ASK FATHER: Marrying non-Catholics

From a reader…


I have four children, in their twenties, three girls and one boy. All the girls married non-Catholics (who have agreed to raise the children in the Catholic Church and they all attend mass weekly so no complaints there.) Our pastor performed all three ceremonies. Here is the question: the first two grooms had to provide their baptismal certificates from their Protestant churches . My third son in law is un -churched , and not baptized. Shouldn’t our Pastor have required the groom to be baptized before the wedding?

Catholics should marry Catholics.

That’s the Church’s teaching, and also a practical reality.

The Church permits Catholics to marry baptized non-Catholics under certain circumstances.  The bishop, following the recommendation of the Catholic pastor and his assurance that the circumstances warrant it, can give permission for Catholics to marry baptized non-Catholics. For a Catholic to marry someone who is unbaptized, or questionably baptized, greater vigilance is required. The bishop can also grant a dispensation to for a Catholic to marry a non-baptized person.

It seems that the pastor has been doing the right thing here. Check the paperwork.  Make sure that the Catholic party will be permitted to continue to live a Catholic life and raise any children from the marriage in the Catholic faith. With the first two, a permission for mixed marriage (Catholic – baptized non-Catholic) was probably granted. In the third situation, a dispensation for “disparity of cult” (Catholic – non-baptized) was probably granted.

Hopefully, by the witness of your family leading an exemplary Catholic life, praying before family meals, making the Faith a priority in your lives, regularly (not obsessively) conversing about holy things, speaking respectfully of Church authorities and Church teaching, having holy pictures, statues around the house, drinking Mystic Monk coffee, reading Fr. Z’s Blog – all that good stuff – your in-law will be inspired and prompted by the Holy Spirit to convert.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. CrimsonCatholic says:

    As someone who was raised in the “Bible belt”,Catholics should marry only Catholics. Period.

    “6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,[a] 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” -Mark 10:6-9

    How can one flesh have two different faiths? How can children at home learn the faith if only one practices it and the other parent does not(especially the father)?

    Fr. Z’s advice is spot on, witness to them and pray, and God willing they will convert.

  2. Mike says:

    I wonder how many families who took Fr. Z’s advice to heart, and lived it, would be in danger of breakup?

    I wonder how many pastors, before declaring marriage preparation a success, look at each candidate couple and ask themselves: Are this man and woman really dedicated to living the Faith day to day?

  3. Siculum says:

    Do everything Father said, and watch EWTN and read the National Catholic Register!

  4. lelnet says:

    Your “hopefully” case happens rather more often, even in the modern world, than one would think, including in the case of my own marriage (myself Catholic, my wife…well…not, and now she’s not only converted but much better about living the Catholic life than I am) and that of some of our best friends.

    So yeah, there’s “hopefully” in the sense of “not completely impossible, but so rare and unlikely that no matter how much one hopes and prays for it, one doesn’t realistically expect it to actually happen” (winning the lottery jackpot twice, or a prominent “Catholic” Democrat speaking out against abortion, or something of that nature). And then there’s the kind of “hopefully” where the odds are at least not insane, and we might (with God’s help, as always) even influence the outcome toward the positive by our own efforts.

    If, as the letter-writer says, “they all attend Mass weekly”…well, I’d say the odds are pretty good, in the long run. Good for them. And in the meantime, we pray for the converts-to-be that we don’t know personally, and encourage the ones we do.

  5. Ray says:

    Some daily prayers to St. Monica seem in order. She prayed for many years for her sinner son Augustine, who through determined prayer became a Saint. At our parish we have a service each year on her feast day for all the parents with children that have left the faith.

  6. mamajen says:

    I’m not sure whether any of the husbands are attending mass or not, but I wanted to mention that our priest announcing at the end of his sermon one day that he was forming an RCIA class made all the difference for my husband. There had always been a blurb in the bulletin, but I think hearing it straight from the priest made it easier because my husband knew the priest would be expecting people to contact him about it. Sometimes people are just hesitant to take the first step themselves — it takes a specific invitation rather than the “drop by anytime” sort of mentality. Now he’s a good Catholic and we have two little Catholics.

  7. frjim4321 says:

    I would concur that that answer is right on target.

    Coincidentally I heard of a priest who on a ship was permitted to witness a marriage of two non-Catholics; they were not bound by form and the priest was acting merely as a civil official.

    Although it seems to have been authorize it’s not anything I would recommend. Just as I would not recommend a priest to be present at an invalid marriage of a Catholic in order to show “a catholic presence.” Mistake and very confusing.

  8. Elizabeth D says:

    As someone who grew up as the child of a mixed marriage, I definitely think Catholics need to consider it of very high importance to marry a fellow Catholic. My protestant mother indeed agreed to raise the kids Catholic, and my dad let her be mostly in charge of that even though she didn’t believe in it and had been through RCIA but didn’t become Catholic (she expressed agnosticism to me one time when I was an adolescent). Mom was dutiful in trying to raise us Catholic but since she didn’t believe in it there was no credible witness there, and she considered it important to teach me some things totally against the Faith, like how important abortion and contraception are for women’s well being. Dad didn’t talk much about religion, and the CCD classes at church didn’t teach much about religion either. We all went to Mass every Sunday but without gaining much of an understanding of it. My brother and I both fell away, and he has now married invalidly outside the Church. After being very lost in atheism etc, by the tremendous grace of God I eventually returned and began to learn my Faith for the first time. I think it is best that Catholics should marry Catholics, or remain celibate. If Catholics marry non Catholics anyway, the Catholic parent needs to learn their Faith well, be a good and holy example, and be the primary religious educator of the children. Since continued church attendance in adulthood corresponds extremely strongly with whether a person’s father gave a good example as a churchgoer, mothers married to non Catholic men face special challenges and they should probably take particular care, regardless of whether they have girls or boys, for their children to have some male Catholic adult in their lives who would be a good example in the Faith.

  9. Imrahil says:

    The husband in spe will be baptized if and when he has embraced the Christian faith (plus some time for appropriate instruction).

    There are some rules that Catholics should marry Catholics, but this is about the choice of Catholics whom to marry, not about a formality the prospective spouses have to “pass through” or whatever. (Anyway, it is not a sin to make use of a dispensation the Church offers.)

    The marriage will, however, be sacramental only if and when the prospective husband gets baptized (and then automatically without the need of another wedding).

    I think, though, that for the very reasons that that it is the norm for Catholics to marry amongst each other, the topic should be treated somewhen that “why don’t you convert, it’s the true religion anyway”. But I don’t claim to have any knowledge about pastorally effective approaches. Anyway, all to often we treat religion as we would treat ethnicity: something inherited from the parents which “no sane man” (according to the line of thinking of those who think so) would think of changing, and so on.

  10. Mightnotbeachristiantou says:

    I think that if they talk about how they want to raise the kids and follow through with going to church every week, then they are on a pretty good road. Having an verbal understanding between the two parties makes for a better road.
    How many Catholics married Catholics and are now divorced because they did not talk about these type of issues before?

  11. Imrahil says:

    Dear Mike,

    I wonder how many pastors, before declaring marriage preparation a success, look at each candidate couple and ask themselves: Are this man and woman really dedicated to living the Faith day to day?

    A question a pastor may of course ask himself that. He may also ask himself whether it will rain the day after, if you get my drift.

    If I take you as implying that those about whom he does not think so should be denied marriage, you would be wrong, though. (Or why speak of the betrothed couple as “candidates”? We have candidates in ordination, not in marriage?)

    A priest (probably, I’m no canon lawyer) has a duty not to celebrate marriages he would know for sure to be invalid. Other than that, marriage is a natural right and, apart from the vetoes fixed in law, must not be denied to any couple willing to marry, however little practicing their Faith they may be, and also, by the way, however stupid he thinks the choice of partners has been.

  12. av8er says:

    As someone who married outside the Church, actually she was baptized Catholic but her family left the Church when she was four, I tell my girls to make sure they marry Catholic. The problem is men and women need to know why it is important. They need to know the faith. I sure as heck didn’t. I told them that they better be Catholic and better love God more than you. I come short of telling them to hang out by seminaries and find a man who decided that his vocation was marriage and not the priesthood. I can’t overemphasis how different my life and marriage would be if I knew my faith better as a young man. I love my wife and she loves me but we have our issues and would rather one of them not be our faith.

  13. Juergensen says:

    “Catholics should marry Catholics”

    I got married late, at 36, to a wonderful Christian (Lutheran) woman who attended Mass with me every Sunday. She agreed to raise our children Catholic, and we even had a full Catholic wedding with Mass. After our second daughter was born, one Sunday after Mass, she came out of our bedroom crying, saying she wanted to become Catholic! She did! Later, we had a son. By marrying a non-Catholic, there are now five Catholics where there was only one.

  14. jhayes says:

    Make sure that the Catholic party will be permitted to continue to live a Catholic life and raise any children from the marriage in the Catholic faith

    While that would certainly be desirable, my understanding is that the non-Catholic partner no longer has to make a commitment that the children will be raised in the Catholic faith. Instead, the non-Catholic must be informed that it is the Catholic spouse’s intention to do all that it is possible to raise them in the faith.

  15. GypsyMom says:

    It is always a risky thing for Catholics to marry non-Catholics. The likelihood of a conversion of the non-Catholic spouse or the having the children remain practicing Catholics into adulthood depends heavily (besides the Holy Spirit) on the Catholic spouse being devout and absolutely committed to bringing the non-Catholic spouse into the Faith and bringing up the children as educated and devoted to the Faith. Lukewarm or cultural Catholics are rarely able to influence their families toward the Faith. If it doesn’t mean all that much to the Catholic spouse, why would their families be attracted? This has played out in the marriage of one of my family members who married a wonderful Protestant woman. In spite of the children being raised Catholic, and having Mom often go to Mass with the rest of the family, none of the children practice their Faith now that they are in their twenties. The Catholic husband never wanted to be anything more than a cultural Catholic who attended Mass (wouldn’t want to be a religious fanatic, you know!), and so today his wife remains a Protestant while his children have all walked away from God. Dr. Laura also used to strongly advise against mixed-faith marriages. She said if Dad believes one thing and Mom believes another, then the children will eventually believe nothing.

  16. If I only witnessed marriages when I was certain they would be happy, that would exclude many I have witnessed. But as Imrahil indicated, it isn’t in the power of a priest to withhold the sacrament until he’s convinced. After all, who says my judgment is so superior?

    Another point…despite what people claim, it is simply not true that when a Catholic marries a non-Catholic, the non-Catholic has to promise to raise the children as Catholics. Not so!

    It is the Catholic party who makes the promise–and the promise is qualified: “do all in your power” to raise them Catholic.

    If you think this is not a meaningful distinction, you aren’t thinking it through.

  17. ReginaMarie says:

    That’s wonderful! I’ll borrow, that if you don’t mind. For us — me being the cradle Catholic marrying a non-Catholic — there are now 8 Catholics (including my husband) where there was only one. :)

  18. MikeM says:

    I’ve seen non-Catholics do a remarkable job raising their kids in the faith. Nonetheless, the idea of someone promising to raise their kids to dedicate their lives to something that they do not believe in has always seemed strange to me. If Catholicism is true enough to raise your kids to believe it, to submit to its commands and prohibitions, to dedicate themselves to its cause… isn’t it time to convert? I suppose none of us is as rational as that, and religion carries at least as much familial, cultural, social and sentimental baggage as anything else. But, still…

  19. Volanges says:

    I’ve been married to a member of the United Church of Canada for 37 years. He supported me in raising the children Catholic, learned the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary in French so he could help the children with their prayers if I was not around at bedtime, even joined the parish choir at one point and did express a desire to convert at one point. But so far, no conversion.

    My faith was always important to me, Mass every Sunday, part of the various ministries in my parishes (there we many, we were a military family), etc. The children were attended Catechism when that was available and received all their sacraments. Yet the minute they left home, that was it. Daughter will go to Mass at Christmas but the boys won’t even do that. Daughter and older son in invalid marriages (son to a fellow Catholic). Younger son not presently in a relationship.

    Contrast that with my own family. Mother and father devout Catholics. We were raised in the Church. Dad was an altar server for probably a total of 35 years and an EMHC for about 10. Knight of Columbus when there was a council. Family rosary, family prayers, etc. My brothers are agnostic at best, atheists at worse. Neither attend Mass. One validly married, one in a same-sex relationship. As Dad lay dying their lack of Faith was the only thing on his mind.

    Not sure what I or my parents could have done differently.

  20. Ben Kenobi says:

    Convert, been on both ends of this. It’s a hard, but very worthwhile teaching.

  21. MikeM:

    The Church doesn’t ask the non-Catholics to promise anything. It is the Catholic party who makes a promise.

  22. haskovez says:

    My sister married someone who wasn’t baptized, through the disparity of cult. They agreed to raise the children Catholic and have done so. Somewhere after like 10-15 years of marriage my Brother-in-law who grew up without going to church and so on, decided that he wanted to convert and did RCIA and became Catholic. So while I agree Catholics marrying Catholics is best, sometimes just bearing witness to the faith through marriage can also bring more people into the faith.

  23. The Sicilian Woman says:

    Generally, yes, I agree that Catholics should marry Catholics, with the qualifiers and understandings that: 1) faithful Catholics should marry each other – a faithful Catholic marrying a cafeteria Catholic is essentially going to have a mixed marriage, in practicality; and 2) marrying a Catholic and raising your children faithfully – which is your responsibility – still isn’t going to guarantee that your spouse, and/or your children, aren’t going to walk away from the faith.

    One of the men with whom I pray a community Rosary regularly is devout and very involved in our parish, but one thing that pains him is that his Catholic wife no longer practices. A very devout family, one with many children, and who homeschooled its children before it became vogue, has a child who’s an atheist and has at least one other child who doesn’t appear to practice. There’s not much one can do in these situations except stand firm in their faith and pray for their loved ones’ return to the Church.

    Also, if my non-Catholic spouse said he wanted to become Catholic, I would have a heart-to-heart talk about why he has decided to convert. My Protestant brother-in-law converted, but, my family figured out, it was to be “one of the gang,” as my sister was very socially involved with the parish, not through any real belief of his in the faith. (Sadly, my sister’s faith has been largely show, too, as I have discovered in her continuous fall to secularism.) He’s never shown any real conviction as a Catholic Christian; in fact, when I mentioned one year I was going to Mass for Ascension Thursday, because it was a Holy Day of Obligation, he snickered, “We don’t do those.” Between him and my sister, they raised a know-it-all atheist, whose two children are not baptized, and another child who no longer practices, and worse, has married a fellow “Catholic” who doesn’t practice and whose influence will probably keep him from returning to the Church.

  24. rhhenry says:

    Long story short: my Lutheran girlfriend decided to convert to Catholicism (her own initiative), we got engaged, married, and will celebrate 10 years in just a few weeks.

    The recent comments from Pope Francis (or were they? — they were filtered through many layers) about 50% of marriages being invalid has me fretting, however. My wife and I thought we were doing everything right — met with the priest, had a wedding Mass, exchanged vows, rings, etc. In short, we fully intended to marry each other, for life, open to life, and we made those declarations publicly before God and man.

    However, we didn’t exactly use the vows laid out in the Rite. With the pastor’s knowledge and permission, we blended two versions together (details at end of post). Does this invalidate our marriage? I know the Church would presume us to be married, but does that make it so? In the U.S., criminal defendants are presumed innocent; that doesn’t mean that they (objectively) are. Are we missing out on sacramental graces because we screwed up our wedding, even though it was done with good intentions? Are we, unknowingly, part of the 50% whose marriages are invalid?

    Recommended vow #1: I (name) take you (name) for my lawful wife/husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.
    Recommended vow #2: I (name) take you (name) to be my wife/husband. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.
    Our vows: I, (name), take you, (name), for my lawful wife/husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life, until death do us part.

  25. Giuseppe says:

    Would you, as a Catholic, agree to raise your child in the faith of your spouse? If not, then why would you expect your spouse to allow you to raise your child in your faith? I have not understood this.

    A priest in high school told us that the devil tempts us when we start to fall in love with a non-Catholic, and that we must resist the temptation. I thought that was overkill back then, but the way to the soul can be through the heart. (Don’t get me wrong, this can go both ways, although in mixed-marriages, I’d imagine it works more negatively than in God’s favor, despite all of the great and wonderful anecdotes here.)

  26. dans0622 says:

    jhayes: Yes, there is no longer a requirement that the non-Catholic agree to raise the children Catholic. Fr. Z is not talking about that. He’s saying the priest should assure himself that the non-Catholic party will permit the Catholic party to practice the faith and raise the children in the faith.

  27. Jenny says:

    Falling in love with a non-Catholic is temptation from the devil? Give me a break.

    I will agree that marrying a practicing Catholic is probably the best way to do it. My sister is married to a practicing Catholic and it’s great for them. But as someone else born and raised in the Bible Belt, they are pretty thin on the ground here. One does not marry an idea but an actual person.

    I am married to a non-Catholic. He goes to Mass and is involved with the parish. The only reason anyone knows he is not Catholic is that he doesn’t present himself for Communion. He might convert one of these days. When (if) he does convert, it will be for the right reasons and not just to join the club. Pray for his conversion. In the meantime, don’t suggest he is the work of the devil.

  28. TXKathi says:

    rhhenry –

    My husband & I did a similar thing, but not even as close as you. We were (& are) devout Catholics, married in the Church & totally made up our vows w/the blessing of our pastor (who I came to realize was/is a pretty liberal priest –” liberal” as in counseling couples who feel like they’ve had enough children that it’s OK for the husband to get a vasectomy & still allows children to come up around the altar during the Liturgy of the Eucharist). Our vows did not incorporate any wording from the traditional vows.

    Flash forward 22 years & I was reading something about marriage & had a little panic attack when I realized our made-up vows blessed by our liberal pastor may not have been legit. I took the vows we said to our current pastor (very good priest) and while I can’t quote him (this was 2 years ago), he said something to the order that vows have to have basic elements to be valid – do you promise to give & accept one another freely & forsake all others permanently/forever (Canon 1057). Due to the fact that we added “I will honor, trust & cherish you all the days of my life” to the end of our made-up vows made them legit.

    I would suggest you go to your priest and ask about your vows. Based on my own experience, it seems you are probably OK; we are & our vows were not anything as close to the real thing as yours were.

  29. rhhenry says:


    Thank you for sharing your story. The priest who celebrated our wedding Mass has died, but I will be sure to check things out with our current pastor. I know that the plural of anecdote is not data, but still — reading your story has helped to set my mind at ease . . .

  30. RHHenry:

    I can’t comment on your situation; because I don’t know the whole story. What follows is NOT…NOT…NOT…a comment on your situation…OK? :-)

    In general, my understanding is that the wording of the vows is not able to be altered in any way in a Catholic liturgy. In the U.S. there are two sets to choose from; couples choose “A” or “B” but no mix-and-match.

    But when a Catholic and a non-Catholic marry, they can, with permission, opt for a non-Catholic ceremony, in which the rules are much broader; yet the marriage is deemed valid for Catholic purposes.

    How your situation relates to these very general statements, is what I would suggest you ask of a priest directly, rather than in a combox. It’s an important question; too important for this venue.

  31. rhhenry says:

    Thank you, Fr. Fox. Applying your *general* comments :-) to my situation, I agree that it is prudent to ask our pastor directly.

    Things seem so much clearer with other sacraments: if a priest messes with the words of consecration or the words of absolution, we’ve got problems. If lay people mess with their vows, there seems to be confusion about how problematic that is. I understand priests needing to say the black and do the red; I didn’t know how much that applied to the laity, as well . . .

  32. BLB Oregon says:

    I am married to a non-Catholic, and I would say that my husband is the exception that proves the rule. He was baptized as a child, but his parents did not take him to church, going only a few times a year. He was not catechized, and his parents did not have any strong sectarian beliefs. He came into our marriage wanting our children to have what he did not, which was a strong religious upbringing and the feeling that they really understood and belonged in the church they went to. Another relative of his, though his parents brought him to church devoutly as a child, also came from a family that was not terribly sectarian. His parents were fine with their grandchildren being raised Catholic, pleased that he married someone who would see to it that they went to church every Sunday. This relative was such an active parishioner with his wife that it was never noticed that he did not receive Holy Communion. He was even asked if he would be willing to serve on the parish council, which is when he had to break the news that although he had gone to Mass every Sunday for just short of 20 years, he had not yet converted.

    Why would I marry a non-Catholic? Well, sadly, he was actually more interested in my practice of the faith and raising our children Catholic than any of the Catholic men I dated were. It was far easier to explain why he didn’t know the faith than it would have been to explain a lack of knowledge and devotion in a cradle Catholic. He was also not in the habit of arguing with me about what is required of a Catholic, and would not argue that devoted practice was for women only.

    Having said that–do not let your faith be left out of your courtship! It is not enough to refuse to date anyone except a fellow Catholic. You need to live in the same way as the sort of Catholic you want to attract. If you do not give the impression that your faith is a central part of your life by how you live it, how are you going to attract a spouse who wants a family centered on the Catholic faith? You will give the wrong impression and attract suitors who have goals incompatible with your own. Even if you marry a fellow Catholic, you could find your practice of the faith a very lonely proposition.

    This is of course the big problem: that is, that people choose their spouses at the very time in their lives when people of any sect or denomination are most likely to have fallen into a lax attitude about their importance of their faith or even question it. Catholics are, unfortunately, no exception to that rule. The first baby comes, parents re-examine what is important, and the trouble starts.

    I have also had the benefit of going to a parish with many good Catholic men who are good examples of the faith to our boys. It could have easily been much harder than it was, and in spite of what a prince my husband is, it has not been easy.

  33. Volanges says:

    Fr. Martin Henry, I know that in my copy of the Wedding Rite there is a pastoral note that says that couples can write their own vows but that the priest has to be very careful that all the necessary elements are present.

    So careful must he be, in fact, that one canon lawyer opined that so great is the possibility of rendering the marriage invalid that any time a couple writes their own vows they should be submitted to the Tribunal for approval before they are used in the ceremony.

  34. Volanges:

    Well, I can’t put my hand on anything at the moment, but I recall having it drilled into me…no changes to the wording of the vows. As you say, there is always a danger.

    When I occasionally get a request to mix-and-match parts of the vows, I simply refuse, and make the couple pick one of the options and go with it. If the day ever comes that someone goes over my head…then I’ll find out. I am betting that day won’t come.

  35. Imrahil says:

    Dear rhhenry,

    with all the due caution that the rev’d Fr Fox rightly argues for,

    given that a simple “yes” suffices for a valid marriage as far as form is concerned, and that you intended to do all the Church does in marrying, it does seem a safe valid marriage to me. (well… to me. That’s the bad part because what I think is unimportant.)

    Whatever about liceity, but that’s of secondary importance somehow, isn’t it, given that the thing has already been done.

    That said, a (conditional) convalidation would take some 30 seconds plus getting pastor and some two witnesses all into one room. (But we only do that if there’s really some doubt…) So, the advice to ask your pastor is a quite good one. In the meantime, I humbly advise not to worry, but that’s just me of course.

  36. NobisQuoQue says:

    I would love to marry a Catholic. Alas, I’m still unmarried. Please pray for me!

  37. Supertradmum says:

    I am old enough to remember that this ideal was taught both in Catholic schools and from the pulpit.

    I am convinced that the weakness in the Church in Great Britain is contraception, brought about by the laxity of the clergy in not discouraging what use to be called “mixed marriages”.

    Marriage is a sacrament wherein each person is to help the other person get to heaven. Without a shared way of thinking, praying, acting, this goal becomes almost impossible.

  38. Imrahil says:

    Echoing a bit what the dear Supertradmum has said,

    let’s leave out the Catholics-marry-Catholics ideal out of sight for a moment. Let’s just assume we want to get married, with dispensations and all, making our future life easy (i. e. not needing to resist sins to the blood at any moment).

    We need a partner who wants to marry us for life (or: the marriage would be invalid), excludes contraception and does at least not speak against our professing the Catholic faith and our children to be hoped for.

    But there are virtually no non-Catholics for whom that would be true; and only a minority of Catholics anyway.

  39. Imrahil:

    Not to disagree with the value of marrying another Catholic, but let me offer some observations…

    > A lot of marriages, whether it’s two Catholics, or a Catholic and a non-Catholic, involve one party whose spirituality and attentiveness to religion is notably stronger than the other. I’ve seen it in both spouses. Sometimes this works out well, when that party helps move the whole family toward religious observance. Other times, it leads to unhappiness, because one parent won’t support the other in religious observance; or the more-religious party may approach the matter in a “naggy” way.

    I’ve seen situations where both are Catholic, and yet there is friction. I’ve had spouses come to me in tears: “what do I do?” And then, I’ve seen situations where the children, baptized as Catholics, are infrequent at Mass, not merely because the parents neglect to go, but because they leave the children at home, or else they encourage their children in sports, over CCD and Holy Mass. (I predict many of these will, many years from now, be loudly blaming the parish, the catechists, the pope, and the teachings of the Church themselves, for why their children aren’t Catholic anymore.)

    On the other hand

    I’ve seen some mixed marriages where the non-Catholic party is a real hero/heroine. I have a couple where the father is Jewish, the mother Catholic. He is as involved in the parish as he can be, happy and enthusiastic, particularly at his child’s baptism, and they make the effort to bring their children to Holy Mass. Of course I’d love to have him become Catholic and he knows it; but …I can understand the dilemmas involved there and I have to treat that with respect.

    I’ve seen this many times where the non-Catholic party is very supportive. And, in fairness, they don’t have to be. They obviously have to do their part to be a good spouse and parent — and that means they have to work out these issues of how to raise the children, how to have a God-/Christ-centered home, all the while there are issues of conscience for a non-Catholic or non-Christian.

    So, my general view is that while a mixed-religion situation can be a challenge, and it can even be a danger, a lot of that is not because of the difference of religion per se, but the approaches the spouses make toward each other, and toward their religious differences.

  40. Imrahil says:

    Rev’d dear Fr Fox,

    thank you for your friendly answer.

    Indeed I was merely theorizing without any insight into practice (which I don’t have), and even leaving the value of Catholics marrying Catholics per se out of the discussion. (It is, as I said, no sin to use a dispensation.)

    Thus, I was thinking that noone but a Catholic (and, being honest, not every Catholic as well and this is friendly) believes the teaching of Humanae vitae, and I can’t imagine a spouse to act upon it without believing it (at least without, however involuntarily, driving a constant “but someone else would not have given me that trouble” into the subconsciousness). Though maybe that was my error.

    [Except, perhaps, that casuistry – not a term of abuse to me – might give the believing part an excuse if the other part is contracepting. I don’t know whether that’s the case, but it does not seem impossible to me.]

  41. dominic1955 says:

    “I got married late, at 36, to a wonderful Christian (Lutheran) woman who attended Mass with me every Sunday. She agreed to raise our children Catholic, and we even had a full Catholic wedding with Mass. After our second daughter was born, one Sunday after Mass, she came out of our bedroom crying, saying she wanted to become Catholic! She did! Later, we had a son. By marrying a non-Catholic, there are now five Catholics where there was only one.”

    I’ve seen this, and I am myself married to a non-Catholic whom I think will probably convert in a few years. I have no doubts that Catholicism is the True Faith and that truth speaks loud.

    I’ve seen it on the other end go poorly though as well. Having the same religion doesn’t smooth over all the other problems or conflicts of personality and such. “Catholics should marry Catholics” by itself is not good advice. It all depends on just what sort of “Catholic” they are! When I was looking for a wife, I looked in the Catholic pool first but that just didn’t work out for any number of reasons. Its not this simple anymore.

    We are no longer in the ghetto, we no longer have these insulated Catholic communities which foster the formation (at least culturally!) of the Faith-now our task is much harder. We can no longer rely on the tribal designations, because quite frankly, they do not mean as much as they once did.

    “But there are virtually no non-Catholics for whom that would be true; and only a minority of Catholics anyway.”

    My non-Catholic wife has those qualities, and I can find you more than a handful of other non-Catholics for whom that WOULD be true.

    “Marriage is a sacrament wherein each person is to help the other person get to heaven. Without a shared way of thinking, praying, acting, this goal becomes almost impossible.”

    This and the sentiment above are very myopic ways of looking at this issue. Were mixed marriages such a danger to salvation, they would never be allowed by the Church but they are and have been since the begining! Plus, it rather strangles the Economy of Salvation to forms rather than grace…

  42. Mike says:

    Thanks to all for this marvelous discussion and to Fr. Z for setting the topic. It is humbling to be reminded of how much grace can flow by this Sacrament to and through those who, as the Church reminds us, are not only its recipients but also its ministers.

    Prayers ascend on behalf of all of you.

  43. Imrahil:

    Ah, I see your point…and you’re basically right. As you acknowledge, sadly many Catholics don’t embrace the truth about contraception; but there are non-Catholics who do.

    As far as whether someone can really be supportive of a no-contraceptive approach without believing it, let me offer this. I have observed that where you have one spouse who is stronger in religious conviction than the other, sometimes this can result in the less-motivated to move toward the position of the more-motivated. This can mean leaving the Church, sadly; but it can also draw people toward the Church as well. So that can happen with no-contraception.

    With NFP in particular, it requires both parties to cooperate, but I’d be curious how this works out when one is more sold than the other. In reality, the odds are at any given point, the spouses are going to be in different places on these things. That’s human nature.

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