“Ask a Priest: My Catholic Dad Won’t Walk Me Down the Aisle – What Can I Do?”

Q: I grew up in the Catholic Church but joined a non-denominational Protestant church a few years ago. I go to Bible study, attend church every Sunday, and do outreach with them. I have never said anything bad about Catholicism and even went to pre-marital counseling through the Church. I am getting married soon, and my father says that because it is not a Catholic wedding, he cannot walk me down the aisle. Is this true of Catholic doctrine? This is strange to me since my father continually says how no one should discriminate against another’s religion and how God also exists outside of the Catholic Church. He always says, “Catholics will not be the only ones in heaven.” I am hurt, angry and confused because I could see his point if I became an atheist or something. Instead, I feel more in touch with God than I ever have before and have never and would never make the argument that my dad is wrong for his Catholic faith. – K.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It sounds as though you are a lot like your dad: a person of principle. That is something to be admired.

As you might know, the Church requires a baptized Catholic to obtain Church approval in order to enter a marriage.

The Church requires this because it considers marriage to be a sacrament and an institution that has ripple effects on the community, and thus wants to ensure, as much as possible, that the partners are approaching their wedding day well prepared. (For a deeper understanding of marriage you might want to see our retreat guide “Three Hearts.”) Since you haven’t sought Church approval, your marriage will not be recognized by the Catholic Church.

Your father obviously understands this, which is why it would probably go against his conscience to walk you down the aisle. For him to do so, at least from his viewpoint, would be to compromise his faith by giving public approval to a marriage that he knows will not be considered valid by the Church.

As for a Catholic’s attendance at such a wedding, the Church doesn’t have hard-and-fast rules. This is a prudential judgment that a practicing Catholic has to make. Your dad seems to have made his prudential judgment in this case.

Now, I don’t intend for this answer to sound cold or legalistic. It is understandable that the situation is not an easy one for your family. Perhaps we could put the case this way:

You have decided to join a Protestant denomination and to abandon the practice of the Catholic faith. Perhaps this is a decision you made after much prayer. Likely you are sincerely trying to follow your conscience. The Church regrets seeing that you no longer taking part in Mass and the sacraments, but it respects your decision.

Likewise, your dad is trying to follow his conscience. And his decision should be respected too.

You have made a personal decision about which faith to practice. That is within your religious rights. Like any decision, this one has its consequences, one of which is that your dad won’t participate actively in your wedding. It is what it is.

I’m sure that your dad loves you very much and that his decision probably wasn’t easy for him to make.

Perhaps he is trying to show his love for you in the best way he knows how: by witnessing to his Catholic faith and his beliefs about marriage. He isn’t practicing discrimination. He is simply try to live his faith in an integral way.

He sounds like a man with a lot of integrity. A dad to be proud of – whatever other feelings you have right now. Count on my prayers.

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