I came from a practicing, totally loyal Catholic family. However, through the years, some of our children (sons, daughters, nieces and nephews) have had failed marriages and re-married outside the Catholic Church.
Consequently now some of their children are marrying in non-Catholic ceremonies. My question is, should we Catholic relatives be attending and participating in all these non-Catholic celebrations? By doing so, aren’t we condoning and contributing to the erosion of Catholicism in our family? Are there moral consequences?
Sadly, yours is a very common question. If your attendance at these non-Catholic weddings facilitates or accelerates defections from the Church, you should not attend. But if your presence allows you to deepen your relationships with these relatives in order to help you bring them back to the Church, then it would be permissible. In fact, the situation is usually quite complex.
The Church offers some clear principles: you can not be the official ‘witness’ of a marriage which you know is invalid, such as would be the case when a divorced person attempts remarriage without an annulment.
In the case of your relatives who are nominally Catholic, you should encourage them to get married in the Church, and you should work with them to facilitate this. You should also pray and work with those who are re-married outside of the Church to come back and get things straightened out. It can be a painful process of growth in humility and honesty for all involved.
I think it would be helpful for you to talk to your young relatives who are getting married outside of the Church and say, for instance, “You might be wondering why the Catholic faith has such a weak claim in your allegiance? It’s likely that you have never really practiced, it’s likely that you have never made a good confession, and it’s likely that you know every little of your faith. It’s time to learn something.
You can, if you are willing to listen.
Is it reasonable to expect teenagers to get confirmed in the Catholic Church or for “twenty-somethings” to get married in the Church if the last time that went to confession was in second grade, if they never memorized the ten Commandments, if they do not even know the basic prayers, and if they have not been raised in a family that has made the practice of the true Catholic faith their number one priority?
Rev. Francis J. Hoffman, JCD (Fr. Rocky) is Executive Director of Relevant Radio. Ordained as a priest for Opus Dei in 1992 by Blessed John Paul II, he holds a doctorate in Canon Law from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, an MBA from the University of Notre Dame, and a BA in History from Northwestern University. His Question and Answer column appears in several Catholic newspapers and magazines across the country.