A 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
The objecting priest would have
preferred a straightforward "cut and dried answer: "Yes!"
He went on to explain:
Yes, 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].
Is 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
Let’s 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.
In 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
It 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).
The 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 Cathlic 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
§2) 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].
Only Paragraph 3 concerns marriage’s ends and essential
Both parties are to be instructed about the purposes
and essential properties of marriage, which are not to be
excluded by either contractant.
Obviously, 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 Church’s.
A Parish Priest Who Does Not Think with the Church
So 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 consistent thinking.
Regarding 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 25, 1706).
In 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).
Pope Pius VII reiterated the tradition:
The 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)
In 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.
As 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:
In 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.
The 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.
The "Advantage" of Marrying a Baptized, Declared Atheist
The 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 anyhow."
This 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.
Heresy 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).
Thus 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.
What 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:
The 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
In fact, the Church has always treated these marriages with the
same discipline as mixed marriages. Thus, the 1917 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
It 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.
The 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.
Certainly, 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"
So, 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.
On 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.
And in his May 27, 1832 encyclical, Summo Iugiter,
Gregory XVI deplored that in Bavaria,
...by 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 divine law.
Have 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 themselves.
As 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." Obviously, 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.