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Betty Williams Thomas wrote:

Hi, guys —

I would like to kindly ask for help concerning the validity and binding nature of my marriage if my husband enters the Catholic Church.

I hope you would accept a question from a Protestant as any answer you could provide would help bring clarity to my situation and be very appreciated.

My husband Mark* (pseudonym) and I have been married for just over one year. We are both baptized as Protestants and at the time of our marriage, we openly professed Reformed Protestantism. All throughout our courtship, I made it plain to Mark that I was only interested in a marriage covenant with someone of a similar faith and doctrine and that I did not take matters of faith lightly. He confirmed again and again that he believed as I did.

With no prior warning, however, only several months into our marriage, Mark began pursuing Catholicism:

  • partly out of curiosity
  • partly in order to address his own questions about what he sees as the failures of the modern Evangelical church.

The way in which it was done caused a sharp schism in our marriage, even to the point where I considered getting an annulment because it seemed Mark had misrepresented himself in order that I marry him and I only foresaw conflict between us should he enter the Church. Nevertheless, this early wound to our union was healed through counsel, prayer, and forgiveness.

While I do have friends in the Catholic Church, their doctrine is not one to which I could submit myself to. Since Mark's interest grew, I have begun reading the Catechisms myself yet remain unconvicted by them and see Reformed Protestant theology and Roman Catholic theology irreconcilable in many respects. Nevertheless, my husband remains attracted to the Catholic Church while I do not.

We are married by common law and not through the state. Months after we decided to be married by common law, we had a ceremony where witnesses were present and we made vows to one another, but the man who officiated was not an ordained pastor.

My question is threefold.

  • If Mark does decide to be baptized Catholic, would our marriage be recognized by the Catholic Church as a sacrament?
  • Further, if it is not, would we have to be remarried in the Catholic Church?
  • And lastly, since Mark would need to promise to raise our (future) children Catholic, and I would neither consent to:
    • marry in the Catholic Church nor
    • to raise my children as Catholic:

    would our marriage be recognized, since I do not give my consent?

Again, I hope my tone in this e-mail has conveyed only an earnest desire to have clarity to my situation.

Any help you could provide would be most grateful.

Sincerely and with thanks,

Betty W.T.

  { What is the validity of our civil marriage if, against my wishes, my husband becomes a Catholic? }

Fr. Jonathan replied:

Dear Betty,

To answer I am assuming two things:

  1. this is the first marriage for both of you.
  2. your common law marriage is recognized as a marriage civilly.

My answer probably changes if those assumptions are not accurate.

With that said, your marriage is a valid Sacramental one now and will remain so in our eyes if and when he becomes a Catholic.

It is not a requirement for the children to be raised as Catholics.

That is a mutual decision on your part where he has every right to try to expose them to the Catholic faith (as you have to expose them to your faith.)

As to whether this could be a factor in a Catholic Annulment should you divorce — Maybe, however I hope that doesn't happen and you will refrain from such speculation.

I hope this is helpful.

Fr. Jonathan

Betty replied:

Dear Fr. Jonathan,

Thank you for your quick response and your brevity.

I appreciate the time and care you took in answering this and it does indeed help me.

Sincerely,

Betty

Mike replied:

Hi, Betty —

I just wanted to add two cents to Fr. Jonathan's reply.

You said:
All throughout our courtship, I made it plain to Mark that I was only interested in a marriage covenant with someone of a similar faith and doctrine and that I did not take matters of faith lightly. He confirmed again and again that he believed as I did.

I think what you were expecting out of him as your future spouse is more than even you could accept. Basically, you are telling him that you will marry him only on the condition that he gives up his, and every ones, basic right to religious freedom.

Although I am sure this was not your intent, you appeared to be asking him to accept an Islamic way of indoctrination where no other faith could ever be considered in the future.

I don't believe even you would ever want that restriction placed on you as the desire to be free is part of our human nature.

Just a few thoughts.

Hope this helps,

Mike

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