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Hello Father Bechtel.  My question is this:  I'd like to know my and my husband's status as far as God and the Catholic church.  

A little background...my husband is twice divorced. His marriages were due to the pending birth of a child, not love. He was a street kid raised by his grandmother due to his mother dying when he was 2, so he was rather "wild" with no set boundaries or rules growing up. I was just the opposite and when we met, both in our 30's, it was a deep and instant connection. We have been married faithfully for 24 years.

We are both good, kind-hearted people. But, since he is divorced and I married him, where do we each stand in the eyes of the church? We have both had premarital s*x. I'm sure we've sinned in other ways but this is the major thing that worries me.

We both went to Catholic school. We do not attend church although I pray daily. I think he does too. Do we stand any chance at all going to Heaven in the eyes of the church, in your opinion?  Could we ever take Communion?  Do we have to go to confession?

Thank you for any information.

Answer
EVERYONE has the chance for conversion as long as they are alive. EVERYONE has the chance to go to heaven as long as they are alive--regardless of what they have done, or how long they have been away from Church.  Since you and your husband are still alive, both of you have the chance to convert, and both of you have the chance to go to heaven.  

You say that you are good, kind hearted people.  The thing is--that is not the point.  Of course you are good, kind hearted people.  That is the way God made us.  We are created in God's image and likeness, we are good at our core.  Thus we OUGHT to be good, kindhearted people. The reason people are not always good or kind hearted is because of the power of Sin.  When we sin we are not acting in accord with our nature, but against it--which is why sin destroys us. Being good or kind hearted while commendable isn't enough to bring salvation. We cannot earn our salvation, and heaven is not first a reward for behaving ourselves.  

Having a relationship with God and knowing his Son Jesus Christ is what will bring us salvation and what will get us into heaven.  You suggest you have a relationship because you talk about daily prayer, etc.  That is good---but I think given your question, now might be the time to go further in your relationship and get to know God deeper.  Now is the time to get back into the practice of your Catholic Faith. I think God is clearly calling you to a deeper relationship with him, and a deeper knowledge of Him.  

How is this done?  It is very simple: find a Catholic Church in which you and your husband are comfortable and attend Mass.  Since you have been away for so long, if you desire to receive Holy Communion, it would be a very good idea to go to Confession first.  Confession is not necessary just to attend Mass, but in order to receive Christ worthily in Holy Communion, Confession would be necessary.  You don't have to do that right away.  You can wait until you feel ready.

First, just find a Catholic Church you and your husband are comfortable in, and attend Mass.  Once you get comfortable with this, and it becomes a habit, then you can talk about going to Confession and receiving Communion.  Or--if you want you can go right away.  Whether you go to Confession right away, or wait depends on your comfort level and what you are ready for. I can say that people make a bigger deal out of Confession then it really is.  You have nothing to fear. I do want to note however that if you are going to get back into the practice of your Catholic Faith, you and your husband must make weekend Mass attendance your priority.  You must get to Mass each week on Saturday or Sunday. If you want to get to know God in a deeper way and have a relationship with God that is life giving, you must make it your priority to worship God in community at Mass on weekends and Holy Day's of Obligation.  

As for your marriage: After 24 years together I think it silly to suggest that there is no marriage.  There is something--even if it isn't sacramental.  Nevertheless this marriage needs to be "blessed" (officially recognized) by the Church--but it cannot be until your husband clears up his past. In order for him to do this he will need to apply for and successfully receive an annulment. The way to do this is for you and your husband to make an appointment with the pastor of the parish where you will attend and ask him for packet of information.  Your husband will have to fill it out. I need to caution you that it is detailed, and the more information your husband can provide the better.

There are fees associated with the application because when applying for an annulment (in your husbands case he will need to apply for two) you are hiring a Canon Lawyer to work on your case at the Diocesan Tribunal.  These lawyers need to be paid like any other lawyer. I do not know what the fee structure is in your diocese.  In mine it is 500 dollars.  (That does not even pay for half the actual cost of the annulment. The Diocese does not want the process to be cost prohibitive so it subsidizes the Tribunal in order to keep costs down for the person applying for one. Of course inability to pay should never prevent anyone from seeking an annulment) Once the application is in, you will have to wait for the process to unfold.  The length of time depends on the complexity of the issues involved.  The more complex the issues, the longer it will take but I think most cases resolve within a year or so.  

While application for an annulment is no guarantee of receiving one, at the same time I think the Church today tends to give the benefit of the doubt to those seeking one.  While it is possible your husband could be denied an annulment, I think it unlikely in today's climate.  

In short: you and your husband should find a Catholic parish you are comfortable attending, when you feel ready to receive Communion, first go to Confession.  In order to have your marriage blessed your husband will need to apply for and successfully receive an annulment.  To start the process make an appointment with the pastor of the parish.  If you find that you are not comfortable in the parish, or that you and the pastor are not "clicking" you can always search for another Catholic parish where you feel more comfortable.  

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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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