Must I Remain Single the Rest of My Life?

Q. At one time I was Muslim and my spouse was also, when I accepted Jesus Christ, my spouse moved out and moved in with another woman, who he has remained with ever since, that was seven years ago. I divorced him two years after he left and moved in with another woman. Must I remain single for the rest of my life.

A. When two non-Christians marry but later one spouse becomes a Christian and the non Christian leaves the marriage then the Pauline Privilege may be applied. The Information below was copied from Catholic Culture . It is a portion of a larger post regarding marriage.

The Pauline Privilege

Some have called the Pauline Privilege a “Catholic divorce.” It is not. A Pauline Privilege is the dissolution of a purely natural (not sacramental) marriage which had been contracted between two non-Christians, one of whom has since become a Christian. The Pauline Privilege is so-named because it is based upon the apostle Paul’s words in I Corinthians. As you read further, you will see that the Pauline Privilege is no simple formula, and is certainly not a divorce. Neither Christ nor the Church accepts divorce, and as we have seen, marriage is truly sacred. Some marriages however, were not sacred from their beginning. In these marriages, neither party was a Christian or a Catholic. When at a later time, one partner converts and is baptized, questions about the marriage may arise. The Pauline Privilege differs from an annulment because it dissolves a real but natural marriage. An annulment is a declaration that there never was a valid marriage to begin with.

“A marriage entered into by two non-baptized persons is dissolved by means of the Pauline Privilege in favor of the faith of the party who has received baptism by the very fact that a new marriage is contracted by the same party, provided that the non-baptized party departs.”8

The Pauline Privilege is based upon St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians,

“To the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him…But if the unbelieving partner desires to separate, let it be so; in such a case, the brother or sister is not bound. For God has called us to peace.”9

Valid Christian marriage performed without impediment as noted above cannot be dissolved or annulled. “The marriage bond has been established by God Himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved.”10

God does however, dissolve the marital relationship in certain circumstances. The simplest example would be the death of a spouse.

Thus a married woman is bound by law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies she is discharged from the law concerning her husband. … But if her husband dies she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.11

We can see then, that the marriage relationship can be dissolved under certain circumstances and that God recognizes this dissolution. In the case of dissolution by the death of a spouse, He recognizes the right of the living spouse to remarry.

The Pauline Privilege does not apply to the death of a spouse, but recognizes that certain marriages, while valid, were not sacramental (not “Christian”). A marriage between two unbaptized persons is not a sacramental marriage. St. Paul’s inspired words in I Corinthians tell us that when one of the married persons has been baptized into the Catholic faith and the other remains an unbeliever, unwilling to live in peace with the believer, then the believer is not bound by the marriage. While Paul does not say specifically that the marriage is dissolved, the Church takes it to mean so, or the believer would not be free to remarry and the words would not contain the full truth. We know that St. Paul was divinely inspired to write those words, and therefore they do contain the full truth. The Church has then determined exactly how and under what conditions the “Pauline Privilege” may be exercised. According to the Church’s interpretation, the dissolution of a marriage that was contracted before the conversion and baptism of one of the parties does not take place upon mere separation of the parties, but only when a new marriage was entered into by the believer invoking this privilege.

Then only may the yoke of the matrimonial bond with an infidel be understood to be loosed when the convert spouse…proceeds to another marriage with a believer.12

If the non-believing party agrees to live with the believer in peace, then they should remain married. However, if the non-believing party does not agree to live in peace, then the believing party can be released from the bond of the non-sacramental marriage and is free to remarry. Even if the non-believing spouse agrees, but then acts contrary to this by abusing the Christian religion, tempting the Christian to infidelity, prevents the children from being raised in Christian faith, or becomes votia temptation for the Christian to commit mortal sin, then the latter retains the right to proceed to a new marriage. 13

Because of the serious and threatening conditions of a believer living with a non-believer, the Church determines in most circumstances to interpret the meaning of living in peace as whether the non-Christian is willing to accept the faith. In the case that the non-Christian refuses, then permission may be granted to the believing party to enter into a new marriage and thereby dissolve the previous one. This is what is meant when the Pauline Privilege is used in favor of the faith. The Church has then, the right to – in favor of the faith – dissolve a marriage that was contracted in infidelity (unbelief). Since according to I Cor. 7:12-15, these marriages are not absolutely indissoluble according to Divine right as stated by St. Paul, it then follows that the power to make this decision resides with the Church. This power was granted to the successor of St. Peter:

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.14

The Pope has determined that the local bishops exercise this authority. The diocesan Tribunal reviews each case for final determination.

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