ASK FATHER: Non-Catholic engaged to SSPX follower. What to do?

From a reader…


A non-Catholic Christian co-worker has a daughter who is engaged to be married to a young man who was raised in, and still attends, an SSPX chapel in our diocese. The woman does not want to be married in the chapel, but is OK with being married in the Catholic Church. The young man agrees. What is the process for this to happen?

Pretty easy, really.  The couple should approach the local Catholic parish where (hopefully) they will be welcomed with open arms.

Since the Society of Pius X is a priestly society (and currently in an irregular state), there is no such thing as a lay “SSPXer”.  I know I sometimes refer – loosely – to SSPXers who are lay people who attend SSPX chapels, but, technically, only the bishops, priests are true SSPXers.  I digress. We are, in this post, talking about Catholics who currently, regularly attend Mass in a chapel staffed by these validly ordained but nevertheless irregular priests. Such a person remains a Catholic, but he might need to make a good confession to a priest with legitimate faculties (such as a priest of the local diocese).  Such a Catholic should not be denied access to the sacraments, including marriage… witnessed by a minister who is duly authorized by the Church.

Bottom line: the Catholic who usually goes to the SSPX chapel is, quite simply, just a Catholic, just like every other Catholic who wants to marry.  He is bound, just like every other Catholic, to observe the Church laws concerning marriage.  That’s a commandment of the Church which every traditional Catholic has memorized.

The priest or deacon who prepares this couple for marriage will need to obtain permission for a mixed marriage, as the bride is a non-Catholic Christian.  Such permission can be obtained from the local diocese.

This is, by the way, a problem for the good men who are, I know, zealous priests of the SSPX.  They have every desire to help couples who approach them.  However, if a couple needs a dispensation to marry, or there is some question about a previous marriage bond, they have nowhere to turn within their own Society.  They have no legitimate authority, alas, such as a tribunal set up by the local bishop who is in union with the See of Peter.  I can’t tell you how much I look forward to the day when any priest of the SSPX will have unfettered recourse to the resources of dioceses in the same way that diocesan priests do.  There is a great deal to accomplish together.

I digress.

The parish priest or deacon should take pains during the marriage prep to invite the groom back a parish in full communion with Rome.  He should invite him to hear Holy Mass at one of the frequent and reverently celebrated Masses in the Extraordinary Form that are surely offered in the diocese.  (Please God, there is one.) He should kindly invite him to make a good sacramental confession to a priest who has faculties from proper authority, such as the diocesan bishop or a religious superior.

In any event, this isn’t all that complicated.  It happens pretty often these days for a Catholic to need a dispensation to marry a non-Catholic.

Moderation queue is on.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Supertradmum says:

    Father Z, I need a clarification. I was told by a priest that marriages in the SSPX were not valid because of the lack of faculties. I was told these couples who married in good will would have to be somehow “grandfathered in” in the case of the SSPX coming back into the fold.

    Can you elaborate on these two points? [“grandfathered”? Nooo. Although there are canonical … ways… after the fact to help them. But they take some procedures and the procedures have to be initiated properly.]

  2. iamlucky13 says:

    I learn something new every day. I was under the impression that the ordinations of the SSPX priests and the sacraments they offer are not valid, but your answer led me to do a little more research, which pointed to this clarifying letter that others might find informative:

    I’m a little confused about how it is that the bishops performing the ordinations incurred excommunication but still conferred valid sacraments, but considering the clear wording in the above letter in stating that their validity is not in doubt, that’s obviously because I need to learn a little more about the effects of excommunication.

  3. Matt R says:

    I suppose the bishop could grant the faculty to witness the marriage and to celebrate the Mass (or assist a diocesan priest) if need be.

  4. I think from personal experience that it would also be wise for everyone to think and pray carefully about marrying someone who doesn’t share your faith. I would hope that, with good instruction, both parties can think carefully about this.

  5. tzard says:

    If the couple would prefer to avoid a new-order mass, they can be married outside of mass.

    Father, I fear as time goes by, this question may eventually not be so easy to solve.

    If one of the parties were baptised in a SSPX chapel, though valid, there will be a problem creating the records “paper trail” to be married in the Church. Doable, but more effort.

    Also, if there is an ersatz “anullment” handled by SSPX “tibunals”, that would need to be re-addressed since they have no authority to do such things.

  6. LA says:

    When the Brazilian traditional group reconciled with Rome, Rome did not ask that their marriages and confessions re-done. If Rome considered all those sacraments to be invalid, then Rome would have been obliged not to remain silent about their true state. It seems to me that Rome’s silence shows that, at a minimum, the a SSPX’s argument of supplied jurisdiction due to crisis was valid enough not to argue against. [In no way does it mean that. The “supplied jurisdiction” thing is a fiction. That said, it is not common knowledge, but it is possible to do a sanation of a marriage in a way that isn’t public, and indeed, in a way that is not made known to all parties. But the fact that Rome didn’t – in public – ask for such a thing, means precisely nothing about the jurisdiction of the SSPX. They are still irregular and they don’t have permission to witness marriages, as is required for proper form.]

  7. TWF says:

    You are referring to the traditionalist group in Campos, Brazil. They were received into full communion in 2002. Pope St. John Paul erected a unique structure on their behalf: the Personal Apostolic Administration of São João Maria Vianney. Bishop Fernando Arêas Rifan is the current Apostolic Administrator. At 30 000 laity, 33 priests, and 93 women religious strong (as of 2010), the Administration exclusively uses the Missal of St. John XXIII. I don’t think there is any indication that Rome accept their marriages as valid, rather Rome applied radical sanation “en mass” to the entire community… at least that was my understanding.

    (As an aside, I believe Bishop Areas Rifan may be the only bishop in full communion with Rome who EXCLUSIVELY uses the EF….).

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