From a reader…
I have a question about a marriage situation (not mine). If a marriage was valid, is it enough to resolve the state of sin of the re-“married” party(s) to simply abstain from sex without leaving the “second spouse?” Especially if each party of the original marriage is responsible for the care of an old/sick “spouse?” The proposition seems dicey to me, but the element of the care of the second “spouse “ seems to be a wrinkle perhaps.
GUEST PRIEST RESPONSE: Fr. T. Ferguson
Difficult to say – I’m not sure the question is worded accurately, so I’m going to respond to what I think the interlocutor is trying to ask.
Second point first: I think the question is about a couple in a second marriage where the first marriage of one (or both) parties is presumed to be valid. Can the couple then simply abstain from sexual relations and then re-approach the sacraments? Answer – no, at least not on their own without consulting with a priest. A priest might deem that the conditions of the second, invalid marriage are such that requiring a separation would be an injustice to someone, e.g., if the second spouse requires care, or if there are children born in the second marriage whose rights to parenting would be unduly compromised by mandating that their parents separate. The priest might then employ what’s come to be known as the “brother-sister solution,” whereby the couple agrees to retain common life, but avoid sexual intimacy, until the situation is resolved (either the former spouse dies, the children are raised, or the care the other spouse needs has been sufficiently met).
First point second: be VERY, very careful about posing questions regarding someone else’s marital situation. To a large extent, even if you’re closely related or bound by affection, it’s none of your business. Also, there is a good chance that you don’t know the entirety of the story.
If you’re aware of, or suspect some irregularity in the marital situation of your good buddy Jiff, or your dear sister Edna, the thing to do is, over tea in the latter situation or scotch in the first, say, “Have you ever sat down and had a chat with Father Entwhistle about your situation?”
If he or she answers, “No,” you respond, “You really should consider doing that someday.” Then promptly change the topic.
If he or she answers, “Not yet,” you respond, “Let me know when you want to do it, we can watch the kids (feed the dog, water the houseplants, scrub the baseboards) some evening for you so you have time.” Then promptly change the topic.
If he or she answers, “Yes,” you respond, “How lovely! I hope it went well.” Then promptly change the topic.