“Ask a Priest: Why Can’t My Current Husband Receive Communion?”

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Q: I need help trying to understand my situation and justify something this priest said to my husband recently. A brief background: I was raised with Catholic teachings and values and have been baptized, just not in a Catholic church. I got pregnant at 20 and married my son’s father in a Methodist church. After adultery on my husband’s part, we legally divorced. My current husband is a baptized Catholic, however, at the time we met, not really practicing. He is in the Navy, and during our first deployment as a married couple he decided to renew his faith and become more committed to it. After many years, I started attending Mass with him and reading the Bible as way for us to share it together. During his last deployment and current deployment, the chaplains told him he couldn’t receive Communion because my marriage had not been annulled. That was a very difficult blow to him. I don’t think he considered at all the repercussions of his choosing to marry a divorced non-Catholic. He is being withheld from the Body of Christ because of me, his marriage to me, and his honesty with his priest. Help me understand how this is acceptable! I feel like I’m being forced into going through the steps to undo my mistakes as a 20-year-old and try to make things right with the Catholic Church so that my husband won’t be punished anymore. I know it breaks his heart. Can you please help me understand how and why a priest would do this? I’m still learning! Thank you so much. – M.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It’s good to hear that you are attending Mass and reading Scripture. This shows that the Holy Spirit is working in your heart.

To understand Church teaching on marriage, it is good to recall the words of Jesus: “Whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32).

The Church respects the marriage that you entered at age 20 in the Methodist denomination. It assumes that that marriage is valid and thus lifelong. Thus, in the eyes of the Church your Catholic partner could not validly marry you – because you were already married. That divorce was a civil matter which morally wouldn’t invalidate the bond.

Now, for a marriage to be truly valid, there are certain conditions that need to be met. Among those conditions: the couple can’t be under any pressure, and the partners have to be of sound mind and to understand the nature of marriage, etc. If a key condition is missing, that might invalidate the marriage from the start.

This is what the process of an annulment seeks to discover. Was a marriage valid from the start? Or are there good reasons to believe that it was faulty?

For you to validly marry your partner in the Catholic Church, you would first need a decree of nullity (the technical term for annulment).

For now, as mentioned, the Church considers your first marriage valid (even if it failed). And it does not recognize the current union. That is why your partner has been told to refrain from Communion.

Those chaplains aren’t punishing him, but rather trying to help him see the path to continue moving toward greater union with God and greater holiness. The current challenges might be painful and confusing, but that’s only because God is gently leading the both of you to a deeper communion with himself in the truth.

Perhaps this is a moment to reconsider the possibility of pursuing an annulment. If you think your first union was faulty, this might be an opportunity to bring things to a closure. If an out-of-wedlock pregnancy hastened or prompted the wedding, that is something worth examining closer.

If the Church grants a decree of nullity, you and your partner would be able to have your marriage convalidated (“blessed”). You wouldn’t be required to become Catholic.

(For more reading see https://togetherforlifeonline.com/catholic-annulment/.)

This might be a moment when the Holy Spirit is leading you and your partner to a chance to have your union blessed by God. That would help the both of you on your way to eternity.

Perhaps you might want to take this to prayer. Count on my prayers.

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