Can we keep our civil marriage a secret from our priest and then get married in the church?

My husband and I got married in a civil ceremony. We always knew we were going to do it in a Catholic ceremony though. Nobody knows but us. We already have a marriage license obviously, what sort of certificate does the priest need to sign? We dont want him to know there any way to keep it a secret and pretend we were never married through the courts?

Thank you for sending your question to “Ask Fr. Joe.”

First of all, let me say that there will be no problem with your getting your married “validated” in the Catholic Church. I’m assuming that neither of you has been married before in a valid Catholic marriage so no annulment would be necessary.

Catholics who marry in a civil ceremony need only to get their marriage con-valided, that is, to exchange your vows in the presence of a priest or deacon. You are already married civilly so you can only get one marriage license. It will be necessary for you to produce a certificate of your marriage in order to get married in the Church so there is no way you can keep this secret from the officiating Catholic minister. All of that would be confidential. The priest or deacon will have to sign the church certificate. He cannot perform a marriage unless he knows you have a civil license or certificate indicating that you were married legally(civilly).

One alternative would be to go to a priest somewhere other than your parish and explain why you don’t want the local priest to know and ask him to set in motion what is needed for you to get married in the church. I’m not sure why you want all of this to be secret. Whatever priest you contact would maintain confidentiality and no one need know what you have previously done. The only documents the church needs in this situation is your married certficate indicating you were married civilly. The priest or deacon will have you fill out the necessary paperwork which is required of all persons getting married in the Church. It’s not complicated.

Good luck to you both.
Fr. George Fitzgerald, CSP – filling in for Fr. Joe.