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My sister has been dating a divorced protestant off and on for some time.  She is Catholic and he is not.  I have discussed with her in the the past the Church still considers him to be married until he would have an annulment and that she shouldn't be dating him.  From the way I understand it, technically it is adultery.  My sister and family think that it is me being overly traditional, but I think that this is the correct view of the Church.  From what I know of him he would never be interested in pursuing an annulment at anytime.  Am I right in my understanding of the Church and dating divorced persons?  Or is she free to date him.  

I try to respect her and her freedom to make her own decisions.  But I try not to give any sort of appearance that what I think they are doing is ok.  They can do what they want but I don't want to sin by encouraging their bad behavior.   At Thanksgiving time they had recently gotten back together and she invited him to come to my house.  I had my reservations about him coming #1 because of their situation and I don't want to appear as if I condone it and #2 he treats her badly and I wouldn't like him dating her even if he was free to date.  I told her he could come but he refused because he said he knows I don't like him.  I have never been unkind to him, I have simply have made it clear where I stand about their relationship and his treatment of her.  I feel that he was being very manipulative by not coming.  Well now this week my family basically tried to invite Christmas from being celebrated at my house because my sister wants to have it at her house because he refuses to come to mine.  I have mainly been the coordinator and/or hostess of Christmas for a long time because of my parents divorce.  My sister has never hosted any holiday and only wants to do so because of his wishes.  They don't seem to understand why I would even be upset and seem to think that I should just have let my sister host without question one week before Christmas.

Am I totally out of line here?  What is my Catholic responsibility here?  I feel like I am trying to be manipulated into accepting something that wrong.  Any advice.  If there is a way I could handle this better and in a more Christian matter please let me know.

Answer
Perhaps I am overly sensitive here, but what stood out to me in your question is not the issue of divorce and remarriage, but the fact that your sister is in an abusive relationship.  You say that your sister's boyfriend "treats her badly."  This suggests to me that your sister is in an abusive relationship.  In my mind this is far, far worse than the issue of divorce and remarriage.  

I want to make clear that I DO NOT condone SIN of any kind.  Divorce and remarriage without an annulment is ADULTERY.  Divorce and romantic dating is likewise a form of adultery.  At the same time this---along with same sex relationships are very much accepted and tolerated in society today.  This means that people in such situations see nothing wrong and see the Church out of date.  I am not sure that finger wagging and a judgmental attitude is the best way to reach such people.  All that will do is push them away.  The thing is I only know what NOT to do in reaching such people!  I don't necessarily know what TO DO!

What is the best pastoral strategy for dealing with the situations?  I don't know the answer to that. I take it case by case and try to listen to the voice of my conscience.  I have friends who are gay couples.  Does my friendship with them mean that I condone their relationship?  NO. It simply means that I like them and enjoy their company.  Just because one is friends with someone does NOT entail that person actively condones every choice of their friend.  I also know many couples who live together and are not married.  Does my friendliness with them entail that I condone the behavior?  NO. They will have to answer to God for their decisions as I will have to answer to God for mine.  Anyone who forgets this deludes themselves.  

God DOES NOT expect us to be the "moral police."  It is NOT our job to enforce the moral law--that is up to God when he judges people.  Our job is simply to practice our Faith, try as best we can to bring people to Jesus, teach them the Faith--but they are the ones who have to live it.  We cannot live the Faith for someone.  Unless someone lives under a rock they KNOW where the Church stands on the issues of divorce and remarriage, same sex relationships, etc.  They KNOW the Church IS NOT going to change---no matter how much they delude themselves.  Your sister knows that by dating a divorced man without an annulment that she is sinning--even if she refuses to admit it.  Remember: God's law is written on the human heart.

In dealing with your sister I would simply advise you to pray for her.  In terms of HOW you should deal with her, YOU will have to make that decision based on your prayer and conscience.  As long as you make a decision based on your prayer and conscience I think that is the most anyone can expect.  God is not going to judge you based on whether your sister converts or listens to you.  God will judge you based on whether you can honestly say you listened to your conscience.  Granted we might make a mistake---our consciences are not infallible---we do the best we can and leave the rest to God.  God judges us on our CHOICES, not on our successes and failures.  It is our CHOICES that reveal our character, not our successes and failures.  Do the best you can and leave the rest up to God. That is the best I can tell you here. If you can honestly say you did your best, leave it at that and put it in God's hands.

That is what I say about the spiritual issue here.  However it seems to me that if your sister is in a relationship in which she is being treated badly.  That is just as serious.  Permit me to comment on that.

Usually women who are in relationships where they allow their boyfriends to treat them badly have low self esteem.  It is important to note that a women's level of attractiveness is irrelevant.  Women who are "10's" in the looks department are just as likely to be in an abusive relationship as a women who is less attractive.  I know this from ministry experience.

You are her sister and thus know her as good as anyone else does.  What have your sister's past relationships been like?  Has your sister chosen men like this current one---men who do not treat her with respect?  If so---it is no mystery why she is dating someone like that now, and it will be no mystery THAT she will date someone like this in the future.  If this is correct---and this relationship ends--the problem is not solved is it?  She will find someone else JUST LIKE the person she is dating now in the future.

If your sister has a low self image, she has to develop a healthier sense of self.  If and when she can do this she will begin to stand up to her boyfriend and hopefully realize that she does not have to put up with his bad treatment.  I would suggest if I am correct you try to analyze where your sister's low self esteem is coming from and try to help her (some way) work on developing a healthier self image. In this way---she will become the solution to the problems in her relationship.  It is always better when a person solves their own problems than when we do it for them.  

Merry Christmas!  

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Father Dave Bechtel

Expertise

I am a Catholic priest in good standing and in active ministry in the Diocese of Scranton PA. I can answer most any question about the Catholic Faith, however my area of specialization is Systematic Theology. Systematic Theology is a branch of theology that focuses on the fundamental tenants of the Faith and the Dogmas of the Faith. I have specialization on the Reformation and Catholic vs. Protestant theology/issues and answering Protestant challenges to the Faith.

Experience

I was ordained in June of 2008. Since that time the thrust of my ministry has been specialized. In my first assignment I was an assistant pastor. A year later I was sent to work in education. I spent six (6) years in education and have now assumed my first pastorate. While education was the thrust of my ministry, nevertheless I continued to have a hand in parish ministry, hospital chaplaincy and prison chaplaincy. Now that I am out of education I will obviously be focusing more on parish work than specialized ministry. I have two years of formal Clinical Pastoral Education and prior to ordination I successfully pursued Board Certification for health care ministry through the NACC. My certification needs to be renewed and I plan to seek dual certification in health care ministry (NACC and APC) when I renew my certification. I have a breadth of experience working with Protestant ministers and collaborating with them to achieve the goals of hospital pastoral care and chaplaincy. These ministers run the spectrum from the liberal to the conservative.

Education/Credentials
Bachelors of Science-- University of Scranton PA Masters of Arts Theology--- Saint Mary's Seminary and University Baltimore MD Masters of Divinity--- Saint Charles Borremeo Seminary Philadelphia PA Board Certified Chaplain (up for renewal)

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