“Ask a Priest: Any Advice About Raising Kids in a Mixed Marriage?”

Q: I have a question about mixed-faith marriages. My fiancé is non-denominational and I am Catholic. We are both strong in our faith and have similar core values. Regarding future kids, he agreed they could be raised Catholic as long as they also learned about his views and always were given free will to choose what they believed when they were old enough. Do you have any advice regarding child rearing in this situation? We are trying to cover every difficult topic before getting married, and any advice is welcomed. – B.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is good that you and your fiancé are talking about the difficult issues that you would face as a married couple. Better to confront things sooner than later.

Among the conditions that canon law (Church law) requires before a bishop grants permission for a mixed marriage are these two found in Canon 1125:

“1/ the Catholic party is to declare that he or she is prepared to remove dangers of defecting from the faith and is to make a sincere promise to do all in his or her power so that all offspring are baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church;

“2/ the other party is to be informed at an appropriate time about the promises which the Catholic party is to make, in such a way that it is certain that he or she is truly aware of the promise and obligation of the Catholic party.”

Note that phrase, “prepared to remove dangers of defecting from the faith.”

You mention that your fiancé would want the children to “learn about his views.” This implies that he doesn’t intend to stand idly on the sidelines as you try to raise the children in the Catholic faith. He wants to be sure the kids hear his side of the story, too.

Here you would want to pause and consider how that would play out in day-to-day life.

My guess is that his non-denominational group espouses a number of beliefs that simply cannot be reconciled with Catholic teaching. How would a young child process that? It’s hard enough for adults to talk about religious differences. It’s unlikely that a child will be able to do it.

With good reason the Catechism in No. 1634 cautions: “[T]he difficulties of mixed marriages must not be underestimated. … The spouses risk experiencing the tragedy of Christian disunity even in the heart of their own home.”

It goes on, “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.”

This raises the key question, then, of how your kids would learn about dad’s “views” without risk to their own Catholic faith.

Catholic children of strong faith have been known to come out of mixed marriages. It isn’t impossible. Nevertheless, one shouldn’t underestimate the risk of children falling into the error of relativism, believing that one religion is as good as another. “Mom has her faith, dad has his. They love each other, and they love me. Maybe all faiths are really the same.”

As for your fiancé’s insistence that the children be “given free will to choose what they believed when they were old enough”: This might be a point for the both of you to discuss further. One wonders how your fiancé views the Church. Does he fear that the Church is heavy-handed and will be policing your kids and not letting them think for themselves?

To help think through issue, ask yourself a simple question: What would you expect of your kids in terms of the faith?

Presumably you would expect them to learn about the sacraments, the saints, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Pope, the teaching authority of the Church. You would expect them to receive the sacraments – confession, confirmation, Communion – at the right moments. You would expect them to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days.

Is your fiancé willing to accept all this? And how does he understand your obligation to the kids to “to remove dangers of defecting from the faith”?

It might be good to discuss these points frankly with your fiancé. You owe it to your future children to ensure as best as possible that you will able to pass on the faith you love.

You might even want to suggest that your fiancé learn more about the Catholic faith. Perhaps you two could read and discuss together some stories of people who converted from non-denominational Christianity to the Catholic faith (you can find a bunch of those stories in the multiple volumes of Surprised by Truth, edited by Patrick Madrid). It could be an eye-opening exercise.

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