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J.J. wrote:

Hi, guys —

I am an excommunicated man with a bad marriage, (not fixable), who misses the fellowship of a Christian community and would like to join another denomination.

  • Does an excommunicated person incur the additional sin of apostasy if he or she joins another church?

J.J.

  { Does an excommunicated person incur the additional sin of apostasy by joining another church? }

John replied:

Hi, J.J. —

Thank you for your question.

I'm not sure what exactly you mean by bad marriage, (not fixable).

  • If by that you mean you can't remain married to your current spouse because your differences are irreconcilable, that doesn't mean you are excommunicated.

  • If, on the other hand, you are telling us that you are in an canonically irregular marriage
    (which is not valid in the Churches eyes) that cannot be fixed for some other reason, then you are simply forbidden from receiving the Sacraments, except under extraordinary circumstance (i.e.: imminent danger of death).

    While that is not an ideal situation, it doesn't preclude you from fellowship in a parish community.

Were you to join a Protestant sect, you would not necessarily be committing apostasy, but nevertheless it would be formal heresy. Apostasy is a term reserved for those who have ceased to be Christians entirely.

In any event, I would not recommend compounding formal heresy to the sin of adultery, which, sorry to say, is what an irregular marriage constitutes. You gain nothing whatsoever by yoking yourself to a Christian community that only preaches part of the truth.

I would recommend you continue to attend Mass and participate in parish life as much as possible. True, you can't receive the Eucharist; but it's not like you're going to find a valid Eucharist in any Protestant Fellowship.

At least, by continuing to attend Mass, you will have the opportunity to participate in the True Eucharist (in a limited way) by being present at the Holy Sacrifice made present and by adoring the Real Presence.

John

J.J replied:

John,

Thank you for your prompt response.

I am eighty years old. My marriage is canonically irregular in that we were married 22 years ago after divorces. Both former spouses were living at the time (hence the excommunication); one (at least) has been dead for years.

We have a wonderful, prayerful marriage that ceased being clinically adulterous several years ago, but both of us still have a bad taste in our mouths because of what we perceive, under the circumstances, as the injustice of the original excommunication.

Since we are denied the Eucharist, we have tried our best to find spiritual growth in homilies and sermons. We have scoured the city for something or someone whom we could respect and from whom we could derive at least occasional inspiration. (The local University Newman Club came close, but the management (and the context there) has changed.) We are, frankly, fed up with constant hammerings about abortion, pedestrian-canned sermons and political cheer leading from the pulpit.

We have found a preacher whom we respect and who respects us — unlike our parish pastor — and will probably sign on and get the envelopes for the weekly hit.

I am an ex-seminarian and a student of the Fathers and the encyclicals. I'm still hung up on Lamentabili Sane, [read it here] but that's another topic.

I'm grateful to you for your response.

J.J.

Mary Ann replied:

Dear J.J.,

You were never excommunicated. You were just forbidden to receive Holy Communion unless you lived celibately and confessed the adultery. Since the sexual activity has ceased, you may certainly be readmitted to the Eucharist, once you are reconciled again to the Church.

Someone appears to have given you some incorrect advice.

I do sympathize with the state of Catholic sermonizing and Liturgy, though I wish that I would hear more against abortion, which kills our young and wounds our families so seriously. (I work in the field of post-abortion ministry.) You are lucky in that regard!

Political cheer leading is not the Church's role, unless the State transgresses onto grounds of basic human rights.

Finally, I encourage you to look into having your previous marriage examined for validity.

You say that at least one partner is dead. That is strange — surely you would know if the other were dead. If not, it's certainly worth a quick search to find out, so that you are free to have your marriage validated and can together fulfill your prayer life as God intended, with full sacramental union with Him.

God bless.

Mary Ann

John replied:

Dear Friend,

There is not much I can say about the bad taste in your mouth. You may have based this on a perceived injustice. If either of your previous marriages were sacramentally valid then the Church cannot grant an annulment.

Notwithstanding your feelings, your situation, as you describe it, changes your status. If you and your wife are living together as brother and sisters in the physical sense, you probably are free to receive the Eucharist.

If both of the previous spouses are deceased, then you are completely free to remarry or get your marriage blessed.

I'm not sure where you live or what your current Catholic pastor's issues are. It sounds a bit odd that he doesn't respect you; as you say. Certainly, Catholics (let alone priests) are called to respect the human dignity of every person, irrespective of their sin. However, respect for the person can never include condoning any sin.

  • Nevertheless, if you have irreconcilable differences or personality conflicts with this priest, why don't you try to find another local parish?

Especially since the situation you described, may no longer require you to abstain from the Sacraments. I would recommend you find another priest who doesn't know you. Explain all the details to him. He'll know what to do.

As I said, if both spouses are dead, you can just fix the current marriage. If, on the other hand, you are willing to promise to continue a celibate and chaste relationship, they may give you a dispensation, given your age and other circumstances.

John

J.J replied:

Thank you both.

You've been a real help and I appreciate it.

J.J.
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