New marriage without death certificate



Q. I am 69 years old and a new Catholic. My wife and I would like to restate our vows in a Catholic Mass. However, I was previously married 40 years ago for a short time. My first wife has passed away, but she had married again and I don't even know her marriage name.

Our local deacon has told me that since she has died, there is no need for an annulment, but that I have to prove she is dead either by a death certificate or an obituary. But since it was so long ago, I can find neither one. I feel like I'm in a Catch-22 position. What can I do? (Covington, Louisiana)

A. Not to worry. Fortunately, the church's Code of Canon Law has already envisioned a situation such as you describe. Canon 1707 provides that the diocesan bishop can issue a declaration of presumed death, which would then free you and your new wife to repeat your marriage vows in the presence of a priest and at a Catholic Mass.

The bishop, however, could do so only after having done "appropriate investigations" and having reached "moral certitude" of the death of your first wife. That investigation would include gathering testimony from witnesses.

So think back to how you learned about the death of your first wife -- who told you about it, where did you read it, how many people knew about it? And then try to contact witnesses -- I would think at least two, other than yourself -- who would be willing to speak to the bishop and attest to your first wife's passing.

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Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.