Free to Marry Q. My wife and I are both Catholics, but were not married in the Church because of our previous divorces. Both of our former spouses are now deceased, and we are wondering if we may now be married in the Church?

Michael R. Bryant

A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:  
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that validly married Catholics who divorce and enter civil unions “find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists” (No. 1650). However, if the former spouses have died, both parties are free to marry and should approach their pastor to have their civil union validated in the Church.

Before this, the couple will be asked to seek reconciliation through the Sacrament of Penance. Once they have done so, their civil union may be “blessed,” and the couple is free to return to full participation in the life of the Church.

Our Church urges the utmost compassion toward Catholics who have divorced and entered civil marriages — and toward others who find themselves in irregular situations. “They should be encouraged to listen to the Word of God, to attend the Sacrifice of the Mass, to persevere in prayer, to contribute to works of charity … to bring up their children in the Christian faith, to cultivate the spirit and practice of penance and thus implore, day by day, God’s grace” (Catechism, No. 1651). These words demonstrate the Church’s pastoral concern for those who have strayed, and demonstrate one must work very hard to be completely excluded from God’s fold.