We converted to the Catholic Church 20 Years Ago, but We Weren’t Asked if We’d Been Married Before

A reader of this blog submitted the following in response to my post “RCIA and Prior Marriages: Waiting for the Sacraments“:

My husband and I converted to the catholic faith twenty years ago. We were not asked if we’d been married before. We’ve been very devoted and active in our church. However, upon our daughter’S decision to convert, annulment came to the forefront. She was married before. Total fear has gripped me as I realized my husband and I were married to others. We have been married for over thirty years. I was married once to an abusive alcoholic who physically beat me and my children. I eventually left him. My husband was married three times before. The first lasting eleven years the second two lasting less than a year. He was mixed up. His first wife is now dead. We have no idea where any of these people are and the pain and effort to try to find them would be horrendous. So, now what. We leave the church? This is scary and upsetting. My husband and I are very much in love and both feel very, very blessed to have found each other after the pain we went through.

First, I want to urge you not to even THINK of “leaving the church” as you and your husband belong to the Church and she belongs to you.

However, all the same, this is a serious situation. Since you say you’ve been very devoted and active in your parish, a good starting point would be for both of you to go and visit your current pastor and explain what has come to light. Make sure he understands that when you were going through RCIA (or the equivalent) you were never asked about prior marriages, and had you been asked (or had you understood the significance of a prior marriage) you would have given forthright and truthful answers (Jesus knows this already).

As I wrote in my post, we ask about prior marriages before people come into the Church exactly so that this does not happen, but I do not know the correct approach twenty years after the fact. It will depend — to a large extent — on your pastor and what he counsels is prudent for you to do. I know that’s not a very excellent “Canon Law” sort of answer, but for us laypeople it is important to listen to our pastors, who are responsible for our spiritual well being, and rely upon their judgments and decisions. When we do this (give obedience to the Church’s lawful ministers) it becomes the pastor’s issue if he’s off the mark, not ours (see Luke 17:2). Only when we know that our pastor is flat out wrong is it appropriate to “go over Father’s head”.

I am not the right person to answer all the marital “ins and outs” — as in whether this marriage or that marriage was actually valid. The facts aren’t complete enough anyway. Most likely, your husband’s first marriage is a non-issue because his first wife has died. If his first wife was living when he married his second and third wives, those marriages may never have been valid either. The fact of your first husband’s abuse and alcoholism is very sad and I’m very sorry, but may not have much to do with whether that marriage was valid or not; more facts are needed to answer that question.

Do not despair, as you are Home and no one has a right to ask you to leave. The hardest part will be to approach your pastor and begin the discussion, but it will not be nearly as painful or impossible as you have come to fear. Remember that Our Lord is already walking this path with you, and has you and your husband safely in His Most Sacred Heart.

Please be assured of my prayers during this time, and let me know if I can be of any further assistance.


From the Archive, for Easter

Should you have a moment within this most holy time of the year, please check out:

First-Century Jews and the Paschal Sacrifice: why “Lamb of God” should mean far more to us

Poem for Holy Saturday: Limbo

And, have a blessed Triduum and Easter!

Angus Dei Francisco_de_Zurbarán_006

Francisco de Zurbarán, Angus Dei, c. 1635-40

Another Vasectomy Question

From a commenter to my post, Vasectomy and the Catholic Church: Search Engine Q&A:

My wife has had repeated miscarriages since she has gotten older (seven so far). We have been abstaining to avoid another miscarriage. I believe it would be acceptable in God’s eyes for one of us to have a procedure that would make it impossible for her to become pregnant, but she does not. What does The Church say?

My response:

Dear ___________:

I received your question concerning the situation with your wife having had a number of miscarriages. As someone who has experienced (as a husband and father) two miscarriages myself, I am very sorry that you and your wife have had to go through this. Depending on how far along into a pregnancy the miscarriage occurs, it can be very traumatic and painful.

I’d suggest that you first go to a priest who you know and trust and talk to him about this situation. Since you earnestly asked the question, I assume you want to find answers that are authentic reflections of what the Church actually teaches. On occasion priests can be found who will put a “rubber stamp” on things that are pretty questionable. Such priests actually make things worse. If you don’t have a “go-to” priest, maybe begin by asking a trusted friend who he or she would see about this concern.

Please understand that *I* am not an authority on official Church teaching. But I can tell you that my *understanding* is that the Church’s view on “having a procedure that would make it impossible” for your wife to become pregnant would not be favorable.

This is because, first, there are other NON-PERMANENT things that you and your wife can do that don’t affect either your or your wife’s reproductive capacity. For example, many Catholic couples, for a variety of reasons, practice Natural Family Planning, which allows the couple to observe the wife’s cycle and determine which days she might be fertile or ovulating. The rest of the times during the cycle the couple need not abstain. There may also be other options that could be discussed further with a trustworthy priest.

There is also a second serious problem that would arise with a permanent procedure, which is that sexual union between spouses is intended by God to reflect the “unitive, procreative, and donative” elements of marriage. “Unitive” is essentially what Jesus talks about in the Gospel when he refers to the two becoming “one flesh”. “Donative” is the free giving of self to one’s spouse, which isn’t entirely possible once one intentionally interrupts the part of oneself that leads to procreation. “Procreative” is the part that brings about children.

When we talk about these elements, we can’t give what we don’t possess, and sometimes that’s not our fault. If a person is born sterile, it doesn’t mean they can’t marry. But we aren’t free intentionally remove our own “faculties” either. Doing so is essentially a rejection of a gift from God. We are, in the moment, returning the thing that God gave us for our own good and happiness and choosing something else that God did not intend.

“Unitive, procreative, and donative” aspects of sexual expression also help us understand *why* sex is reserved for marriage. It simply isn’t possible to do what God intends for us in the sexual act with a partner outside marriage. We might be “having sex”, but at least one (if not all) of the elements intended to present in the act are missing.

When we turn one or more of these elements “off” within marriage, we run the risk of harming the marriage itself.

Please know that I will be praying for you and your wife, and wish you a very blessed Easter.


We are now a household of eight. Suddenly there are multiple coffee drinkers. As such, behold:

The Bialetti Moka Express 12-cup stovetop espresso machine. Still made in Italy. The Moka comes in an array of sizes. This largest size borders on absurd. It is massive. 

I have one big cup of coffee each morning. It’s about 4 shots of espresso with an equal volume of milk. With the 12-cup, it’s possible to make at least three of those. 
Usually the daily pot of coffee is gone or nearly gone the same day. But, I won’t deny that I sometimes allow a day to pass and then I drink what’s left the next morning. It’s not bad. 

Admittedly, I am not the sort of connoisseur of coffee as, say, Beer. Day old beer left on the counter isn’t good in Antarctica. 

So I drink the stale coffee from this thing and I don’t really wash it either, with soap or in the dishwasher. The water that passes through the machine is blistering hot and the aluminum takes up the heat from the stove. 

I rinse it really well between each use and I periodically wipe out the upper part of the pot with a damp cloth. I would be especially concerned about running it through the dishwasher, with the possibility of parts getting warped and the detergent anodizing and pitting the metal. 

A Moka is a great prepper item. With a few of these on hand, provided you have beans, water, and heat, you’ll make coffee for a decade or longer. Great for camping too. 

Speaking of stocking up, one can never have too much Juan Ana coffee on hand, particularly when buying in bulk is key to getting a great deal on shipping. 

Extra coffee from San Lucas Atitlan in your pantry supports a Catholic mission in Guatemala that helps families grow coffee on little one or two-acre plots. The mission supplies the plants to the families, buys the beans back at harvest time, roasts the beans and packages them for sale. The farmers receive more than fair trade prices.

Elephant Tusk Restored…..

Perhaps you recall, a few months ago, the story of a vandal. Someone broke the left tusk off the statue of an elephant holding atop its back an ancient Egyptian obelisk. This famous work of Bernini is stationed in front of the Roman Basilica of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, where it has acted as sentry, for centuries. So great was the outrage poured out over such a heinous act that artisans set to work almost immediately. Thankfully it has been repaired. 

This needs to become a law for all “A. I.”. Enough of this “Siri,” “Alexa,” “Cortana”. Do you want to hasten the claims for “equality” with software? Then by all means, give “it” a name.

You Can Now Address Alexa As “Computer” Because Star Trek Is Real Life


Cubs Win! The World is Shaken!

IMG_2733.PNGWhat seemed to be a fixed constant of our Universe — the perennial “next year” for the Chicago Cubs — has finally unravelled after more than a century.

Within this time, there have been world wars, the advent of air travel, radio, television, computers, the Internet, a host of other technological innovations, including sliced bread, as well as all of the societal and cultural changes of the past 108 years. Yet in all that time, never has the famed marquee outside Wrigley declared (except maybe, on April Fools’) the Cubs as World Series Champions.

We lived in Wrigleyville for several years, and after going to class and then clerking in the Loop, I would take the Red Line to the Addison stop. On game days, you could catch a glimpse of the action on the field from the El platform.

As I’d make my way down the stairs from the platform, I’d buy a bag a peanuts from a vendor set up in the station, and walk the few blocks to our apartment. If it wasn’t too far into the autumn, I’d open the French doors to our little patio, and turn on the game on the TV.

It was a surreal experience, watching a Cubs game in that apartment — an outfielder would catch a fly ball or Sammy Sosa would hit a home run, and you’d see the fans cheer on TV, and then, a few seconds later you would hear the roar and din from Wrigley through our patio doors. You could even hear the notes of the organ on the air.

So, while I’m not a “sports guy”, in my heart is a nurtured romance for Wrigley and the Cubs, and a reverence for the pure love of the team’s true fans. I couldn’t be more happy for those loyal North-Siders who, after generations of long suffering patience, have finally breached the gate of baseball paradise.

Even church bells had their say in the Windy City last night.

/ W /