What is Canonical Form?
The law of the Church requires for validity that every Catholic marry in the presence of a priest or deacon and two witnesses, using the Catholic form of marriage. It is possible for the Bishop to dispense from the requirement of canonical form for the Catholic party entering a mixed religion marriage. The marriage of two Catholics always requires canonical form.
What is a Lack of Canonical Form case?
If a Catholic is not married in the presence of a priest or deacon and has not received a dispensation from canonical form, then the Church’s required form of marriage has not been followed and the Church does not recognize the union as a valid marriage.
For example, if a Catholic and non-Catholic marry in a non-Catholic religious ceremony without the Catholic first receiving a dispensation from form from his/her bishop, they have not observed the required canonical form. Similarly, if two Catholics marry in a civil ceremony they have not observed the required canonical form. Their unions are not recognized as valid marriages by the Catholic Church.
If a party to such a marriage celebrated outside of required canonical form divorces and now wishes to enter a future marriage in the Catholic Church with another person, he/she first must obtain a “lack of canonical form” decree to verify that the prior marriage meets the criteria of “lack of canonical form.” This process demonstrates there was no valid marriage and that neither party is bound to the union. This is a simple administrative process wherein three elements must be demonstrated:
• It must be shown that at least one of the spouses was bound to observe the canonical form at the time of the wedding; this is demonstrated by submitting the baptismal certificate for the Catholic party (it is required that it be an annotated baptismal certificate obtained with the past six months);
• It must be shown that the marriage in question was not celebrated with a dispensation from canonical form by the proper bishop;
• It must be shown that the original non-Catholic ceremony was not subsequently validated (blessed) in a Catholic ceremony or sanated (corrected) by the proper Church authority.
In the Diocese of Scranton, you may obtain the documents for this process from your diocesan priest. He will have the paperwork to start this process. He will then forward the paperwork to the Scranton Tribunal.
Please feel free to call the Scranton Tribunal with any issues or concerns.
Coordinator of the Tribunal
300 Wyoming Avenue
Scranton, PA 18503-1279