Pam's question about my edit to this question made me stop and think about why I felt it was appropriate to edit that question for reopening, when I certainly didn't think that was true of pastoral advice questions in general. As I pondered, I realized that my fundamental objection was simply that I didn't feel the original question had been a "pastoral advice" question in the first place. In the question as originally posed, the poster had given certain canonically relevant information about a relationship she was in, and asked whether that was recognized by the Catholic Church as a marriage. There's a very definite objective answer to her question that can be supplied from authoritative sources. The question isn't asking for spiritual advice in general, or for a solution to a problem that can't be answered with the information she's given. I don't understand in what sense this is asking for pastoral advice.

4 Answers 4


I personally didn't think it should have been closed as Pastoral advice in the first place. This isn't even an S.E. question, it's a simple question of dictionary terms.

ad·vice (ăd-vīs′) n. 1. Opinion about what could or should be done about a situation or problem; counsel.

The question was asking for what the official Catholic teaching was, not explicitly, perhaps, but looking at how it was originally written, the question was about the status according to doctrine.

It included personal details because the OP was asking for the official teaching because she was the one in the situation, but the question was not "what should I do?". The question was clearly asking, was "What is the status of my marriage?", with an implied "according to official Church doctrine".

The current version is much less personal and more in-line with what we want for the site, so the edits are good, but I think the community got close-happy on that one. Editing it was a better route to take.


We get enough "catholic marriage" questions that we could have a dedicated tag [end snark].

Catholicism is the only denomination with such comprehensive determinations on marriage validity. This makes questions wanting a Catholic answer in a category of their own.

This is how I would have answered Pam. It's not pastoral advice because the catholics have actually enumerated every scenario imaginable of valid and invalid marriages.

You edited because the specifics were really not that important and made the question look like pastoral advice.


The person who answered the question, chose to answer it in a personal way. Additionally, the OP has now added a ton more personal information in the form of comments. Whether the OP technically asked for advice or not, it is quite clear that is what they were/are looking for. Therefore, it was a pastoral advice question.

Dick Harfield was absolutely correct when he said "The entire question is intensely personal, so it is intrinsically seeking pastoral advice."

  • As I read the question, and the comments, the OP was looking for answers to how the Church sees her marriage. Most of the personal details she supplied are entirely irrelevant to the situation, which is entirely foreseen by canon law and would apply to any individual in a similar situation. I disagree that any question which is "intensely personal" is therefore "intrinsically seeking pastoral advice". Jan 17, 2016 at 3:55
  • @MattGutting The personal details are obvious not irrelevant to the OP, or she would not have supplied (and expanded upon) them a second time. She is quite clearly looking for advice, even if she did not include the the words "how should I proceed in this situation."
    – ThaddeusB
    Jan 17, 2016 at 4:50
  • It might be clear to you; it's far from clear to me. She repeats her question, not "What should I do?" but "Am I married?" I can't see that as asking how she ought to proceed in her situation. Jan 17, 2016 at 5:11
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    To clarify, I do have more than a suspicion that the OP would like to see a certain answer to her question. But the question she does in fact ask, the question we should in my opinion be addressing, is "Is she married?" Answering this is not pastoral advice, it's a legal evaluation of a set of general circumstances. Jan 17, 2016 at 5:48
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    @MattGutting Sure, it may not strictly speaking be a pastoral advice question. IMO, the same principles apply though. The OP is looking for , as you say, legal advice for a personal situation and probably hoping for a specific answer. I really don't think it is a good idea to give it.
    – ThaddeusB
    Jan 17, 2016 at 16:30
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    If she asks, "Am I married?" and it's possible to give an objective answer to that question, I don't see why it's a bad idea to do so. Jan 17, 2016 at 16:32

We can count how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, until we get bored. To me, it is a pastoral advice question if it asks for advice relevant to a single, particular situation. As soon as that happens it already requires an answer that only a priest should be qualified to give, and only after examining all the relevant facts.

Another fact that should at least raise alarm bells is that it is supposedly only of interest to one person in the whole world - do we really answer questions for just one person? And if we do do so, does that prove we are actually offering pastoral advice?

Sure, others could read the question and our answers, then apply what they think we said to their own personal situations. Have we then entered a minefield?

How do we even know how truthful the lady was in providing her information. She seems to have lived at least two decades in a marriage, with two adult children, then suddenly sought a radical sanation in her later years (I think her sixties). Why? there are hints of infidelity, but we are not qualified to assess the truth of this and whether it began before or after the radical sanation, and in any case infidelity is not resolved by a radical sanation.

So - speculating - did she finally decide to impose a radical sanation on her husband in order to show him that her beliefs are superior to his? Are they no longer consummating the marriage because of differences over the radical sanation? Is she looking for an excuse to leave the husband that she no longer feels affection for? These are questions we can not answer because we have insufficient facts and because we are not qualified to attempt to do so. Helen should simply have been advised to speak to her priest, because random strangers should not be asked to solve her problems for her.

The question prompted another question about Catholic doctrine and practice, which is a good outcome.

  • I actually agree that "if it asks for advice relevant to a single, particular situation". I just don't think either of those was the case. Jan 18, 2016 at 5:02
  • I may be available Monday to chat about this. Jan 18, 2016 at 5:02
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    It wasn't asking for "advice". Where was the request for "advice"? It asked for the status of her marriage. That's it. It did NOT ask for advice. Editing the question to remove the personal details did not in any way change the meaning of the question. Had the question asked, in any way, shape, or form, "what should I do?", then it would have been asking for advice. The fact that the personal details could be stripped away, and the core of the question remaining is perfectly in-line with standards indicated that it was on-topic in the first place, it jsut needed to be cleaned up. Jan 18, 2016 at 13:21
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    @David I respectfully disagree. The request for advice is obvious in the original title "Am I married or not?" I used the Catholic idiom here, "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" to refer to an argument that can never be resolved. If we say this one is different; this one is special; this one is borderline; etc; then we can never really know which questions can be answered. There has to be a rule that is unambiguous. ../cont Jan 18, 2016 at 22:21
  • .../ If we wish to accept pastoral requests that fall short of seeking actual instructions as to what to do next, then the rule needs to be rewritten. And both answers (and some comments) originally advised what to do next! Jan 18, 2016 at 22:21
  • @dickharfield where in my original or current answer did I say something about what to do next? I must be missing it. Jan 19, 2016 at 0:29
  • Further, I still disagree that it was a pastoral request; I will have to see about making time to discuss that. Jan 19, 2016 at 0:30
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    @MattGutting I'm prepared to let this one go. I have stated my case and leave it up to the community to decide. I've given up counting angels on pins :) Jan 19, 2016 at 0:37

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