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Regarding the Legitimacy of Children

From time to time, those working in a Tribunal will hear the question:

  • But what about the children?
  • What do I tell them if you tell me that my marriage was invalid?"

On the surface, the answer to that question is relatively easy and is found in Canon 1137:

“Children conceived or born of a valid or putative marriage are legitimate;”

Canon 1061 §3:

“An invalid marriage is called putative if it has been celebrated in good faith by at least one of the parties, until both parties become certain of its nullity.”

This position, so succinctly captured in the revised Code of Canon Law, reflects the belief and teaching of the church that developed over a period of time, dating back to at least the Middle Ages.

Children of above-described marriages enjoy the same status in the Church as do children of a valid marriage. While there indeed may be scars from the fact that the two people they loved most are civilly divorced and have received an annulment, there is no stigma attached to them or their parents by the Church.

Thus, a young man whose parents' marriage has been declared null could, if it was his vocation, become a priest, a bishop, and even the Pope. It is important to bear in mind that the notion of legitimacy and putative marriages are merely legal constructions and do not as such have either moral or spiritual implications.