On The Download today, Fr. Dean Perri, a canon lawyer experienced in marital law, affirmed that Catholics must get permission from their bishop before they can file for a civil divorce in good conscience.
Asked if the law still required this, Fr. Perri confirmed that it was the law, but quickly added that most bishops, pastors and laity aren't following this precept of the Church.
The panelists asked Fr. Perri tough questions pertaining to marriage, divorce and the sacraments. One question came up in relation to the Catholic Code of Canon Law involving specifically canon 1692 §2, which reads, "[T]he Bishop of the diocese in which the spouses are living can, in the light of their particular circumstances, give them permission to approach the civil courts."
The question was further prefaced by an ordinance from the Third Council of Baltimore, decree #126, which mandates,
We lay down the precept to all those, who are married, that they not enter civil tribunals for obtaining separation from bed and table, without consulting ecclesiastical authority. But if anyone should have attempted it, let him know that he incurs grave guilt and is to be punished through the judgment of the bishop.
The panelists then asked Fr. Perri if Church law still requires Catholic couples contemplating divorce to have their bishop investigate their marriage to decide whether there are serious grounds for separation and to give them the necessary permission to seek a civil divorce only if such grounds exist. Father Perri responded that it was still the law, adding that clerics and laity seldom follow this even though they are supposed to.
Watch the panel discuss marriage with a canon lawyer on The Download—Clarifying Marriage.