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July 24, 2006



The only relevant question-- in practical terms-- is whether the brother has anything even remotely approaching a legitimate reason for divorcing his pregnant wife and marrying someone else.

To discuss the question of Catholic marriage laws and formal defection from the Church with a person who already considers himself a Protestant will only stike him as absurd. It will most likely end any potential for constuctive discussion right there.


This problem often shows its ugly head in our multireligious culture and families. Fortunately for me, growing up Catholic, my parents informed us from an early age that if we were ever to marry outside the Church, the would not and could not attend the wedding. It was just part of the deal. Fortunately, none of us defected, so it was never an issue.

It's much more difficult when the people involved have not been exposed to this practice (skipping weddings due to religious beliefs.) It is contrary to our current culture of divorce and remarriage. It seems that for many Catholics, when confronted with an obstacle to being married in the Church, simply opt to marry in another religion, as if it is an unimportant issue. This has been common in my wife's family.

I think the reader has done an excellent job of explaining his reasons for not wishing to attend these weddings. My only advice, from a family politics standpoint, is to perhaps take a step back from the "active evangelization" standpoint, but rather attempt to use this as a teaching moment.

Explain to your brothers that your choice is not personal and does not reflect your opinions of them, their future wives, nor your intention to keep them in your life. Tell them that it hurts you not to be able to celebrate with them, but that your beliefs will not allow it. And explain those beliefs.

As for your parents, perhaps this poses an even greater difficulty for them. Explain the Church's teachings about marriage to them as well, and explain why your conscience will not allow you to attend. If they do attend, however, remember to forgive them. Perhaps they are not at a point in their faith journey where they are ready to make that choice.

My best advice is for you to step back from the hurt feelings, the pleading, the coaxing, and the arguing. They will likely do little to change your family's mind at this point. Let them know that you appreciate them, you care about them, and you will always be there for them. Do not let your anger and grief destroy the relationship you have with them. Just as Jesus treated everyone with love and charity, so should we.


I'm with John on this one. Dumping a pregnant wife is such a vile thing to do that that's reason enough to cut the guy off.


But hasn't the USCCB taught that we only need to obey the law if we like it?


No, that's what the Court and State teaches, Billy, in regards to any moral matters-- depending upon how wily are the counselors we hire and the politicians we elect.


I think the point is that they are not supposed to "cut the guy off". They're supposed to make it clear that they're not going to the wedding or the reception. Those are two different things.

You can't go to the reception either, then I take it? It makes sense but I need to be sure. I'm not the original writer but will go through something similar someday soon.

Let me see if I have this straight: A Catholic-raised person who has told me he no longer has anything to do with the Church, nor wants anything to do with the Church, needs to formally defect by contacting a bishop and going through whatever procedure there would be. Then I can attend his wedding and reception? He plans on a civil ceremony.

David B.

That guys sound like a class-A jerk.

David B.


It should've been "guy", not "guys".



There has been no Vatican decree that states precisely what weddings Catholics are allowed to attend. All of the decrees, canon laws, etc., are in reference to what marriages the Church deems valid.

The logical question that follows, at least in current American Catholic culture, is what are we to do when invited to such marriages. For Jimmy, the answer is that we should not attend weddings that would be deemed invalid by the Church.

Is this the correct answer in every case? Surely, if any of my own children or siblings were to marry outside of the Church, I would not attend because my views are clear to them and always have been.

In the cases of friends, distant relatives, and Catholics who never had a strong formation in the first place, it becomes more difficult. It becomes a matter of conscience. Would your attendance or non-attendance affect your capability to evangelize? Could you go to such a wedding in good conscience?

I was of the same mind as you regarding people who had clearly expressed their desire to no longer be members of the Church prior to entering into a marriage (as opposed to those who leave the Church due to marrying outside it.)

Learning about the new clarification on this blog has added some extra burden to my conscience (Thanks, Jimmy!) I have not completely come to grips with his conclusion (two best friends and a sister-in-law are getting married under these same circumstances within the year), but I haven't come up with a justification that would allow me to attend in good conscience, either.

The problem with the new clarification of the Canon Law regarding a formal act of separation from the Church is that to formally defect is common in Europe, but rarely happens in the US.


I have to give a lot of props to Jimmy for delicately handling this extremely difficult situation! I will pray for the reader involved, that he can get this resolved with the fewest hurt feelings possible for all members of the family.

I am a Protestant and an amateur apologist, and I wanted to point one thing out. The brother is NOT acting in good conscience as a Protestant. It is our position that the ONLY acceptable divorce is one for maritial infidelity (according to Matthew 19:9). It seems unlikely that his wife was the cheater, since she is pregnant and he is running around with another woman.

Weather you look at this from the Catholic point of view or the Protestant point of view, this guy has a long way to go to get right with God. As hard as it is, tough love may be the only answer.

I can't answer if they should attend the wedding or not. I can say that they should NOT allow the lovers to live together under the parents' roof because that would, as Jimmy said, lend credence to an adulterous relationship.

Tough situation. My prayers will be with all of those involved.

francis 03

Cory, one of the weaknesses that a lot of Catholics see in Protestantism is that there are so many different theological opinions floating around, and there's no way to tell which ones are the 'real' Protestant positions. As a result, whether the brother is acting in good conscience 'as a Protestant' is really impossible to know.

Eric G.

This makes absolutely no sense.

Why would an ex-Catholic, who does not recognize the Church's authority, bother notifying his bishop about a formal defection? Some might do it out of spite, but the vast majority?

I think the Holy See is wrong here. She cannot tell someone what procedure they must go through to formally defect from the faith; that's outside her competency. She can set conditions for membership, but can't, in effect, force someone to stay in the Church against their will. Church membership does include certain ritual formalities, but there's also the internal assent of faith. If someone has expressly repudiated that, then in what sense, other than the bare-bones ontological (i.e. sacramental characters) are they Catholic and thus bound to Church law?

I just don't buy it. I can't, intellectually, unless someone explains this to me.

Eric G.

Let me give an example.

I wasn't raised a Catholic. My parents were, but they semi-defected from the Church after marriage. Neither of them are practicing, and neither of them believes in Catholicism, although they have not formally joined another religion. My father's something of an agnostic, my mother something of a liberal Protestant.

They had us (their four kids) baptized, but for no other reason than it was the family tradition. We had absolutely no follow-up catechises whatsoever. When I was ten years old, I "reverted" to Catholicism all on my own, and had my parents enroll me in CCD classes. Because I was doing it, my mom decided to have my siblings go through CCD, too. My brother went all the way up to Confirmation, but the older of my younger sisters made only First Communion. My mom just got lazy and stopped taking her to CCD, and she (this sister) has n odesire to be Confirmed. She does not believe in Catholicism.

My youngest sister (the 4th child) has only been baptized. She is ten years old, and had no follow-up catechesis, except what Im trying to instill in her.

Now, the older of my younger sisters, now 17 years old, has no desire to be Confirmed, or live her life as a Catholic; but she has been baptized, and made First Commnio, and so is technically a Catholic. She also has not formally joined another church, and certainly will never write to our bishop! She wants to get married, and has her heart set on having the ceremony on a boat or a beach.

The Church won't marry her unless she gets Confirmed and marries in a church.

Now, I can probably exert enough pressure on my sister, to the extent that, for the sake of keeping the family together (and not have me miss her wedding), she'll go through the RCIA, get Confirmed, and get married in a church building. But it won't mean anything, just a stupid formality on her part.

Is it RIGHT for me, or for the Church, to in effect MAKE her get Confirmed (when she doesn't beleive in it) and get married in a church justto make me happy? It's illogical. The Church will allow me to attend my de-facto unCatholic sister's confirmation and church-wedding, but not her secular wedding; because my mom several years ago had my sister sprinkled with water and receive Communion.

Law aside, this is just ludicrous, and a non-Catholic would rightly recognize it as such. The Holy See is not like the Pharoahs of old, who beleived that the sun would stop its course if they told it too. The Holy See is manifestly wrong on this interpretation of her law.

Or am I missing something?


I wonder if the rule regarding formal defection from the Church was formulated without reference to it's impact on marriage issues. Perhaps the reason the Vatican has made it so difficult to formally leave the Church is so that it can then be easier for lapsed Catholics to return to the fold if they re-convert (revert?). If a person has not formally defected and realizes that leaving the Church was a mistake, then the situation can be fixed through a good, sacramental confession.

Dan E.

Jimmy wrote:
"First, let's suppose that he did formally defect. Canon law provides that if a person has formally defected from the Church then he is not bound to observe the Catholic form of marriage. If your brother had formally defected then he would have been free to marry his first spouse. Marriage enjoys the favor of the law so, until the nullity of his first marriage is established, he must be presumed to be married to his first wife and thus not free to marry his current girlfriend." "...it would have been permissible for you to attend his first wedding ..."

This does seem strange. Why would it be ok for me to attend the wedding of a person who has formally defected from the Catholic Church?
"They could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it." (Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, 14)
In other words, the defector would not be bound by Catholic canon law, but would also be literally damned. Is this what the Church is teaching? That we are free to celebrate the unions of people who have formally rejected the Church and have condemned their own souls?

Matt McDonald

Eric, do you believe that the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ? Do you believe that the sacrament of baptism permanently marks the soul of the recipient as a Christian? Do you believe that Christ gave Peter and his successors authority as shephards over all Christians especially and the whole world as well? Do you believe that marriage is a sacrament that permanently (after consummation) binds the man and woman for life, as Christ taught?

If you don't accept these truths, then there is little anyone here can use to help you understand why the Church teaches what she does on this matter. You'd have to start with the basics.

The Church did not make people defect from the Faith, she's only trying to deal in truth and justice with these situations when they arise. The form requirements of for those who are Catholic by baptism and haven't formally left the Church are designed for the good of the parties to ensure that they recieve the graces of sacramental marriage. The form requirements for those outside the faith are based on natural marriage and so are far less restrictive.

You can argue the prudence of requiring a formal defection, however, the Church absolutely has authority to maintain such rules.


Francis -

It also occured to me that I may have taken that statement the wrong way. If Jimmy spoke of acting in accordance with Protestant tradition(s) [I'm not even going to argue the validity of your point that there are too many theological positions], then there is no way to know if he's acting correctly without knowing what denomination or what church he is a part of.

It seems like a moot point since it doesn't seem as though this guy is a part of any faith structure, Catholic or otherwise. Protestants in general are more about following the leading of the Holy Spirit in your life than chruch law, so there usually isn't any problems with getting a divorce recognized (a problem from most Catholic points of view, I know) assuming that you felt this somehow could strengthen either your faith or your now ex-spouse's. Re-marriage, however, depends on the minister. Some may refuse, some may want you to take marriage classes, some may not have a problem provided you can produce the divorce decree.

I'd like to point out that in my own Catholic diocese, there are several priests who don't care if the engaged couple are living together prior to marriage, while others won't marry you until you live apart for at least a year. My point is that the theological differences exist in the Catholic Church as well as the Protestant church.

francis 03

Cory, I think what you're pointing out is primarily a pastoral difference, not a theological difference. For most priests who do so, I'm betting that marrying cohabiting couples is not a reflection of their theological opinions but rather just a judgment on the priest's part that trying to talk them out of cohabiting just isn't worth it (because it wouldn't work, etc.).

I'm hoping you'll cast a little more light on how you misunderstood Jimmy's statement. At first you said "The brother is NOT acting in good conscience as a Protestant. It is our position that the ONLY acceptable divorce is one for maritial infidelity (according to Matthew 19:9)." Now you say "[T]here is no way to know if he's acting correctly without knowing what denomination or what church he is a part of." The latter statement is exactly the point I was getting at in my initial post.

francis 03


Theological differences certainly do exist in the Catholic Church as well as within Protestantism. But on many issues Catholicism has one official position. Individual Catholics may have different ideas on some issues, but this qualifies them as dissenters, schismatics or (in the most serious cases) heretics. On the other hand, even when Protestant churches have official positions on issues, different churches are likely to disagree with each other. So in most cases it seems completely impossible to say whether someone is "acting in good conscience as a Protestant;" the most you could ever say would be "acting in good conscience as a Lutheran/Baptist/Methodist/member of Springfield Bible Church." And even that would be a stretch, since all of those churches are pretty committed to individual interpretation of Scripture.

J.R. Stoodley

To those tempted to judge this brother, let us remember Christ's teachings about judgement.

This is such a sad and common situation. Let's all pray for the whole family, and others in a similar situation.


You mean like when he judged the moneychangers for turning the temple into a den of thieves?

Actions can and should be judged. People's souls cannot except by god.

Bruce in NYC

I somehow stumbled upon this thread. A brother is a brother. You don't have to love his actions, but you should always love him. And if that means going to his wedding in a situation that you abhor for one reason or another, you do it. I find it selfish that such close family members won't attend a wedding because they disapprove of it.
I am Jewish...if my children married non-Jews, sure, I'd just as unhappy as all of you on here would be in a similar situation. I would be devastated, actually. But not attending the wedding would be completely out of the question, and I would love his wife regardless of her religion, as long as she respected my son and his beliefs. I implore you all to feel the same way. This is a perfect example of how religion affects the world in a negative way. Love your religion, love your God, but come on...don't judge other people on what they believe. After all, love is blind.


I wonder if the pregnant wife the brother is divorcing agrees with you?


"I find it selfish that such close family members won't attend a wedding because they disapprove of it."

The question is whether God, as revealed through the teaching of His Church, disapproves of it.


"...don't judge other people on what they believe."

Why not?

David B.


And when you go to Heaven for following your conscience, and I go to Hell for not following mine, will you come with me, out of respect?

Everything a man holds dear will pass away But he himself will not. He will have to live with himself forever. That is why attending the 'play wedding' of a man who dumped his wife and the mother of his child is condoning his actions. If he's offending by that fact, too bad. I'd care more about the opinion of the wife than the man who left her, but that's me.

God's judgment affects us. Those of men shouldn't.

David B.

BTW, I'm not commenting on the validity of the first marriage. Jimmy addressed it well. I'm only talking about the right of a Catholic to put his faith in God before human respect. I've had to do it before, and the last thing those who take a stand for their faith need is someone callin' them jerks.


Reading all this makes me sick/sad. Yes, I've even read the Catechism of Trent which is about as traditional as it gets, and in the abstract the logic of it is beautiful. However, doctrine practiced by imperfect men can and often does become abusive.

Good golly man, I assume you know your brother fairly well, use your common sense! If your conscience tells you it's wrong to attend his second wedding, in a kind tone, tell him and your parents JUST THAT. If either asks for futher explanation offer it, gently by expressing your belief in Christ's words, "What God has joined together, let no man put assunder."

Of course, if they are hip to the Catholic Church's "divorce courts," you know about those don't you? The Marriage Tribunals where priests determine and make a judgement as to whether a baptized person, married by a Catholic priest or other lawful minister had enough sense to understand the commitment necessary to bind a couple together for life (or some other impediment like a shot-gun-wedding) and therefore receive the Sacrament of Matrimony; and if not that marriage is annuled. In these tribunals men and women have actually been granted multiple annulments. They can keep coming back until they finally grow up and get it right. Well, if your brother or parents know about those, any further attempt to explain could get quite complicated and appear hypocritical since he doesn't share your Catholic faith and your parents are probably uniformed Catholics.

He seems like a selfish guy, do you think he's capable of understanding your commitment (love) for someone (Jesus Christ) supercedes your love for him? Your lucky if he's able to understand that. If he does he won't cut you out of his life, and you certainly shouldn't cut him out of yours. You can accept him without accepting his sin. After all, Jesus said, "He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her." That's why if I explained to my brother Christ's teaching on marriage and he was not able to understand it and my absenting myself from his wedding ceremony was going to lead to a fracture or bitter strife in the family, I'd go. I know all about Mondernism and Relativism etc., and regardless of what the doctrine or law says, I'd trust in the mercy of Jesus. I trust that He would not damn me for taking pity on my immature, sinful, whatever brother. I've seen families torn apart by religiosity; I've never seen one hurt by mercy.

There are those who would argue that I haven't been to heaven yet to see what happens there, at the judgement and that's true. But I did witnessed the death of a mother I knew very well. This lady was very close to Jesus. She prayed continually for her unbelieving children, but she would never, ever knowingly do anything that would lead to strife in her family. Unless asked she almost always kept her opinions about her loved ones lives to her self. She wasn't perfect, but she lived a good life, remaining calm and peaceful even in difficult situations and as I said, prayed for everyone always. On her death bed she was able to tell her children, because they were all there, that ALL she wanted for them was faith in Jesus Christ. Two days before her death I and another person witnessed a conversation she had with God. Although she had been too weak to say much, she spent nearly 15 minutes praising and thanking God in a loud clear voice and then she saw heaven, her dead grandson (who had died at birth, unbaptized,)she saw her "banquet table" spread out and filled with people, some who she didn't recognize. Then, much to her dismay, she noticed some who were not there and said to God quite loudly that He had promised her they would be there and so, why weren't they there? The conversation that we heard went on for nearly an hour. A large part of it had to do with the people who were NOT at her table. She continued to question, indeed argue with God, insisting that He had promised her these people would be in heaven with her. She even told Him He's the reason she wanted them there; that He was the one that really loved them and wanted them there; that He wanted them there more than she did! After she told God that they "are good," she listened to Him for a minute or more which was a long time because usually whatever was communicated to her took only seconds or less. She finally responded with, yes, I know it's not enough to be good. And again she praised God with perfect humility exclaiming His goodness and greatness and her sinfulness and nothingness. It was a remarkable conversation which continued even after we were no longer able to hear her voice. Only her lips moved. The end that we heard was her promising God she would let go of her feeling responsible for her loved ones, that it was His work (she was just His instrument)and her promising not to worry anymore. Then He asked something of her and she responded with "Ok, I don't want to, but I will."

In contrast to this death was the death of a father (not her husband)who constantly tried to manipulate his children through fear of the judgement of God and finally cutting them out of his life if they didn't do what Catholic doctrine said they should do. The letter of the law was what mattered to him. He believed anything less than that would damn his children and him if he showed them any mercy. He meant only to save them and himself; I do not doubt that his intentions were only for their good, but he drove 2/3 or more of his large family away and died practically alone. None of his 8 children were at his bedside when he passed on. He was a lonely, unhappy man when he died. I trust he found God's mercy, the mercy he couldn't show or bestow on others when he saw God.

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