Petrine privilege, also known as the privilege of the faith or favour of the faith, is a ground recognised in Catholic canon law allowing for dissolution by the Pope of a valid but non-sacramental marriage between a baptised and a non-baptised person, for the sake of the salvation of the soul of someone who is thus enabled to marry in the Church.
In essence, it is an extension to marriages between a baptised and a non-baptised person of the logic of the Pauline privilege, the latter being dissolution of a marriage between two non-baptised persons to enable one of them, on becoming a Christian, to enter a Christian marriage.
Dissolution of a marriage in favour of the faith, which is seen as having a biblical precedent in the putting away by Jews of their non-Jewish wives recounted in
While the Pauline privilege is so named in reference to the instructions of
Canonists now generally consider inappropriate the term "Petrine privilege" (rather than "favour of the faith"), but it remains in common use.
The kind of marriage to which the "favour of the faith" applies is a valid but non-sacramental marriage. Baptism is required for valid reception of the other sacraments, and because in marriage two people are involved together, if either of them is not baptised, there is no sacrament. A non-sacramental marriage, while recognised as valid, is classified as not confirmed (non ratum) and can be dissolved for the sake of the higher good of a person's faith.
If at any time, even after separation, the non-baptised party receives baptism, the marriage becomes sacramental and the "favour of the faith" no longer applies. However, if the husband and wife do not have marital intercourse after both become baptised persons, a marriage thus confirmed but not consummated (ratum sed non consummatum) can still, for a just cause, be dissolved in accordance with canon 1142 of the Code of Canon Law.
In the 16th century the popes granted, for the benefit of people coming to the faith in mission countries, a number of "privileges" dissolving, in ways that went beyond the conditions laid down for the Pauline privilege, marriages that they had contracted when not yet baptised. The 1917 Code of Canon Law extended these to the whole Church, but the great increase of mixed marriages in the 20th century gave rise to new pastoral needs, which led to new ways in which of exercising the power that, in Catholic belief, the pope has to dissolve a non-sacramental marriage that impedes a believer's spiritual life.
A precedent was set when in 1924 Pope Pius XI dissolved the 1919 marriage of Gerard G. Marsh (unbaptised) and Frances E. Groom (a baptised Anglican) of Helena, Montana, who were civilly divorced a year later. This was done to favour Marsh's marriage to Lulu LaHood, a Catholic. Cases became so numerous that, in 1934, the Holy Office issued "Norms for the Dissolution of Marriage in Favour of the Faith by the Supreme Authority of the Sovereign Pontiff".These applied even when the baptised party was a Catholic who had married a non-baptised person after obtaining a dispensation so as to enter into a valid though non-sacramental marriage. On 6 December 1973, new norms were issued revising those of 1934. These in turn were replaced by a revised text on 30 April 2001.
The petitioner (one of the parties in the marriage to be dissolved):
- if baptised and Catholic at the time of the marriage in question, must intend to marry a baptised Christian (soon after or in the future).
- if non-baptised or baptised in another Christian Church, must either
- Archdiocese of Chicago Metropolitan Tribunal FAQ: Question 40
- Noonan, John T., JR. A Church that Can and Cannot Change. University of Notre Dame Press. Notre Dame, Indiana. 2005. Chapters 24-26.
- Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Vatican, Norms on the Preparation of the Process for the Dissolution of the Marriage Bond in Favour of the Faith, 30 April 2001