Engaged to an Episcopal-Baptized, Divorced Agnostic (HELP!)

I’ve combed the internet for a situation like mine, but haven’t found one yet!

The situation - My long-distance boyfriend of 2 1/2 years, who isn’t Catholic, is divorced, and he applied for an annulment 9 months ago just before we got engaged. We’re waiting for his diocese to declare his previous marriage null before we begin planning our marriage ceremony.

Since then, the person handling his case retired, and was passed to another person. No word on where it stands now.

Me - My home Catholic church is in Texas, but I’m in grad school and I attend mass in Washington DC. I live in Virgina. (Ouch.)

Him - My serious boyfriend is in New Jersey. His previous marriage wasn’t religious, and was performed by his ex’s father in Pennsylvania. He’s agnostic, but he was baptized Episcopal.

Assumption 1) Since he is baptized Christian (though non-practicing) the church recognizes his previous marriage to a non-Christian as valid, until declared null?

Assumption 2) The annulment needs to be handled by him, the non-Catholic, in HIS diocese?

As you can imagine, the situation is really stressful. We’ve been serious about getting married for almost two years. He even completed the annulment paperwork upon my request last year, even though he thinks it isn’t fair, since he doesn’t really see the church as having authority on his previous marriage.

I want to have the sacrament of marriage at my home parish in Texas. He felt more than ready to get married last year.

And to top it all off, I’m completing my degree and moving next month. While I’m not comfortable living together until we’re married, waiting for an unspecified amount of time has been, and continues to be, very difficult…

Any advice and/or prayers would be helpful!

What would you do if his marriage was ruled to be valid?

Good question, CoffeeHound. Hopefully it won’t come to that, since in his previous marriage they didn’t intend to have children…

But if it were ruled valid, I suppose I’d look into becoming an Episcopal. Not my first choice by any means.

I am loath to give advice in such a situation, I would only point out that the Church would recognize his marriage as valid even if he weren’t baptized - valid but not sacramental.

Was the father authorized to perform the marriage? If not, that might be your best ‘out’.

Everything you’ve revealed here, taken as a whole, frankly doesn’t seem to indicate a happy future. I’d give the situation a lot of time to unravel before crossing any bridges.

So, you’d walk away from the Catholic Church and commit mortal sin and enter an invalid marriage? Doens’t really sound like you have a firm grasp on the Sacrament of Marriage.

If his marriage is declared valid, that means he is already married and you **cannot **marry him. It would be the grave sin of adultery. On top of the grave sin of rejecting the Catholic Church and Her authority.

I think you have some serious thinking to do about the nature of marriage, the difficulty of raising children in a religiously mixed marriage, what it means to marry a non-believer (baptized or not), and why you would so easily walk away from the Church for this man. Why do you even want to get married in the Catholic Church if you reject her authority over you?

I really don’t get it.

To answer your original questions:

(1) Yes, generally speaking, his marriage is valid unless it is found invalid by the Catholic tribunal. If valid it cannot be dissolved. This is true for the baptized. The Pauline and Petrine Privileges apply in some specific cases, which entails a dissolution of a bond to an unbaptized person. Sounds like that is not applicable in your boyfriend’s case.

(2) Yes, he must be the one to petition and interact with the tribunal. Not you. Here are the canons concerning jurisdiction for examining the marriage:

Can. 1673 In cases concerning the nullity of marriage which are not reserved to the Apostolic See, the following are competent:

1/ the tribunal of the place in which the marriage was celebrated;

2/ the tribunal of the place in which the respondent has a domicile or quasi-domicile;

3/ the tribunal of the place in which the petitioner has a domicile, provided that both parties live in the territory of the same conference of bishops and the judicial vicar of the domicile of the respondent gives consent after he has heard the respondent;

4/ the tribunal of the place in which in fact most of the proofs must be collected, provided that consent is given by the judicial vicar of the domicile of the respondent, who is first to ask if the respondent has any exception to make.

Have you sat down with a priest or deacon and talked through this? If you’re willing to leave the Church and commit adultery over a long-distance boyfriend, there are some serious issues that need to be discussed with someone trained to do so before continuing with marriage.

Assumption 1) Since he is baptized Christian (though non-practicing) the church recognizes his previous marriage to a non-Christian as valid, until declared null?

Yes. All marriages are considered valid until proven otherwise.

Assumption 2) The annulment needs to be handled by him, the non-Catholic, in HIS diocese?

It would generally be handled by him in the diocese in which he lives or in the diocese in which he was married.

Since then, the person handling his case retired, and was passed to another person. No word on where it stands now.

Have you called? I’m not sure where he is in New Jersey, but the Tribunal for the Diocese of Trenton was easy to find (dioceseoftrenton.org/diocese/tribunal.asp). Just Google it.

As the Catholic in the relationship, you should have been the one to realize that you wait to start dating until the declaration of nullity is given. He was (and is) not free to date, yet (and may never be), let alone get engaged and get married.

Since then, the person handling his case retired, and was passed to another person. No word on where it stands now.

These things happen. That’s why you don’t date people who are still technically married to someone else.

His previous marriage wasn’t religious, and was performed by his ex’s father in Pennsylvania. He’s agnostic, but he was baptized Episcopal.

This will become relevant if and when he becomes eligible to date. At that point, you will realize that he’s not Catholic, and that you, as a Catholic, should be dating other Catholics, in order to have the greatest chance at happiness. :slight_smile:

Assumption 1) Since he is baptized Christian (though non-practicing) the church recognizes his previous marriage to a non-Christian as valid, until declared null?

He is considered by the Church to be a married man, separated from his wife. If he gets a declaration of nullity, he will be considered never to have been validly married. At that time, he will become eligible to start dating.

Assumption 2) The annulment needs to be handled by him, the non-Catholic, in HIS diocese?

Actually, in the Diocese where the putative marriage took place.

As you can imagine, the situation is really stressful.

This is actually one of the reasons that we teach that people shouldn’t get into these kind of relationships, to begin with. The stress can be literally soul-destroying.

You’re hip-deep in it, now, though, so I will certainly pray for you, and I hope that things are resolved according to the will of God. Don’t cross any bridges that you can’t come back from.

Sadly, you are probably a lost cause already. You’ve just admitted your priority to God is subservient to your boyfriend. God should be first in all things. But you are willing to walk away from His Church like a spoiled petulant child of you are told no. What is sad is that I had to go through a year and a half of patient waiting to come into the Church, waiting to become Catholic and to be able to experience the sacraments (other than baptism and marriage), while you are ready on a whim to throw it away. I remember Sunday after Sunday of having to be patient and watch as others could go up for Eucharist, or going with my class while we studied the readings more to make us prepared to receive the Eucharist. And you are willing to toss all that away.

Additionally you’ve admitted you are willing to live together before marriage, and this also a good indicator that you are already having sexual relations with him while he is still validly married, so committing adultery and unchastity. I hope I am wrong. If I am I apologize.

But even if you get all this mess straightened out, I’m afraid you will probably fall away from the Church within a year of marrying this man. To be ready to marry a non-Catholic, especially an agnostic, you need to be a very strong, well-catechized Catholic who is able to stand firm from daily temptations to forgo your responsibilities to God. You have already demonstrated you are not strong in your faith with your statement of becoming Episcopal. Take it from someone who is married to a cafeteria Catholic, it takes a LOT of fortitude to stay strong and meet my responsibilities and not listen to the voice of the world through her. Hopefuly one day she will wake up and see the Fullness of Truth and become an active loyal Catholic.

Wow, how . . . judgetastic. No one is a “lost cause,” my friend.

I didn’t mean it like that. Obviously everyone can be pulled back. I meant lost cause because the train is off the tracks. She is setting herself up for failure. That is what I meant.

Sounds like our friend who has been Catholic all of three months now may have an acute case of convertisis. :wink:

In Christ
Joe

Excuse me, what? As MarkThompson points out, this is judgmental and presumptive. I find it EXTREMELY offensive!

God should be first in all things. But you are willing to walk away from His Church like a spoiled petulant child of you are told no.

Are you saying is that God isn’t present in the Episcopalian faith? That should come as a uprise to Pope Benedict, who sees the similarity enough to be making it more easy for clergy and lay people to enter the Catholic community.

Let me clarify. This was only an extreme hypothetical. I want this relationship to be recognized by God. If for some reason, the Catholic church is unable to nullify his previous marriage (which, by the way, has a failure of form, failure to accept children, and ignorance of the sacrement), and I am unable to receive the Catholic sacrament because of a stamp on a page – then I still want to bring him closer to God; I will be the helping force in his ultimate reconciliation.

Since he was baptized as an Episcopalian (which is like Catholicism’s lost brother), I would be willing in this extreme case to meet him where he stands.

I remember Sunday after Sunday of having to be patient and watch as others could go up for Eucharist, or going with my class while we studied the readings more to make us prepared to receive the Eucharist.

Good for you. But you don’t sound terribly happy about it?

Additionally you’ve admitted you are willing to live together before marriage, and this also a good indicator that you are already having sexual relations with him while he is still validly married, so committing adultery and unchastity. I hope I am wrong. If I am I apologize.

Yes, you are; please do.

To be ready to marry a non-Catholic, especially an agnostic, you need to be a very strong, well-catechized Catholic who is able to stand firm from daily temptations to forgo your responsibilities to God.

In the long relationship I’ve had with him, I believe I’ve proved myself against daily temptation. At times I didn’t believe I had the strength to remain Catholic. I suppose I came here to look for support when I was feeling weak. (Have I found that support?)

I’m actually grateful for this relationship, because at every point I’ve had to explain why my faith is important to me. Since I was brought up in a Catholic family, I didn’t have to think very hard about what it is to be Catholic. Now, I’ve been combing over every belief, tradition, and bit of history to be able to explain and teach it to someone else.

Yes, Benedict is calling Anglican clergy home to the fullness of the faith. It’s **not **the other way around.

The Catholic Church is **the **Church founded by Christ. The others are all in schism or heretical teaching to some extent, the EC to a greater extent than many when it comes to female clergy, homosexuality, abortion, divorce/remarriage, contraception, and many other teachings. It is those members of the Anglican Communion who reject these false teachings that the Pope is welcoming to the Catholic Church.

The Episcopal Church lacks valid holy orders and apostolic succession. While God is always present to people who love him, that does not mean the EC is in any way a valid alternative to the Catholic Church. It is not. They are in error. They lack valid sacraments.

To leave the Catholic Church is to commit a mortal sin. To marry a man already married to another is to commit adultery. To believe that various ecclesial communities are equivalent to the Catholic Church is the sin of indifferentism. I suggest the Papal Encyclicals Dominus Jesus, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, and Ut Unum Sint for further study.

The fact that you are willing to consider leaving the Church and marrying a man who is validly married to another tells us you really don’t understand the Sacrament of Marriage, the nature of the Church, or what it means if his marriage is declared valid.

The Catholic Church does not “nullify” marriages. A marriage is either valid or null from its inception. The Church merely makes a finding of fact and declares what already exists: valid or invalid.

You didn’t mention his first marriage was to a Catholic outside the Catholic Church and without the Catholic receiving permission from their bishop. That is what “lack of form” means. Form only applies to Catholics and those marrying Catholics. If your friend married another non-Catholic in a religious or civil cermony, it is valid and does not have “lack of form.” Perhaps he does have legitimate grounds for nullity regarding the permanent intention against children and/or invalid intent/consent.

You don’t seem to understand that it’s not merely a “stamp on a page” but a reality. If his marriage is found valid, God ratifies that. You would be committing adultery to proceed with such a relationship.

I suggest the book Annulment: The Wedding That Was by Michael Smith Foster. It might help you understand the Catholic teaching on marriage better.

At the price of your eternal soul?

Proclaiming you are ready to leave the Catholic Church to commit adultery with someone is not a proof that you have resisted temptation.

I would certainly like to support you-- support you in learing more about your Catholic faith and why other ecclesial communities are not substitutes, support you in making a good decision regarding this relationship, support you in learning more about the Sacrament of Marriage.

If by “support you” you mean agree with you when you propose to commit a serious sin and put your soul in jeopardy-- you will probably not get takers on that.

I think that is wonderful. Every Catholic should be ready to explain the reason for their faith (St. Peter tells us this in Scripture). But, this is not the foundation on which to build a successful marriage.

Mixed marriage is extremely difficult. Marrying a non-believer (which an agnostic is) is very serious and will remain a threat to your faith. What about your children? Have you discussed that you will be baptizing them as Catholics, raising them as Catholics, taking them to Mass weekly? Has he agreed to remain silent about his agnostic beliefs so as not to confuse or influence the children in that direction? Has he agreed to use natural family planning, rejecting contraception since it is sin against God? Has he agreed to these things? How do you think that this will play out in daily living? You are in a long distance relationship right now. What about when you are together daily? What about when you want to pray with your husband and he does not want to pray with you?

Have you discussed all of this?

There are similarities between Catholic and Episcopalian, and that’s great. A person knows a lot of God’s truth as an Episcopalian. The problem is, Episcopalian and Catholic are similar, but not equivalent (yet - hopefully the can come into communion with us soon).

The problem is, as someone who knows God’s full truth, how do you explain that to Him after you abandon it for God’s mostly truth? It’s as if He gave you $5, told you to go to the store to buy some milk, and you can back with a bottle of Yoohoo. Sure it’s almost the same thing, and at least you’re not coming back with a pack of cigarettes, but He’s not going to be pleased.

And it sounds like the marriage may be ruled to have been invalid, which is good. The problem is that the Catholic Church isn’t merely “rubber stamping” your wedding - this isn’t a paperwork issue. Jesus left very clear instructions in the Bible for what is and what isn’t a marriage and what is and what isn’t adultery. The purpose of the tribunal is for those well versed in God’s Divine Law (as revealed to us) to go over the situation and determine if, under God’s Divine Law, marrying your boyfriend is adultery. Again, the question isn’t whether or not the Catholic Church deems it to be adultery - it’s whether or not God deems it to be adultery.

Why would the Catholic Church tell you that God believes something is adultery when the Episcopal Church would tell you that it’s acceptable? That has to do with the imperfect information that the Episcopal Church has. All you have to do is look at how the Anglicans became separated from Catholics for clues about that.

Again, I hope everything works out.

CoffeeHound, thanks for your well-reasoned reply.

The difference is that God did not establish the Episcopalian Church - human beings did that. God established the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is where His Truth resides.

Yes but the Catholic Church also teaches that some portion of His Truth does reside with our separated brethren; the Bible also teaches where two or three are assembled in His name, He will be with them.

As it does with every other human institution. Some have more; some have less - nobody is entirely without truth.

the Bible also teaches where two or three are assembled in His name, He will be with them.

While making clear that the promises of infallibility and inerrancy lie with the Church that He founded; not with individuals.

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