Today, the Catholic Church teaches that remarrying after a civil divorce is adultery.

“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” – CCC 1650

Moreso, it teaches marriages must be conducted by Catholic clergy.

“Only those marriages are valid which are contracted before the local ordinary, pastor, or a priest or deacon.” – CCL 1108 Β§ 1

But did you know doing either of these in the United States used to mean you were automatically excommunicated? It’s true.

In 1884, Pope Leo XIII approved a decree by the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore that instituted two automatic excommunications specifically for Catholics in the United States.

The first of which applied to American Catholics who after obtaining a civil divorce remarried or attempted to remarry.

The second applied to American Catholics who married or attempted marriage before non-Catholic clergy.

The 1917 Code of Canon Law 2319 outlines four actions American Catholics would be automatically excommunicated for:

    1. Enter marriage in the presence of a non-Catholic minister against the prescription of Canon 1063, Β§ 1;
    2. Enter marriage with the explicit or implicit agreement that all or any of the children will be educated outside of the Catholic Church;
    3. Knowingly presume to offer their children to non-Catholic ministers for baptism
    4. Being parents or holding the place of parents, knowingly hand their charges over for non-Catholic education or formation.

Canon 2139 was lifted retroactively by Paul VI in his 1970 motu proprio Matrimonia Mixta.

7 years later, Paul VI also retroactively lifted the automatic excommunicatiopn for remarriage.

Pope Saint Paul VI, pray for us!


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