Hypothetical marriage question


#1

I’m getting such helpful responses to my fictional question about Jane and John, and finding the discussion so illuminating about the Catholic concept of marriage, that I have another hypothetical question. Some of you seemed to be enjoying discussing my previous story, so I hope you enjoy this one too.

Suppose Alice and Bob, both Catholics, get married in church. Things go well at first, but after a while they get busy and start neglecting each other. Alice is lonely, so she is flattered when Charles, an atheist at her work, starts to pay attention to her. Alice and Charles end up having an affair, and Alice leaves Bob, stops going to church, gets a divorce, and marries Charles in a civil ceremony.

Some years later, Alice has realised that the grass wasn’t really greener on the other side of the fence. Charles has been promoted and moved to a different department, so she no longer sees him at work, and when they do have some time together he no longer finds her so fascinating as he used to. Meanwhile his bad habits at home are just as irritating as Bob’s used to be. She feels spiritually dissatisfied too, but Charles doesn’t understand why she cares about God. Alice decides to go back to church. She joins a Catholic church, and makes new friends there.

While visiting the friends, Alice runs into Bob again. They start spending more and more time together, and Alice enjoys being with somebody who not only shares her history but also understands her spiritual values. She starts to remember all the great things about Bob that attracted her to him in the first place. Eventually they end up in bed and have sex. They still remember the particular ways of giving pleasure that they each most like and the sex feels satisfying for both of them.

Alice goes to see her protestant friend Diana and tells her what happened. “It felt so right,” she tells her friend, “but now I’m confused”. Diana tells Alice that although her affair was wrong, nevertheless Alice is legally married to Charles now, and for her to have sex with Bob is adultery. Alice replies “But in the eyes of the Church I’m still married to Bob and my whole marriage to Charles has been adultery, so how can it be adultery for me to sleep with Bob?”

Diana tells Alice she can’t answer that and recommends Alice to talk to her priest. What should the priest say to Alice?

Meanwhile, Bob also goes to see his priest. What should the priest say to Bob?


#2

That priest better have a good understanding of canon law… :popcorn:


#3

Your hypothetical actually reminds me of a certain “romantic” movie called “It’s Complicated”, though of course the morality of the whole situation was not exactly the main topic.

I also recall a very similar question being posed on a Protestant forum and most posters seemed to agree with “Diana’s” comment that

Diana tells Alice that although her affair was wrong, nevertheless Alice is legally married to Charles now, and for her to have sex with Bob is adultery.

Anyway, my gut feeling is that the sex itself may not be sinful, but betraying Charles’s trust would still be a sin.

I am not sure if Bob himself would be guilty of any sin, though.

This also reminds me of the hypothetical of a civilly divorced couple that reconciles and “resume the conjugal life” but don’t actually re-marry civilly, say, because if they did one or the other would lose government benefits or a pension. Some may say that’s sinful because it causes scandal and is technically fraud, and others might say that if the Church is fine with it, it’s none of the government’s business.


#4

Now that you mention it, I think I faintly remember seeing something about that when it came out. I didn’t see it, though. I don’t like books/movies etc with stories about sexual betrayal of trust - too close to home for me. (My late husband had an affair.)

But if Alice is sinning by betraying Charles’s trust (and I agree that she is), isn’t Bob sinning by being a party to that?

The standard protestant answer to that would be that they should get remarried before resuming their sexual relationship. I think that in any case they would be wise to do so. There would be a lot of repair work to do on a relationship that had deteriorated to the extent of actually getting a divorce, and significant uncertainty over the level of commitment of the person who instigated the divorce. Getting remarried to each other, whether civilly or in church, would be the best way to express the recommitment, I think, along with identifying what problems in the relationship had led to the divorce and making sure those had been addressed before moving forward with either the legal or the sexual reconciliation.


#5

You’re worried because she’s betraying the trust of the man with whom she’s having a legal but adulterous relationship…? :rolleyes:

There’s lots of sin all around, I’d say, in this situation. Remember – scandal, too, is sin. So, by their behavior, Alice and Bob are both party to a situation which confuses and weakens others’ understandings of the bonds of marriage and the responsibilities (legal and otherwise) that spouses have to each other.

The standard protestant answer to that would be that they should get remarried before resuming their sexual relationship.

Yes. Ending the adulterous civil relationship would be part of the process of repentance.

I think that in any case they would be wise to do so. There would be a lot of repair work to do on a relationship that had deteriorated to the extent of actually getting a divorce, and significant uncertainty over the level of commitment of the person who instigated the divorce.

Alice & Bob’s civil divorce would be less harmful to the relationship, I’d assert, than the marital infidelity…

Getting remarried to each other, whether civilly or in church, would be the best way to express the recommitment

I can’t see how there would be a church re-marriage; they’re already married to one another, validly, in the Church. The civil divorce of Alice and Charles, and subsequent civil re-marriage of Alice and Bob, would help ease the scandal of the extra-marital relationship.


#6

I would be very curious if any Catholic Priests here will answer this… :popcorn:

However, I could see it potentially playing out something like this:

Alice’s priest asks her if she received an annulment (if he didn’t know). Assuming Alice did not have an annulment, he tells her that she needs to get out of a sinful relationship and gently encourages her to return to Bob. And that if she doesn’t return to Bob, she needs to live as Brother & Sister with Charlie or attempt to receive an annulment. But again, gently encouraging her to return to Bob. The priest would most likely also recommend that she see a good Catholic therapist.

Bob’s priest might ask Bob if he has had any other sexual partners since Alice left that he needs to confess (after asking the annulment question if he didn’t know). The priest then might ask Bob if he’s willing to forgive Alice and if he wants her to return home. He would most likely suggest that Bob see a Catholic therapist. The priest might also suggest Catholic marriage counseling for the two of them to attend when/if they get back together (assuming she divorces Charlie). He would most likely suggest a Catholic Marriage Counselor and he would most likely suggest also a “pre Cana refresher” like a Retrouvaille retreat weekend and/or pre Cana retreat.


#7

That’s a good hypothetical, and quite realistic. :thumbsup:

As others have said, the fact that Alice and Bob are still married in the eyes of the Church doesn’t absolve them of any other human obligations that they may have assumed while separated. Alice still owes some duties, possibly serious duties, to her legal husband, Charles. However, these are only the obligations of a human relationship, not a “marriage”. Especially, lifelong fidelity is not an obligation, and, moreover, sexual relations with him are an infidelity to Bob.

The Catholic teaching is much closer to the scriptures than the Protestant, which is characterised as “Serial Monogamy”, ie. you can be married two three or more times and yet only the current “marriage” matters.

Alice cannot just discard her “marriage” to Charles at will, however, she is still married to Bob in the eyes of the Church so sexual relations with him would not be a sin of adultery, and if she were to eventually divorce Charles, and fulfill any ensuing obligations to him and their children (if any), she is free to resume her marriage with Charles without need for another “marriage” in any form. They would also be free to engage in sexual relations, by mutual consent, even if they were not living together, as if they were a separated married couple.

I guess this is the other side of the somewhat hard Catholic teaching on marriage. Separation, divorce and re-marriage do not dissolve the original marriage, and more often than not this is an impediment in peoples’ lives, however the Church is at least consistent, in that the original marriage remains a “true” marriage and sexual relations remain licit.

This situation appears at the start of Evelyn Waugh’s novel A Handful of Dust. The Catholic male protagonist has been abandoned by his young wife who wants more fun. After several years they meet by accident and are attracted to each other. The man invites her to his hotel room and starts to seduce her, with some success, until she asks “Isn’t it a sin for you to do this when you’re divorced?”, to which he replies “No, in the eyes of the Church we are still married”. She then says “So, you are doing this because I am the only woman in the world you are allowed to sleep with?”. End of scene.


#8

Whatever God inspired the Priest to talk to both. But it is always at best to leave it to them. And not for us to interfere because we should not control God’s representative. Quite the contrary we should follow him as long as he does not contradict the Holy teachings of God through mother church.


#9

This could be handled any number of ways which is why an accompanying priest would be essential to bring the best out of the situation.

The one thing not to do is to pretend the objective realities are the only ones that count. That would only reinforce the ethical immaturities continuously demonstrated by Alice. She may not even have the maturity required to return to her only husband…and it is doubtful the first marriage was valid in the first place.


#10

Alice needs to separate herself from both men and find a good shrink before she makes anymore halfbaked attempts at matrimony. She doesn’t need to worry about “betraying” her second husband’s trust. He has know right or expectation of trust. He can go out through the same door he came in.


#11

The marriage is assumed to be valid until it is proven otherwise (after a formal application by one of the spouses, a proper investigation, and a decree of nullity).

Until then, Alice and Bob are married, and can act as such.

Ahhh… right… :thumbsup:

I missed that bit - their relationship started with an affair while Alice was still married.


#12

This actually happened in real life some years ago to friends of someone I know.
Alice’s priest told Alice to get a civil divorce from Charles. Bob had not remarried because of his devout Catholic faith. Alice sued for a divorce, and got a house and a motorcycle, together with a large sum of cash from Charles, who was only just thrilled that she didn’t ask for alimony. Charles kept their two cars, their summer cottage, and their home business.

Once the divorce with Charles was finalized (fortunately in the real-life case there were no children involved) she was free to “re-marry” Bob.

Bob’s priest told him to make sure to get marriage counseling for both himself and Alice. Alice agreed to this and they visited with a priest who was an expert in marriage psychology once a month for about a year or so, where they worked through the little resentments that had built up the first time through. Alice came to the self-realization that taking offense at dirty socks on the floor was coming from a feeling of insecurity.

After all of the legal stuff was done and after the two of them had made a thorough and good Confession, Bob and Alice had a civil wedding ceremony in the Church, exchanging the same rings they had had in the original ceremony. The whole thing took about 15 minutes.

As far as I know, they lived happily ever after.


#13

:eek:

That is seriously scary!

Yay! :smiley:


#14

Don’t take up pastoral ministry as a day job :shrug:.


#15

Don’t ditch your day job for a spot on the marrIage tribunal Blue! They normally hear the evidence before making the big calls :smiley:


#16

Marriage Tribunals and following the letter of the law alone arent known for promoting ethical maturity let alone a relationship with God. Though those of us with autistic tendencies may find this hard to understand.
No pastor worth his salt would encourage the unchaste immaturity demonstrated by this silly armchair scenario regardless of the legal situation. It’s a form of Pharisaism in my view to condone vice simply because there is no formal legal prohibition.


#17

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