[Guest Post] Should Catholics only date Catholics?

Guest blogger Anthony Elias and his soon to be wife, Jackie!

When I was enrolled at my evangelical Protestant seminary, I knew it was important for me to date and eventually marry someone who was of the same evangelical (“non-denominational”) Christian faith. Pastor Mark Driscoll had even persuaded me that I needed to find someone who was of a similar evangelical flavor (“it doesn’t make sense to have your wife praying in tongues at the dinner table while you’re trying to cast out her demon.”)

After emotionally leaving the seminary because I wanted to become Catholic, there was no doubt in my mind that if God did not call me to become a priest, I would marry a Catholic. If Jesus Christ and His Church were the most important things in my life, how could I even think about marrying someone who wouldn’t share that same joy with me? CatholicMatch.com sounded like a fantastic idea, and I was beyond blessed to meet Jackie within days of being on the site (she’s the greatest blessing of my entire life and we’re getting married on June 1).

I’ve been surprised to find a different mentality among many faithful Catholics in the pews. Several young women have asked me if I converted to Catholicism because of Jackie and are disappointed when I say no because, they say, “my boyfriend is non-denominational and we’re trying to figure out what we would do with kids and going to church and stuff.” I like to call this the most predictable problem ever. Many seem to think that if cupid points them to someone with good vibes and they “fall in love,” then that person is the one, no matter if he or she is of the same religion or even has a basic belief in God. Others don’t think very hard about the fact that dating can lead to marriage (“I just want to know them a little better,”) and are eventually confronted with “the most predictable problem ever.”

Instead of being a typical overzealous convert and answering the post’s title, “Yes, of course, and no amount of inspiring stories would convince me otherwise,” let’s see what the Catholic Church says. (A caveat: the following is for Catholics who believe that Jesus Christ founded his Church and gave the apostles and their successors the authority to proclaim doctrine and practice. If these are “man-made rules” to you, I would recommend “What’s Your Authority” and other articles about apostolic succession on Catholic.com)

from the Catechism of the Catholic Church

Paragraphs #1633-1637 in the Catholic Catechism address what is called “mixed marriage” and “disparity of cult.” Mixed marriage is a Catholic marrying a non-Catholic Christian, while “disparity of cult” describes a Catholic marrying a non-Christian. As long as the couples are marrying in the Catholic Church and are willing to raise the children in the Church, mixed marriage and disparity of cult are not explicitly forbidden, though disparity of cult is especially discouraged. However, as you can read below, the “difficulties of mixed marriage must not be underestimated,” and the marriage can lead to “religious indifference” (all religions are the same, right? How important is the Eucharist?).

In conclusion, should Catholics only date Catholics? The Catholic Church does not give an unequivocal answer, so I can’t say more than that. However, the Church does say, IT MAY BE A BAD IDEA, THINK HARDER ROMEO, and that’s advice we all could use.

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About the blogger: Anthony Elias writes at www.evangelicaltocatholic.com . Feel free to contact him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google +.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • This is actually why I could never marry a Catholic, especially not in a Catholic church. I don’t believe in transubstantiation, I do believe in female ordination (and presented a paper on it based on biblical & historical evidence), and I hold quite a few other (dis)beliefs as well. My boyfriend was raised Catholic, so it was more of a relief than a concern to me when I found out he’s atheist. As far as raising our future kids, we’ve already agreed to bring them up in the Unitarian Church, but also introduce them to multiple religious traditions so they can determine their own path.

  • Terry W

    So, according to this article, non Catholics like me who profess Jesus as Lord and Savior aren’t part of ‘His Church?’

    • You are apart of His Church. The Catholic Church was founded by Christ. All other churches are founded by man who broke off from the Catholic Church.

    • I can’t speak for Anthony, Terry, but I do believe that regardless of whether somebody is Catholic, if he or she professes Jesus as Lord, he or she is part of His church.

    • Terry W

      Obviously, so do I. But I am just as bothered by the attitude that Jesus only created the ‘Catholic Church’ as I am the feeling among some that Catholics aren’t really Christians. I understand that the belief in Peter as the first Pope appointed by Jesus is a very important belief for Catholics (and it was one of the reasons why I left Catholocism.) For me, while Peter is very important in the formation of the church, (not just the Catholic Church) the church has it’s birth not with Peter, but with Pentecost.

    • Terry, you might find the history of the Orthodox Church interesting. I have several friends who are Greek Orthodox, and their historical timeline indicates that the Catholic Church broke away from the original church as founded by Christ. If you know any Catholics who “look down” on other Christians for not being Catholic, well, they’re not exactly modeling Christ-like behavior, are they.

    • Hi Terry,

      Sincerely sorry for the slow response, and I hope I didn’t offend. I want to be careful with my wording, because this is a key area where Protestants and Catholics can talk past each other. For me as a Protestant, being a Christian meant I was a part of Christ’s church. This was partially influenced by John Calvin’s idea of the “invisible church,” that all believers are what make up Christ’s church. If that’s what you mean, then you are certainly a part of Christ’s church. The Catholic Church affirms you as a Christian who is not condemned (see Lumen Gentium quote and reference below).

      However, you are not directly a part of His Church as Catholics define it, and, given the definition, I think you would agree. There is one Mother Church according to the Catholic Church, because of Peter and because of apostolic succession, which very few Protestants would claim they have. Pope Benedict issued an encyclical about this in the year 2000 to say that only churches that maintained apostolic succession and the Eucharist (Eastern Orthodox) could be called a separated Church, whereas everyone else did not fit that criteria and so were an ecclesial community. He still, of course, said many positive things about the way the Holy Spirit has worked (see quotes below and reference)

      I hope this helps! Feel free to contact me any time. (1anthonyelias@gmail.com) I was an aspiring pastor, my dad was a pastor, and I have great respect for all Christian ministers of the gospel.

      Thanks,

      -Anthony

      The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter. (14*) For there are many who honor Sacred Scripture, taking it as a norm of belief and a pattern of life, and who show a sincere zeal. They lovingly believe in God the Father Almighty and in Christ, the Son of God and Saviour. http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html

      On the other hand, the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery,61 are not Churches in the proper sense; however, those who are baptized in these communities are, by Baptism, incorporated in Christ and thus are in a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the Church.62 Baptism in fact tends per se toward the full development of life in Christ, through the integral profession of faith, the Eucharist, and full communion in the Church.63
      http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20000806_dominus-iesus_en.html

  • This is wonferful! After a lot of dating, I came to tge conclusion that I would only date a Catholic! But little did I know the next guy I began to see wasn’t Catholic. But God works in mysterious ways! I’ve struggled with my family trying to bring them closer to the Catholic Church, and instead of forcing them, I was told to make them want what I have. All the joys and mercies God has given me! If I forget about trying to make them be Catholic they could see how happy being Catholic makes me. As I’ve pursued this and my boyfriend saw that! He saw the beauty in what we practice and was fascinated by our beliefs. And now he wants to be Catholic! It’s truly believe and love every part of Catholicism. I pray one day everyone will understand and be Catholic! Unless your a devout Catholic you wouldn’t understand, and it becomes easy to fall away especially if your partner isnt a devout Catholic. If your Catholic please dont leave the Church for someone who isn’t Catholic.

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Rara.

    • But shouldn’t you be able to date who you want without religion holding you back? I’m glad that you were able to find someone who shares your beliefs, but I personally find that religion holds us back in this department.

      Also, isn’t everyone being Catholic kind of a scary thing? I think that the idea of any one world religion would be truly terrifying. I think that’s the beauty of culture. That we all have different beliefs based on our histories. I think that religion should accept other’s beliefs and not damn them to Hell if they don’t agree with you.

  • Your words make total sense to me. I was raised Catholic and then left the Faith for many years, during which time I was married to a fine Christian woman and we served together in the ministry. Due to other circumstances the marriage eventually ended, and neither of us have married again, although we have been apart for over 20 years now.

    I have wondered at times if I should pursue that relationship all over again, but since our marriage was not Catholic to begin with it is considered nullified due to my Catholic baptism and upbringing, while she had always been Protestant. I find it is better for me to remain single as I have for 20 plus years, but if I had pursued it again I would not have re-married her unless she converted. It is just not worth it. At least when we were together we were on the “same page” spiritually, but would not be now. To live the rest of my life with that between us would be in a word ridiculous as far as I am concerned.

    • Thank you for your kind words, this sounds like a difficult situation.

  • Anthony: Agree completely. Especially your point about it leading to ‘religious indifference.’ I have seen this happen over and over again. The person thinks, “We’ll figure it out after we get married.” The Most Predictable Problem Ever. Ever. Great post. Cindy

  • I guess I’m the lone dissenter here. I have also been in a mixed marriage for just over two years, and have not found it to be an insurmountable obstacle at all. I also poured over these specific CCC articles in my own marriage prep, and it does read that a mixed marriage is not impossible “when they succeed in placing in common what they have received from their respective communities, and learn from each the ways in which each lives in fidelity to Christ.” The key here in OPEN Communication and honesty about our faith, and being unafraid to share it.

    In daily practice that means we do learn from each other and respect each other. We are also not afraid to pray together even though we both follow different denominations. I have learned his family prayers, and he has taken the time to learn mine as well–such as our dinner prayer. We may discuss/debate our difference, but we both make Christ the center of our marriage. Those debates also keep me honest in my walk with God too, and making sure my motivations toward religion are good ones. Likewise, being married to a non-Catholic has encouraged me to learn about my faith and apologetics…. so that I can explain it/understand why we do things the way we do to my husband and his family (Such as learning to explain how the Mass is very biblical to those who follow sola scriptura, or answering the question, “what does tradition ACTUALLY mean?”)

    Very often my husband comes to Mass with me, and very much enjoys it. However part of this may have to do that he grew up in a denomination with a similar worship structure…a fact which has eased this transition. My priest, who married us, loves seeing him at Mass when he comes too. William knows he is welcomed there. When he was stationed in Iraq he even found he enjoyed going Mass much more than the contemporary generic Christian worship style services offered to Protestants at his base.

    I’m not trying to say that a Mixed Marriage is easy. It’s a challenge, for sure. I see my husband’s face when he stays at the pew when I go up to receive the Eucharist every week. Our Holy Week gets crazier than usual as we balance two churches. However, as my husband’s own denomination has been facing yet another split, he has been able to find some solace in the Mass too. I find that he does have someplace to go, a blessing, even as he turns down the idea of converting. As the Catholic in the marriage, I do understand that part of being his wife is showing him the love my Church has to offer. Maybe one day he’ll be Catholic, and maybe he won’t. I respect his decision either way.

    So, while a Mixed Marriage may not be “better” it can still be worth it, as long as the conversations are happening that allow the couple to find their commonalities in Christ. My own Mixed Marriage still happened in the Church, is still Sacramental, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It works because we make Christ the Center in all and We are not afraid to discuss and have the difficult conversations. For me, it has been very much “worth it.” I have a husband who loves me, supports me, encourages me in all that I do, and in the larger scheme of it, where each of us goes to church on Sunday is a small part of who we are, because there are so many more ways to live out our faith. He encourages me to both bible-study and
    pray my rosary because he knows that ultimately they are good for me, even is he doesn’t always agree with some of the theology behind it.

    For any couple who might be considering a mixed marriage, I would say it will only work IF both parties are asking the tough questions of themselves and each other regarding their own faith and how they intend to share it and live it. I would tell them to make Christ the center, no matter what. It takes honesty, integrity, and communication. Any couple, regardless of belief needs to have that discussion anyway.

    • Hi Kathryn,

      I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said, and it sounds like you’ve totally taken the message of the CHurch to heart. Like you said, it’s not always easy, but it’s not insurmountable. And, I didn’t quote the full section but, as you know, the Catechism states on #1636

      Through ecumenical dialogue Christian communities in many regions have been able to put into effect a common pastoral practice for mixed marriages. Its task is to help such couples live out their particular situation in the light of faith, overcome the tensions between the couple’s obligations to each other and towards their ecclesial communities, and encourage the flowering of what is common to them in faith and respect for what separates them.

      Thanks!

      -Anthony

  • Good points Anthony. I have known personally folks in mixed marriages also Kathryn, and they have made it work. I have also seen folks where it is very difficult. I knew personally when I discerned religious life was not my calling, it was very important to share my faith with the man I would marry.
    And it worked out because my husband also spent time in the seminary too, well played Holy Spirit:)

  • as i was raised in a split religious family, i have seen the problems of taught catholic and taught distain for the baptist , protestant fellowships, and to this day the catholic view has anominsity to out siders, one need only to go to the catholic answers forum– and experience the results–

    where in the catholic view “grace “is distributed thru the “sacraments” in the baptist, or Pentecostal — there is a totally different view–

    and catholic “look down ” on the communion service– of any other group– because of the council of trent 1551-1565– and the doctrine of the “real presence” –

    – and of course the real presence can only occur because the catholic religion — has the real sacrement of “orders”

    which is necessary for a number of “real” un-merited grace

  • This is one of the reasons that I hate religion. People say that religion creates a community when it does the exact opposite. I think finding someone you love is more important than finding someone who believes in the same things you do. Imagine all of the people you could date if you didn’t focus on religion. You could’ve found someone really great. I’m not saying that you can’t find someone great in your religion, but I’m never going to let my religion stop me from marrying who I want.

    Any Catholic who says the Catholic Church is the one True Church is just plain wrong. I don’t believe the Bible, but the last thing Jesus would have wanted is an organized religion. There are no Bible Quotes saying that Jesus started the Catholic Church.

    Just for information, right now I am a Catholic. As I have started to do more research I’ve realized that all religions are just man made.