“Ask a Priest: Was My Dad’s Second Marriage Really OK With the Church?”

Q: Before he died a few years ago, my dad told me that when my mom was pregnant with my sister and had gone to Texas so that her mom could help with my brother and me, a friend of his set him up on a date. The woman that dad dated got pregnant, and they eloped to Arizona while he was still married to my mom. Many years later my mom and dad got divorced. His partner was Catholic. He took classes to become Catholic, and after my mom passed away he wanted a copy of her death certificate so that he and his partner could be married in the Church, even though he wasn’t a practicing Catholic and had been married to his partner at a justice of the peace. So my question is, would my dad and his second marriage still be good with the Church? I’m still having problems with this, and I’m still very angry with him. Thank you for any help that you can give me. – P.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I’m sorry to hear about your family situation and the death of your parents.

Your e-mail raises questions about the basic legality of that second, civil wedding. Those questions aside, there seem to be other key issues here.

First is your dad’s ability to marry in the Church. The short answer is yes. Once your mom died, he was released from his marriage vows to her.

Once the proper procedures were followed, and there were no other impediments found, your dad could have married in the Church. A decree of nullity (“annulment”) could have been granted for that justice-of-the-peace marriage, based on something known as lack of canonical form.

Your dad wouldn’t have needed to become a Catholic in order to marry in the Church. A bishop can approve a marriage between a Catholic and a non-Catholic.

None of this, however, means that his adultery was somehow justified or glossed over by the Church.

Perhaps his second wife repented of the adultery committed with your dad. People who have made mistakes – even big mistakes – can have a change of heart and turn their lives around with the grace of God. The Church recognizes this. God’s mercy is generous.

This doesn’t mean that the Church was indifferent to the pain that your mom endured because of your dad’s infidelity and abandonment. It’s just that the Church knows that repentance is possible. In any case your dad would have had to repent for his sins if he wanted a chance at heaven.

A second issue is your ongoing anger at your dad. It is understandable that you feel this anger, given the impact of his infidelity on your mom and the family.

But this anger, left unchecked, can corrode your spirit and leave you drained. This won’t help you at all.

For your own sake, you need to forgive your dad and move on. Just as Jesus forgives our sins, he asks us to forgive those “who trespass against us.” Besides, your dad has died and already faced God’s judgment.

It’s good to remember that your own act of forgiveness would be an act of your will, not your feelings. The bad feelings you have might linger for a while, but they shouldn’t hold you back from forgiving. The only one who relishes your anger is the devil.

If it’s hard to make this act of forgiveness, you might want to ask the grace of God. Jesus wants you to be at peace – indeed, the act of forgiveness is more for your benefit than for your dad’s.

Sometimes the pain that people inflict on us is small compared to the pain we inflict on ourselves if we don’t let go of anger.

So ask Jesus for this grace of letting go. With divine help, all of your loved ones could be reunited someday in paradise – where every tear, every painful memory would be wiped away.

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