What People Are Asking
Problems of Conscience on
Marriages, Live-ins, Baby Showers
Fr. Paul Sretenovic
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TIA’s correspondence desk asked me to answer some questions about moral issues. I agreed to do this because it seems more convenient for priests to deal with delicate problems of conscience. Today many Catholics feel like sheep without a shepherd, so having a forum where one can get responses to the complex moral questions they face in their day-to-day lives is important, in my opinion.
The issues raised are especially difficult for people today, particularly parents, and I as a priest have dealt with some of them firsthand. I will put the cases mentioned in the form of questions/answers to allow other persons finding themselves in similar situations to refer easily to them.
1. Question: A family has a daughter who is living with a man. She announces that she and her live-in are coming from out-of-state to visit the parents. He was previously married and did not have an annulment. What should the parents do?
Thank you for your questions and again, I agree that the idea is a good one. Hopefully, this will be the beginning of some good and necessary questions.
Answer: The way I see it, and I believe I speak with the mind of the Church in this matter, the parents should not allow this man in their house with or without their daughter. The couple is living in adultery and for the parents to receive them would be to endorse such sin, displease God, and give scandal to their neighbors. The parents may receive the daughter at their home in order to convince her to change her life and leave the man. They should not allow the man in their house.
There was a time, just this past century in fact, when a Catholic who did not marry inside the Church would be excommunicated. It would not be uncommon for parents, following the twofold remedy for sin, expiation as well as medicinal, to tell their daughter that until she puts herself in a situation approved by the Church, she is not to set foot in their house.
Perhaps the parents should remember that St. John the Baptist died because he would not recognize a similar situation. Pray to him in order to have the needed strength. Some parents may not be ready for such a strong statement. They should at least refuse to allow the man into the home.
2. Question: If the couple wants to get together with her parents in a public place, is it possible?
Answer: Yes, it is possible for the father and mother to meet with them in a discrete public place in order to discuss the issues at hand and work towards making the situation morally right. Most probably this would entail the separation of the two who are living together.
3. Question: Could the parents receive the man in their house and have normal relations with the couple if his first marriage were annulled?
Answer: Yes, they could, but they must be careful. Just because an annulment can be obtained does not mean that it should be obtained. Parents must also judge whether such a man is someone they would approve of even if he could get an annulment.
I have serious restrictions concerning annulments as they are being handed out by Bishops nowadays, but speaking from a strictly juridical perspective, if his previous marriage was declared null, and the man and woman were subsequently married in the Catholic Church, then the parents can lift the ban from the house and receive the couple without problem of conscience, even if they might have doubts about the validity of such annulment. The responsibility of a possible error in this process lies on the shoulders of the Bishop who issues the annulment. He will have to answer for it before God, not the parents.
4. Question: Recently a friend asked my wife how she handled the problem of being invited to a baby shower for an unwed mother. My wife said she no longer will attend them. Is this correct?
Answer: Yes, she is correct in not attending showers for unwed mothers. The position of the Church regarding unmarried mothers is clear: censure of the mother’s moral behavior and support of the child. To accept an unwed mother as normal is to promote free-love and declare the 6th Commandment abolished.
You say that today this is increasingly common. I agree, and it is truly sad. But this does not change Catholic Morals. A Catholic cannot please the world and God at the same time. If she follows the world, she abandons God. She should face the consequences of her action.
5. Question: A prominent “divorced” man in a Catholic parish “married” a prominent Catholic lady, and now they are living together. He did not have an annulment from his first marriage. I presented this situation to the parish deacon, who told me that we should consider that they are living as brother and sister. What is the Catholic judgment on the topic?
Answer: If no annulment was issued for his first marriage, this new situation is not defined as a marriage, but as concubinage. It is not permissible. It constitutes a situation of moral scandal. No unmarried man and woman who are not close relatives should sleep alone under the same roof. If they do, it constitutes a moral scandal. One of the principles that governs moral scandal is this: the appearance of a sin before the public is equivalent to a sin. If a man enters a house of prostitution – even if he has no sinful relation inside – he gives the public appearance of sin. This constitutes a scandal. The same applies for an unmarried couple who sleep alone under the same roof. Even if they live – as your optimistic deacon imagines – as brother and sister, their common life constitutes a scandalous situation before the public.
What should always be kept in mind is that after the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony is received, it is binding - no matter what difficult situation develops, no matter how bad a decision it might appear in retrospect. Even if one does not enjoy everything he or she had hoped for in marriage, there are certain negative laws that must be followed: such as, do not remarry; do not put yourself in the near occasion of sin if a temporary separation is necessary. And, in fact, if one has to bear this situation for one’s whole life, then better that than commit mortal sin.
6. Question: I was told that Catholic parents should always be present at the marriage of their children in non-Catholic places, simply because they are their children. Is that the right position?
Answer: No, it is not the Catholic position. First, no one should love his children more than he loves Our Lord Jesus Christ. He was very clear when He taught: “He that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt 10:37). The natural and legitimate love one has for his family must be subordinate to his love for Jesus Christ and His one Church, the Catholic Church.
Second, many of the Protestant sects – Anglican, Presbyterian, Quakers etc – do not have valid sacraments. And in others, such as the Lutherans and Episcopalians, the validity of their sacraments is very open to discussion. Also among the Greek and Russian Schismatics, a doubt persists regarding the validity of their sacraments. Therefore, in many of the ceremonies that take place in such temples, there is no marriage, but a simulacrum of such.
Third, mixed marriages have been always forbidden by the Catholic Church. They were strongly forbidden by the Canon Law Code of 1917, they are lightly forbidden by the Canon Law of 1983, but they are still forbidden. Many reasons concur for this prohibition: the risk that the Catholic party diminishing or losing his faith; the disharmony that results from clashes of the different religions in the day-to-day life of the couple; the danger for the children to be raised by a party who adheres to heretical, schismatic, or pagan principles, etc.
Fourth, it is also forbidden for Catholics to attend those marriages. No Catholic can attend one without an express dispensation from the Bishop of that area. Therefore, unless an express dispensation is given for each individual to attend a marriage in a heretic, schismatic or pagan place, the Catholic should not go.
7. Question: Should one also avoid the reception that is after the marriage?
Answer: If one cannot, morally speaking, attend a marriage ceremony, then one also must not attend the reception afterwards. To refuse to go to the “wedding” but then to go to the reception is both inconsistent and dishonest.
Posted February 22, 2006
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