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“Ask a Priest: How Should I Handle a Nephew’s New Relationship?”
Q: My nephew, a Catholic, was married to a Jewish woman for about 20 years and divorced her a few years ago. Their marriage was sort of a “hybrid,” with a rabbi and a priest officiating. From what I understood, it was a marriage sanctioned by the Church. In late 2020, he “married” a woman with whom he lived with for several months. They had what he called a non-traditional exchange of promises at a state park with just their kids in attendance. He said, “We will follow up at the beginning of next year to make the union legally recognized. At some point when COVID is in the rear-view mirror, we will plan a get together with friends and family.” I love my nephew but do not approve of this arrangement — yet I want to handle it the right way, with love and respect. I did not tell them congratulations when I saw them, but said that I wish them happiness, said their photo on social media was cute and that I am praying for them. I did not send a card or gift. Did I handle the above correctly? Do I need to say anything to indicate that I am not in approval? What do I do when they have the family and friends get together? Should I go? I’m thinking that it would be OK for maintaining a good relationship and family unity. Do I give a gift? Thank you for your guidance. – D.R.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: From what you say, it sounds as though your nephew never got an annulment for his marriage. If that is the case, he cannot marry anyone else as long as his wife is alive. Objectively, he is now involved in what sounds like an adulterous relationship.
It’s hard to say whether your responses to the news were ideal. You might ask yourself whether the responses implied support for an objectively illicit relationship.
In any case, are you obliged to say something to your nephew? Perhaps the better way to phrase the question is: Do you love your nephew enough to raise an issue that could impact on the eternal salvation of his soul?
It could be recommended to him that he seek an annulment. If granted, that might open the door for him to marry his new partner in the Church.
If he shrugs off advice about an annulment and plans to move ahead with a civil wedding, then you need to think carefully about how to proceed.
It’s one thing to keep open a dialogue with him. It’s another thing to dance at his wedding and to take along a gift.
Beyond the wedding day, you would need to be careful not to do anything that implies support for an invalid marriage.
Family unity is good, but not at the expense of ignoring Our Lord’s commandments about marriage.
If you are inclined, it might be good to have a heart-to-heart talk with your nephew and explain your concerns.
It would be good if he knows where you stand now. This might help you avoid going down a slippery slope later.
If the fear of disrupting family unity haunts you, remember the words of Jesus: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household’” (Matthew 10:34-36).
In the meantime, it would be good to intensify your prayer for your nephew, even as you ask guidance from the Holy Spirit on how to proceed. Count on my prayers.
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