TONY ASKS THE FOLLOWING QUESTION:
Next week, my sister-in-law will be marring for the umpteenth time. She was baptized Catholic but is non-practicing and has never been married in the Catholic Church, nor married to anyone who is Catholic. She will be marrying a man who was married in the Catholic Church, but has not been a practicing Catholic for some time and never had the marriage annulled. Consequently, they will be married outside the Church. My wife and I are practicing Catholics and now face a dilemma. We will not be attending the wedding, but expect they will want to come to visit for extended periods to visit my wife’s mother who lives with us. Since their marriage is not valid, how do we handle the sleeping arrangements? Is it fair to ask them to sleep apart while at our home?
FATHER JOE RESPONDS:
Have you asked other priests this question? I am a little reticent to answer because I would not want to conflict with the wise judgment of other priests. Hopefully, we all share a similar perspective.
I have many questions of my own:
Is this woman a perspective sister-in-law or a past one? If she is marrying a sibling, then I would urge a conversation with him about seeking an annulment and the regularization of his status in the Church.
Are you sure your sister-in-law never married a Catholic and that she herself was baptized a Catholic? If she was not a Catholic then the initial marriage with another non-Catholic would still be considered binding by the Church, if not by the state.
Did your sister-in-law ever make a formal profession of faith in any non-Catholic church? If she did then the marriage canons of the Catholic Church might no longer apply to her and one of the previous marriages might be considered binding.
If your sister-in-law was Catholic and married others (Catholic or not) out of the Church then those marriages could be dealt with by the Tribunal through fairly routine declarations of nullity because of lack or defect in canonical form. The problematical situation would be with the man she is marrying now, given that his prior marriage was in the Church before a Catholic priest.
In any case, this new marriage would not be recognized because the ceremony will be outside the Catholic Church (witnessed by a priest or deacon) and the parties are still (supposedly) regarded as Catholics.
The inference is that the woman is marrying your wife’s brother, is this right?
You ask: “Since their marriage is not valid, how do we handle the sleeping arrangements? Is it fair to ask them to sleep apart while at our home?”
There is a civil license so there would not be the general scandal given in society when couples cohabitate without a formal contract. However, you are quite right, the Church would see no actual bond or sacrament in their union.
As for them sleeping apart, you are certainly free to ask such a thing in your own home, but I suspect your wife will not be happy to upset the family and that they might opt not to visit at all. What we hear in such situations goes something like this, “If you don’t think my wife is good enough for me then I am not good enough for you either! What are you trying to say, that my wife is a tramp? Who are you people to tell me that I cannot sleep with my husband?” Then you hear no more from them until a funeral takes place, or another failed marriage, which ever happens first.
One way to possibly defuse the situation would be for you and your wife to sacrifice your sleeping together while they stay, as a sign of solidarity with the couple and as a sacrifice on your part for them. This would demonstrate that your concern does not emerge from any mean-spiritness but rather from Christian conviction. Let them know that you love them; but as practicing Catholics, you have real reservations about the situation.
Maybe a frank discussion about such concerns might lead them to re-examine their faith lives and motivate them to seek possible healing in the Church?
Anyhow, these are my few thoughts. Sorry there is no absolute guidebook about such things.