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Can a Catholic be a witness at Protestant wedding?

Q. A good Protestant friend has asked me to be a witness at the wedding of her nephew in a Protestant church. Is a Catholic allowed to participate, taking a major role, in formal rites and rituals of non-Catholic churches? (City of origin withheld)


A. I am assuming — because you don't say otherwise — that your friend's nephew is not a Catholic and that neither is the woman he's going to marry. In that case, by all means you are free to serve as an official witness at their wedding.


This situation is addressed specifically in Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, issued by the Vatican in 1993. That document states: "Members of other churches or ecclesial communities may be witnesses at the celebration of marriage in a Catholic church. Catholics may also be witnesses at marriages which are celebrated in other churches or ecclesial communities" (No. 136).


Not only is your participation permissible, it is laudable because it demonstrates a Catholic's belief in the validity of that marriage and prayers for its success.


If, however, either the groom or the bride is Catholic, the answer becomes more complex. It may be that such a couple has received permission from the Catholic Church to marry in a non-Catholic ceremony. If, for example, the groom is Catholic and the bride Protestant, permission is often granted for the wedding to be held in the bride's church.


But if, on the other hand, one of the spouses-to-be is Catholic and no such permission has been secured, my answer would change. The question then becomes not so much a legal one but theological and pastoral. By your participation you could well be giving scandal by signifying that you approve of such a marriage (which would not be a valid marriage in the Catholic Church's eyes.)


Your better course would be to sit down with your friend's nephew, tell him with kindness and honesty the reason for your reluctance to participate and encourage him to have the marriage approved by the Catholic Church — ideally, before the Protestant ceremony takes place.


Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019