First, great blog, thanks for all your hard work and sharing your insights and knowledge!
Second, I have a question for you re: my niece and her new husband. I’ll be as brief and organized as I can.
- My niece (age 26) is a baptized Catholic and occasional mass and confession goer.
- She just married another baptized Catholic who is also an occasional mass and confession goer.
- They just got married in Hawaii 2 weeks ago.
- However, they did not get married in a church and did not attend any pre-Cana courses.
- Instead, they were married by a native Hawaiian outside near the beach, I think he might have been justice of the peace with a ministry degree. Not a Catholic deacon or priest.
So in short, would the church recognize this as a valid marriage? If not, what are the responsibilities of my niece’s Catholic relatives, what should we do if they come to visit and stay overnight in our house?
Separate bedrooms, don’t invite them in the first place? If this is not a valid marriage, do you recommend we tell them that straight out – and if so, what should we recommend they do; attend pre-Cana courses and get married in the Church?
GUEST PRIEST RESPONSE: Fr. Timothy Ferguson
If the parties are baptized Catholics and they got married by someone other than a duly delegated priest, deacon, or bishop and did not get a dispensation for doing so (and since this is two Catholics, the dispensation would have to come directly from the Pope), no, this would not be seen as a valid marriage.
What are the responsibilities of the family should this couple come to visit? Nothing in canon law provides an answer, so we turn to our good friend, moral theology. I would – if you have the space in your living quarters – provide two rooms for them in which to stay, or couches on two separate ends of the home.
What do you say to them? That’s entirely a matter of prudential judgment. What’s your relationship with her (them)? Have you spoken to her about religious matters in the past? Do you think that saying something would spur them to regularize their situation? Did they marry outside of Church because of ignorance? – sadly, a lot of Catholics have not had the advantage of hearing clear and consistent teaching from their pastors about marriage.
If you’ve not had discussions about your faith before, it would probably be quite awkward for your first conversation to be about how your niece has made a terrible mistake and gotten married outside of the Church. If, on the other hand, the family regularly talks about how much Christ, the Church, the guidance and intercession of the Saints means to them; if the family regularly prays together (more than just a rushed grace before the Thanksgiving meal); if there has been family discussion about moral norms before, then a conversation about one disregarding the teachings of the Church on marriage might be fruitful.
If it’s the first talk where the subject of Jesus Christ’s love for His Church as symbolized by the sacramental marriage of a man and a woman comes up, it’s just going to sound like judgmental busybodyism, which has seldom spurred anyone to return to the regular practice of the faith.