Interfaith Couples: How Does It Work?
NPR's call-in show, Talk of the Nation, covered interfaith marriages the other day. There were some interesting statistics, and I was pleased that the first caller (an atheist who married a Catholic) thought the required Pre-Cana classes he attended were thorough and useful. The guest, Naomi Schaefer Riler, author of Til Faith Do Us Part, also said that the Church's marriage preparation courses are often used as a model for anyone preparing a couple of any faith for marriage. Apparently only about half of interfaith couples actually discuss, before they are married, how they will raise children! Can you imagine?
The guest did say that the Church has recently changed its rules, and no longer requires the non-Catholic person to promise to raise any future children Catholic--but that, instead, it simply requires the Catholic spouse-to-be to promise, in the hearing of the non-Catholic spouse-to-be, that they intend to try to raise the children Catholic. I checked Canon law, and this is what it says:
1/ the Catholic 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 so that all offspring are baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church;
2/ the other party is to be informed at an appropriate time about the promises which the Catholic party is to make, in such a way that it is certain that he or she is truly aware of the promise and obligation of the Catholic party;
3/ both parties are to be instructed about the purposes and essential properties of marriage which neither of the contracting parties is to exclude.
And yes, a dispensation is still required before the Church will bless the marriage of a Catholic to a non-Catholic.
I've been thinking lately about mixed marriages. An old friend, who married outside the Church and is now divorced with kids, wanted my opinion about the matter -- whether it was reasonable to keep hunting for a like-minded Catholic spouse. It seems, he said, that most marriage-minded Catholics seem interested only in finding someone with a tidier history. Non-Catholics are more open to marrying someone who already has children, but they're -- well, non-Catholic.
My husband and I are extremely blessed that we began to grow into our faith at the same time, and have never had any deal-breaking disagreements about any of the things that make a marriage Catholic. I've often thought that marriage is tricky enough when you do agree about everything important, and I marvel when I see couples who don't agree, and yet who make it work.
But how does it work? My first thought was that the most common marital conflicts must come during the childbearing and child-rearing years: contraception, how to pursue (and pay for) a Catholic education for the kids, whether to spend Saturday afternoon at the beach or in the line for confession . . . these are the issues that tear couples apart if they don't agree. I thought that if you could just sweat out that tricky time until the kids are out of the house, then surely you'd be over the worst.
But maybe that's wishful thinking. Because the teachings of the Church are so consistent, there are very few Catholic ideas which don't affect half a dozen other, seemingly unrelated aspect of life-- and so it seems likely that conflicts would continue, even after the kids have left the nest. For instance, if my husband and I disagreed about whether or not our gay friends should be able to get married, I wouldn't be able to just say, "Oh well, we'll just agree to disagree." I'd start to question what my husband's understanding of our marriage was, if we disagreed so thoroughly about what marriage is.
And then there would be the sadness of not being able to share the joys of the faith. As I get older, my Faith permeates more and more of my daily life. It would be tragic to know that my husband was excluded from so much that was important to me.
I'm very interested to hear from people who are in a mixed-faith, Catholic-non-Catholic marriage. How do you make it work? What warnings or reassurances do you have for people contemplating such a union? Has it been easier or harder than you anticipated when you first got married? Do you have any advice for people who are still looking for a spouse, and wondering how important it is to hold out for a fellow Catholic?