What does the Catechism say?

As Catholics, we are blessed to have the Catechism of the Catholic Church to provide us with answers to questions about faith, morality and doctrine. Consequently, we have a clear answer to the question of whether Catholics can marry non-Catholics. The short answer: yes, but there will be some challenges.

So, let’s look straight to the source. What exactly does the Catechism say? (Skip ahead to find a summary).

Mixed marriages and disparity of cult

(emphasis added in bold by me)

1633 In many countries the situation of a mixed marriage (marriage between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic) often arises. It requires particular attention on the part of couples and their pastors. A case of marriage with disparity of cult (between a Catholic and a non-baptized person) requires even greater circumspection.

1634 Difference of confession between the spouses does not constitute an insurmountable obstacle for marriage, when they succeed in placing in common what they have received from their respective communities, and learn from each other the way in which each lives in fidelity to Christ. But the difficulties of mixed marriages must not be underestimated. They arise from the fact that the separation of Christians has not yet been overcome. The spouses risk experiencing the tragedy of Christian disunity even in the heart of their own home. Disparity of cult can further aggravate these difficulties. Differences about faith and the very notion of marriage, but also different religious mentalities, can become sources of tension in marriage, especially as regards the education of children. The temptation to religious indifference can then arise.

1635 According to the law in force in the Latin Church, a mixed marriage needs for liceity the express permission of ecclesiastical authority.137 In case of disparity of cult an express dispensation from this impediment is required for the validity of the marriage.138 This permission or dispensation presupposes that both parties know and do not exclude the essential ends and properties of marriage; and furthermore that the Catholic party confirms the obligations, which have been made known to the non-Catholic party, of preserving his or her own faith and ensuring the baptism and education of the children in the Catholic Church.139

1636 Through ecumenical dialogue Christian communities in many regions have been able to put into effect a common pastoral practice for mixed marriages. Its task is to help such couples live out their particular situation in the light of faith, overcome the tensions between the couple’s obligations to each other and towards their ecclesial communities, and encourage the flowering of what is common to them in faith and respect for what separates them.

1637 In marriages with disparity of cult the Catholic spouse has a particular task: “For the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband.”140 It is a great joy for the Christian spouse and for the Church if this “consecration” should lead to the free conversion of the other spouse to the Christian faith.141Sincere married love, the humble and patient practice of the family virtues, and perseverance in prayer can prepare the non-believing spouse to accept the grace of conversion.

Let’s summarise: the Catechism tells us that it is licit for a Catholic to marry a non-Catholic Christian (mixed marriage), or a non-Christian (disparity of cult). In both cases, a special dispensation is required for the marriage to be sacramentally valid. The non-Catholic spouse must assent to supporting the Catholic spouse in preserving their faith, and to the baptism and education of any children in the Catholic Church.

The Catechism believes that the challenges presented by such marriages are not insurmountable, but are present and must be addressed. We are warned against “religious indifference” (CCC §1634) arising as a result of tensions, and are encouraged to focus on commonalities and respect differences. Whilst we should pray for the conversion of spouses, such conversions must be the free choice of the non-Catholic spouse. In the meantime, “sincere married love, the humble and patient practice of the family virtues, and perseverance in prayer” (CCC §1637) should guide the actions of the Catholic spouse.

What a gift! The Church gives us a pretty clear model here. First of all, we can rejoice that the Church in Her wisdom believes that marriage to a non-Catholic is possible without compromising our own faith. Furthermore, we are given clear instructions for how we should conduct ourselves within such a marriage: we should be truly loving and respectful of our spouse and their beliefs, praying for them and their conversion, and practicing virtues. Importantly, we are reminded that we must not push conversion, and that whilst it is certainly joyous if it occurs, we must seek it through prayer and lived example of our faith.

I’ll end this post here because the content is dense, but in future posts I hope to discuss the ‘how’ of all this: how should we pray for our spouses? How should we practice virtue in our families? How can we be loving and faithful witnesses to the Truth without aggressively pushing conversion?

About Faithful and Fruitful

I have a lot to thank the world of Catholic social media for – above all, my faith. I had always been interested in, or even drawn to, Catholicism, but it was not something I ever envisaged as being for me. The only Catholics I knew were my grandma, and a few other lukewarm Catholics amongst my friends and family. I credit my grandma’s prayers with my ultimate conversion, so I don’t want to downplay her significance in my faith life, but the ‘real life’ Catholics I encountered were not the people who drew me to the Church.

I can’t remember exactly how I got drawn into the Catholic blogosphere, but it was sometime in 2014-2015. I was totally fascinated by the lives of bloggers like Rosie Hill, Kendra Tierney and Haley Stewart – mainly, because they seemed so normal. And yet, they were living out the fullness of the Church’s teaching, including such crazy notions as NFP and going to church even when on vacation *shock horror*.

Over time, I could not push away the feeling that they possessed some truth, some peace, that was missing from my life, and from the versions of Protestant Christianity I had encountered. I read more and more, not just of their blogs but about Catholicism more generally, and found a depth and beauty there that I had not previously encountered. I became sure that this was the Fullness of Truth.

Fast forward a bit. In 2016 I was received into the Church, and in 2018 I am writing this as a lover of the Faith, still hooked on Catholic social media (although now it’s mainly on Instagram and private Facebook groups). I still love that community and am inspired by it. But. As my own little family has started to grow – we welcomed our first baby daughter in January – I’ve started to feel that there isn’t a place for people like me in the world of Catholic social media. Although a devout Catholic myself, I am not married to one. So as I scroll through pictures of Catholic families in their Sunday best at Mass, or daddy teaching the kids about St. Lawrence, or reflections on how NFP is really hard but it made their marriage and their faith stronger – I think, do I have a place here? Can I ever be a good Catholic in the absence of a Catholic spouse? Do my kids have any chance of encountering the truth and beauty and depth of Catholicism, when dad rarely comes to Sunday Mass with us?

With a lot of prayer, study and inner struggle, I have come to genuinely believe that the answers to all those questions are ‘yes’. I have come to believe that this is a cross that God has asked me to carry, and that if I align my life properly, it can be my path to holiness. It will be hard and frustrating, but it can still be beautiful and joyous. I want this blog to encourage others in similar situations to keep pursuing their faith as fully as you otherwise might, and not to let Satan trick you into thinking that if your life isn’t as perfectly holy as the big names of Catholic social media appear to be then you can’t get to Heaven. I believe that Jesus meets us where we are, whatever our circumstances, and that our God is a God of infinite love, mercy and compassion. He will never abandon us if we don’t abandon Him. When you approach the gates of Heaven, you will not be turned away in the absence of a spouse who spent 18 months in seminary before finally discerning that he was called to marriage, and to you.

Finally, I want to say that I am not here to tell you that you should go ahead and marry your atheist boyfriend and everything will be fine – those decisions are between you, your boyfriend and God, and you should be honest and realistic about the challenges that lie ahead. I am here to tell you that it’s possible to have a fulfilling faith life in the absence of a Catholic spouse – if that weren’t the case, the Church wouldn’t allow it (more on that later). In the meantime, keep loving your spouse truly and deeply regardless of their feelings about the Church, and of course, pray – for your spouse, for your kids, for yourself. No one on Earth is close enough to, or far enough from, God that they don’t need your prayers.

Vision

For a while, I was afraid that I was the only person experiencing the struggles that come with not sharing my faith with my spouse. It was a lonely place to be – I assumed that my non-believing friends and family would be unable to understand why it’s a problem, and my fellow Catholics would wag their fingers disapprovingly and tell me it’s my own fault for getting myself into this situation. I even felt like God would be mad at me, disappointed that I didn’t wait a bit longer or try a bit harder to find a spouse who thought Just Like Me.

Gradually, I began to connect with other women in my situation. A friend engaged to a Muslim man; someone discerning her future with a non-practicing Catholic; many who converted after marrying Protestants or atheists. We each face unique struggles, but share a common experience: we want to live our Catholic beliefs faithfully and fruitfully. That is to say, we want to stay true to the beliefs and teachings of the Church, and also for our faith to bear real, tangible fruit in our lives and the lives of those around us. We don’t want the fact that our beliefs are not shared by our spouses to inhibit our own practice and love of the Faith.

Yet sometimes, that seems easier said than done. Jesus, through the Church and the Bible, made it clear that He not only wants us to live our faith in community, but that it is necessary for our growth as Christians. Whilst some of us may have church communities or friends who share our faith, I sensed a need for community among women who share the cross of a marriage which is not united by faith. That is what I hope this will be.

I hope that this will be a space for encouragement, counsel and prayer. I hope that women are able to connect with others who understand their circumstances. Above all, I hope that this will become a community that brings the hope needed to cling to the Truth AND stay true to our marriages, even when it isn’t easy.