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Dear Father Angelo,

I always read your column and your answers very carefully. They really teach me something about faith and catholic ethics. Speaking of it, I would like to talk to you about a topic I discussed with other people.     

Due to the fact that I am part of a families group in the parish where I belong, we often organize meetings to schedule our pastoral activities.

One of the participants mentioned a recent diocesan meeting for families during which the bishop dealt with the so-called irregular relationships or relationships between people who live together. He would have stated that a non married couple could receive the canonical identification from the bishop after some years, if they always had a strong loving and respectful relationship and if they couldn’t or didn’t want to get married. This sentence surprised me but I couldn’t ask for an explanation.

Do you know something about it? It is as to say that somebody who has always wanted to become a priest but never tried can receive a canonical recognition when he reaches a certain age. It seems absurd. 

I apologize for the length of  my writing. I thank you for your time. 

I will remember you in my prayers.

Kind regards. 

Dear friend, 

I am sorry for answering after so much time. 

1. Reflecting on what you wrote to me, the bishop may have referred to a sanatio in radice (Latin:”healing in the roots”). The bishop can make a radical sanation of a canonical invalid marriage. It is so called a civil marriage between two baptized people or a marriage during which some problems occurred that made it invalid although it was a religious one.

So, if a religious or sacramental celebration can’t be done, the bishop may avoid the canonical form and make that marriage valid even in the sacramental way.    

2. What follows comes from the Canon Law:

“Can. 1161 –

§1. The radical sanation of an invalid marriage is its convalidation without the renewal of consent, which is granted by competent authority and entails the dispensation from an impediment, if there is one, and from canonical form, if it was not observed, and the retroactivity of canonical effects.

§2. Convalidation occurs at the moment of the granting of the favor. Retroactivity, however, is understood to extend to the moment of the celebration of the marriage unless other provision is expressly made.

§3. A radical sanation is not to be granted unless it is probable that the parties wish to persevere in conjugal life.

Can. 1162 –

§1. A marriage cannot be radically sanated if consent is lacking in either or both of the parties, whether the consent was lacking from the beginning or, though present in the beginning, was revoked afterwards.

§2. If this consent was indeed lacking from the beginning but was given afterwards, the sanation can be granted from the moment the consent was given.

Can. 1163 –

§1. A marriage which is invalid because of an impediment or a defect of legitimate form can be sanated provided that the consent of each party perseveres.

§2. A marriage which is invalid because of an impediment of natural law or of divine positive law can be validated only after the impediment has ceased.

Can. 1164 –

A sanation can be granted validly even if either or both of the parties do not know of it; nevertheless, it is not to be granted except for a grave cause.

Can. 1165 –

§1. The Apostolic See can grant a radical sanation.

§2. The diocesan bishop can grant a radical sanatio in individual cases even if there are several reasons for nullity in the same marriage.

3. It is clear that a validation is possible if the marriage was previously celebrated, otherwise it is not. By analogy, an ill person can be healed or cured but a never existing person can’t.

4. Therefore, people who listened to the bishop may have misunderstood his words. Maybe he was dealing with marriages and not with strong relationships. 

5.  But even if he referred to well consolidated relationships, the bishop can’t rectify them into sacramental marriages if the two people involved don’t want to legalize their condition by expressing their will to become husband and wife. A marriage is based on their mutual will to become husband and wife. The bishop can grant an exemption from the canonical form, but not from the will to become husband and wife. 

I wish you all the best, I will remember you to the Lord and I bless you. 

Padre Angelo