Marriage is a life-changing decision and a major transition in one’s life. When a Catholic marries a non-Catholic, additional challenges often surface and can be further increased when a Catholic marries a non-Christian.
Father Robert J. Hater, a Catholic priest and author of the book, “When a Catholic Marries a Non-Catholic” (St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2006), says that the changing secular world and the influx of immigrants to the U.S. from Europe, Africa and Asia have resulted in the increase of mixed marriages.
Father Robert says that “greater sensitivity must be shown to these traditions without minimizing the challenges that differences in culture and religious beliefs bring. It is a dialogue which can become the basis of a human relationship of mutual trust, inner peace and mutual esteem that contributes to he bond of marriage according to the will of the Creator.”
Today more than 40 percent of Catholics enter into a mixed marriage.
Hater emphasizes that when a Catholic marries a person validly baptized in another Christian community (for example, Lutheran, Methodist or Episcopalian) the marriage is rooted in Christ through baptism, and their bishop, or his delegate, approves a dispensation for the mixed marriage.
However, when a Catholic marries a person who is not baptized, no sacramental union exists and the Church exercises more caution in granting a marriage dispensation.
The Church makes it clear to the mixed-faith couple that more challenges exist from their perspective of faith. Raising children is a major concern and the Church requires the Catholic spouse to promise that the children will be raised and educated as Catholics.
Father Robert emphasizes that the couple needs to take this issue seriously.
“It’s critical for the child to see the development of faith in the household so a solid faith foundation can be established,” he says.
Opposition in a mixed marriage may arise when family members feel their expectations of how children should be raised are not met.
“Once the couple have children, opposition from in-laws occurs and often baptism is put off, and that is unfortunate,” Father Robert says.
Deacon Tim Roberto from St. Paul of the Cross Church in La Mirada says, “Mixed marriage couples should be open and get educated on the other religion and pray together.”
Deacon Tim notes that many couples are lacking in preparation for a mixed marriage.
“Couples should focus on their future lives ahead, but many times the couples place too much focus on the wedding itself,” he says. “I haven’t experienced a strong investment in religion by many young couples. Some young couples want to follow their own rules. It gets complicated and couples will say anything to get through the marriage preparation process. After the preparation classes are completed there is very little follow-up with the couple and that is an issue.”
Father Jim Bradley, a priest at St. Bruno Church in Whittier, has counseled mixed-faith couples preparing for marriage for decades.
Father Jim stresses to the couple that they must communicate extensively with each other and express their intentions and expectations in their marriage preparations.
“I tell them that God needs to be in the center of their lives,” Bradley says. “God loved all mankind with sincerity and honesty.”