Sister-in-law getting married invalidly

Sorry for yet another invalid marriage question, but here goes.

My sister-in-law (husband’s sister) is getting married. She’s Catholic, he’s not. They’re getting married at his church because most of his family won’t step foot in a Catholic church. :shrug: I don’t know for sure if she’s giving up the Catholic faith altogether or not (but I suspect she is), but I know she hasn’t gotten a dispensation to marry at his church.

If she were just a friend, I wouldn’t go to the wedding, but she’s family. My husband and I have already told her that we don’t approve of her not getting married in the Church and we have expressed our feelings about the probability of her giving up the Catholic faith just so she can be married. :tsktsk:

But how do we not go to her (probably invalid) wedding without appearing rude / judgemental, hurting her feelings, and/or causing a big rift in the family??? :confused: And, if we go to the wedding, we’ll be sinning, right??? :o


I don’t know how much help this will be, but this is what I would do.

Without mentioning the wedding at all, ask her if she thinks it’s okay for a person to deliberately act against her own conscience. I imagine she would say no. Ask her what her reaction would be if you demanded she act against her conscience (this is, of course, what she’s asking you to do). She’ll probably say your request would be unfair or unethical.

I would drop the subject at that point, but when attendance at the wedding comes up later, I would remind her of the conversation and her own responses.

From the catechism:

1868 Sin is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them:

  • by participating directly and voluntarily in them;

  • by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them;

  • by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so;

  • by protecting evil-doers.

So, knowingly going to an invalid wedding is itself sinful. You can go to the reception, but witnessing the ceremony should be avoided. Talk to your priest for guidance.

Could you clarify this? Which of the above makes her attending the ceremony sinful? Thanks.

What a sad situation and how difficult for the family members who love her. From experience I can tell you that she may leave the Church by marrying outside but there will always be that wee little voice that tells her she has done wrong. It will be there for years to come and that is no way to start a marriage. Back in the Stone Age when I was married, it was the bride’s family who paid for the wedding and it was held in the bride’s church. I am sorry that your sister-in-law is bending to the uneducated and insensitive wishes of her husband’s family and consequently her future husband’s wishes. Is this not putting his prejudiced family first?

Approving them. Attending an invalid wedding implies formal approval.

Their family situation seems like a reasonable grounds for getting a dispensation to marry in a non-catholic ceremony.

If its not too late in the process for this to be feasible (and even if it is), suggest that she talk to her parish priest about doing that. Even if they have to put off their wedding some it is worth it. If she decided to later become serious about her catholic faith, she will have to get the marriage convalidated. This creates the uncomfortable knowledge that they were not really married at their beautiful wedding.

Is there any way you can help her get the dispensation? Talk to your priest, talk to her priest. Remind her that she will probably want to have her children raised in the faith once they are born and everything will be much easier for her if she works through this now rather than later.

Candidly, at this stage you’re likely not going to have much sway in the conversation. You’re only a relative by marriage and an in-law at that. I wouldn’t participate in the wedding. In a like situation, I probably would pass on going to the wedding, but might consider going to the reception just to prevent a total rift in the relationship. There are going to be kids at some point, and perhaps if you stay in good graces with her, you’ll have the opportunity to have a positive impact on them.

Pray for her conversion. That’s the best course of action you have at this point.

This topic was recently covered in the Ask an Apologist Forum.


Inman, Sr Sally,
We talked to her about obtaining a dispensation, but she didn’t seem too interested in getting one. We also mentioned that she might want to raise her future children Catholic, but I have a feeling that she will give in to her (future) husband and not get them baptized until they are old enough for a “believer’s baptism”.

I know. That was a about a friend, not a relative. If she were just a friend, I would have no trouble not going. But the fact that she’s family makes it different somehow - at least in my eyes. I can’t imagine the internal struggle my in-laws are going through because of this. How would you not go to your own daughter’s wedding???


Also, if she gives up her Catholic faith to become AoG like her fiance (which it sounds like she is doing), does that make this a non-Catholic marrying a non-Catholic situation instead???

Nope. Merely “deciding” to be AoG does not make her a non-Catholic.

She would have to follow the procedures outlined in Canon Law to leave by a formal act and her act would have to be received by the competent authority. The particulars are outlined in this document:

My opinion is that the church doesn’t have an absolute teaching regarding this question. You can use your prudential judgment as to whether to attend or not.

Personally, I would probably attend to keep peace in the family. I grew up in the 1950’s, and back then the practice was to stay away from such a wedding. It is my experience that when people stay away from such a wedding, it can cause a division in a family that is still there generations later.

It sounds to me like either this bride doesn’t care much about her faith (she doesn’t want to get permission for a priest to co-celebrate the wedding), or maybe she is just clueless about the rules of the Catholic Church. If she doesn’t care about her faith and wants to join her new husband’s faith, why would we want her to receive a sacrament without being properly disposed to receive it?

People who have either left the Catholic faith or who no longer care about it have a right to get married just like everyone else. Even though the marriage will not be recognized by the Catholic Church, they will still be legally married. To me, this is better than living together. If they do decide to get their marriage blessed by a priest in the future, it should be fairly simple to do.

I know there are many who would disagree with me on this, but I do believe that there are two schools of thought on this within the Church, and you should follow your conscience.

It’s really too bad that she is not willing to seek a dispensation to validly Marry in his church. She has a good reason?

Unfortunately, no. :frowning: He wants nothing to do with the Catholic Church (we’re just a bunch of idolators, don’t center our worship on the Bible, etc.). She’s over 35 and scared that this guy is her “last chance” to get married and have children, and I think she is doing whatever he wants (and doesn’t want) just so she can have her own family, even if it means having to give up her beliefs.

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