This isn't a question about pastoral advice, but it is being asked on behalf of a friend who is worried that her children will become illegitimate if her marriage is annulled and all I can find to help her is the Code of Canon Law and the Catholic Encyclopedia, which seem to suggest that the kids would be illegitimate if both she and her husband were found to be invalid ministers of the sacrament. Although, as Andrew pointed out to me in the comments, this is more of a red herring as the Code of Canon law is modern and the Catholic Encyclopedia is not. I only mention it here because this is as far as I got - and substantiates the rumors that I have heard about illegitimacy.

However, this is not about whether they'd be illegitimate, it's about what is the disadvantage of being illegitimate in the eyes of the Church? That is to say, what is the burden of illegitimacy today?

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    From a purely cultural perspective, I don't think there is any negative consequence to being "illegitimate" these days unless you are hoping to acquire an inherited title. I pray your friend will be able to put aside her fears on this one point and focus on the other issues surrounding a breaking marriage. Apr 26 '12 at 18:33
  • Very interesting question. I find I learn a lot more about other traditions when people from inside those traditions raise the questions.
    – Caleb
    Apr 27 '12 at 12:04

What is the disadvantage of being illegitimate in the eyes of the Church? That is to say, what is the burden of illegitimacy today?

As far as I can see in the Canons and the Catechism, there is no disadvantage or burden. I can find nowhere in either where it says that the sacraments are to be denied the illegitimate. This might be expected: Canon Law strives to be compassionately just (or justly compassionate) and it's manifestly unjust and uncompassionate to deny a child the ministry of the Church because of an act which it could have absolutely no control over. A child is a gift, and a person from the moment of conception (CCC 2378): how can the Church deny a child of God who is blameless for their situation?

However, the notion of legitimacy hasn't entirely been abandoned, because Canon 1137 specifically defines it. The Canons do not define illegitimacy, nor do they specify what happens when marriages are invalid or annulled (except by implication in Canon 1137).

In the instant case, it appears that the marriage is at least a putative marriage — one that has all the signs of being the real thing. Canon 1137 unequivocally states that children born of a putative marriage are legitimate. Given that there appears to be no way of becoming illegitimate, presumably the annulment will have no such effect. (But your correspondent will need to ask the question of those dealing with the annulment, as they will have access to all the circumstances.)

This is similar to statute law, at least in England. Divorce does not make legitimate children illegitimate. There is a difference in statute law between an invalid marriage and an impeded marriage: a lawful marriage where there is invalid intent does produce a marriage, but can be ended. A marriage where there is a legal impediment is impossible, and is void ab initio; and its children are statutorily illegitimate. However, it appears that the Church would consider its children canonically legitimate.

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