“Ask a Priest: What If We Feel Pressured to Attend an Invalid Wedding?”

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Q: Our divorced daughter and her boyfriend, both atheists, live together a few states away. We maintain a good relationship with them, hoping and praying daily that they will find God. She recently let me know that they have been thinking about getting married. She said she understood that we wouldn’t attend the ceremony (since it’s not approved by the Church), but would we consider attending a reception? I responded no. But then she asked if she were to get an annulment would we attend a reception? I said I felt that her desire to be married is a good thing, but that we’d have to talk about it. She then said, “Are you going to make us sleep separately at your house for the rest of our lives if I don’t get an annulment?” I wrote “yes.” She responded, “I’m only going to put myself through that very painful process, which I don’t personally believe in, if you decide you will attend a reception.” She then followed with “If I’m going to go through with an annulment, we have to be able to sleep together once we are married and the annulment is done.” This feels like “arm-twisting” to me. How would you advise us regarding attending a reception and sleeping arrangements? Would an annulment and non-Catholic ceremony be enough to allow them to sleep together here? It would obviously be an invalid marriage, but is it a concession we could make with the hope of a return to faith? – M.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I’m sorry to hear about the situation with your daughter.

As you mention, your daughter’s desire to get married might be a sign that she is edging in the right direction.

But … her willingness to seek an annulment despite her lack of belief in it indicates a lack of honesty and integrity. Along with the “arm-twisting,” her style seems, well, manipulative.

For the sake of argument, let’s say she were to get an annulment. How should you proceed?

In this case the Church doesn’t issue a lot of fixed rules. The decision to attend these kinds of weddings usually involves considerations about family solidarity and scandal.

Some people might attend a wedding with the hope of bringing a person back to the practice of the faith.

While this is a possibility, there is also the risk of scandal and being pulled into compromising positions later.

Would your presence at the wedding send the wrong signal to those who know you to be a good Catholic? What kind of signal would it send to children and other young people in your family? That cohabitation is OK?

An aside: The distinction between attending an invalid wedding and attending the reception seems minor. Receptions are for celebrating. What would you be celebrating?

Another consideration – and your daughter has mentioned it – is the kind of sleeping arrangement you would allow if the couple visited you.

Even with an annulment, her wedding wouldn’t be recognized by the Church. Thus, to allow them to share the same sleeping quarters in your home would amount to close material cooperation in evil. It could also be considered formal cooperation.

It seems unsavory that someone who knows your views on marriage would pressure you to compromise your views even within the confines of your home. The gracious thing might be your daughter to find other accommodations and to avoid putting Mom and Dad in an awkward position.

In short, you might want to think long and hard before getting drawn too deeply into the vortex of your daughter’s moral choices. It’s one thing to try to navigate on her terms. But don’t neglect God’s. Count on my prayers.


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One Comment
  1. I have been reading these posts for quite some time and they have gotten increasingly rigid and unhelpful to I’m guessing about 98 percent of Catholics, who live in the real world and must make decisions about their faith that actually make sense in the context of real life and that actually show love to the many people in the US today who are not Christian anymore. You are telling this mom to not attend her own daughter’s reception?! This is the most wild thing I think I have ever read from y’all and I can’t believe this is going out to people all over the place. It is NOT okay to tell this individual that her daughter is being manipulative because you can’t read the daughter’s mind, and this daughter clearly would like the love of her mother. Her daughter is wanting to have a secure, loving attachment with her mother and asking her mother to support an incredibly important part of her life, and the mother is being totally rigid, unloving, and completely disrespectful to the daughter by choosing to not attend a simple reception to show a mother’s love and care for her daughter–a daughter who surprisingly still wants to speak to this woman who has obviously totally let her down as a mother! And the daughter is even going so far as to say that she’ll get an annulment JUST FOR HER MOTHER. I really can’t read anything like this anymore–it makes me sick to see Catholics acting so badly. The mental gymnastics that I have to do to make this post ok–just, wow! This is NOT want Jesus wants Catholics to do–I 100 percent know that. Thanks. Marlena

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