I’m dating a Catholic, now what?

Dear Anthony,

I could use some advice as the non-Catholic party in my relationship.  My boyfriend is a very nice Catholic guy.  He knew I was not Catholic.  We get along just great.  But he’s “really” Catholic, and I’m “really” not.  He isn’t insisting on me being Catholic or anything like that.  But I can’t help feeling like that is going to come up sometime soon.  It makes me nervous, because I don’t want to get so far in our relationship and then have heart broken because I won’t become Catholic.  Should I just save both of us a lot of time and grief and end it now, or is there some hope that we could actually get married even though we have two different religions? I understand if you can’t answer this, but I thought I would give it a shot.  Thanks so much.

I’m very glad you reached out to me.  I have discussed matters that involve non-Catholics before, and I am very interested in the concept of mixed marriages and their potential to be successful.  

It’s obvious from your question that have a religion that you practice.  You didn’t share specifically what it is, so I can’t be as specific as might be needed.  It does make a difference if you are a baptized Christian of one of the thousands of Christian denominations, or a non-baptized person of another religion.  What makes no difference, however, is the fact that you belong to another faith, and that causes concerns for both parties.

We live in an age where is extremely easy to meet someone under normal, everyday circumstances who is attractive in many ways, but does not share your religious affiliation and beliefs.  For most of us, we are exposed to all kinds of people.  That makes it very easy to find people we get along with, share common interests, career goals, and are attracted to.  Making friends is easy.  Even getting a date is pretty easy.

Unfortunately, what’s also easy is having sex.  No matter what your religion, in today’s society, moral issues surrounding sex (i.e., chastity, premarital sex, contraception, etc) seem to have become a non-issue.  It seems that everything about society has a pro-sex message and purpose.  Having sex is as commonplace and expected as dining together.  It’s not questioned.  If there is concern, there is fear and guilt about bringing it up.

This leads me to your concern about being involved with a Catholic.  If your boyfriend is a practicing Catholic, there will be several key things about his religion that he will be committed to that should give any non-Catholic concern when it comes to considering a Catholic as a prospective future spouse.  These key things are:

1) The Holy Eucharist.  Any Catholic worth their salt believes that Jesus Christ is truly present, body, blood, soul and divinity, in the Holy Eucharist.  That the bread and wine on the altar at a Catholic Mass is changed in substance (though not appearance) into the body and blood of Christ at the hands of the Catholic priest.  A true Catholic must never, ever, believe it is only bread and wine, or just a symbol. A non-Catholic must accept that the person they love believes this, and never attempt to dissuade them otherwise.  A true Catholic attends Mass every Sunday and holy day of obligation.  The non-Catholic also supports the Catholic’s need to attend Mass every Sunday and is encouraging.

2) Confession.  The act of confessing mortal sins to a Catholic priest, being absolved of those sins, and performing the penance.  A practicing Catholic will go to Confession when they know they are in mortal sin.  This implies that the practicing Catholic stays on top of what the Catholic Church teaches in order to know what is sinful, and examines their conscience to determine when they have sinned.  A non-Catholic must accept that the person they love submits to the teaching authority of the Catholic Church in their life and needs to have their mortal sins absolved by a Catholic priest.  

3)  Pre-marital sex is not allowed.  Genital intercourse prior to marriage is wrong and a mortal sin.  If committed, the sacrament of confession is necessary.  A Catholic is not permitted to have genital intercourse until married, no matter how much it seems right or you love each other, or if there is a desire to live together to see if it will work out first, etc.  A non-Catholic must accept this AND show respect for the person they love by not ridiculing this belief and not tempting them to have sex.  If it still happens, there must be sorrow and remorse, and encouragement by the non-Catholic to go to confession and a stronger commitment to keep it from happening.

4)  Artificial contraception is not allowed.  A woman on the pill, a man using a condom, and any other apparatus or method used for the purpose of preventing conception of a child.  A Catholic can never, ever, agree to the use of artificial contraception IN marriage, as well as prior to marriage.  A non-Catholic must accept that the person they love is pro-life and open to life, and believes contracepting is contrary to life and true love.  

5)  Loves everyone, including enemies.  Jesus Christ gave a new commandment and called all His followers to live it; “love one another as I have loved you.”  This call to love is a call to love the unlovable, enemies, those who persecute you, those in need, those who won’t love you back.  A Catholic is ready to forgive and have mercy on those who wrong and hurt them.  They don’t hold grudges or seek revenge.  They are ready to sacrifice for the good or need of another.  A non-Catholic must accept that they person they love is someone who does not love selectively or conditionally, nor is a hypocrite.

6)  Prayer.  A Catholic makes time to pray to God and strengthen their inner, spiritual lives, and includes God in all important decisions.  A non-Catholic must accept that the person they love is a person of personal prayer and includes God in the relationship.

7)  The Resurrection.  That Jesus Christ, who was crucified, died and was buried, rose from the dead on the third day.  All aspects of being a Catholic is in vain if Jesus did not rise from the dead.  A non-Catholic must accept that the one they love believes this as historical fact and as the cornerstone of faith.

So what do you think so far?  Perhaps you don’t see your boyfriend going to Mass every Sunday, or ever going to Confession.  Perhaps he is totally open to having sex with you, and doesn’t care that you are on the Pill or about using a condom.  Perhaps he loves you but is critical or annoyed or mean to others who have wronged him or you.  Perhaps he rarely prays, and doesn’t show interest in including God in decisions that affect his life.

If this is the case, then you are not actually dating a Catholic.  He might say he is Catholic, but he is not a practicing one.  So I guess you’re safe from worry about him every trying to convert you or being “too Catholic” for you to handle.  Sadly, there are many baptized Catholics who still call themselves Catholic, though they no longer believe or live it.

But if he holds true to these key things, then you have to decide if you can live them, even if he never attempts to get you to become Catholic.  You still have to live with a Catholic.  And what’s more (and it’s MUCH more), you will have to marry this man in the Catholic Church before a priest.  AND, you will need to agree to raising your children to be Catholic.

I truly believe marriage between a Catholic and non-Catholic can work, primarily because marriage itself does not require the same religion to be successful.  Love between two persons can have such a strong mutual respect that there is never an inclination to do anything to hurt the other, and always a mutual encouragement of what is important to the other.  However, it helps a lot if you are the same religion, primarily because of the children.  It seems inevitable that once children come along, each parent starts realizing that it would be important to instill stronger religious values and practices in their children.   

In my experience, interfaith marriages only work if one or both of the persons involved have no serious commitment to their religion prior to marriage.  If one or both get serious about religion after the marriage, that has its own set of risks and problems.  So best to know where you both stand prior to marriage.

You have every right to be concerned about the Catholic you’re dating.  I have provided you with the key specifics that should be the focus of your concern.  I wouldn’t be too concerned about his trying to convert you.  Be more concerned about how serious he is about his Catholic faith and if you can live with a person who lives that way.   

Marriage is successful primarily if your love is built on close friendship, mutual respect, mutual sacrifice, and compromise rather than religious affiliation.  But when it comes to religion, the non-Catholic party has more to compromise and concede to.  I know that’s a lousy deal, but that’s the way it is.  Much is demanded of Catholics, and the Catholic Church does not allow its members to decide what and what not to believe.

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5 responses to “I’m dating a Catholic, now what?

  1. This is such a clear answer ! Excellent job!

  2. rowena montayre sia

    Anthony, Love this post!!! Love it! Love it! Love it! Thanks.

  3. “Much is demanded of Catholics, and the Catholic Church does not allow its members to decide what and what not to believe.”

    My experience is that non-Catholics interpret this comment as evidence that the Catholic Church is “authoritative” in the worst possible way and that it doesn’t respect individuals’ freedom. It’s important for non-Catholics to realize that the Church fully respects individuals’ freedom to become Catholic or not.

    In other words, each person may freely decide whether or not to follow Catholic teaching in the first place. But Catholicism must be accepted as a whole or rejected as a whole. No one has the freedom to pick-and-choose individual teachings to follow and to reject, as this would be tantamount to redefining Catholicism.

    Great article! Would love to know whether the questioner found Anthony’s response helpful and whether she has any follow-up comments or questions.

  4. I think the woman who wrote this was a potential convert and as such it would have been nice to lovingly invite her to explore the richness of our faith. Unfortunately, I think that your answer was overly focused on rules and beliefs, all true, but a little cold and not too inviting…

  5. As Matthew Kelly in his book Rediscover Catholicism says, Catholicism is not a lifeless set of rules and regulations, but a way of life designed by God to help each person reach his or her full potential