From a reader:
My sister is getting married next month. She has asked me to ‘give her away’ as our father is deceased. She has not practiced the Catholic faith for a long time. Although she was civilly married once before, and divorced, she was never married in the church, so no impediment there.
Her fiance (a fine man who I really like) WAS married before, in the church, and is legally divorce (no grounds for annulment). Ergo, they are getting married in an Episcopal church.
1- Is there a canon that would affect ME if I ‘give her away’ in an Episcopal ceremony?
2- Canon or no canon, would participating in the ceremony in this manner be sinful?
Canonically, there seems to be no prohibition against attending or participating in an invalid wedding. There are no penalties applied or suggested in Law for going to an invalid wedding, serving as best man, maid of honor, groomsman, bridesmaid, flower girl, etc. at an invalid wedding. The only penalty would be for the bride or the groom. By entering into an objectively invalid marriage, a Catholic thus deprives himself of the ability to receive the sacraments: Holy Orders, Confirmation, Penance, Anointing, and most importantly Holy Eucharist (danger of death can be a factor, but let that pass). Only when his marriage is regularized, or when he ceases to live in the invalid conjugal situation are the doors of sacramental grace open to him (after a good confession, of course).
This is something that an individual involved must work out with his pastor and/or confessor. Those “on the ground” with the situation would know details, circumstances which would color and give texture to the situation.
Then one must ask: Which response would be more likely to bring the recalcitrant Catholic back to practicing the Faith?
If you say “No!” to participation, would it shock your sister into realizing the damage she is about to do to her relationship with the Church? Would it make her think twice about proceeding with the invalid wedding? Her intended spouse may be a fine man, but he is (if there truly are no grounds for a declaration of nullity) a married man, and therefore not free to marry.
Would saying “no” harden your sister’s heart and drive her even further away from the Church? Would it be possible to say “no” to giving her away to an already married man, but still attend the service out of sincere affection for your sister? Would your answer set an example for your own children, if you have children? They watch and learn about how important the Church is by watching you.
From the bare facts given, inadequate facts, my gut tells me – say “no”. Do not participate.
But this is a moral question, not a canonical one. You need input from your pastor, confessor, or trusted spiritual adviser, who could more fully work out with you some of the issues in this, your, particular care.
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