Free to marry? – Scolding from pulpit



Editor's note: This column is being reprinted by Catholic News Service. Father Doyle is now retired.

Q. I was baptized and confirmed in the Catholic Church. When I was younger, I served as an altar boy for several years. About 12 years ago, I got married in a Methodist church. I never had the marriage "convalidated" in the Catholic Church since my wife was against involving another member of the clergy.

Over the years, I found that my wife was actually an atheist; she would speak negatively about faith in general and especially about the Catholic Church. We have two children. Due to her infidelity and to her unwillingness to work on our marriage, we are now divorced.

I went to Catholic Masses throughout our marriage. My question is this: If I were to marry again, would I be able to get married in the Catholic Church? I have been living with a wonderful woman who shares my religious beliefs and was also confirmed in the Catholic faith. We attend Sunday Masses together. (Richmond, Virginia)

A. Since you evidently did not receive the Catholic Church's permission to be married in an other-than-Catholic ceremony -- you could have, especially if your bride was Methodist and that was her parish -- and since you did not subsequently have the marriage blessed ("convalidated") by a Catholic priest or deacon, your first marriage was not recognized by the Catholic Church.

You would be free to marry now in a Catholic ceremony.

What you would need to do is to meet with a priest and provide some information about that first marriage; the priest would then submit that paperwork to the diocese for what is generally called a "Declaration of Nullity Due to Lack of Canonical Form." There is usually a fairly quick turnaround, requiring no more than a few weeks.

I do feel the need, though -- based on your question -- to make two further points. First, you say that you are now living with the woman you may marry.

I'm sure you know that this is in clear violation of Catholic moral teaching; the long-held and consistent view of the church (actually, of many religions) is that a couple should not be living together until there has been a lifelong commitment ratified by a civil and religious ceremony.

Also, the story of your first marriage highlights the need for a couple to take the time during courtship to examine each other's deepest values; foremost among them, in my mind, are religious values since those affect greatly how a person will think and behave. Thus, the wisdom of pre-Cana programs, which can help prospective spouses do just that.

Q. What is the reason behind some sermons sounding like a scolding and some being so uplifting? Our new pastor is the complete opposite of our former priest, and I hate being scolded. I need instead to be given a positive message to carry me through my week. (City of origin withheld)

A. The reason is that a parish priest is father of a spiritual family. As with any family, people need occasionally to be chided, but mainly to be encouraged.

A case in point: A couple of weeks ago at a parish nearby, the celebrant reprimanded those who were leaving Mass early. (Before the dismissal rite -- in fact, while coming up the aisle after receiving Communion -- more than a dozen individuals were heading straight toward the doors.)

The celebrant remarked that such an early exit disrespects not only the Lord but those who are still trying to worship. His comment created a bit of a stir; some were surprised by its directness, but one woman was heard to remark, "It's about time somebody said something."

In my mind, it's a question of balance. Once in a great while, you can do something like that. But for the most part -- as you mention -- worshippers need to know that God loves them and that, on the whole, they are pretty decent people.