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Q&A

What is a polygamist supposed to do upon converting to Roman Catholicism?

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The Roman Catholic church, in the Council of Trent, forbade polygamy:

If any one saith, that it is lawful for Christians to have several wives at the same time, and that this is not prohibited by any divine law; let him be anathema.

But in many areas of the world, polygamy is still practiced, at least to some extent. So what happens if a polygamist – someone with marriage-like commitment to multiple partners – converts to Catholicism?

In particular, I'd like to understand what kind of guidance or rules the Roman Catholic church has laid out for what a polygamist should do upon conversion. Possibilities that come to mind:

  • Choose one spouse and put off others
  • Choose one spouse but continue to uphold some or all non-sexual obligations to others indefinitely
  • Only the first spouse is valid; others are to be put off with or without continuance of some obligations

What does the Roman Catholic Church teach regarding the actions that converted polygamists should take?

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