“Ask a Priest: What If My Mother-in-Law Seems to Be Living Unchastely?”

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Q: My mother-in-law’s husband passed away a few years ago. She is Catholic and recently began dating another Catholic man. They recently went on a trip together for a week and stayed in the same suite. My husband and I are planning a trip with her in a few weeks. I believe she will want to bring her boyfriend, and I know that they will stay in the same bedroom/bed together if they both do come with us. Is this wrong of me to be concerned about them staying together or should this be of no concern to me? My husband and I did live together prior to our marriage but, to be completely honest, we weren’t nearly as devout at that time and didn’t take cohabitation very seriously at the time. But we have since been growing stronger in our faith, and now I do realize that it is wrong and should not be condoned. I brought this up to my husband and he says that it’s not our place to say anything since she’s his mother and I get that, but I also feel like I’m condoning that behavior if we stay with them. Could you offer any advice regarding whether this should even be a concern of mine and, if so, how it should be approached in the most charitable and loving way? – M.G.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: We can’t be sure of what goes on behind closed doors, so the following observations are tentative.

The answers to your questions depend on a number of factors.

First, would you be sharing the same premises with them, such as a rental house? Going along with them in this case could be construed as tacit approval of possibly sinful behavior.

It would be another thing, however, if you and your husband are staying in one room in a hotel, and they are staying elsewhere. You need not feel obliged to try to police them.

Another factor is that you mention that your husband doesn’t want to say anything because “she’s his mother.”

It’s understandable that a son might not want to come across as lecturing his mother.

On the other hand, it would seem natural that a loving son would be concerned about the state of her soul — and perhaps more willing to make his concerns known.

This whole issue would need to be addressed with great delicacy, of course. Your mother-in-law might have experienced great loneliness in the years since her husband died.

Perhaps she could be encouraged to think about how she and her beau should ideally be helping each other grow in holiness.

It would be important for you and your husband to be on the same page as to whether and how to broach the topic with your mother-in-law.

And while it might seem like a tall order to nudge her, nothing is impossible for the Holy Spirit.

It would be good, too, to think through the implications with your husband of not saying anything to his mom. What would you do if they were to ask to spend the night at your place?

Perhaps all this is worth taking to prayer. You might want to intensify your prayers for your mother-in-law and her friend.

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