In the canon law of the Catholic Church, an impediment is a legal obstacle that prevents a sacrament from being performed either validly or licitly or both. The term is used most frequently in relationship to the sacraments of Marriage and Holy Orders. Some canonical impediments can be dispensed by the competent authority (usually the local ordinary but some impediments are reserved to the Apostolic See) as defined in Catholic canon law.

Impediments to marriage

Roman Catholic sacramental theology teaches[citation needed] that the ministers of the sacrament of holy matrimony are the man and woman, and therefore any marriage contracted voluntarily between two baptized and unmarried adults is valid[citation needed], though under ordinary circumstances the marriage must be witnessed by clergy to be licit. However, various provisions in current canon law outline extraordinary circumstances that would form impediments to marital validity.

Validity vs. liceity

Main article: Validity and liceity (Catholic Church)

The validity of an action is distinguished from its being licit in that the former pertains to its integrity while the latter its legality. (An analogous illustration might be that of a disbarred lawyer who wins a court case; the verdict is not overturned, but the attorney is still subject to sanctions. Similarly, a priest who has been laicized, suspended, or excommunicated cannot licitly celebrate Mass, but should he nonetheless do so the Mass is still considered valid.[1])

Impediments to marriage are classified according to many different criteria.

Diriment vs. impedient

In regard to their effect on the sacrament,[2] impediments are either diriment, which invalidate an attempted marriage, or prohibitive (or impedient), which make a marriage illicit but valid. "Diriment" comes from the Latin word dirimens ("separating"), that is, an impediment that means the couple cannot be joined.[3] The 1983 Code of Canon Law does not list prohibitive impediments as such, and thus the distinction between validity and licitness is less clear than in previous formularies.

Of divine law vs. of ecclesiastical law

In regard to their origin, impediments are either from divine law, and so cannot be dispensed, or from ecclesiastical law, and so can be dispensed by the competent Church authority. Under the 1983 Code of Canon Law, ecclesiastical impediments only apply to marriages where one or both of the parties is Catholic. Under the prior 1917 Code, ecclesiastical impediments applied to the marriages of non-Catholic Christians as well, unless specifically exempted. Note that, as clarified by articles 2 and 4 of Dignitas Connubii,[4] the Catholic Church now recognizes the diriment impediments of other (i.e., non-Catholic) Churches and ecclesial communities when their members are parties to a marriage.

Other distinctions

Impediments are also classified as follows:

whether they can be dispensed by the local ordinary under ordinary circumstances, or whether their dispensation is reserved to the Pope[6]

List of diriment impediments to marriage

Other factors which invalidate marriage

Impediments to ordination to the priesthood

Impediments to the priesthood are divided into "irregularities", which are permanent unless removed by the competent authority and "simple impediments" which may pass with time without action of an ecclesiastical authority. Canon Law also lists various impediments to the exercise of a priesthood that has already been conferred. The bishop can remove most irregularities and simple impediments, except for those involving public apostasy, heresy, or schism; abortion or murder, even if in secret; and existing marriages. Irregularities that cannot be removed by the bishop can be removed by the Holy See (i.e. the Pope or the appropriate dicastery of the Roman Curia[31]).


An irregularity is a canonical impediment directly impeding the reception of tonsure and holy orders or preventing the exercise of orders already received.[32]

Irregularities to the exercise of the priesthood

Simple impediments

Simple impediments to ordination

Simple impediments to the exercise of the priesthood

See also




Note: In the following, canonical references to the 1983 Code of Canon Law are denoted by "CIC" (Codex Iuris Canonici), canonical references to the 1917 Code of Canon Law are denoted by "1917 CIC", and canonical references to the 1990 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches are denoted by "CCEO" (Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium).

  1. ^ Encyclopedia of Catholicism, (Frank K. Flinn, and J. Gordon Melton, eds), Facts on File 2007 ISBN 978-0-8160-5455-8, p. 619
  2. ^ 1917 CIC c. 1036
  3. ^ "What is it that Prevents a Marriage from Being a Marriage?", Church of the Holy Cross, Dover, Delaware
  4. ^ cf. CCEO cc. 780 and 781
  5. ^ see CIC c. 1074, CCEO c. 791
  6. ^ CIC c. 1078, CCEO c. 795)
  7. ^ CIC c. 1083, CCEO c. 800
  8. ^ a b New Commentary, Beal, et al., p. 1284.
  9. ^ Canon Law Annotated, Caparros, et al., pp. 1669 and 1717.
  10. ^ Canon Law Annotated, Caparros, et al., p. 1677, and Canon Law Digest, v. 11 (1983–1985), p. 263.
  11. ^ Canon Law Annotated, Caparros, et al., p. 1689.
  12. ^ Canon Law Annotated, Caparros, et al., p. 1762, and Canon Law Digest, v. 11 (1983–1985), p. 264.
  13. ^ Canon Law Annotated, Caparros, et al., p. 1783 (for South Africa), and Canon Law Digest, v. 11 (1983–1985), p. 265 (for Switzerland).
  14. ^ Canon Law Annotated, Caparros, et al., p. 1741.
  15. ^ See the USCCB website for the [1] that have been enacted.
  16. ^ CIC c. 1084, CCEO c. 801
  17. ^ New Commentary, Beal, et al., p. 1286.
  18. ^ Summa Theologica, Supplement to the Third Part, question 58, article 1 Archived 2007-09-29 at the Wayback Machine.
  19. ^ CIC c. 1085, CCEO c. 802
  20. ^ CIC c. 1086, CCEO c. 803
  21. ^ CIC c. 1087, CCEO c. 804
  22. ^ CIC c. 1088, CCEO c. 805
  23. ^ CIC c. 1089, CCEO c. 806
  24. ^ CIC c. 1090, CCEO c. 807
  25. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia "Impediment of Crime"
  26. ^ CIC c. 1091, CCEO c. 808
  27. ^ CIC c. 1092, CCEO c. 809
  28. ^ CIC c. 1093, CCEO c. 810
  29. ^ CIC c. 1094, CCEO c. 812. See also Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Canonical Adoption" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  30. ^ CCEO c. 811, also see 1917 CIC c. 1079
  31. ^ 1983 Code of Canon Law, Can. 361
  32. ^ "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Irregularity". Retrieved 2022-05-06.
  33. ^ a b Can. 1041, 1°
  34. ^ Can. 1041, 2°
  35. ^ Can. 1041, 3°
  36. ^ Can. 1041, 4°
  37. ^ Can. 1041, 5°
  38. ^ Can. 1041, 6°
  39. ^ Can. 1044 §1, 1°
  40. ^ Can. 1044 §1, 2°
  41. ^ Can. 1044 §1, 3°
  42. ^ Can. 1042, 1°
  43. ^ Can. 1042, 2°
  44. ^ Can. 1042, 3°
  45. ^ Can. 1044 §2, 1°
  46. ^ Can. 1044 §2, 2°