QUAERITUR: Defection from the Catholic Church

From a reader:

My brother, a fallen away Catholic, is getting married outside the Church. He asked me to be best man.

I had the understanding that a Catholic can release himself from the obligations to get married in the Church etc. by sending a letter to his local pastor (i.e. a formal act of apostasy). That is what I ultimately communicated. It was not an easy conversation.

Now, I’m verifying what I had previously read, and it seems that may be incorrect due to the motu proprio, Omnium in mentem, which removed the statements in the Canon about formal acts of defection.

Meanwhile, other family bridges may be burning, and I will follow the Church’s law, no matter the cost. But I need to know what the law is.
Might you clarify, or refer me to someone/something that could?

Since Omnium in mentem took effect on 9 April 2010, defection from the faith no longer has any canonical effect.  “Defection” does not release one from ecclesiastical law, including the observance of canonical form in marriage.

Once a Catholic, always a Catholic is not just cultural, or emotional… it is juridical.    Baptism to death, friends.

From 23 November 1983 until 9 April 2010 if one formally “defected” from the faith, one was released from certain merely ecclesiastical laws, including the observance of canonical form ofr marriage.

Merely walking away or attending a non-Catholic Church does not qualify as a formal defection. That makes one a “lapsed Catholic”.

Whether you can serve as best man at this “non-wedding,” there is no canonical prohibition to do so and no penalty.  But I think your participation is a sign that you agree with what he is doing.  You should consult your parish priest, but I think that is a bad idea.

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  1. JoAnna says:

    Dear Reader,

    I was in a similar situation a few years ago. My father (a lifelong Protestant) attempted marriage with a twice-divorced non-practicing Catholic woman. After much prayer, discussions with orthodox priests, and research on the issue, we finally told them that our family was unable to attend the wedding. It caused a HUGE ruckus in our family circle, but we held firm. It was worth it.

    My father eventually forgave me, and six months later his “marriage” ended in divorce. I’m sorry for his sake that he’s had such a rough time, but I’m glad we didn’t compromise our principles for the sake of family peace.

    I’ll pray for you and your family. This is a difficult situation to be in.

  2. Brad says:

    My unbaptized, pagan-n-proud brother married a lapsed Catholic in a native american ceremony. He did not ask me to be the best man, thank God, but not for any reasons about my faith. Had my faith been then what it is now I would have declined, for her sake, to show her that God expected more from her, who knew better (18 years in Catholic school only to never look back at church after graduation day, sadly). I would have also probably not attended.

  3. Massachusetts Catholic says:

    Issues that may arise with siblings are one thing. But even more heartbreaking are the issues that come up when one’s only son or daughter decides to have a non-Catholic wedding. It is very difficult to deny a child his or her parent’s participation in the event. Even worse, it may mean a cut-off of the relationship altogether — and never seeing any grandchildren.

  4. APX says:

    “Defection” does not release one from ecclesiastical law, including the observance of canonical form in marriage.
    I was under the impression that Catholics just apply to the bishop for a dispensation to be married outside of the Church and then the Church recognizes it as a valid marriage? At least that’s what they did here for my brother’s destination wedding.

  5. Oneros says:

    “Since Omnium in mentem took effect on 9 April 2010, defection from the faith no longer has any canonical effect. “Defection” does not release one from ecclesiastical law, including the observance of canonical form in marriage.”

    Probably best. Makes annulments easier, certainly, when these people do decide to come back to the Church.

  6. I was a lapsed Catholic when I Married an Anglical girl in her church. However, for God’s will, I strangely decided to apply for a dispensation via my local Priest, with the diocese rubber-stamping it. We even had an old priest friend on the altar, which the Bishops of England & Wales have allowed.

    By God’s grace my wife later converted to Catholicism which jumpstarted my faith. Now that we’re trad, we love seeing the old rite reception into the church for heretics!

  7. Ellen says:

    My situation is that my son is marrying in a non-Catholic ceremony. I’m going. He’s my only son, and I am going to storm heaven like Monica did. He is a sweet young man, and I like his fiancee. I won’t cut myself off from him, so it will be pray, pray pray on my part.

  8. bernadette says:

    Two of my daughters have married, neither in the Church. One had a ceremony at a hotel with no mention of God, the other married in a wedding chapel which had a standard ceremony that included the Lord’s prayer. Neither of my sons-in-law were baptized and had no religious upbringing. My daughters never looked back at the Church once they left for college.
    I went to the ceremonies with a heavy heart, but refusing to do so would have caused a huge rift in my family and could have potentially ended my marriage. My husband, an atheist, would never have forgiven me.
    These situations will become more and more common as the number of young people choosing to marry in the Church is dwindling at an alarming rate.

  9. Bornacatholic says:

    Dear Mass. Catholic And isn’t it interesting that the individual who keeps the Faith once established by Jesus is the one blamed for the familial problems.

    I guess it is ok for one to have Faith but acting on that Faith? Why that is so mean.

    Oncet, I was asked to attend the “wedding” of my sister-in-law whose homosexual perversion was being formalised and solemnised in The Church of Christ and I politely, but firmly, refused the invitation and the rest of the Fam had no problems with my refusal to attend – “We knew you wouldn’t go” – and so I think that one who lives as a faithful Christian Catholic is cut a lot of slack cloth when it comes to these issues.

    And if my children ever tried to marry a married person, they already know I wouldn’t attend the wedding and knowing full-well that such a refusal would be iron-clad until the end of time might just be the impetus for them to refuse to enter such a relationship in the first place.

  10. Since we are not going to do the “What about this case?… What about that case?” thing here, I am closing to combox.

    And to the people who don’t read before leaping to the bizarre conclusion that I think it is okay for Catholics to attend non-marriages of fallen away Catholics, I suggest that you actually read what I wrote.

    People with pertinent comments can drop me an email for my opportune review.

Comments are closed.