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John wrote:

Dear Friends,

I have a question for you regarding conversion to the Catholic faith. I am very sincere and honest about wanting to convert to Catholicism. I myself am formally from the Methodist church and currently am not attending any church. I am married to a Jewish woman and I understand to an extent, this is not necessarily something that should stop me from entering the Church, however it is further complicated by the fact that we are both in our second marriage.

  • I understand there is a problem and a process we have to go through to have the first marriages invalidated and I guess I am wondering what does that process actually involve?

The problem is my Jewish wife, who would do anything in the world she could for me, can really only do so much as far as this is concerned, because she actually practices Orthodox Judaism and she is unable to be involved in matters directly concerning any other religious organization, regardless of which ones they may be. We have a very unique situation and are very understanding about our interfaith differences but this is a bit more of an obstacle than we may be able to overcome.

I really want to have a conversion into the Church so thank you very much for any information you may be able to provide me, and thank you in advance for taking the time out to send me a reply.

John

  { What is the process for handling first marriages between a Methodist and his Jewish wife? }

Fr. Jonathan replied:

Hi John,

Go to a Catholic Church and ask for information on their “RCIA” program (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults). Let yourself be known to the pastor there and explain your marital situation so that he does not rush to have you join by this Easter. Coming into the Church this Easter (April) is probably not possible, but the following Easter could happen.

In regards to your marriage:

  • It depends on what faith your ex-spouse was. If she was a Catholic or an Eastern Orthodox person and you were married without contacting her Church then there could be an easier route called a “Lack of Form Case”.

  • If, more likely, she was of any other faith or of no faith whatsoever, then to come into the Church the Catholic Church there needs to be a study of that marriage called a “Declaration of Nullity” (commonly known as an “annulment”). Depending on the circumstances that process could take around a year.

In regards to her Marriage: I am going to assume that she was married to another Jewish person. If she cannot participate for the reasons you have said then the options are limited to two special types of cases:

  1. the "Pauline Privilege”, and
  2. the “Favor of the Faith” cases.

Your priest can get all the information and work with the Tribunal to see the best option. If you personally were responsible for that couple's break-up (i.e. she left him for you) then it will be very difficult to proceed so you will need to get an expert to help you.

The bottom line — it will be complicated but doable. As you begin the RCIA process, start working with the priest. Unless the priest is an expert, he should be in contact with his local Tribunal so that this is done right from the beginning.

  • Finally, this all sounds complicated doesn't it?
  • The standard question is why would the Catholic Church put up roadblocks like this when someone just wants to join them?

The answer to these good questions will become clearer to you as you enter into the RCIA process where you will learn more about the faith and the teachings of the Church. For example, you will learn just how sacred is Marriage – not just Catholic marriage but all marriage is from God and therefore we hold firmly to the validity of all Marriages. Both you and your wife took vows when you were married and we hold those vows as most serious.

I wish you well.

Fr. Jonathan

Mike replied:

Hi John,

Thanks for the question.

What I can say, and Fr. Jonathan can add or update anything I've said, is:

  • Your Jewish wife certainly doesn't have to became a Catholic for you to join the Church but
  • she does have to allow you to raise any future children both of you have, as Catholics.
    (Father will correct me if I'm wrong here.)

Seeing you may be preparing to take RCIA classes in the near future, I would encourage you to consider buying a cheap copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to learn everything we believe as faithful Catholics.

Mike

John replied:

Thank you both very much I appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions.

I understand this is not easy and I am OK with that.

Just one last question, and it is concerning the issue Mike raised about future children. We do not currently have intentions of having children but obviously this would be something we would need to discuss.

Again, thank you for answering my questions I am sure you get a ton of them every day, and you have been very helpful.

John

Fr. Jonathan replied:

Hi, John —

I need to respond with two things. First I need to clarify Mike's original answer and second I need to answer this direct question.

  1. Mike stated:

    • she does have to allow you to raise any future children both of you have, as Catholics.

This is actually inaccurate. She doesn't have to allow that, what is actually the case is that the Catholic has to promise to do “all in his/her power” to have the children baptized and raised as Catholics and the non-Catholic has to only witness that promise. There is a major difference in those two positions — if you don't get it read it again. The non-Catholic is not promising, the Catholic is.

  1. What if you don't see having children: the promise you both need to make is to give the right to the other party to have children of the union. Again, notice carefully the difference, the promise is not to have children, the promise is “if my partner during the marriage wants to have children then I am willing”. You hand over your body to each other in Marriage. So if you are both saying, I will not have children, no matter what my spouse desires, then the Church will not agree to marry you.

These are very important distinctions, read and reflect upon them carefully.

Fr. Jonathan

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