Petrine privilege

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Petrine privilege, also known as the privilege of the faith or favour of the faith, is a ground recognised in Catholic canon law allowing for dissolution by the Pope of a valid but non-sacramental marriage between a baptised and a non-baptised person, for the sake of the salvation of the soul of someone who is thus enabled to marry in the Church.[1]

In essence, it is an extension to marriages between a baptised and a non-baptised person of the logic of the Pauline privilege, the latter being dissolution of a marriage between two non-baptised persons to enable one of them, on becoming a Christian, to enter a Christian marriage.

Dissolution of a marriage in favour of the faith, which is seen as having a biblical precedent in Jews putting away their non-Jewish wives recounted in Ezra 10:1-14, is rarely used.[2]


While the Pauline privilege is so named in reference to the instructions of Saint Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:12-15, the term "Petrine privilege", which was coined by Franz Hürth in his 1946 lectures on the Holy See's norms and practice, refers not to any rule given by Saint Peter, but instead to an exercise of authority by the Pope as successor of Saint Peter. Furthermore, the so-called Petrine privilege is not, properly speaking, a privilege or special right of a class of people.[1][3]

Canonists now generally consider inappropriate the term "Petrine privilege" (rather than "favour of the faith"),[4] but it remains in common use.

Non-sacramental marriage[edit]

The kind of marriage to which the "favour of the faith" applies is a valid but non-sacramental marriage. Baptism is required for valid reception of the other sacraments, and because in marriage two people are involved together, if either of them is not baptised, there is no sacrament. A non-sacramental marriage, while recognised as valid, is classified as not confirmed (non ratum) and can be dissolved for the sake of the higher good of a person's faith.[5]

If at any time, even after separation, the non-baptised party receives baptism, the marriage becomes sacramental and the "favour of the faith" no longer applies. However, if the husband and wife do not have marital intercourse after both become baptised persons, a marriage thus confirmed but not consummated (ratum sed non consummatum) can still, for a just cause, be dissolved in accordance with canon 1142 of the Code of Canon Law.[6]


In the 16th century the popes granted, for the benefit of people coming to the faith in mission countries, a number of "privileges" dissolving, in ways that went beyond the conditions laid down for the Pauline privilege, marriages that they had contracted when not yet baptised. The 1917 Code of Canon Law extended these to the whole Church, but the great increase of mixed marriages in the 20th century gave rise to new pastoral needs, which led to new ways in which of exercising the power that, in Catholic belief, the pope has to dissolve a non-sacramental marriage that impedes a believer's spiritual life.[7]

A precedent was set when in 1924 Pope Pius XI dissolved the 1919 marriage of Gerard G. Marsh (unbaptised) and Frances E. Groom (a baptised Anglican) of Helena, Montana, who were civilly divorced a year later. This was done to favour Marsh's marriage to Lulu LaHood, a Catholic.[3] Cases became so numerous that, in 1934, the Holy Office issued "Norms for the Dissolution of Marriage in Favour of the Faith by the Supreme Authority of the Sovereign Pontiff".These applied even when the baptised party was a Catholic who had married a non-baptised person after obtaining a dispensation so as to enter into a valid though non-sacramental marriage. On 6 December 1973, new norms were issued revising those of 1934. These in turn were replaced by a revised text on 30 April 2001.[7]


The petitioner (one of the parties in the marriage to be dissolved):

  • if baptised and Catholic at the time of the marriage in question, must intend to marry a baptised Christian (soon after or in the future).
  • if non-baptised or baptised in another Christian Church, must either
  • intend to enter the Catholic Church or be baptised in it, or
  • intend to marry a baptised practising Catholic.[8][9]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]