Son Planning Invalid Marriage

by Jimmy Akin

in Marriage Involvement

A reader writes:

My wife and I are lifelong Catholics and have brought our children up in the Church.   My son has just informed us that he is engaged to be married to a Protestant girl he has known for only 3 months.  We have discussed the local Catholic information course and suggested that they both attend this together so she can have a better understanding of his Faith.  We also requested they be married in the Church.  They have decided against this and have decided to get married in one month by her grandfather who is a minister.  I have discussed the importance of his decision and asked him to delay the marriage a few months.  I have made him aware that they need to consult with our Priest to find out what the Church requires (a dispensation).  He is not willing to wait and is determined to proceed with the wedding next month.

First, let me say that I really feel for your tragic and painful situation and will be praying for your family. What your son is doing is incredibly reckless by any standard. It is extraordinarily foolhardy, particularly in our culture today, to marry someone that you have known for a total of four months.

A few questions:

1. This marriage will not be valid which means he will in effect be "living in sin" and can no longer receive the Eucharist.  Will he still be able to attend Mass? 

Yes. People in states of sin can attend Mass. In fact, Catholics in a state of sin are still obligated to attend Mass.

What would be the point of going to Confession if he has every intent of continuing in the relationship?

None, as long as he’s unwilling to either live chastely or rectify his marital status.

2.  Is this a more serious sin because it is done with the full knowledge and intent to sin?

Increasing knowledge of the moral character of a sinful act does make it more sinful, though I don’t know enough to assess your son’s personal culpability. Only God sees the heart. Your son may be acting under passions so strong that diminish his culpability.

3.  Is it as simple to fix as having it later validated in The Church (after a good Confession)?

It is relatively simple to have a convalidation later, though there may be marriage preparation and other formalties that will be necessary first.

4.  What are our responsibilities as parents.  I know that we cannot "celebrate" the wedding in any way so as not to lend our presence to the ceremony and thereby indicate that it is "OK", but surely if we visit the couple at any time during their invalid marriage we would be implying that it is ok?  Does this mean we must no longer see our son?

The question of how to navigate social relationships without endorsing an invalid union is a very difficult question that many find themselves in. It is particularly painful and complex and depends in significant measures on how the parties are related to each other and how they would "read" different actions as messages saying things about the union.

Attending the wedding, celebrating anniversaries, letting two people share the same bed under your roof, etc., would all be actions that in our culture would be taken as an endorsement of the union. (And it is hard to see how they might be anything other than that, even in other cultures.)

However, social interactions not directly related to marriage may not be taken this way. For example, inviting people (who know that you don’t think that they are married) over to your house or going over to their house is often not read as an endorsement of a union in our culture. The act is remote enough from the marriage itself that in the opinion of many it is not necessary to refrain from these social interactions.

It most definitely is not necessary that you cut off all contact with your son. Indeed, maintaining contact with him may be essential to the future rectification of his situation. The difficult and painful thing is figuring out how to maintain contact in a way that does not send him false messages. Ultimately, one just has to do the best one can to muddle through that.

5.  If he rejects The Catholic Church and becomes a Protestant before the wedding, does this make it valid?

If he formally defects from the Church then yes, it would result in the marriage being valid. I would not his about this or even mention it to him, though, as formal defection from the Church is an intrinsically evil act. One cannot recommend an intrinsically evil act (defection from the true Church of Christ) in order that good may com of it (a valid marriage).

If, however, he learns of this on his own and asks about it then one would be at liberty to answer his questions honestly, pointing out that defecting from the Church is intrinsically evil and must not be done.

6.  If after the wedding he rejects The Church and becomes a Protestant would the wedding then be valid?

No, this has no bearing on whether the union was valid at the time it was contracted.

7.  If he continues in the invalid marriage with full knowledge, later gets divorced, returns to The Church, can the marriage be annulled?

Yes. In fact, it would be quite easy to annul it due to the facts of the case as outlined above. The Church has a special process for cases of this nature since invalidity is so easy to prove.

8.  With the limited information I have given you, what would you do if it was your son?

If it were me? I’d do the following:

  • Pray really hard.
  • Perform penitential acts on behalf of my son and his fiancee. (NOTE! It is important that any pentiential acts of a significant nature be undertaken under the guidance of a spiritual director in order to keep you from biting off more than you can chew or that might pose long-term harm to you.)
  • Stress to my son that the course he is undertaking involves sin.
  • Stress to him that it will complicate his future and make things harder for him in the long term.
  • Point out to him that marrying someone you have known for only four months at the time of the weddig is incredibly foolhardy and that the success rates for such marriages is extraordinarily low. The odds are that he will go through a lot of pain and end up divorced, with all the complications that entails (including possibly having a kid or kids whose mother you are no longer married to).
  • Point out to him that if he really loves this girl and that if the two of them really can make a go of it as husband and wife then the most loving thing he can do for the two of them is SLOW DOWN and give them a chance to get to know each other better and let their relationship mature. The breakneck speed he’s doing this at has far more likelihood of HARMING their marriage than helping it. There are issues they need to work out BEFORE they get married. Trying to work them out afterwards will only harm the two.
  • Ask him to contemplate the magnitude of the decision he is making. Does he really understand what it means to make a LIFE-LONG commitment to this person based on having known her for this short space of time.
  • I’d also go to the girl’s family and talk to them about the situation. The idea that her grandfather is willing to marry them in this circumstances is incredible, and her family may be able to be enlisted in talking some sense into these young people.
  • I’d also try to live in hope. Something like a third of all marriage licenses that are taken out are never used. There is a significant chance that one or the other of these two young people will have a change of heart before the ceremony.

God bless, and I invite all blog readers to be praying for y’all!


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Anonymous August 22, 2005 at 6:29 am

This is the sort of issue that gives parents, and priests, gray hair. There are times when it seems almost better to have a couple enter a manifestly invalid marriage, and therefore sin, than to enter a valid marriage that is likely to fail.

Nellie August 22, 2005 at 7:03 am

Thanks a bunch!
Very easy to follow too.
Niece/goddaughter was asking me to be the wedding planner. After some details from her I said she was booting herself out of the church by taking similar steps. I’m out of a job and my sister is ripped. Grass site/rent-a-preacher/no RC involvment. Doesn’t want to lose the guy.
I had come to the same conclusions by prayer and gut instincts. The invalid part is new to me and will remain firmly under my hat. Nellie

BillyHW August 22, 2005 at 7:08 am

It appears that everyone these days wants their marriage to be ‘just like on TV’.

Rich Leonardi August 22, 2005 at 8:23 am

What in the world is this young woman’s grandfather/minister thinking? I would think he’d be telling the couple to slow down. And FWIW, I faced a similiar situation with my brother over a year ago and, over my better judgment and instincts, attended his sham wedding to make peace with my family and keep a door open to him. I’ve regretted it ever since.

KristyB August 22, 2005 at 9:13 am

These situations provide great opportunities for prayer and growth in your own faith walk. I was/am in a similiar situation and, while it’s been difficult sharing the teachings of the Church, it’s been a time in which I’ve learned much more about the Church.

DJ August 22, 2005 at 9:21 am

I have many things I could say coming from being married to a Protestant (we weren’t married in the Church, and it was a while before we got our wedding blessed by the Church.) There are several things I would say, but it would take too much time and I would probably be misunderstood. So I just have this to say:
I agree with trying to convince them that they should wait longer and even get their marriage blessed by the Church, but regardless, if/when they do get married, don’t forget that Protestants are our brothers. And these Protestants will be family. Don’t make them feel like they aren’t. Learn to be Catholic without compromise while being ecumenical.

M.Z. Forrest August 22, 2005 at 9:36 am

I will attempt to tight-rope a rule #20 violation.
RE Rich:
What in the world is this young woman’s grandfather/minister thinking? I would think he’d be telling the couple to slow down.
I would speculate that he is thinking that marriage is a happy and joyous occaison and feels blessed that he would be asked to minister their wedding. Marrying outside the faith is no longer really scandalous amongst Protestants (or for your typical Catholic for that matter).
Re Short Engagements
If I were to speculate, Jimmy appears to be condemning the son for hastily marrying without consideration for his parents. He could be condemning both. Jimmy can elaborate on that if he would like. I do believe that, generally, if a bad choice is made for a spouse, the length of engagement won’t make the choice any better. I think there are merits/demerits to various lengths of engagement, and I am not sold on longer is better. This may be a topic for another time though.

Jimmy Akin August 22, 2005 at 9:47 am

While the son is certainly acting inconsiderately with respect to his parents, this is not the basis of my concern.
My concern is based on the fact that the son is behaving like a hormone-driven madman who is acting with UNBELIEVABLE recklessness.
It is simply IRRATIONAL in our culture to marry someone four months after meeting them for the first time.
It is not as if we were living five hundred or a thousand years ago in a village where everyone knew everyone and shared a common set of beliefs about what marriage is and were already locked into for-life jobs and could form a reasonable prediction about what it would be like married to a particular person.

Rich Leonardi August 22, 2005 at 10:30 am

Overlooking the condescension of your reponse, the point I was making is that someone should act like an adult and slow .. things .. down. A minister would be ideally situated to do it.

M.Z. Forrest August 22, 2005 at 11:23 am

The short response may have gave the unintended appearance of condescension. I’m trying to avoid speculating too deeply since this is a personal response from Jimmy, and I don’t want to confuse people into thinking that I substantively disagree with Jimmy’s response, because I don’t.
As to the minister, when you are dealing with dissimilar reactions to the same event, I don’t believe it is prudent to impart bad motives to the party that had a different reaction. Saying this doesn’t negate one reaction, the Mother’s reaction in this case. Nor does this disqualify objective truths being found. I just wasn’t willing to impute bad motives upon the minister with the information that had been given. I thought I had given a reasonable, plausible, and charitable view of the minister’s actions. If you re-read my comments, you will notice that I don’t state or imply whether the action is even righteous.

Maureen August 22, 2005 at 1:29 pm

It’s possible that a lot of this is being driven by the girl desperately wanting to get married by her grandfather. (Perfectly understandable for her, and hard for the guy to refuse — especially if he’s not a particularly devout Catholic.) Heck, maybe the grandfather isn’t long for this world, or something of that nature.
Assuming this is the real issue — isn’t it sometimes possible for a priest to cooperate with the minister on this, so that you can have a perfectly valid Catholic wedding in a Protestant church? A rare dispensation-from-the-bishop kind of thing?
Of course, I realize this would assume that the couple is ready in all other ways for marriage, which they maybe/probably aren’t. But if they are, I’d guess this would be the way to do it.

Ken Crawford August 22, 2005 at 4:59 pm

M.Z., I sympathize with your thoughts that the value of a long engagement are over touted. It seems to me that the amount of thought with which one approaches the courting period is far more important. I believe that if a couple were really commited to doing a quick yet thorough job of determining marital capatibility, it could be done in 3 months. In fact, I’m given to at least wondering if the societal trend towards excessively long engagements has contributed to the “we’ll just wait until our first fall out then divorce” mindset that too often plaques failed marriages (wait being the operative word). Or said another way, too many couples think that time is a substitute for discernment. While it takes time to discern, discerning takes more than just time (it takes effort too).
That said, most people do not have the free time or effort to do that proper 3-month discernment and really do need more time than that. I’m pretty sure that a number of diocese around the US (or maybe it is even more broad than that), require a 6 month engagement. That’s probably a good thing and reflects the wisdom of our Church.
Getting to what Jimmy wrote both in the post and in the comments, I have to agree with his analysis that this young man is rushing. If he had really thought about this he would have himself investigated what it means to be Catholic and marry a non-Catholic. The fact that he doesn’t seem concerned about this (either in a “I’m leaving the Catholic faith” or a “I need to get my marriage blessed” way) is pretty convincing evidence that he is not thinking and needs to slow down.

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Riki December 30, 2007 at 3:57 pm

What do as a converted Catholic when you have to deal with your parents marriage – a marriage invalid in the ‘eyes of the church’ because your mother, a Catholic married into an Anglican Church?

JoAnna December 31, 2007 at 10:32 am

What do as a converted Catholic when you have to deal with your parents marriage – a marriage invalid in the ‘eyes of the church’ because your mother, a Catholic married into an Anglican Church?

I’m in the same situation with both parents, Riki. My mother and father, lifelong Protestants, divorced over a decade ago and both have remarried (my mother remarried another lifelong Protestant; my father remarried a lapsed Catholic). As for what you can do — all you can do is love them. My parents know that I feel their marriages are invalid, but neither care what the Church thinks and have no desire to rectify the situation.
If your parents have no desire to rectify the situation, all you can do is lovingly share your views about marriage, and then pray for them. Prayer is the most powerful tool we have.

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