So, my dad is a baptized Catholic, but was raised Presbyterian. When he was in his twenties he married a woman in the Catholic Church who left him within a year (and got married to his best man... sad but true). There has never been effort to annul this union (it is moot now, she is dead).

Several years later he met an married my mom (another relationship which did not last). According to the Catholic Church this can't be a valid marriage because my dad's first wife was still alive. I was told that I was considered legitimate by the Church but shouldn't I be considered illegitimate?

  • And, to further complicate things, since my dad and mom are divorced and my dad's first wife died, his marriage to his current wife is probably valid. Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 11:09
  • was your dad a practicing Catholic when married to his first wife? (I'm not sure this matters, but it would make things clear) I did a bit of looking in to the matter for this question
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 11:18
  • Pardon my ignorance, but what is important about "being legitimate"? I assume it's more than just being an heir to his estate.
    – mojo
    Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 11:54
  • 1
    @mojo Mostly a point of curiosity. There was a time in the U.S. where illegitimacy actually prevented some from Holy Orders. It won't come up anymore (and I can't really do much beyond deacon anyway w/o my wife getting annoyed), but it was important once. Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 15:32
  • @mojo As noted in the question Peter Turner linked to, CIC #1137 does mention it. Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 15:34

2 Answers 2


So, apparently (or at least according to a deacon who is citing a canon lawyer), Canon law would say that my parent's marriage was putative and, as such, I can be considered a legitimate son.


Define legitimate.

If your definition is - Children born by the union of a man and wife married by God’s law.

Then what about the following verse –

And do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. (Mat 3:9)

Would such children be legitimate?

God uses the term legitimate in different contexts -

  1. The term is applied to those who aren’t obedient to God.

    “If God doesn't discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all.” (NLT Heb 12:8)

  2. God calls the Israelites illegitimate because their mother Israel prostituted herself to foreign gods. (Can't remember the reference though)

God’s perspective on legitimacy is not limited to physical circumstances of one’s birth.

But supposing that one is born illegitimately, so what? Remember John 3:5? (One must be reborn of the spirit).

“Shouldn't I be considered illegitimate?”

By whom? God? Nope. I don’t think so. There are illegitimate parents, but there aren’t any illegitimate children.

  • 2
    From the question and its tags, I think the answer to "Define legitimate" would be "Legitimate according to Roman Canon Law", which this answer doesn't address. Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 13:25
  • @AndrewLeach Hmmm I thought of that too. Now wondering if I should delete it.. Commented Jun 28, 2012 at 3:48

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