Wedding Customs & Traditions Forum

Can an atheist and a Catholic compromise?

I’m an atheist.  I try to respect others’ beliefs, but I have some personal issues with the Catholic Church and I know I would be very uncomfortable with a church wedding.   (My great-grandmother was refused last rites because she didn’t have any money to bequeath to the Church, in spite of having donated generously throughout her life.  The poor woman died thinking she was damned!   Even now, thinking about it breaks my heart.)


My FI was raised Catholic and still considers himself Catholic-by-association (although he’d probably cringe to hear me describe it like that).  He doesn’t attend church and isn’t entirely sure he believes in God, but he still identifies with Catholicism for cultural rather than religious reasons.   


He wants a church wedding – if not Catholic, then at least Christian – because he thinks our vows will “mean more” if they are administered by someone who believes that marriage is sacred.  He has this idea that a justice of the peace won’t "care" about our union.  As far as the state is concerned, he says, he could juggle geese in one hand while singing “coo coo cachoo” as long as he signed the marriage certificate.  (Those are his exact words, too.)


I want a non-religious ceremony on neutral ground, which I feel skirts the issue of religion altogether (his parents are Catholic and Protestant; mine are Christian Scientist and Buddhist).  I am willing to be married by an ordained minister rather than a JP since that is important to my FI (although I still don’t follow his logic with the geese thing and can't help but feel our wedding should be about us -- not the officiant).


Unfortunately, he doesn’t see this as a “compromise” at all.  He thinks that if we have a non-religious or even non-denominational ceremony (I suggested a Universal Unitarian minister), then – as the atheist -- I “win.” 


I don’t see how we can compromise on this if the only compromise is “his way.”  The idea of doing it in a Catholic Church makes me want to cry!  (No offense to any Catholics out there; it just isn’t me.)

Does anyone have any ideas on how we can work through this?  Is compromise even possible?

Re: Can an atheist and a Catholic compromise?

  • So wait, he doesn't want a ceremony administered by anyone other than a Catholic priest? Because that would make it a full Catholic ceremony, and seems like no compromise at all.

    My FI is also Catholic. I was raised protestant, but am agnostic. We are no longer practicing. We are having a non-denominational ceremony in a chapel.

    Do you plan on having children? How will you raise them? This is something you need to discuss before getting married, if applicable. (My FI would prefer to raise our kids Catholic, which I am against, and right now he's okay with trying a UU church in the future.)

    Perhaps you can find a chapel to have the ceremony in, rather than a church? Or even find an Episcopalian minister who will do a semi-non-denominational ceremony for you? Episcopalian is close to Catholic but with different hierarchy, so that might be more comfortable.
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  • MyNameIsNotMyNameIsNot Atlanta member
    Knottie Warrior 10000 Comments 500 Love Its 5 Answers
    Well, the Catholic church won't recognize his marriage if it isn't in the catholic church, so I can see where he is making compromise by agreeing to do it outside of the church.

    But anyway, if his concern is that your vows won't mean as much if performed by a secular JOP, why don't you have a close friend or family member get ordained and perform your vows.  It seems to me that doing that would mean a lot more than a strange priest, especially if he's not a practicing catholic anymore.
  • I would suggest a wedding in a non-religious venue, performed by a more general Christian officiant.  If you worked at it, you could find readings that are from the Bible, but pretty generic and non-religious.  (1 Corinthians 13 comes to mind--Love is patient, love is kind, etc.)

    Finding a good officiant who's willing to work with both of you is going to be key here.  Ask on your local board for recommendations.
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  • ChelleLouiseChelleLouise member
    First Comment
    edited December 2009

    Sorry about the teeny tiny font in my original post.  I copied it over from a Word document; I won't do that again!

    Anyway, thanks for the thoughts and suggestions.  :) 

    We've both agreed to let any children we may have come to their own conculsions about God and religion.  They won't be "raised anything," but we'll be supportive when they are old enough to choose their own way.  

    I would also love to have a close friend or family member ordained to perform our vows -- I'd prefer it to a Justice of the Peace -- but he thinks that would be tacky rather than meaningful. 

    I really don't understand his emotional attachment to a church wedding, especially since he is non-practicing and won't even attend church with his family on religious holidays (in spite of the pressure they put on him to do so).  I know the obvious advice is to talk to him about it, and I have.  We just aren't seeing eye to eye.

    I'll have to look into the Episcopalian angle, and I think I'd be okay with a chapel instead of a church.  His mom is pushing for two ceremonies -- one secular; one religious -- and maybe that's the answer, but it seems like an expense we just don't need on our tiny budget.

  • MyNameIsNotMyNameIsNot Atlanta member
    Knottie Warrior 10000 Comments 500 Love Its 5 Answers
    Now I just think he's weird.  It is some sort of emotional attachment, and it doesn't make sense, particularly if he won't go on holidays.  Maybe the two of you need to talk with a neutral party to try to get him see how illogical he's being?

    I don't like the idea of two ceremonies.  Your wedding ceremony should be about bringing the two of you together.  If you had one for you and one for him, that just seems wrong.
  • My fiance kinda went through a similar thing with the wedding dress.  I mentioned that my best friend got an ivory colored dress and he was shocked because it wasn't white.  "A WEDDING dress is white.  If it is any other color it is just an overpriced dress."  He wasn't trying to be judgemental he just associates weddings with a white dress.

    Your FI might be doing something similar with the catholic wedding.  He may only associate weddings with a catholic wedding.  And then therefore any other ceremony location isn't a "real" wedding.

    It sounds as if you need to have another talk with him about this.  Ask him to really think about what is important to him and why.  Does he want a catholic wedding to appease his parents or because it truly matters to him?

    Good luck!
  • I'm a Catholic and FI is Buddhist. I'm hardly a practicing Catholic, but I do still consider it my faith.

    When we first discussed what our ceremony would be, FI was very upfront in telling me if it meant the absolute world to me, he would do the Catholic ceremony. But it didn't mean the world to me. The important thing to me was that our ceremony was a representation of our union, and that included both of our faiths being represented.

    We're using a JOP that works for our township, but he pretty much performs any ceremony a couple requests, because he believes that everybody has the right to get married, and everybody has the right to make their ceremony completely "theirs".

    So we sat down with him and explained what we believed and what we would like and we now are having a ceremony that will contain a Catholic blessing and an explanation of what Buddhists believe marriage is, and then a nice little speech comparing the similarities (And a mention of the compromise we both made).

    Maybe you just need to get your FI to at least meet with somebody that could do a ceremony like this for you. A good officiant will find a way to make sure both of your beliefs are properly represented.

    Best of Luck!

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  • I was raised Catholic, although identify as an athetist.  My FI is also Catholic-by-association.  Some members of his family and my paternal grandmother (who did not congratulate me on my engagement, but rather asked if I would be "allowed" to get married in a church) would like to see us married in the church.

    My compromise to him is that I would under no circumstances be married in a church or in a Catholic Mass, but that if it was important to him, that I would allow a member of the clergy to perform the ceremony elsewhere. 
  • I am Catholic and my FI is atheist. This is not my first - Catholic not perfect. A Catholic priest probably wont even perform a ceremony for you - most require premarital counseling and the church will not recognize the marriage outside of a Catholic church BUT if he doesnt not care about how the Church will see the marriage and any children will be alloweed to choose for themselves you should be able to compromise.
    We are getting married by a friend who is a pastor - he still wanted to meet with FI to make sure he felt comfortable performing the ceremony.  Family needs to realize its YOUR wedding and you both will work out the details. Good luck
  • You have to understand that for someone raised catholic their is a lot of dogma attached to stuff. Though he is non-practicing and may not fully believe anymore he may still worry that he will be living in sin and any children born from the marriage will be damned...

    I was raised catholic and while I haven't been to a catholic church in a long time I still had my daughter baptised at birth from fear...

    That being said I'm sure their are small christian chapels or small churchs in your area that will perform the marriage for you.

    I would also let your FI know that to be married in a catholic church both parties must be: baptised, have had their first communion and be confirmed. You will also be required to be up-to-date on confession and have taken communion recently, you will need to do so prior to the wedding. The catholic church. You also need a letter of agreement from your current catholic church to be married, which you don't seem to have.

    So basically it seems the idea of his catholic wedding is pretty impossible...
  • I agree wtih sarges05girl. If your FI wants a Catholic weding, I would make an appointment with a priest to get a better understanding of the requirements (since marriage is considered a holy sacrament). I am a Catholic and my FI is Christian. Our compromise is that we will be getting married in his parent's church by his uncle, who is a pastor.  I am going to meet with a Catholic priest at my mother's church to see if we can get a blessing by the priest (marriage won't be recognized by the Catholic church). You should try and talk with your FI about why he wants a Catholic wedding. For my culture (Mexican/Bolivian), most of the cultural traditions are tied in with the Catholic faith. Good luck!
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