“Ask a Priest: What Is My Obligation in an Irregular Marriage?”

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Q: I’m Catholic, 62 years old, widowed at 54 after 36 years of marriage. I got remarried two years later to a Lutheran who used to be Pentecostal. He was married in the Lutheran church, got a divorce, remarried a Baptist but was widowed in less than a year. When we talked to my priest about our marriage, he said that since my husband didn’t have his first marriage annulled for us to give him the paperwork, we should go ahead and get married in the Lutheran church and come back to him. After we married, things went bad fast, so many things I didn’t know and so many things that totally changed between us. I didn’t know his true self until we married. He refused to get a Catholic annulment because he said it’s not the Church’s business. We separated but went back, but things are worse. We live separate lives in the same house. He has no place to live if we divorce. My house was paid for before we married, and he says that I’m sinning by not living up to what he believes the Bible says about a wife’s responsibility to keep a marriage together. I’m confused. Can I go to Communion? What is my obligation to this relationship? I asked my priest, but he said all my questions are between me and God. If I’m in a state of sin, how do I get forgiveness? I refuse to leave my faith in the Catholic Church. I went to another priest for confession and he told me God forgives me but don’t let anyone in the parish know about my situation. That prevents me from participating in the parish. Thank you for reading this long diatribe, sorry about that. -M.T.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is good that you desire to live your faith fully. Unfortunately you received bad advice when you were told to “marry” in the Lutheran denomination; such a marriage is invalid in the eyes of the Catholic Church. You might consider avoiding that priest in the future, at least for confession or spiritual advice.

The other priest gave advice that seems sounder. If you aren’t living as husband and wife, and if it is very difficult for your partner to find other lodging, and if your being under the same roof leads to no serious temptations against chastity, and if you have otherwise made a good confession, then you could receive Communion. But it has to be in a discreet way that doesn’t scandalize others; that is why the priest pointed you to another parish.

None of this means that the priest has allowed you to get around the normal annulment process. He hasn’t declared your marriage valid in the secrecy of the confessional. Such a declaration comes, publicly, from the Church, after an investigation by a tribunal.

If you wanted to marry someone else, it might not be too difficult to get an annulment, based on what is known as a lack of canonical form.

It doesn’t seem, however, as if you are interested in getting your current union convalidated (“blessed”) by the Church. That would be understandable. From what you describe, your partner wasn’t very honest before your civil wedding. This makes your obligation to him even less, notwithstanding his own interpretation of Scripture. Whatever support you owe him would be as a Christian, not as a spouse.

The ideal would be for the both of you to have separate living quarters. Perhaps you could look for ways to move toward that ideal.

In the meantime try to make time for prayer each day. And stay close to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

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