Catholics who marry non-Catholics still require bishop’s permission, new guidance points out

Updated marriage preparation programme launched at Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin

Catholics who wish to marry other Christians must write to their local bishop to get his “permission”, a new Catholic Church marriage preparation has pointed out.

Catholics who wish to marry a person who is not baptised or of another faith must meanwhile get a more rigorous “dispensation” from their bishop, the updated marriage guidance from Accord has said.

Accord, the Catholic Church agency which supports couples preparing for marriage and through their married life, issued an updated programme as couples gathered in Dublin to have their rings blessed before the shrine to St Valentine.

The programme continues that, whether marrying another Christian or an unbaptised person of another faith or none, “the Catholic party is asked to remain steadfast to their Catholic faith and do their best within the unity of their partnership to have whatever children they may have baptised and brought up in the Catholic faith”.


It continued that “the non-Catholic party” must be “made aware of the promises the Catholic party makes”.

The updated Accord marriage preparation programme was launched at Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin on Monday following a Mass celebrated by Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin Denis Nulty, President of Accord. Immediately afterwards he blessed the rings of two engaged couples before the statue of St Valentine there. Sinéad O’Connor and Darren Larkin, who live in Newbridge, Co Kildare; and Siobhán O’Shaughnessy from Cork and Dubliner Kieran Davey were the couples present.

Accord prepared 7,265 couples for marriage across the island of Ireland in 2023. The figure for 2022 was 7,470 couples. The Covid pandemic disrupted its in-person service in 2020 and 2021

The updated Accord marriage preparation programme follows a collaboration involving experienced marriage facilitators and marriage educators, as well as clergy, all over Ireland. It consists of eight “carefully considered units” combining “a Catholic understanding of marriage with practical insights gained from rigorous research in the social sciences carried out over more than 40 years.”

As Accord director Tony Shanahan said at its launch, it was “grounded in the lived reality of today’s couple relationships.” Commissioned by the Catholic bishops, the new programme “takes account of changes in society and couple’s relationship expectations over the last 20 years,” he said.

It “incorporates the most up-to-date psychological understanding of what makes relationships happy and fulfilling, while the Church’s understanding of the nature of Sacramental marriage is clearly laid out and its spirituality is woven throughout the programme units,” he said.

Unsurprisingly, when addressing fertility, the programme makes no reference to artificial means of contraception but it said that “studies show that NFP [natural family planning] enriches a couple’s relationship and improves communication since both partners share responsibility for fertility regulation”.

Natural family planning “offers couples a means to plan or avoid a pregnancy that is safe, effective and free from side effects, providing the couple are properly instructed by an accredited teacher,” it said.

It is frank about the level of commitment required in marriage and said “there is no question that committing to a person can be a terrifying prospect. It means putting all our eggs in one basket. There will be no one waiting in the wings if this relationship doesn’t work out. There isn’t a safety net. If things aren’t going well, we go to no one else to complain. Instead we need to go directly to our partner to work things out.”

On sexual identity and sexual attitudes, it asked “where did I get them?” and provides a chart “to rate the importance of some common influencers in the formation of your sexual identity and sexual attitudes so far”.

Among such influences it suggested were “parents and caregivers, Other family members, friends and peers, school community, religious beliefs/Church TV, film, books and print media, internet and social media,” as well as “sports club or youth club.”

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Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times