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Can a Catholic Attend or Participate in a Non-Catholic Wedding?

While broadcasting from the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, Father Dave received a question from the audience regarding a family wedding disagreement. 

Christine describes how her devoutly Catholic nephew is reluctant to participate in his sister’s “very non-religious and non-Catholic wedding.” He, his wife, and young children have agreed to attend but do not wish to have any further role in the wedding party, such as groomsman or ring bearer. He is concerned that participating will set a bad example for his children. Christine is the godmother to both her nephew and niece who are at odds, and asks Father Dave for advice as she helps mediate.

Father Dave first expresses, “I think you’ve gotten over the major hump. I know many families, when you have this kind of conflict, choose not to even be present. So [the nephew] is going to be there, but they’re not going to be in the wedding party. I think that’s a good compromise.”

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Father Dave acknowledges the difficulty in the situation when children are involved. “I’m not a parent, so I’m going to give a lot of latitude for parents being able to make their own choices and raising their children,” he says. “I would encourage them or anybody else that’s in a similar situation that the best we can do is to form and raise our children with our strong belief in the faith. We can’t prevent them from being exposed to or showing up at an event that is not Catholic.” 

He continues, “I didn’t hear you say this, but I’ve heard a lot of this in similar situations where people say, ‘I’m so devout in my Catholicism that I don’t want to be there, because I would be bringing scandal.’ Let’s get off your high horse. You’re not the pope, you don’t represent the Church. Nobody is thinking, ‘Oh, I guess the Catholic Church changed their stance on getting married in Vegas,’ or even a homosexual wedding, or whatever it is. Nobody is thinking that the pope is changing his mind because you showed up at your sibling’s wedding.”

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“To me, we have to hear Jesus’ message of love and mercy above all,” Father Dave says. “Sometimes you’ll hear people respond with ‘Yes, but some love is tough love.’ Okay, true. But tough love is good when it’s effective and when it brings about some desired change. To bring about the disunity and fractioning of a family, which I’ve seen all too often, happens when people choose not to attend weddings of their immediate family members; That’s not tough love, that’s just being sort of stubborn and obstinate.”

Conversely, Father Dave says that attending a family’s non-Catholic wedding may model sacrifice to others and help evangelize. He explains, “There must be a very powerful symbol in that, that they are making that sacrifice out of love. Because it certainly wouldn’t be their choice to be there, it certainly wouldn’t be how they would run it. Jesus showed up at the homes of people where he was not condoning what their lifestyles were, but the point was about us reaching out to them and connecting. Who knows what that could be like, that people are moved by that kind of sacrifice that eventually plants seeds, and they come to the faith.”