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Special Circumstances

Marriage between Catholics and non-Catholics 

The frequency of marriage between Catholics and non-Catholics in the U.S. has been steadily increasing worldwide and in our local Church since the 1960's. This phenomenon as been a great blessing and opportunity for evangelization and faith sharing across religious lines in the Church, yet it also poses a unique set of challenges. Marriage between a Catholic and non-Catholic has as a basic premise that two sets of religious values, sometimes contrasting ones, will be a part of the marriage relationship from the start. Because of this Catholics entering into marriage with non-Catholics are required to have a special permission or dispensation from their bishop. All weddings involving Catholics occurring anywhere outside of a Catholic Church require a dispensation. These issues are handled by the clergy or lay pastoral minister who is assigned to work with the engaged couple at the local parish church. 

There are two types of marriages that fall under this category. The first and most common is a "mixed" or "interchurch" marriage. These marriages are between baptized Catholics and baptized non-Catholic Christians. The second type is an "interfaith" marriage or a "marriage with a disparity of cult." Interfaith marriages are between baptized Catholics and non-baptized people.
Marriage Preparation for Mixed or Interfaith Couples

The standard preparation for any couple is done in several phases. You can learn more about the different phases of preparation by going here. In addition to the standard preparation, special care and attention must be given to couples in mixed or interfaith relationships to help them address their own reality. If both individuals are actively practicing their faith, involvement of clergy from both faith communities during the preparation process and planning of the actual ceremony is highly encouraged.

A valuable part of the preparation process for couples entering a mixed or interfaith marriage is exposure to the lived experience of an already established married mixed or interfaith couple. Sponsor couples from the parish community can be identified and trained for this very important ministry.

Preparation for mixed marriage:

"Families resulting from a mixed marriage also have the duty of proclaiming Christ to the children in the fullness of the consequences of a common Baptism; they have moreover the difficult task of becoming builders of unity." - Evangelii nuntiandi, Pope Paul VI, 1975

Preparation for interfaith marriage:

"One is the community of all peoples, one their origin, for God made the whole human race to live over the face of the earth. One also is their final goal, God. His providence, His manifestations of goodness, His saving design extend to all men, until that time when the elect will be united in the Holy City, the city ablaze with the glory of God, where the nations will walk in His light." - Nostra Aetate, Pope Paul VI 1965

Marriage Preparation for Convalidation

Convalidation is a term the Catholic Church uses to refer to the Catholic marriage of a couple who is married civilly or who was married in a religious ceremony outside the form and guidelines prescribed by the Catholic Church for Catholics. The Church rejoices with couples who choose to marry in the Catholic Church and wishes to prepare them in a suitable way based on their current state in life.

Convalidation is marriage. As such, couples' preparation is as complete and thorough as it is for engaged couples, but it is a bit different. Please refer to the standard preparation phases- marriage preparation steps by clicking here. As much as possible, Convalidation couples should prepare in groups with other couples who are also preparing for Convalidation or with Sponsor Couples. If possible Sponsor Couples who have gone through Convalidation should be identified and trained for this very important ministry. A regular Sponsor Couple prepared to work with Convalidation can be assigned in the absence of a Sponsor Couple who has the personal experience of Convalidation. Since special issues must be addressed with couples preparing for Convalidation, regular preparation for engaged couples is not sufficient for them. In cases where couples remarried civilly after a divorce, previous marriage issues must be taken care of before a Convalidation can take place. The New Life Retreat is recommended for couples entering a second marriage and who are free to marry in the Church.

Mature (60's+) couples seeking Convalidation after long-standing unions should receive more personalized marriage preparation that addresses their unique needs. Mature Sponsor Couples from the parish community are a good option for working with these couples.

Preparation for Convalidation:

Marriages of Catholics outside the Church when Convalidation is not possible – Radical Sanation

A marriage involving a Catholic that is entered into invalidly as a result of a diriment impediment of ecclesiastical law or as a result of the lack of canonical form may be radically sanated by the diocesan bishop. This may happen only as long as the original consent of marriage of both parties still exists. (Canon 1165.2)

It is not very common, but it happens sometimes that a Catholic marries someone outside the form and guidelines required for Catholics by the Catholic Church and despite the Catholic's best efforts, the other party refuses to repeat the consent. For Catholics consent (the promises and I do's) must be witnessed by a Catholic Priest or Deacon to be a valid marriage. In these cases the Catholic who wishes to return to the Sacraments and the full practice of the faith has recourse to a legal procedure in the Church called a Radical Sanation. A grave cause is necessary for a Radical Sanation to be granted. For more information about Radical Sanation please visit our Archdiocesan Tribunal pages on this website or call the Metropolitan Tribunal's office of your diocese.

Persons with Disabilities

A disability, whether physical or mental is not automatically an impediment to marriage. Couples approaching the church for marriage where one or both are living with a disability must be treated with sensitivity and upmost respect. Family members, professionals, and Church representatives can work together to assess the faith and practical readiness of the couples on a case by case basis. Some important aspects to consider include the level of independence and the person's ability to understand the true nature of a permanent commitment. Some disabilities do involve serious impediments to marriage, if there is a concern or question about possible physical or other impediments consult with the Metropolitan Tribunal.

Persons with addictions and untreated mental illnesses

Marriage is a holy and also human institution established by God for the good of the couple and also the good of the children who will be born into the marriage. For this reason people entering into it need to be of sound mind and free of external factors that interfere with free consent and acceptance of the Church's vision of marriage. The Church sees marriage as a covenant entered into freely, totally, faithfully, and fruitfully. People in the clutches of addiction, regardless of type (alcohol, drug, technology, internet, pornography, sex, etc.) are not capable of giving free consent nor are they capable of understanding the ends or pillars of marriage. Addictions and untreated mental illness impacts all aspects of marriage. Couples who wish to marry where one or both have an untreated addiction or mental illness must seek professional help to resolve these issues before seeking Catholic marriage. Couples who, during the marriage preparation process, discover an addiction or display erratic behavior which points to a possible untreated mental illness, will be referred to a professional for help. The mental health treatment and addiction recovery of the affected person takes precedence over marriage preparation. Plans to marry may resume when there is sufficient evidence of recovery.

Persons suffering from Physical or Emotional Abuse

During the marriage preparation process the priest/deacon (or other marriage preparation minister or Marriage Mentor -if available in your parish-) may have reason to suspect potential or current problems of a serious nature. These may include a family history of severe psychiatric symptoms.

In the case of current physical or emotional abuse of the other partner, or of a child, the same restrictions as with the person with addictions and/or untreated mental illness apply. Special care should be taken in cases of cohabitation, civil marriages, and remarriages to probe any history of abuse. Reporting requirements of the State regarding abuse of a child must be followed.

Although not required by state law, couples should be encouraged to have their blood screened for sexually transmitted diseases and HIV, and to discuss the results of these tests with each other.

Long distance Engagements and/or Military Couples/Absent Partners

Couples where one or both are in the military and couples who because of college, graduate school, a major job move, or other reasons find themselves separated by distance during their engagement have some special challenges to their marriage preparation process. These challenges, however, are not insurmountable. While it is always best for couples to be together and participate in "live" and "personal" marriage preparation the Church recognizes this is not always possible. Thanks to technology that is now readily available, couples separated by distance can still benefit from excellent marriage preparation. On-line marriage preparation programs, pre-marital inventories, and natural family planning classes on-line make marriage preparation accessible to couples who live in different parts of the country and sometimes even different parts of the world. This type of preparation is aided by technology such as Skype, video chat services (such as ooVoo, Tinychat), IM, FaceTime, e-mail, telephone, etc. Whatever technology the couple is using to stay connected, can be used for marriage preparation.

Couples managing long distance engagements must begin the whole process of preparation at their local Catholic Church just as any other couple. Each in his own town, city, or military base, should make an appointment to see a member of the clergy or lay minister to ensure all the necessary paperwork and requirements for preparation are being addressed. In cases of mixed marriage, the non-Catholic bride or groom should find the closest Catholic Church to them and ask for assistance. The clergy or lay minister assisting the Catholic can also help the non-Catholic find a Catholic Church in another city. The two churches work together to ensure the proper pastoral care of the couple separated by distance.

It is very important for long distance couples preparing for marriage to have frequent contact with the priest or deacon who will be witnessing their vows, and provide them with proof of completed steps in their marriage preparation plan.