recent edition of Famiglia Cristiana [The Christian
Family], an Italian magazine, published a "Letter
of the Week" from a parish priest of "one of
Rome's largest parishes." This priest wrote to say
he did not agree with the reply of the magazine's house
priest to a question sent in by a reader: "Does the
Church allow a Catholic to be married in church to a [baptized]
atheist who has not been confirmed?"...
objecting priest would have preferred a straightforward
"cut and dried answer: "Yes!"
He went on to explain:
the Church allows this type of marriage because it only
requires that both parties believe that marriage is once
only, indissoluble, and open to life. So much has happened
in this area. For instance, I have celebrated one such marriage
- so beautiful - between a Catholic and a Jew. But in Milena's
case, there is even an advantage. Strictly speaking,
her marriage would not be treated as a mixed
marriage because she is "non-believing
but baptized, because marriage between the baptized is a
sacrament anyhow" [emphasis ours].
this fellow really a priest? Is he even really a believer?
Because, in fact, no one, least of all a parish priest,
can erect a personal chair of authority that wars with the
Church's unchangeable doctrine regarding marriage. Protestants
do this, but not Catholics.
begin with "mixed" marriage. The objecting priest
tries to pass off his examples as Church doctrine. He erroneously
defines mixed marriage as being between a baptized and non-baptized
person (e.g., a marriage between a Catholic and
a Jew). More appropriately, "strictly speaking"
such a marriage must be termed as being between parties
of "different denominations." Without getting
too technical, "strictly speaking," for "mixed"
marriages, (i.e., between a Catholic and a heretic)
the Church does not "only" require that the two
entering into the marriage believe that marriage is once
only, indissoluble, and that its main end is life. [Notice
the subtlety of the language. The main end of marriage is
life, not just that the couple be "open
to life," as if children were not the primary end but
just a secondary appendix of matrimony.-Ed.] First of all,
for such marriages, it is required that there be no proximate
danger to the faith of the Catholic spouse and, eventually,
of the children.
fact, such a marriage would be prohibited by divine, natural,
and existing law. Moreover, both Canon Law and the Church
would not be able to consent since God does not allow it.
As Pius VII wrote to Napoleon, June 26, 1805: "If we
usurp authority we do not have, we would be guilty of the
most abominable abuse of our sacred ministry before the
courts of God and the Church." Therefore, if proximate
danger to faith exists, the Church has no power to grant
a dispensation or license she does not have. This is because,
up to the last "ecumenical" Council, the Church
required that the non-Catholic give "guarantees"
in order to insure that, as Pope Pius VIII wrote in Litteris
Altero, "the natural and divine law is respected,"
thereby securing the marriage's validity.
is true that the new "ecumenical" rule is mitigating.
For instance, the "guarantees" are now called
"conditions" and are gotten from the Catholic
spouse and not the non-Catholic one. But the new ecumenical
rule has not gone so far as wanting to destroy the principle
of divine law as the objecting priest arrogates to himself.
Also, the 1983 Code of Canon Law (Chap. VI: Mixed
Marriages) recognizes the prohibition (can. 1124). The marriage
is invalid if the marriage is
between a baptized and non-baptized person (can. 1086, §1)
and the competent authority's license is subject to there
being a "just and reasonable cause," and to three
conditions. The first two concern the removal of "dangers"
to the Catholic spouse's faith and the children's education
(can. 1125, §§1,2).
local Ordinary can grant this permission if there is a just
and reasonable cause. He is not to grant it
unless the following conditions are fulfilled.
The Catholic party is to declare that he or she is prepared
to remove dangers of defecting from the faith, and is to
make a sincere promise to do all in his or her power in
order that all the children be baptized and brought up in
the Catholic Church;
the other party is to be informed in good
time of these promises to be made by the Catholic party,
so that it is certain that he or she is truly aware of the
promise and of the obligations of the Catholic party; .
. . [emphasis added].
Paragraph 3 concerns marriage's ends and essential elements.
Both parties are to be instructed about the
purposes and essential properties of marriage, which are
not to be excluded by either contractant.
the objector considers this "ecumenical" mitigation
of little importance. On his own initiative he has done
away with the first two conditions, namely, those safeguarding
divine law! His defense-minded statement in his letter to
Famiglia Cristiana of, "So much has happened
in this area," is not supported by the 1917 Code of
Canon Law promulgated during the reign of Benedict XV (which
reiterates the Church's constant law), nor is it in the
1983 Code despite all of its "ecumenical" openings.
The objecting priest's doctrine is his own, and not the
A Parish Priest Who
Does Not Think with the Church
much, then, for thinking that a marriage between the baptized
and non-baptized is "so beautiful," or as the
parish priest says: "I have celebrated such a marriage
between a Catholic and a Jew." We don't know how the
priest is able to reconcile his thinking with the Church's
mixed marriages between Catholics and non-Catholics [i.e.,
valid, but illicit without the required conditions-Ed.],
Pope Clement XI wrote, "The Church abhors such marriages,
which greatly endanger and deform the spirit" (June
Matrimonia Quae in Locis (Nov. 4, 1741) Benedict
XIV spoke of "sacrilegious unions," of "detestable
marriages, always...condemned and prohibited by Holy Mother
Church." And Pope Pius VI wrote, "This type of
conduct gives rise to the danger of perverting the Catholic
party... We cannot abandon our position because we do not
have the right to do so" (Letter to the Archbishop
of Malines,July, 1782).
Pius VII reiterated the tradition:
Church has always abhorred marriages between Catholics
and heretics and has always prohibited them with very
severe laws because they always conceal the grave danger
of perversion and estrangement from the faith of the Catholic
spouse, and because the Catholic education of the children
of both sexes is always doubtful and suspect. (Letter
to the Archbishop of Mayence, Oct. 8, 1803)
the aformentioned letter to Napoleon, Pope Pius VII wrote
that the Church "abhors" such marriages. He also
wrote that marriages between Catholics and Protestants are
valid. And if the Church abhors an illicit but valid marriage
between a Catholic and Protestant, how much more the Church
abhors marriage between a Catholic and an unbaptized person.
In such a marriage, if the required guarantees are not present,
such marriages are not only illicit but also invalid.
a symbol of Christ's union with His Church (Eph. 5:22,23),
Christian marriage is a "social" sacrament. Its
purpose is to give children to God, to adore Him, and to
give new members to the Church and citizens to heaven (Leo
XIII, Ubi Arcanum). Seeing this, one can understand
why the Church, far from considering a mixed marriage "very
beautiful," has always abhorred and reproved it. Keeping
divine law safe through the "guarantees," the
Church eventually tolerated it. The purpose of this tolerance
was defined by Pope Pius VII in his above-quoted letter
to the Archbishop of Mayence:
no way can tolerance [of such marriages] be seen as their
being approved and allowed. Rather, such marriages are
only tolerated out of the need to avoid even greater evils,
and permission is not given wholeheartedly.
Church Fathers had already recognized that in such marriages
there is no image of Christ's union with His Church, but
rather an image of Christ's own being prostituted. (See
Tertullian, Ad uxorem, 2, 3-4; St. Ambrose, Ep.
19,7; St. Jerome, Adv. Lovin. 1,10; St. Augustine, De
fide et oper. 19,38).
of Marrying a Baptized, Declared Atheist
objecting parish priest writes that in the concrete case
he is addressing, "...there is actually an advantage."
Strictly speaking, her marriage would not be treated as
a mixed marriage because she is "non-believing but
baptized, because marriage between the baptized is a sacrament
parish priest forgets that a baptized person who has announced
that he or she is "non-believing," is, without
the euphemism, an atheist, and so, is an apostate.
is the obstinate denial or doubt, after baptism, of a
truth which must be believed by divine and Catholic faith.
Apostasy is the total repudiation of the
Christian faith [emphasis added]. Schism
is the withdrawal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff
or from communion with the members of the Church subject
to him (1983 Code of Canon Law, can.751).
we are talking about a case of marriage with a person who
is unworthy due to their public defection from the Faith
of their very own baptism.
is the Church's mind regarding such a marriage? The Church's
mind is that the faithful must abstain from contracting
such marriages and that pastors of souls, via their office's
need for charity and piety, ought to dissuade the parents,
friends, etc. Lanza-Palazzini writes:
reason why the faithful should not enter into these marriages
is easy to understand...also for the children's sake,
and there is a great danger of perversion, even greater
than in mixed marriages.1
fact, the Church has always treated these marriages with
the same discipline as mixed marriages. Thus, the 7577 Code
of Canon Law which reiterates the Church's age-old
positions prohibits the parish priest from celebrating these
marriages without consulting the bishop, who could allow
them only after having examined 1)
if there is a grave reason for contracting such a marriage;
2) if there is sufficient provision
for the eventual children's Catholic education, and also
a provision for the removal of the danger of the believing
spouse's faith being perverted. Again quoting Lanza-Palazzini:
"If this is lacking, the Ordinary cannot allow the
marriage, because divine law forbids it."2
So, there is no reason for the objecting priest to rejoice
that there is an "advantage" in marrying a baptized
is not true that in such a case the marriage "is a
sacrament anyhow." It is
not enough to receive any sacrament "anyhow" because
the necessary dispositions are lacking and a sacrament can
be unworthily received and thus invalidly so.
general rules for the reception of the sacraments apply
for matrimony, taking into account that the spouses themselves
are this sacrament's ministers. In the case in point, there
is the risk that the sacrament would be invalid and the
union null because the "non-believing" party only
wants to effect the marriage contract,
but wants to exclude the very sacrament
by which Christ unites them. To validly receive a sacrament
there must be the intention to habitually receive it. For
the baptized, marriage is a sacrament or it is nothing.
in the case in point, the atheist unworthily received the
sacrament, but it was conferred
on an unworthy person, i.e., the believer.
The believer's cooperation on behalf of the non-believer's
sacrilege by being only material has to be justified by
a proportionately grave reason, which only the ecclesiastical
authority, and not the interested parties, can decide. [Marriage
is a sacrament of the living and the spouses must be in
that state of grace. -Ed] Taking all of this into
account, it is easy to see that ecumenical pastors are pushing
their sheep into a huge abyss.
Repudiation of "Our
Religion's Firmest Doctrine"
if we look for an answer to why, today, mixed marriages
- whether broadly or strictly considered as does the objecting
priest - are encouraged, if we
note Pius VII's words that "the Church has always abhorred
[such marriages]," we see that the sole cause is the
ecumenism that Vatican II wished to set in motion.
the subject of women who wish to enter into mixed marriages,
Pope Pius VIII wrote that such women must remember "our
religion's firmest doctrine is 'Outside the Catholic Church,
no one can be saved'" (Litteris Acerbo, Mar.
25, 1830). Consequently, in the case of a woman entering
into such a marriage, her conduct would be cruel and atrocious
because she knows that her children's education depends
entirely on what the non-Catholic father wants.
in his May 27, 1832 encyclical, Summo lugiter,
Gregory XVI deplored that in Bavaria,
every possible means some are attempting to spread the
principle of absolute freedom to contract mixed marriages
… To treat this question, we must first concern
ourselves with the faith, [for] without it, we cannot
please God (Heb. 11: 6).. .and as we have previously stated,
this doctrine [i.e., outside the Church
there is no salvation] is endangered by those who want
to bring about a system that goes beyond certain limits
in fostering liberty in mixed marriages....Whether men
or women, Catholics who demonstrate recklessness by marrying
non-Catholics, and who thus place their children in danger
of being perverted, not only violate the sacred canons,
but also seriously and directly sin against natural and
natural and divine law changed? Is it that the Catholic
hierarchy don't care to give the faithful clear ideas about
"mixed" marriages (in both the broad and strict
sense), and, who, countering the Church's unchangeable teaching,
favor and exalt such marriages? Evidently, our religion's
"firmest doctrine" is not very firm in the shepherds
against the duties of his office, the objector-priest only
cares about the atheist's interests. In addition to the
letter partially quoted at the beginning of this article,
he says that in the marriage rite, there must "never
be any violation of the sacrosanct rights of non-believers."
there are no problems when consensus rules. With satisfaction
he notes that, "God has no denomination." In the
formula for exchanging rings there is one modification he
says must be put into place. The objector-priest says, "It
would suffice to omit the invocation to the Trinity."
It is clear how the atheist must be respected due to the
"sacrosanct rights" of the non-believer. With
complete peace of mind, the genuinely
sacrosanct rights of the Catholic party are ground underfoot!
If this is not lunacy, we don't know what is.
by Suzanne M. Rini from SiSiNoNo, Sept. 15, 2001, exclusively
for Angelus Press. Edited by Fr. Kenneth Novak.
Lanza-Palazzini, Principi di teologia morale, vol. Ill,
Sacramenti e vita sacramentale (Principles of moral theology...Sacraments
and Sacramental Life) (Rome: Studium), p.557.
Courtesy of the Angelus
Press, Kansas City, MO 64109
translated from the Italian
Fr. Du Chalard
Via Madonna degli Angeli, 14
Italia 00049 Velletri (Roma)
2002 Volume XXV, Number 11