Catholic Dating: Should I date a non-Catholic? (Part 1)

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It has been quite some time since I wrote my series on Catholic dating. Those articles were certainly among the more popular here at Restless Pilgrim. The subject matter of those posts generated considerable discussion in my local Catholic community of San Diego, which pleased me no end since this was my main goal in writing them in the first place. The fact that it was also an extremely cathartic writing experience was just an added bonus! 😉

During the intervening three years since writing that series, my own love life has been, to put it mildly, anything but dull. Despite this, I’ve never felt inclined to write further on the subject of dating. That is, until now…

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Over the past few months one particular question concerning dating has come up again and again, particularly as my thoughtful friends attempt to marry me off and enlist me in the ranks of the blissfully domesticated. The question has been “Hey David, what do you think about dating a non-Catholic?”

It’s not unusual…

This is not the first time the question of dating a non-Catholic has come up within our community. In fact, I would say it has been something of a perennial question.

Why does this topic come up so often? Well, more often than not, it is asked by female Catholics who have become frustrated with the lack of initiative on the part of the Catholic men when it comes to asking out Catholic women. As a result of this, when a Catholic girl receives a date invitation from someone outside of her faith community, it is not so quickly dismissed and is instead worth some serious consideration.

Having said that, I’ve also known many male Catholic friends who, after having had their advances rebuffed by ladies within their Catholic circle, figure that the risk of rejection can be mitigated by asking out women whom they’re not going to see at every Diocesan event or with whom they’re not going have to share a pew, week after week…

My own experience

I suppose it is pertinent to this post to discuss my own dating history. In recent years, I have dated Catholics, but this has not always been the case…

I have, on occasion, dated girls who would have struggled to articulate their religious identity. These romantic relationships rarely went beyond a date or two. It very quickly became apparent to me that we were on very different wavelengths. My faith is such a massive part of my life that the thought of not being able to share it all with a girlfriend was just inconceivable.  Actually, my faith isn’t so much part of my life, but something which permeates all of my life, affecting my priorities, choices and decisions. It unsettled me to think that so much of who I am would be incomprehensible to her.

During my early twenties, I did have a long-term relationship with a Christian girl who had been brought up in a non-Catholic parish. This was certainly one of the most pivotal relationships of my life. We started dating during my last year of University. If you have already read the story of my testimony, you will know that at this point in my life I had only recently begun to embrace my faith wholeheartedly. This girl was immensely encouraging in every aspect of my spirituality, but especially when it came to prayer and the service of others. We undertook several ministries together and we made a great team, especially in our ecumenical activities. As I reflect upon our relationship, I will say that during our time together my mindset did become more Protestant, but I also gained so much which helped grow my faith. It is true that there were sometimes tensions between us which related to some aspect of Catholicism, such as the first time I visited her Anglican parish but still wanted to go to a Catholic Mass afterwards. However, on the whole she was very open to the Catholic Church. Our relationship did eventually come to an end, but our difference in Christian denomination was not a factor in the break-up. I can’t exaggerate the effect she had on my walk with God and she certainly set the bar very high for any future girlfriend.

What is a non-Catholic?

Before we go any further, what is a “non-Catholic”? It is, after all, a very broad term. Do we mean an Atheist? A Mormon? An Episcopalian? Each of these worldviews is quite different. If a Catholic dated a lukewarm Baptist, she would face challenges very different from if she dated, for example, a pious Muslim.

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to focus on the situation where there is a female Catholic and a Christian male who belongs to a mainline Protestant congregation. I’m choosing to concentrate primarily on this scenario because I think it is the most common situation. Also, this will also allow us to develop a baseline from which we can extrapolate to consider the issues involved in dating those with worldviews which diverge even more radically from the Catholic Faith.

The purpose of dating

When it comes to the question of dating a non-Catholic, I think it is best to first consider another question. If we can answer this other question, we can then work out whether or not dating in a particular manner is advisable. The question is “What is the purpose of dating?”   

When you really boil it down, I think most people of faith would agree that the ultimate purpose of dating is marriage. Now, I’m not suggesting that you should come to your First Date armed with colour swatches for bridesmaid dresses, or immediately discuss whether your future eight children would flourish in the local school district. I’m not advocating that kind of intensity! In fact, one of the points I made in my original dating series was that sometimes Catholics overthink dating

However, although it might sound a little daunting, I think one cannot avoid the conclusion that marriage is the ultimate end of dating. Men and women spend time together on dates in an attempt to discern whether or not they could have a long-term future together. This throws the original question into relief. We can now say that when someone asks about dating a non-Catholic, we really need to respond by talking about marrying a non-Catholic, since that is the reason for dating someone in the first place. We’re not just talking about a potential date, but a potential spouse.

Is it even allowed?!

During discussions on this topic, on multiple occasions I’ve heard people ask whether Catholics are even allowed to marry non-Catholics! Catholics are indeed permitted to marry non-Catholics and this can be seen in the portion of the Catechism of the Catholic Church which concerns the Sacrament of Matrimony (CCC #1633). In this section, it discusses the different marital situations between Catholics and non-Catholics:

“Mixed Marriage”
This is a marriage between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic Christian

“Marriage with Disparity of Cult”
This is when a Catholic marries someone who is not baptized

Since this blog post is primarily focussing on a Catholic/Protestant relationship, we’re most interested in what the Catechism calls a Mixed Marriage. Concerning this kind of union, the Church has the following wisdom to share:

Difference of confession between the spouses does not constitute an insurmountable obstacle for marriage, when they succeed in placing in common what they have received from their respective communities, and learn from each other the way in which each lives in fidelity to Christ…

– Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 1634

So, the Church says that this kind of marriage is allowed and gives some guidance as to how to live out such a relationship. However, this is not all that the Catechism says…

Motherly Warning

The Catechism continues in its teaching on Marriage by offering a word of caution to those embarking on marriage to a non-Catholic:

But the difficulties of mixed marriages must not be underestimated. They arise from the fact that the separation of Christians has not yet been overcome. The spouses risk experiencing the tragedy of Christian disunity even in the heart of their own homeDisparity of cult can further aggravate these difficulties. Differences about faith and the very notion of marriage, but also different religious mentalities, can become sources of tension in marriage, especially as regards the education of children. The temptation to religious indifference can then arise.

– Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 1634

Tomorrow, we’ll explore this subject in greater depth and consider some of the questions which we can ask to help identify areas of potential conflict when dating someone outside of the Catholic Faith.

Part 1 | Part 2

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