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August 10, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

Q. If a Catholic marries a non-Catholic Christian in a non-Catholic ceremony without a dispensation from the bishop, is it a valid marriage? Two of my grandchildren have participated in such ceremonies. I of course pray for them to regularize their situation. Isn’t this the same as when they were cohabiting? — A.S.B., via e-mail.
A. As we have mentioned in the past, canon law (n. 1108) states that for a marriage of a baptized Catholic to be valid, it must be “contracted in the presence of the local Ordinary or the pastor or a priest or deacon delegated by either of them, who assist, and in the presence of two witnesses.”
That is the canonical form of marriage that is to be observed “whenever at least one of the contractants was baptized in the Catholic Church. . . .” (c. 1117). Since your grandchildren were baptized Catholics, and no dispensation from the canonical form was obtained from the bishop, they are not validly married in the eyes of the Church. And yes, the situation is the same as when they were cohabiting.
We will ask our readers to pray for your grandchildren and for all baptized Catholics who are living in invalid marriages.

Q. What on earth was Kevin Cardinal Farrell talking about recently when he said that priests “have no credibility” in preparing couples for marriage? Haven’t priests been involved in this work for centuries? Please comment. — L.C., New York.
A. In an interview in the July-August 2018 issue of Intercom Magazine, which is published by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Farrell, who is the head of the Vatican congregation on marriage and family life, said that “priests are not the best people to train others for marriage. They have no credibility. They have never lived the experience. They may know moral theology, dogmatic theology in theory, but to go from there to putting it into practice every day . . . they don’t have the experience.”
That’s like saying that male doctors can’t be obstetricians and deliver babies because they have never been pregnant.
Didn’t priests grow up in families and witness their parents living out the ups and downs of married life? Don’t priests have brothers and sisters and friends who are married and who are shining examples of what married life is all about? Priests don’t live in a cave somewhere with no idea of the joys and sorrows, the blessings and difficulties of marriage. They interact every day with married couples in their parishes, and often enlist the help of those couples in the preparation of other couples for the sacrament.
One excellent rebuttal to the opinions of Cardinal Farrell has been provided by Fr. Roger J. Landry of the Diocese of Fall River, Mass. Writing in the July 20 issue of the Boston Pilot, Fr. Landry first quoted extensively from St. John Paul II and Pope Francis about the important role that priests can play in counseling those to be married.
For example, St. John Paul wrote in his book Love and Responsibility that priests’ lack of personal experience “does not hinder them since they possess a very rich indirect experience proceeding from pastoral work…[where] they encounter precisely these problems so often and in such a variety of ways and situations that another experience is created, experience that is undoubtedly more indirect and ‘foreign,’ but at the same time much more extensive.”
This secondhand experience, said Fr. Landry in paraphrasing John Paul, includes a priest’s “pastoral work, hearing Confessions, counseling couples, and sharing the joys and struggles of their married sons and daughters. They also have their firsthand exposure to the reality of family life from growing up in a family.”
Suggesting that Cardinal Farrell also seems to have forgotten remarks by Pope Francis in a speech to parish priests at the Vatican on February 25, 2017, Fr. Landry quoted the current Holy Father on that occasion:
“In most cases, you are the first people to be approached by young people desiring to form a new family and marry in the Sacrament of Matrimony. And it is again you to whom married couples turn in crisis as a result of serious relationship problems, with a need to rekindle their faith and rediscover the grace of the sacrament. . . .
“No one better than you knows and is in touch with the reality of the social fabric of the territory and experiences the various complexities: unions celebrated in Christ, de facto unions, civil unions, failed unions, happy and unhappy families, and young people.
“With each person and in each situation, you are called to be traveling companions who can offer witness and support. May your primary concern be to bear witness to the grace of the Sacrament of Matrimony and the primordial good of the family, vital cell of the Church and of society, by announcing that marriage between a man and a woman is a symbol of the spousal union between Christ and the Church.
“Such witness is put into practice concretely when you prepare engaged couples for marriage, making them aware of the profound meaning of the step which they are about to take, and when you journey with young couples with attentiveness, helping them experience the divine strength and the beauty of their marriage through light and shadow, through joyful and difficult times.”
How does Fr. Landry put this into practice? He said that “I normally meet with couples cumulatively for about ten hours because I’m convinced that in a culture that doesn’t support marriage as the lifelong, faithful, and fruitful union of one man and one woman, this time is indispensable to help them build their marriage on the rock of faith. In addition to Marriage Encounter or other Pre-Cana programs I have them attend, I give them twelve short essays to write, so that I can better meet them where they’re at and help bring them to where the Church hopes they’ll be on their wedding day. I give them videos to watch and websites to visit.”
He said “over the course of our conversations we discuss their family backgrounds, how they met, how they determined the other was the ‘right one,’ how the proposal happened, what marriage means, why Christian marriage is a sacrament, what role God plays in their relationship, what is distinctive about married love, what they love about each other and how the other has shown love to them, what their desires are for children, how to grow in prayer and faith as a couple, how to forgive, and what marriage experts say are best practices on communication, finances, and relations with in-laws.
“We go over the what and why of the Church’s teachings about Natural Family Planning, adoption, infertility, cohabitation, contraception, in vitro fertilization, and pornography. We even tackle what do to if they happen to fall in love with someone else.”
Rather than his priesthood being a handicap, said Fr. Landry, “my priesthood is actually an asset. My chaste celibacy allows me to be more objective in talking about human sexuality in God’s plan than someone whose experiences are marked too much by personal experience.”
He said that many married couples “certainly can talk effectively and eloquently about various practical realities of living a Catholic marriage, but in general they cannot speak to the theology and sacramentality of marriage the way priests can and couples deserve. Not even most permanent deacons can address the ‘tough issues’ with regard to the Church’s moral teaching with the same clarity and confidence as priests. These priestly contributions are an indispensable service to couples who are often beguiled by our secular age to look at marriage in a desacralized way.”
Most important of all, said Fr. Landry, “is simply a priest’s presence and prioritized concern for the couple. Many young people, including Catholics, don’t know priests personally because they see them only in chasubles. Many come to marriage preparation not practicing the Faith, in one way or many, and have lots of unanswered questions and misconceptions that will impact their marriage and spiritual life overall if left unaddressed.
“Over the course of the hours we have together, those questions can come up. Trust can build. The practice of the Faith can return. Doubts about ‘credibility’ can be overcome. Real evangelization or re-evangelization can take place. When a priest shows how much he cares in making the time to get to know and form them, and then brings the fruit of that burgeoning friendship to their rehearsal, wedding homily, reception, future Baptisms, and more, it can have a favorable long-term influence on their relationship with all priests and with the Church.”

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