Church Teachings on Interfaith Marriages - May 2012

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Church Teachings

Interfaith Marriages


Mixed religion marriages ..are holy covenants and must be treated as such.

Until recent decades, the idea of a Catholic marrying outside the faith was practically unheard of , if not taboo. Such weddings took place in private ceremonies in the parish rectory, not in a church sanctuary in front of hundreds of friends and family.

These days, many people marry across religious lines. Because of the challenges that arise when a Catholic marries someone of a different religion, the church doesn’t encourage the practice, but it does try to support interfaith couples and help them prepare to meet those challenges with a spirit of holiness, Theologican Robert Hater, author of the 2006 book, “When a Catholic Marries a Non-Catholic,” writes: “to regard mixed religion marriages negatively does them a disservice. They are holy covenants and must be treated as such”.

A marriage can be regarded at two levels – whether it is valid in the eye of the church and whether it is a sacrament. Both depend in part on whether the non-Catholic spouse is a baptized Christian or a non- baptized person, such as a Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist ,free thinker or atheist.

If the non-catholic is a baptized Christian (not necessarily Catholic), the marriage is valid as long as the catholic party obtains official permission from the diocese to enter into the marriage and follows all the stipulations for a Catholic wedding.

A marriage between a Catholic and another Christian is also considered a sacrament. In fact, the church regards all marriages between baptized Christians as sacramental, as long as there are no impediments.

“Their marriage is rooted in the Christian faith through their baptism,” Hater explains.

In cases where a Catholic is marrying someone who is not a baptized Christian – known as a marriage with disparity of cult – “the church exercises more caution,” Hater says. A “dispensation from disparity of cult”. Which is a more rigorous form of permission given by the local bishop, is required for the marriage to be valid.

The union between a Catholic and a non-baptized spouse is not considered sacramental. However, Hater adds, “Though they do not participate in the grace of the sacrament of marriage, both partners benefit from God’s love and help (grace) through their good lives and beliefs.”

Marriage Preparation

Good-quality marriage preparation is essential in helping couples work through the questions and challenges that will arise after they tie the knot.

It is recommended that the parish pastor preparing the engaged couple spend time exploring the influence and impact of the differing faith traditions on their future life together,

Few Important observations areas to cover:

1)
       In which faith community will the couple be involved – both, one or none?

2)
       How will the couple include the other faith tradition in their children’s lives, given that they will promise to raise the children Catholic?

3)
       How will the couple respond to extended family members who may not be accepting of the spouse of a different faith tradition?

4)
       In what ways can the couple foster a spirit of unity in the face of their religious differences, so that it becomes a positive, not negative, force in the marriage?

Of all the challenges an interfaith couple will face, the most pressing one likely will be the question of how they raise their children.

“the church makes clear…that their marriage will be more challenging from the perspective of faith.” Hater writes… Special challenges exist as well when it comes to raising children in the Catholic faith.”

Because of these challenges, the church requires the Catholic party to be faithful to his or her faith and to “promise to do all in his or her power” to have their children baptized and raised in the Catholic faith. This provision of the 1983 Code of Canon Law – with its wording to try one’s best- is a change from the 1917 version, which requires an absolute promise to have the children raised Catholic.

Likewise, the non-Catholic spouse is no longer required to promise to raise the children in the Catholic faith, but “to be informed at an appropriate time of these promises which the Catholic party has to make, so that it is clear that the other party is truly aware of the promise and obligation of the Catholic party,” the code states.

But suppose the non-Catholic party insists that the children will not be raised Catholic? The diocese can still grant permission for the marriage, as long as the Catholic party promises to do all he or she can to fulfill that promise, Hater writes.

The marriage may be legal, he notes, but is it a wise choice? Those are questions that may also need to be explored in marriage preparation.

If children are raised in another faith, he notes, “the Catholic parent must show children good example, affirm the core beliefs of both parents’ religious traditions, make them aware of Catholic beliefs and practices and support the children in the faith they practice.”
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