed, especially for couples who are joining the Catholic church for the first time.

    • I agree completely. There are so many different situations and they must be very carefully evaluated. The competent authority is the Tribunal and this relieves the local RCIA from some of the difficulty resulting from irregular marriage situations of those seeking to enter the Church.