The Pauline Privilege

Q.  I wonder if you could explain the “Pauline Privilege” and if it still applies after the Second Vatican Council.

— C.S., Taylorsville, Utah

A. Here’s a reply from Msgr. M. Francis Mannion:

The Pauline Privilege refers to the dissolution by the Church of the marriage of two persons not baptized at the time the marriage occurred. Its name comes from the fact that its biblical protocol is found in St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. St. Paul writes: “If any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she is willing to go on living with him, he should not divorce her; and if any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, she should not divorce her husband. For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through the brother. Otherwise your children would be unclean, whereas in fact they are holy. If the unbeliever separates, however, let him separate. The brother or sister is not bound in such cases; God has called you to peace” (7:12-15).

Explained more directly, the Pauline Privilege is invoked by the Church under certain conditions: First, if neither husband nor wife was baptized Christians at the time the marriage took place. Second, if either husband or wife was baptized after the marriage had taken place, while the other party remained unbaptized. Third, if the unbaptized person abandoned the marriage by divorce or simple departure from the marriage or made life unbearable for the Christian and was unwilling to live in peace with him or her. If these conditions are fulfilled, the original marriage may be dissolved by the Church and the Christian party is given the right to enter into marriage with another Christian or even a nonbaptized person. The Pauline Privilege is still used in the Church’s canonical processes.