Annulment if husband unwilling?/ Christmas bonus for deacon?


Q: I met my husband 10 years ago, and he is a wonderful, supportive and good man. At the time, both of us had recently been divorced. Soon after, we were married in a civil ceremony. (We have a strong marriage, and I believe that I have found the man with whom I was meant to share my life.)

Sometime later, I went through (successfully) the Catholic Church's process for having my first marriage annulled. But then we found out that even though my husband is a non-Catholic he, too, would need to get a Catholic annulment for his first marriage in order for us to have our present union blessed by the church. That was eight months ago.

I have asked my husband to complete the annulment process, but he has said that he will not do so. I continue to attend Mass and would like to participate fully in the Eucharist, but I have been told that I cannot do so until my current marriage is recognized by the church. Please help me understand what I might do. (Richmond, Virginia)

A. You are correct that your husband would first need an annulment to have your present marriage recognized by the Catholic Church. Many people, I'm afraid, are under the same misconception you were -- thinking that a marriage between two non-Catholics doesn't "count" in the church's eyes. That is absolutely untrue; two non-Catholics surely have no obligation to seek the Catholic Church's approval to enter into a valid marriage.

You might ask your husband to go with you to speak to a priest about the annulment process itself, which might address some of his reservations. (The priest could assure him, for example, that an annulment has no effect on the legitimacy of children from an earlier marriage. Also, many dioceses now charge no fee at all for processing an annulment.)

But what if your husband still refuses to participate? To me it would seem unfair for you not to be admitted to Communion when you had tried your best to do what the church requires. And fortunately, some recent church statements would seem to allow for a certain flexibility in such situations.

In a 2016 letter, Pope Francis expressed support for a statement by a group of Argentine bishops that had suggested that in "more complex circumstances, and when it is not possible to obtain a declaration of nullity" a Catholic divorcee, now remarried outside the church, might be allowed access to the Eucharist.

(The Argentine bishops had issued the guidelines based on their reading of Chapter 8 of Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation "Amoris Laetitia.") A priest with pastoral sensitivity might help you in discerning God's will in your own circumstances.

Q: I am the bookkeeper at our parish. Our deacon does wonderful work and puts in a lot of extra time for the good of the parish -- sacrificing hours he could be getting paid for in his full-time job.

When I was doing our staff Christmas bonuses, I suggested to our pastor that we give our deacon something as a thank-you. He said that would not be appropriate, because deacons serve the church without being paid.

So the poor guy had to watch as the rest of the parish staff received checks during our Christmas lunch. Where does the church stand on this? (City and state withheld, but "in the Midwest")

A. Perhaps surprisingly, some dioceses have issued guidelines to cover this. The Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, for example, stipulates that a deacon in active pastoral ministry will receive a monthly stipend -- fixed, for the year 2016, at $300 per month. Further, those same guidelines suggest that "the Christmas bonus for a deacon should be equal to his basic monthly stipend."

I believe that most dioceses are far less specific and that usually the question of a Christmas bonus for a deacon falls under the discretion of the pastor. Parish lay staffs, in my experience, are typically underpaid, and a Christmas bonus can be a morale boost at an important time. Whether a deacon should be included might depend on whether he has another income from a full-time job in the working world.

Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.