My blog post “Should I Attend the Wedding or Not?” prompted several questions and comments last week that I would like to address.
One reader asked about the validity of a Catholic marrying an Orthodox Christian in an Orthodox Church without a dispensation from his bishop. In the interest of ecumenism, the Code of Canon Law is less rigid in such a case. The Catholic party still has a legal obligation to obtain a dispensation from his bishop but failure to do so will not impede a valid marriage from coming into existence. Canon 1127 §1 explains:
Nevertheless, if a Catholic party contracts marriage with a non-Catholic party of an Eastern rite, the canonical form of the celebration must be observed for liceity only; for validity, however, the presence of a sacred minister is required and the other requirements of law are to be observed.
Another reader recalled that canon law once included exemptions for Catholics who had formally defected from the faith. Indeed, the code once included such exemptions but Pope Benedict XVI removed them in 2009. You can read about this in his apostolic letter Omnium in Mentem.
Several readers brought up a more general area of concern: The fear of straining relationships or even losing contact with friends or relatives over choosing not to attend a wedding that will not result in a valid marriage. One reader characterized such a decision as “instigating a break” in the relationship. It is important to remember that the problematic situation being dealt with has been instigated by the fallen-away Catholic, not the person choosing to refrain from attending the wedding on moral grounds. When a person attempts to sever his relationship with the Church he should recognize that there will be consequences to his decision. Family members and friends who remain faithful will not take his decision as lightly as he might. That said, I suspect that the fears of many faithful Catholics who are faced with such a dilemma are greatly exaggerated.
A further issue raised was concern about maintaining a relationship in the interest of bringing a fallen-away Catholic back to the Church. Some readers seemed to argue that attending a wedding that will not result in a valid marriage is acceptable if not attending would hinder one’s influence over the fallen-away Catholic’s potential future reversion to the faith. To me, this reasoning sounds perilously close to choosing to do evil (i.e., supporting another in sin) so that good may result (i.e., influence is maintained). The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1756) addresses such an attitude:
It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it.
I hope this helps.