Are Most Civil Marriages valid in the eyes of the Church?

Dr. Ed Peters makes that claim in a recent post. I doubt it.

Any Christians who attempt to contract marriage without the intention to do as the Church does, including to commit themselves to a lifelong union before God, do not have a valid Sacrament. Any Catholics who attempt to contract marriage without proper canonical form do not have a valid Sacrament.

Any unbaptized persons do not have a valid natural marriage, if they do not consent to a lifelong union, or if they are not open to any of the true ends of marriage, especially procreation and the fidelity of the spouses.

Some authors opine that contracepted sex does not validly consummate a marriage. For the primary end of marriage is the procreation and education of offspring, which is contradicted by contracepted sexual intercourse.

In addition, any Christians who are divorced and remarried do not have a valid second (or third or fourth…) marriage.

We don’t know what the percentages are, but in this very sinful world, in which most persons are not Christian and most Christians are not faithful to biblical or Church teaching, I am very skeptical that most civil marriages are valid.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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11 Responses to Are Most Civil Marriages valid in the eyes of the Church?

  1. Dora says:

    Question: Let’s say a couple marry without intent to procreate, but following an “accident,” they embrace and raise up a child. After the fact, can this event elevate/validate the status of their natural/civil or Protestant marriage, understood as a lifelong commitment?
    I would like to add that things get complicated quickly because “mixed” marriages are very common, even including unbaptized partners.

    • Ron Conte says:

      I don’t know. What if they marry and have no intention to remain together for life, but then, as the relationship continues, they decide to remain together for life? It’s difficult to judge.

  2. Dora says:

    Your position now makes sense to me, that those outside the Church can be saved. It is obvious that mixed civil marriages are outside the Church. Mixed marriages are also liberal. For a lack of canonical form to send liberal Catholics to hell in droves, this is incomprehensible. Marriage is a human right, which means that every Catholic who contracts a natural marriage has the right to do so. Omitting a procedure is not intrinsically evil, perhaps it shows a deficit of faith in the institution (one that has produced pedophile priests). I see no mortal sin at all here.
    As you say, we have a liberal pope. ASAP he should codify these people’s right to their own conscience. If in the meantime it threatens conservatives, or if it leads to abuses, so be it.

    • Ron Conte says:

      I favor removing the requirement for canonical form. But it does have a good purpose, to keep Catholics from seeing marriage as a merely civil union, which can be dissolved by civil law.

  3. Dora says:

    PS: most Catholics did not choose infant baptism. They did not freely consent to be governed by the Church.

  4. Marco says:

    I agree with you, Ron. In particular the lifelong commitment (named “Bonum Sacramenti”, but it is essential even for the validity of a natural marriage) is lacking in the majority (possibly vast majority) of Catholics marriages.

    I suspect that nearly all civil marriages are factual fornication.

    • Ron Conte says:

      I don’t think the problem is that extensive. But Mary said at Fatima: “Many marriages are not good; they do not please Our Lord, and they are not of God.”

    • Marco says:

      “I don’t think the problem is that extensive”

      Among civil marriages?

      I mean, is it likely that a couple of civilly married people accept, at least implicitly, the Bonum Sacramenti?

      If many catholic marriages are null I think that nullity is more widespread among civil marriages, because people are very likely to have embraced divorce mentality.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Bonum Sacramenti (the good of the sacrament) applies, obviously, to sacramental marriages. The conditions for validity/nullity of natural marriages is lesser. It is difficult to say what percentage, very approximately, of civil marriages are valid. But I don’t think we can assert, knowingly, that it is the vast majority. Your opinion, though, is tenable. It’s just hard to determine.

    • Marco says:


      “Bonum Sacramenti (the good of the sacrament) applies, obviously, to sacramental marriages. The conditions for validity/nullity of natural marriages is lesser”

      Of course, but even natural marriages need the lifelong commitment (which in Sacramental marriages is called “Bonum Sacramenti”) in order to be valid.

      And i think that this condition is lacking very, very, very often, especially in civil marriages and expecially in western countries.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Yes, I stand corrected on that point. The expression does not apply solely to the sacramental union, but to natural marriages as well.

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