I understand that in Catholicism, annulments are sometimes issued for marriages that meet certain criteria. I'm wondering if the simple fact that the couple entered into a marriage that was not right or properly sanctioned by God if it is considered to have been a sin to do so. It does appear, perhaps, that the couple would have been involved in a sexual relationship with someone who was not rightfully their spouse.

So, the question is, "Is there any penance required for those who have entered into a marriage that is later annulled?" and, if so, "What is the nature of that penance?"

  • N., are you talking of an annulment or of a declaration of invalidity of marriage? I ask because I think the former does not dissolve a marriage, so you have no penance. Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 20:30
  • I'm not sure I know the difference between an annulment of a declaration of invalidity. Perhaps that would make another good question.
    – Narnian
    Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 20:38
  • I never could understand how two people who became one flesh could go back to two by an annulment. Is the loss of virginity annulled too? Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 22:00
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    I would expect that the answer would depend on the circumstances that led to the invalid marriage in the first place. For example, if one of the couple forced the other into the marriage, that would be a sin and it would invalidate the marriage; penance would be required of the guilty party. On the other hand, if one or both parties did not understand what marriage is, that would also invalidate the marriage but would not, in itself, be a sin. Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 22:48
  • I second what Andreas says...each annulment is reviewed/approached as an individually unique case. There are as many possible answers as there are cases.
    – user5286
    Commented Nov 26, 2013 at 1:47

2 Answers 2



The idea of annulment aka declaration of nullity is that the marriage is void ab initio. It's not dissolved, it has never existed (Catechism 1629).

Now, normally, this is caused by innocent things: for instance, if I pretend to be a priest and marry you and your sweetheart, the marriage can (and will) be annulled due to CCC 1630, which requires a priest for marriage at least between Catholics. Equally, if you happen to be too young for marriage. Or, actually, if you've got antecedent & perpetual impotence (Code of Canon Law Canon 1084§1).

Some situations are dodgier. Annulment per lig aka per causa ligamentes means you've tried to marry while already being married. That might be an oopsie!, in which case there is nothing wrong with it, you just need to clear your previous marriage. Or it might be intentional deceit, which does attract the need to confess and do penance.

Finally, there are the really nasty forms that cause nullity. Crimen is everyone's favourite one, which consists of you and your sweetheart conspiring to whack your current spouse so you can marry (actually, this is so whether you have had sex or not!). Quite obviously, there will be some penance involved in that case! Also, jail time.

The bottom line:

  • Some things you do to enter into an invalid marriage may be a sin, but simply entering into a void marriage is not a sin in itself.
  • If it's a sin otherwise, it will, obviously, attract penance.
  • Knowledge is important, of course. Knowingly entering into a marriage you know would be void, such as when you know you're impotent, is basically fraudulent.
  • So, the fact they the couple engages in intercourse outside of marriage is not considered a sin, since they did this unknowingly?
    – Narnian
    Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 19:00
  • Arguably, CCC §1860 says no. It's definitely not mortal sin as the basis for that requires knowledge. On the whole, it is unlikely it could be a particular sin OR a sin requiring penance (mind you, the priest has authority to absolve you without penance).
    – Chris vCB
    Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 19:07

Penance is man's way of paying for sin. You cannot pay for your sin. Christ paid the debt we were unable to pay.

One of The enemy's best strategies is to place a burden on you that u weren't designed to handle.

That's what religion does. It takes what Christ did and robs the power, thus placing the burden on you.

The bible says "Having a form of Godliness but they deny the power". That's EXACTLY what man made methods, or religion (trying to become right with God) does.

It us for freedom that Christ set us free but we do not use that freedom to indulge the sinful nature.

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    This doesn't answer the question. The question asked whether the Catholic Church requires penance, not for a diatribe against religion. "I believe..." isn't an acceptable answer, since this site isn't about personal interpretation. See How we are different than other sites? and What makes a good supported answer? Commented Nov 24, 2013 at 17:56
  • As an evangelical, I personally agree that penance does nothing for us and the Christ paid our entire debt. However, this question is addressed to the Catholic point of view. I'm wondering if the entering into an invalid marriage is considered a sin and, if so, if penance is required after its annulment.
    – Narnian
    Commented Nov 25, 2013 at 13:00
  • It does answer the question. Why do something that isn't required? Is penance necessary? No. Penance does however create a handle on the person so that a core group may manipulate that person - say for money perhaps? It is simply a source of control. If you want to add even more burdens to an already short and naturally burdened life, just try adding to the already completed work of Christ.
    – user8763
    Commented Nov 26, 2013 at 1:01
  • Please see the help page. It looks like you intended this to be a reply to me (a comment) on Nexus' post. Unfortunately you haven't earned enough reputation to comment on posts yet. Once you've earned 50 rep, you can start doing so. If you disagree with my comment about the other answer not being an answer, you can flag it for moderator attention. Commented Nov 26, 2013 at 1:29
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    Note: Nexus and user8763 are the same. @Nexus, in the future, comment on your own posts with an account you already have instead of making a new one. Commented Nov 26, 2013 at 13:17

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