Platonic civil marriage

By Father Kenneth Doyle

Question Corner

Editors note: This column originally ran in 2018. Father Doyle is now retired, and a replacement will start soon.

Q. My sister married in the Catholic Church while very young. After a couple of years, that marriage fell apart and eventually she received an annulment from the Catholic tribunal. After a few years, she met a divorced man who had been married previously in the Catholic Church and she married him in a civil ceremony.

Over 30 years have now passed, and they stopped having conjugal relations some years ago. Because of multiple social, financial and health issues, they still live under the same roof -- although in separate rooms.

My sister wants to come back to the church and receive the sacraments. The family has met with two priests and received two different opinions. The first priest indicated that she cannot receive the sacraments unless she divorces.

The second one said that, since there is no expectation of further sexual relations (they would continue to maintain a brother-sister relationship), she can receive the sacrament of reconciliation and then holy Communion. Please let me know the church's position. (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

A. I would agree with the second priest. In fact, Pope (now St.) John Paul II provided for such a circumstance in his 1981 apostolic exhortation "Familiaris Consortio," saying that "reconciliation in the sacrament of penance, which would open the way to the Eucharist" can be granted "when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children's upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they (quoting from a homily he had given a year earlier) 'take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence.'"

(Note: I would deem as "serious reasons" what you describe as "multiple social, financial and health issues.")