“Ask a Priest: What If My Fiancée and I Butt Heads Over Religion?”

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Q: I have a Protestant fiancée, and we always butt heads over my Catholic beliefs. She does not believe in praying the rosary or to the Virgin Mary or to the saints. She claims we only have to pray to Jesus Christ. She doesn’t believe in confessing to a priest — she claims it’s non-biblical. What’s your opinion? – A.S.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It’s good that these differences over religion are coming to the surface now.

The Church doesn’t encourage mixed marriages, precisely because of the tensions that can arise. Once the romantic feelings fade (and they will), the religious differences between spouses can come to the fore and cause a lot of friction. Frankly, on many issues there isn’t much room for compromise.

It’s worth quoting from the Catechism here:

1633 In many countries the situation of a mixed marriage (marriage between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic) often arises. It requires particular attention on the part of couples and their pastors.…

1634 Difference of confession between the spouses does not constitute an insurmountable obstacle for marriage, when they succeed in placing in common what they have received from their respective communities, and learn from each other the way in which each lives in fidelity to Christ. But the difficulties of mixed marriages must not be underestimated. They arise from the fact that the separation of Christians has not yet been overcome. The spouses risk experiencing the tragedy of Christian disunity even in the heart of their own home. …

1635 According to the law in force in the Latin Church, a mixed marriage needs for liceity the express permission of ecclesiastical authority. … This permission […] presupposes that both parties know and do not exclude the essential ends and properties of marriage; and furthermore that the Catholic party confirms the obligations, which have been made known to the non-Catholic party, of preserving his or her own faith and ensuring the baptism and education of the children in the Catholic Church. [end quoted material]

Note that in order to get permission to marry a non-Catholic, you would need to promise to raise your children in the Catholic faith. Your fiancée would need to be informed of this.

The basic problem in regard to the topics you mentioned is that some Protestants believe in sola Scriptura, Scripture alone. If something isn’t explicitly mentioned in the Bible, they might reject it.

Catholicism, by comparison, relies on both Scripture and Tradition for its teachings. Tradition (with a capital T) is the oral transmission of the teachings of Christ and the apostles.

In the light of Tradition (as well as biblical passages) the Church recognizes that prayers to Mary and the saints are fine. It is firmly in line with the mediation that runs throughout salvation history.

The Israelites, for instance, had no problem asking Moses to intercede for them with God. And St. Paul urged, “I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

If Moses interceded for the Israelites, and Paul urged the faithful to pray [read: intercede] for civil leaders, there is no problem in our asking for the intercession of Mary and the saints.

As for confession: Jesus explicitly gives the apostles the power to forgiven sins. “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (John 20:23). And notice the reaction after Jesus’ healing and forgiveness of the sins of the paralytic: “When the crowds saw this they were struck with awe and glorified God who had given such authority to human beings” (Matthew 9:8). Note the plural: to human beings, not just to one man.

The more immediate issue is that you are starting to experience the effects of religious differences with your friend.

You might want to ask yourself whether this situation would improve after the wedding day.

And how would your friend’s religious views affect your children? What will they think if Dad is teaching them to pray the rosary and Mom is telling them that it’s useless (or worse) to pray to Mary? And that could be just the start of the problems.

This might be a good moment to step back and pray deeply about what this marriage would look like, two or five or 10 years down the line. This might be a good moment for a heart-to-heart talk with your fiancée … and see whether there is real compatibility here.

Again, the romantic feelings you might have now will fade with time. The religious differences might not fade so quickly, if ever.

In this era when the wider culture isn’t very supportive of marriage and children, you want to be sure that you and a future spouse are on the same page as much as possible about the deep issues.

To help your fiancée understand the Catholic view of marriage, you might want to recommend our Three Hearts: A Retreat Guide on the Sacrament of Marriage.

You might want to intensify your prayers for your fiancée, including her conversion with God’s grace.

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