Reader Question: Is it possible to have a religious wedding in France if you are divorced?
In France, there are two different types of marriage ceremonies: civil and religious.
Religious ceremonies in Catholic churches are only open to Catholics and cannot be conducted until a civil ceremony has taken place first – a church marriage is dependent upon having a marriage certificate issued by a mairie.
Due to the French concept of laïcité (complete separation of church and state), a religious wedding has no legal power in itself but has spiritual significance in the context of the beliefs of the church.
Read more: Laïcité: a bedrock of modern France
However, while the Catholic Church is required to recognise civil marriages before it can marry two people in a religious ceremony, it does not have to – and does not – recognise a divorce.
What is the church’s view on divorce?
Like a number of other religious organisations, the Catholic Church in France does not recognise a divorce under their spiritual law.
“When they receive the sacrament of marriage, spouses are united by an indissoluble sacred bond. This bond cannot be broken by divorce,” the Diocese of Nanterre notes on its website.
“Divorce only concerns the civil union and does not annul the religious marriage,” it adds.
Even if you receive a civil divorce, which is recognised by the courts, the Catholic Church will therefore not accept it.
If you remarry, the church will not recognise this marriage in a spiritual sense.
Those who remarry are prevented “from receiving the sacraments of forgiveness and the Eucharist,” said the diocese of Paris. “However, they remain baptised and members of the church,” meaning they can still go to the church.
Is it ever possible to remarry in a church?
If, however, your first marriage was restricted to a civil marriage, none of this applies, as that marriage did not have ‘spiritual’ status in the eyes of the church.
Even if you have been divorced from multiple partners after civil only weddings, a church wedding is thus possible.
If you were married in a church you would need to obtain an annulment of this marriage from your bishop for a subsequent church wedding.
You may also be able to seek advice from an ecclesiastical lawyer on being granted an annulment to be able to remarry at church.
Annulment, however, usually involves proving that there was something fundamentally wrong with the marriage in the eyes of the church so it was never a ‘proper’ marriage in the first place.
Examples could include evidence that one person hid an important fact about themselves from their spouse, or the fact that they never wanted to have children, or them being incapable of having sexual relations etc.
Note that all the points above relate specifically to the Catholic Church, the main Christian denomination in France.
Some protestant churches take a somewhat more flexible view.
The Anglican church, for example, states that priests can agree to marry divorced people in church on a case-by-case basis, if they believe there are ‘exceptional’ grounds to do so.