Why doesn't the Church forbid Catholic attendance at invalid marriages?


#1

Concerning the question posted below, regarding a rebellious daughter, baptized Catholic, who is contemplating marriage outside the Church (titled Can I Participate…), I am confused by your apologist’s response. She begins:

[quote=Michelle Arnold]If your daughter is a former Catholic (i.e., she has left the faith), she is not formally bound by Catholic marital law. Assuming that there are no obvious impediments to the marriage (e.g., previous marriage, close blood relationship), the Church would presume the marriage to be valid. If both parties are baptized, the Church would presume the marriage to be sacramental.

However, if your daughter is a lapsed Catholic – as there are indications from your account that she is – then she is bound by Catholic marital law. She would need to obtain from her local bishop a dispensation from cult to marry a non-Catholic and a dispensation from form to marry in a non-Catholic ritual. These are fairly routine procedures that her local parish can obtain for her on her behalf. If such dispensations are granted, the marriage would be presumed valid (sacramental, if both are baptized Christians).
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I would like to know the foundation for these affirmations. I have always believed that “once a Catholic, always a Catholic,” since one cannot reasonably turn away from the truth as taught by Christ through his Church without committing sin (assuming mental faculties are intact).

If the (“American”?) Church has changed its teachings regarding marriage to accommodate the eroding morals of our society, then (according to what I was taught in Catholic high school many years ago) this would in itself (at that time) be considered the sin of “human respect,” wherein we have higher regard for the opinions of others than we do for the truths which lead us to eternal life.

The response given by your apologist seems to bend one in that direction – despite the kind concern for the pain that likely follows a bold affirmation of faith.

After reading your response – and then the article by CUF linked at its end – I feel that the Church is failing to be clear on this very important issue – an issue which deeply affects family relationships – because the content and tone of both seem to conflict.

These questions are most painful for me because I have lost my only close relative since we were both raised Catholic and (as charitably as I could) I explained that I could not attend her second wedding in good conscience. Now I am about to be faced with this same wrenching situation again, since a nephew and his fiancee (both baptized and raised Catholic) are about to marry outside the Church.


#2

It is true that, objectively speaking, a person who is a Catholic is objectively bound by Catholic marital law. However, the Church reasonably understands that someone who has formally left the Church because of a defect in that person’s faith or understanding cannot be reasonably expected to follow Catholic marital law. Because marriages among non-Catholics are presumed valid (and sacramental if both parties are baptized), those marriages of former Catholics are also presumed to be valid/sacramental if the conditions for a valid/sacramental marriage among non-Catholics have otherwise been met. Lapsed Catholics, on the other hand, have not left the Church and so are expected to follow the ecclesial disciplines necessary to assure the validity/sacramentality of their marriages.

[quote=K C]I feel that the Church is failing to be clear on this very important issue – an issue which deeply affects family relationships – because the content and tone of both seem to conflict.
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However easier it may make it for Catholics to be able to point to an ecclesial document and explain that this is the reason that a Catholic cannot attend a presumptively-invalid marriage, it is in fact much more merciful of the Church not to treat all presumptively-invalid marriages with a “cookie-cutter”-mentality by forbidding the attendance of Catholics no matter the circumstances.

Such a ruling would not take into consideration the infinite possible differences in circumstances or family dynamics that might make attending one such wedding reasonable and another such wedding impossible. Judgment is left to the individual Catholic assessing the situation in light of the Church’s understanding of the sanctity of marriage because only that person can know whether attendance or refusal to attend a particular wedding could reasonably be foreseen to help or hinder the ultimate salvation of those who are entering this marriage.

[quote=K C]These questions are most painful for me because I have lost my only close relative since we were both raised Catholic and (as charitably as I could) I explained that I could not attend her second wedding in good conscience. Now I am about to be faced with this same wrenching situation again, since a nephew and his fiancee (both baptized and raised Catholic) are about to marry outside the Church.
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Without knowing more about the situation of your nephew and his fiancee, I cannot comment on the status of their marriage. All I can say at this point is that the Church does not forbid your attendance. If you choose not to attend, please do not phrase your refusal to attend in such a manner as to lead your relatives to believe that the Church is forbidding you to do so.

What I can say though is that your experience with your other relative is one of the reasons that the Church has not issued a blanket prohibition to attend such weddings. If you could have reasonably foreseen such a rupture in the relationship – and it is possible that you may not have been reasonably able to foresee it, so I am in no way saying that the rupture was your responsibility – you might have attended the wedding as a means of keeping open the possibility that you could be used as a channel of grace in her life.

Recommended reading:

What is internal apologetics?


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