I was going to post this as a reply, based on some overlapping circumstances, to Jet’s Southern Baptist / Catholic marriage thread. But after I finished typing the post, it occurred to me that it wouldn’t really do anybody any favors to do so because this really is pretty different and almost more of a general pre-marriage question than a question to do with Catholic/Protestant marriages per se.
In hindsight, this would have been a better thread to start a year or more ago, without any relation to marriage itself, for other reasons that will likely be apparent.
Somewhat similar to Jet, I was raised in a Presbyterian church and, notwithstanding some periods of doubt and failings both personally and in terms of participation in active church life along the way, remain an active an faithful believer as I approach my thirties. Likewise, without quibbling over certain nuances, his description of his belief and faith pretty fairly captures my own. Also like him, I am not opposed to attending or participating in Catholic Mass and church activities as appropriate, and have done so (or offered to do so) with my fiancee and her family on various occasions. I understand and appreciate many (though hardly all) of the features of the Catholic Church and faith, and I recognize that some of those distinctions with respect to Protestant doctrine are non-trivial. While I find many of these doctrinal questions interesting and worthy of real attention, I don’t think it’s necessary to have that discussion in this context because in many ways this topic turns on the fiancée’s Catholic faith and practice (or lack thereof).
We were engaged several months ago, after roughly 2.5 years of exclusive dating. As commenters in the linked thread noted, and I agree, it is important that the two of us understand one another’s beliefs and the role that we expect church and faith to play in our marriage. What needs to give, what doesn’t, what can be worked through over time? It is not necessary to me that we be precise agreement on everything now – whether with respect to religion or otherwise, I don’t want or expect us to be cookie-cutter automatons – I do think that we need to clearly understand where the differences are and at least have some agreement that we’re both willingly and earnestly open to seeking God’s will and wisdom in our own lives and for each other.
Where my circumstance varies from Jet’s is in the fact that while my fiancée’s views on church and faith are very much shaped by her Catholic upbringing, she is neither devout nor active in either regard, and has not been so for at least four years. So the role that this plays in our relationship now and in the issues described above is largely what brings me here. But there are undoubtedly some other significant issues at play, which makes this a bit messier and a bit more difficult to sort out than the Protestant/Catholic issue alone.
She was brought up in a family that was and is both rigidly Catholic (my impression is that most of Vatican II was never really an accepted part of her parents’ views, at least if her own understanding of Catholic doctrine is any indication) and also profoundly dysfunctional. My perception is that on some levels she has difficulty separating the two. Without getting into the details of the latter, she has been resistant to even considering dealing with that (perhaps because she feels that there’s nothing to deal with, but it’s hard to say) through any sort of counseling (facilitated through a church or otherwise). She attributes a significant part of what describes as manipulative, controlling, and abusive behavior by her parents as based on or couched in terms of religion. Some couple years before we met, motivated in part by the foregoing, she more or less left the Catholic Church and concluded that both it and “organized religion” at large were intellectually and morally bankrupt institutions which, at core, serve only to manipulate, control, and divide people into “us” and “them.”
This probably sounds like a familiar, perhaps even understandable, screed. By the time we met, she seemed to have softened this view somewhat, as least so far as finding some distinction between “the church” and her reasons for being angry (as she continues to be) about her parents, and to the extent that while she remained deeply skeptical of “organized” religion, perhaps belief in God and/or spirituality at some individual level wasn’t entirely irrational. In light of that I invited but never pushed hard for her to join me in attending a local church that I enjoyed, made regular efforts to attend, and felt was doctrinally sound on the matters that matter. She would come occasionally, though rarely enthusiastically, and the same seemed true for participating in a short term small group, facilitated by same said church, that we were invited to join.