Office of Canonical Affairs

Welcome to the Office for Canonical Affairs. There are a number of areas in which we can provide you with guidance. For example, you may be a Catholic seeking to marry a non-Catholic, or a resident of the Diocese of Arlington looking get married in another diocese; or you may be seeking to transfer your ascription from an Eastern Catholic Church to the Latin Catholic church or vice versa. We hope that our FAQ will help you gather the information you need, but if you have further questions, particularly any questions to do with the Sacraments, we look forward to hearing from you directly. 

 


Marriage

Arlington parishioners marrying in an Arlington parish

How do I know if I’m a resident of the Diocese of Arlington?

  • Go to [link to Diocesan Locator] and enter the zip code of your home address. You are the subject of the diocese in which you live, and not necessarily the one in which you attend church. Be sure to check what diocese you belong to, especially if you are close to the diocesan borders.

Where can I find out about the Diocese of Arlington’s marriage preparation policy?

  • The [link] Office of Family Life has full details. Please be aware that you will need to start the marriage preparation process at least six months before the wedding.

What do I need to have in order before the wedding?

  • As you prepare for marriage with your pastor, he will put together a marriage file with you. This will include a pre-nuptial investigation for the bride and the groom, sacramental records, four sworn and notarized affidavits (two for the bride, two for the groom) establishing the parties’ freedom to marry, a certificate of completion for a marriage preparation course [link to family life], and a completed FOCCUS survey. 

What do we do with the marriage file once it’s complete?

  • Leave it with the priest who is preparing you for marriage. He will ensure that it is kept at the church of record when you are married, so that the information will be available should you ever need it.

We have a particular style of music or decoration that we want to incorporate in the wedding ceremony. Are there any guidelines I need to know about in advance?

  • Each parish has its own guidelines for music, decoration, and other elements of the ceremony. Please talk to the pastor of the parish at which the wedding is to take place before you finalize your plans. 

We want to celebrate our wedding in a non-traditional setting (outdoors, at a hotel or reception center, etc.). What is the Diocese of Arlington’s policy on such celebrations?

  • Canon 1118 of the Code of Canon Law states: §1 “Marriage between Catholics or between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic party is to be celebrated in a parish church; with the permission of the local ordinary or the pastor, it can be celebrated in another church or oratory.”

§2 “The local ordinary can permit marriage to be celebrated in some other suitable place.”

  • Please see the Office of Family Life for the policy regarding what is considered a suitable place. Please be advised that the Diocese of Arlington does not ordinarily permit outdoor weddings. 

Arlington parishioners marrying in another diocese

How do I know if I’m a resident of the Diocese of Arlington?

  • You are the subject of the diocese in which you live, and not necessarily the one in which you attend church. Be sure to check what diocese you belong to, especially if you are close to the diocesan borders.

Where can I find out about the Diocese of Arlington’s marriage preparation policy?

  • The Office of Family Life has full details. Please be aware that you will need to start the marriage preparation process at least six months before the wedding.

What do I need to have in order before the wedding?

  • As you prepare for marriage with your pastor, he will put together a marriage file with you. This will include a pre-nuptial investigation for the bride and the groom, sacramental records, four sworn and notarized affidavits (two for the bride, two for the groom) establishing the parties’ freedom to marry, a certificate of completion for a marriage preparation course [link to family life], and a completed FOCCUS survey. 

What do we do with the marriage file once it’s complete?

  • Your pastor will send it here, to the Office of Canonical Affairs, where it will be reviewed. Once it is confirmed that everything is in order, it will receive a visum est (assent) and be forwarded to the Chancery in the diocese where you are to be married, with a letter granting permission for the marriage to take place in the diocese. The Chancery there will check through the file, attach a nihil obstat (no objection), and send it to the parish where the marriage will take place. 

What is the time-frame for sending the paperwork in to the Office of Canonical Affairs?

  • Please get your paperwork together and send it in to the Office of Canonical Affairs not less than six weeks before the wedding date if your wedding is domestic, and not less than eight weeks if your wedding is international.  This allows enough time for us to review the information, send it to the diocese in which the marriage is to take place, and for that diocese to review the file and send it to the parish of the wedding. 

Non-parishioners marrying in an Arlington parish

How do I know if I’m a resident of the Diocese of Arlington?

  • You are the subject of the diocese in which you live, and not necessarily the one in which you attend church. Be sure to check what diocese you belong to, especially if you are close to the diocesan borders.

If I live in the Archdiocese of Washington or in the Diocese of Richmond, but attend a parish in the Diocese of Arlington, do I need to do my marriage preparation in the diocese in which I live?

  • No, you are free to go to your parish priest for your marriage preparation. The only difference this will make is that the marriage file that you and your pastor prepare will be sent to the Chancery of the diocese in which you live, and not to the Arlington Diocese. However, it is necessary to inform your local pastor of the arrangement as you begin marriage preparation.

I am not a resident of the Diocese of Arlington. What do I need to do in order to marry in a parish within Arlington?

  • First, please contact the local parish in which you wish to be wed to find out whether it is possible. Some of our parishes serve an enormous number of parishioners and are unable to accommodate weddings for non-parishioners as a result. This policy is set by the parishes individually.
  • During your marriage preparation in your home diocese, your pastor will have put together a marriage file on your behalf. This will include, at minimum, the prenuptial investigation for the bride and groom, sacramental certificates, and sworn, notarized statements from other parties confirming your freedom to marry. This file will be sent first to the Chancery of the diocese in which you live, then to this office, and then to the parish in which the wedding is to take place.

I would like my marriage to be celebrated at an Arlington parish by a priest from a different diocese. Is this permitted?

  • Yes, it is. Your priest will need to have a letter of good standing prepared for him by his home diocese. For full details, go to section 4, ‘Priests from outside the diocese celebrating a marriage in an Arlington parish’. 

We have a particular style of music or decoration that we want to incorporate in the wedding ceremony. Are there any guidelines I need to know about in advance?

  • Each parish has its own guidelines for music, decoration, and other elements of the ceremony. Please talk to the pastor of the parish at which the wedding is to take place before you finalize your plans. 

We want to celebrate our wedding in a non-traditional setting (outdoors, at a hotel or reception center, etc.). What is the Diocese of Arlington’s policy on such celebrations?

  • Canon 1118 of the Code of Canon Law states: §1 “Marriage between Catholics or between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic party is to be celebrated in a parish church; with the permission of the local ordinary or the pastor, it can be celebrated in another church or oratory.”

§2 “The local ordinary can permit marriage to be celebrated in some other suitable place.”

  • Please see the Office of Family Life for the policy regarding what is considered a suitable place. Please be advised that the Diocese of Arlington does not ordinarily permit outdoor weddings. 

Priests from outside the diocese celebrating a marriage in an Arlington parish

What do I need to do in order to validly and licitly celebrate a marriage in the Diocese of Arlington?

  • You will need to ask your local superior (Vicar General or religious superior) to provide you with a letter of good standing. This letter must include a statement that informs the clergy office of the completion of a child protection program and background check. The letter should be sent to the Office of the Vicar for Clergy [link], and a copy should be included in the marriage file.

Marriage between Catholic and non-Catholic parties

I am Catholic, and my intended spouse is a baptized Christian, but not Catholic. Do we need to apply for a dispensation?

  • For a licet marriage between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic, permission for a mixed marriage must be granted. 

I am Catholic and my intended spouse has never been baptized. Do we need to apply for a dispensation?

  • Yes, for a valid marriage between a Catholic and an unbaptized person, a dispensation from disparity of worship must be granted.

How do I apply for a dispensation or permission?

  • The application must come from your parish priest on your behalf as part of your marriage preparation. Please do not apply directly, yourself, for a dispensation or permission.

I am a non-Catholic preparing to marry a Catholic. I have been married before, but not in the Catholic Church, and the marriage ended in divorce. Am I free to marry in the Catholic Church?

  • Before you can marry in the Catholic Church, you will need to petition for a decree of nullity for your previous union [link to Tribunal]. “Marriage enjoys the favor of the law (Can. 1060).” This means that the Church assumes the validity of all marriages, including non-Catholic, non-Christian, and civil marriages, unless proven otherwise. A civil divorce does not invalidate or terminate a marriage in the eyes of the Church. Please talk to your parish priest for further guidance and advice about starting the petition process.
  • Please be aware that a formal annulment case can take a long time. We therefore strongly recommend that you do not set a wedding date until the case is finished and you are in possession of the papers declaring you free to marry in the Catholic Church.

 


Transfer of Ascription

How do I know to which Church sui iuris I am ascribed? 

  • Your Church of ascription may not be the Church in which you practice. Your pastor will be able to help you understand the rules governing ascription, and you may find this flow chart a helpful starting point [link].

I am ascribed to an Eastern Catholic Church sui iuris and want to change my ascription to the Latin Catholic Church sui iuris. What do I need to do? 

  • Begin the process by talking to the pastor at the Latin parish which you attend. He has full details of what is needed, and will help guide you through the transfer of ascription. Together, you will put together a petition file that will be sent to the bishop. This file will include:
    • Your letter of petition, addressed to the Bishop of Arlington
    • Your pastor’s supporting letter of attest
    • Newly issued sacramental records (baptism, chrismation, marriage, etc.)
  • A checklist of documents for the petition file can be found here [link]. Your pastor has a copy of this checklist.

What should my letter of petition include? 

  • In your letter of petition you should describe your sacramental history (where and when you were baptized, confirmed, married, etc.), your present religious practices (where and when you currently attend church and receive the Sacraments, how long this has been your practice), and your reasons for desiring a change of ascription. You may find it helpful to discuss these reasons with your pastor.

Am ascribed to the Latin Catholic Church sui iuris and want to change my ascription to an Eastern Catholic Church sui iuris. What do I need to do? 

  • The process is basically identical to that described in Questions 2 and 3, but your letter of petition and your pastor’s letter of attest will be addressed to the local bishop of the Eastern Church sui iuris to which you want to be ascribed, instead of to the Bishop of Arlington. 

Once my petition file is sent to the bishop, what do I do next?

  There will be a waiting period while the bishops of the two Churches sui iuris (the one to which you are currently ascribed and the one to which you wish to be ascribed) prayerfully consider your petition. Provided that they both assent to the transfer, your parish priest will then be informed. Please note that receiving the assent of the two bishops does not complete the change of ascription. For the change of ascription to be complete, you will need to speak out loud, in front of the priest and two witnesses, a statement declaring your change of ascription. A written copy of the declaration should then be signed and sent to the Chancery. Your pastor will have the proper form for this declaration on hand. Remember it is by this positive act of your own will, manifested outwardly, that the change of ascription is effected

Ascription Chart