“Ask a Priest: Can an arranged marriage violate any of the Ten Commandments?”

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Q: I am wondering if an arranged marriage for an individual from an impoverished country to an individual from a rich country is a sin, provided that: a) everybody takes part voluntarily; b) the marriage is arranged simply to help the individual from the poor country find work in the better-off country and make a better life for himself; c) the marriage is a civil one, with not a hint of religion; d) no one is being defrauded of money, no benefits from any governmental agency will be sought/accepted or anything of that nature; e) the individual from the poor country will not be forced to do anything against her/his will once in the better-off country and is not expected to pay anyone anything off at a later date; f) once in the better-off country the individual from the impoverished country will be helped as much as he/she chooses; g) nobody makes any money from this and this is not being done for financial reasons other than to enable one person to help herself/himself. Do you think this is a sin? If so, can you tell me why and preferably with quotes from the Bible? Does it violate any of the commandments? I realize that something like that might violate national laws, but that is not my interest. Isn’t something like that very Christian — too help? -F.J.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: If you are describing a “marriage” that is staged so that someone can gain citizenship and then immediately seek a civil divorce, that doesn’t sound like a real marriage. And as you imply, it might be outright illegal.

The Catechism in No. 2238 says, “Those subject to authority should regard those in authority as representatives of God, who has made them stewards of his gifts.” No. 2239 adds, “It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom.” In the words of Jesus, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Mark 12:17).

In a wide sense, a phony marriage could be said to violate the fourth commandment. That one deals with honoring one’s parents, but by extension it could include respecting those in positions of legitimate authority. It could also violate the eighth commandment which prohibits giving false witness.

If the couple plan to live out their union, that is a different case. You mention that this is a civil marriage, without a hint of religion. I have to assume that we are not talking of Catholics getting married. In that case, the two are not bound by Church laws.

Nevertheless, the Church does respect marriages entered into by non-Catholics or non-Christians. Marriage is a natural bond that is part of God’s plan for men and women.

Pope John Paul II, in a speech to the Roman Rota in 2003, said, “God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). The image of God is found in the duality of man and woman and in their interpersonal communion. For this reason, transcendence is inherent in the existence of marriage, right from the start, because it belongs to the natural distinction between man and woman in the order of creation”.

In the case of Catholic marriages, the Catechism in No. 1626 says, “The Church holds the exchange of consent between the spouses to be the indispensable element that ‘makes the marriage.’ If consent is lacking there is no marriage.” By extension the criterion could apply to any marriage.

The situation you describe seems to meet this criterion (“Everyone takes part voluntarily”). Arranged marriages are accepted in certain cultures. Civil marriages, of course, come under authority of the state, so due respect for laws should be shown.

You ask if this arranged marriage is “very Christian” since it aims to help a person. It is good to help all people. It is also good to respect legitimate laws. Once we engage in illegal activity we are on thin ice. People (especially the poor) who enter a country under a false pretext could face unexpected risks. I hope this helps. God bless.

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