From a reader:
I converted to the Catholic faith years ago from a Muslim background.
My husband was also Muslim at the time. He is atheist/agnostic now and I don’t see him ever converting. A priest denied me absolution a month ago because I’m not in a proper marriage because I’m not married to a Catholic. Nobody said anything to me about my marriage when I was in RCIA. I haven’t received sacraments since, I really need a canon law reference in hand to give to the priest. Or I could forget what he said and go to someone else, but then I won’t have a convincing answer when this topic ever comes up. Also, I think it’s a catch-22 situation, basically a married person cannot convert from a non-Christian background unless their spouse converts with them? Can you help? Thanks in advance.
Though the information you gave in your email is a little sparse, I think you can rest assured that you are in a valid marriage.
At the time you married, you were not bound to observe canonical form. Thus, your shared act of consent with your husband brought about a true, valid and binding marriage (cf. canons 1055, 1; 1057; and 1060). When you became Catholic (welcome to the Church, by the way), you came in with your valid marriage.
Since your marriage now only involves one baptized person (you), it is not a sacramental marriage (canon 1055) but it is a valid, binding and true marriage. The term usually used for this is a “natural marriage” rather than a “sacramental marriage.” All of the properties and elements of marriage (permanence, exclusivity, partnership…) are there in your marriage as well.
The priest who denied you absolution for the reason you mentioned made a mistake. A pretty big mistake.
I suggest that contact your local marriage tribunal. Ask for a canonist. Lay out your situation. Tell the canonist that you were denied absolution because the priest said you were in an invalid marriage. The canonist may be able to contact the priest and correct him quietly. If there have been other problems with that priest confessor, the canonist may determine that a stronger step is required, such as notifying the local diocesan bishop. Let’s hope that your experience was an aberration, just a mistake on a bad day, rather than part of a pattern of mistakes. He may have simply misunderstood your situation.
In the meantime, seek out another confessor. Don’t let this experience put you off going to confession!
Furthermore, would you be willing to pray for the priest who withheld absolution ?
Pray for your husband, of course. That is one of the obligations of spouses, whether they are in sacramental or natural marriages! Many people we don’t think will ever convert, do so because of the intercession of their loved ones.
Finally, thank God for the gift of Faith!