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“Ask a Priest: What If a Potential Spouse Differs with Key Church Teachings?”
Q: For the past eight years have been re-energizing my Catholic faith through the sacraments, study, self-examination and prayer. I was married for many years to a woman who struggled with alcoholism. She died a few years ago from the effects of her drinking. For the past 18 months I have been dating a woman whose husband died from cancer. She is Christian but not Catholic and doesn’t belong to any church. Most Sundays, she is very willing to go to church with me. We get along well socially, but have very different positions on premarital and extramarital sex, abortion, same-sex relations and “transgenderism.” I adhere to Catholic beliefs on these issues and am not willing to compromise my position. I am not a saint by any stretch of the imagination. I have not always held these briefs as strongly — it took time for my conscience to evolve. I have thought hard about ending our relationship since our difference creates conflict. I question whether we could build a long-term future and eventual marriage. I am active and in my 60s and would love to marry again but am deeply concerned about the viability of a relationship with someone who doesn’t share core values. I would appreciate your thoughts. – R.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: I’m sorry to learn about the passing of your wife. May God rest her soul.
It’s admirable that you have been openly discussing your beliefs with your friend and that you are sticking to them. Some issues are non-negotiables for Catholics.
There are a few issues that you want to keep in mind.
First, is there any chance that your friend would come to see the light about the dignity of human life and God’s plan for sexuality?
You yourself have evolved in your beliefs, so it’s not impossible for other people to change.
But here you would want to be realistic. Do you see any signs that your friend is rethinking her ideas? Is she asking questions that indicate she is willing to consider her stance on abortion or homosexual behavior? Or does she seem set in her ways?
It’s advisable to go slowly here. There can be a temptation to carry on a relationship, hoping for the day when the other partner will change.
That day might never arrive. In that case you would need to decide whether you would be comfortable being married to this woman for the rest of your life. It sounds as though you have doubts about whether the marriage would work.
A related issue is whether your friend embraces a Christian idea of what marriage is.
You mention that she has a very different position on extramarital sex. A requirement for a valid marriage is that a person understand matrimony to involve an exclusive and lifelong relationship.
If she thinks extramarital sex is OK, that indicates a defective understanding of marriage and thus would be an impediment to her entering a valid bond.
Another issue is related to the first: If your friend doesn’t change her overall views, how would that affect your relationship with Christ? Would it put your faith at risk?
Your faith might seem strong now, but you would want to be on guard in the long term. A spouse with very different views can wear you down. That’s one reason why the Church doesn’t encourage mixed marriages (see Catechism).
Perhaps you might want to take some of this to prayer. You might want to invite your friend to pray about the relationship, too.
Then, consider setting some kind of deadline. For instance, think about parting ways amicably in six months or a year if you don’t see any positive change in her moral views. The deadline, such as it is, might prompt more heart-to-heart talks.
It might also be good to get involved in some kind of parish volunteer work. It might increase your chances of meeting women who share your faith in an integral way.
I hope some of this helps. Count on my prayers.
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