A reader struggles with an alienated niece

A reader struggles with an alienated niece December 23, 2015

He writes:

We really respect your knowledge and level headedness of the faith and have a concern to share with you about church teaching on marriage. My wife and I have taught Theology of the Body for four years and have a good understanding of the Sacrament of Matrimony.
Our niece, who was raised Catholic, attended Catholic schools and graduated from a Catholic university, was married in June of 2014. She wanted her wedding to be and outdoor affair, and when the Church declined, she promptly found a Lutheran pastor that would perform the ceremony at the fancy outdoor venue which she wanted. My wife and I, on the advice of our Canon lawyer priest, said we could not attend as the marriage would be invalid. All hell broke loose and they have not spoken with us since. Of course all of the “normal” Catholics were there in full attendance including my wife’s parents and siblings and we were just vilified for not going along.
My question is why does the Church not speak more clearly on this issue? This have the wedding “my way” attitude is a huge problem in the Church and it leaves faithful Catholics scratching their heads as what to do? Where do you draw the line? Some priests say go and support them even if you disagree and others say you have to be witnesses to Jesus Christ and the integrity of his Sacrament. Any advice??
Blessings to you!

My own inclination would be to go to the wedding and maintain the relationship in hope of drawing them back to the faith at a later time. The proof is in the pudding. Family explosions like this are immensely painful, take a long time to heal, and are usually incomprehensible to the person we hope to correct. Your niece appear not to have absorbed much of the Church’s theology and instead has all the earmarks of a cradle Catholic who relates to the Faith, not as a body of doctrine to be assented to (a classic convert or revert approach), but primarily as family. Consequently, she was not receiving on the wavelength you were broadcasting on. All she seems to have grasped was that her wedding mattered less than some incomprehensible rules and regulations. For more on this disconnect, see my piece on Cradles and Converts.

There is still hope, but the relationship needs to be repaired. I’d go talk to a priest about it (somebody with a reputation for pastoral skill) and see what he would advise. Typically, such things will require that you be the bigger man and bow first, even though you are (theologically speaking) in the right. If they can’t hear or see your point, it doesn’t matter how right you are, they can’t hear or see it. So bow first, concede what can be conceded in truth (“I love you and had no intention of trying to hurt you and I’m sorry I did. Would you and your husband do me the honor of coming to dinner and sharing your new life with us?”) Love can cover a multitude of family explosions and start the healing process.

That’s my worthless 2 cents. But talk to a spiritual director.

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  • Lynn

    I once declined a wedding invitation for the same reason, and years later after total silence, was actually thanked by the groom for having cared enough to risk offending, because that was how they began to understand how serious it was.

    • rmichaelj

      Agree with you. If we don’t take marriage to be the serious irrevocable sacrament that it is, how can we expect others to. Not to mention, if you have children of your own, the witness you are giving to them.

  • Timothy Cavanaugh

    Except he’s not her husband, though.

  • LFM

    Surprise, Mark! I am inclined to agree with you about this, although I would probably make some effort at pointing out the error as well. But I wonder, what is the difference (leaving out the familial aspect) between attending such a wedding and attending one between two non-believing friends who are married by a judge or the town clerk or whomever? I’ve never heard that it is un-Catholic to attend such weddings, although it may be that I am misinformed.

    • TedCoates

      Catholics are bound by Catholic canon law; if neither of the “two non-believing friends” is Catholic, then neither is so bound. Barring impediments, the Church recognizes such unions as valid. No canonical reason not to go.

  • Dave G.

    “Consequently, she was not receiving on the wavelength you were broadcasting on.”

    I liked this. I wonder how many disagreements, arguments, fights – and worse – are the result of this?

  • AquinasMan

    It’s not a wedding, it’s a Mulligan. Witnessing to a lie is not love, no matter how much it hurts to witness to the truth.

  • Mike Petrik

    Truth is the goal, but getting there requires communication which in turn requires a relationship. There is no perfect answer, but on balance I think Mark’s approach is probably best in most cases.