Fr. J. Michael Venditti

Here are some more sample questions and answers taken from the "Ask Father" forum on America On Line. Your comments are welcome. The screen names of the participants have been changed.

Subj: Re:Ask Father
Date: 95-01-25 14:55:31 EST
From: Linda

Dear Father should a man and a women get married in a Catholic Church. When they live with each other for about two years, and sleep in the same bed, and don't go to church. Please answer me it will help me a lot.

Dear Linda,

Certainly, if a man and woman are cohabitating, and intend to stay together, it would be better to do so in the context of the covenant of marriage, since sexual relations outside of the marriage covenant represent serious sin. Nevertheless, the situation you describe is often handled different ways, depending on the priest involved. One priest I know requires couples who are living together to separate before he will discuss marriage with them, and there is at least one diocese in this country that has a standing policy of not marrying any cohabitating couples until they have separated for at least six months.

Personally, I take each situation that comes up individually. If two people approach me who have been living together for some time, and who have experienced some conversion of life in which they recognize the sinfulness of their actions and now want to make things right by marriage, I will do all I can to help ratify this decision and expedite their marriage. On the other hand, when I encounter a couple who had set up house before marriage because they just don't want to wait, and who's actions stem from an indifference toward the teaching of Christ and his Church, then I usually ask them to look elsewhere, in the belief that their attitude toward the teaching of the Church indicates that they are not properly disposed to receive this sacrament.

In both cases caution must always be emphasized in light of the high divorce rate among couples who have lived together before marriage.

Subj: Re:Why?
Date: 95-01-25 22:36:19 EST
From: Lady

Dear Father: As a paused convert, I am in a situation where I found, after going through almost the whole RCIA program, that I would have to get a formal annulment after all. (The parish priest had led me to believe that it would not be necessary, for whatever reasons) I was married at 19 to a man who turned out to be bisexual and abusive, and I left him after 7 years of hoping he would change ( he did not.) Neither of us believed in God, and in fact we were neo-pagans for a while. We were married by a Protestant minister, but in a park, not in church. I am now remarried, and felt the call to Catholicism only after I had been married about three months to my new husband. He and I were married by a JP.

How come we must pay $750 to get an annulment for me? (my husband refuses to do this at this time. Am I obligated to God to pay it and go as far as I can anyway, or must I obey my husband? ) What does the church do with that money?

I am also confused as to why the church insists that my ex be contacted, when he was violent, and having this stirred up is likely to make him violent again. I have received crank phone calls from him and his friends even this past December, when the divorce happened three years ago. Is this because they feel that I had the obligation to stay with him, even though he tried to kill me, beat me, refused to have kids, and had deviate sexual practices? Or do I just have the obligation to remain alone, after leaving him?

I am very bitter about this. There were two other women in the class who had left abusive men, and one has been waiting for her annulment for 4 years. All of us married and divorced before we considered being Catholic. I remarried before I considered being Catholic. It seems to me that the church wants to punish women, either by encouraging them to stay with the abusers, living single (with all the inherent emotional and financial difficulties) if they leave, or being denied church if they just want to live a normal life. In my case, I want to have kids. Kids that would have been raised Catholic.

Please don't give me soporific answers here; I am in too much pain and confusion over this. I have been given enough double-talk and misinformation to last me a lifetime.

Dear Lady,

The declaration of nullity—incorrectly sometimes called an annulment—is not the dissolution of an existing marriage, but a declaration that the marriage in question did not, in fact, exist due to the presence of certain conditions at the time of the marriage which would constitute impediments to a valid marriage. Such conditions might include lack of age, lack of the use of reason, a previously existing union, a psychological inability to make or understand the marriage commitment, a specific intention not to accept children, mental or physical coercion, a pre-existing intention not to be faithful, and the like. The presence of these conditions at the time of the marriage must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, usually by the testimony of witnesses. In cases involving some question of mental competence, the services of qualified professionals in employed (which, of course, costs money).

Contrary to common opinion, the annulment process does not take years, nor is it expensive. Most cases can be settled in less than 6 months, provided that the petitioner provides all the information needed. When a case drags on, it is usually because the one making the petition is lazy in securing the necessary testimony, or is reluctant to do the work required, which includes a typewritten history of the courtship and marriage, including all the details of what went wrong (a lot of petitions get hung up at this point, since people find it very disturbing to recall these details).

Strictly speaking, filing a petition for annulment does not cost anything, though it is customary for the diocese to receive a fee for processing the case. Every diocese is different in this regard, but I know that in our diocese a $50.00 filing fee is asked, but can be waved for those in financial difficulty. No one can be refused the opportunity to file a petition because of an inability to pay any fee! The fee is used to defray the administrative expenses of the marriage tribunal, which employs many lay people and psychological professionals to work full time at helping to process petitions for nullity.

Legally speaking, the petition for nullity is a contentious procedure, meaning that evidence must be heard on both sides. Just like in any trial, the opposing side must have an opportunity to present its case. As you are making the petition for nullity, so your former spouse has the right to challenge your contention and speak in favor of the validity of the marriage should he choose to do so. This is why he must be informed of the fact of your petition. In reality, most former spouses choose not to challenge the petition, and some don't even respond at all. In such situations, the case then proceeds without his testimony.

I hope this answers your questions. Be assured of my prayers in whatever the future holds.

Subj: Re: Ask Father
Date: 95-01-26 03:18:24 EST
From: Maria

Dear Father:

Right now I have been through some turmoil between my devotion to the Catholic Church and with the man I love (He is a Lutheran). I think if we ended up getting married. I think he won't have any objections in raising our children Catholic. But it's not my future with him that troubles me (I think in due time my influence with my religion he might convert). It's now. It's just what we are doing. I strongly believe in NOT having pre-marital sex. I am 25 yrs old and still am a virgin. I have dated him for little over 5 years and I upfronted him with my beliefs and he respects that. But then there are moments where we are in the heat of passion. So he has seen me naked and I have done other sexual acts that I am to embarrass to mention now but I was happy in doing it because I am in love with him and he is with me. So am I a sinner or am I a "good Catholic girl" because I haven't had sexual intercourse, you know the actual penetration.

I am so sorry I took up to much time but please help me out or give me some consolation that God, Jesus, and The Blessed Virgin still loves me and not think I am a disgrace or a failure.

P.S.: I was born 09/08/69.

Dear Maria,

First of all, it's important to keep in mind that any sexual activity outside of marriage which results in orgasm is opposed to God's law and is a misuse of the sexual gift which has, as it's dual purpose, the strengthening of love between husband and wife and the procreation of children. There is nothing special about non-marital intercourse as such which makes it more sinful than other sexual acts outside of marriage.

With regard to sexual play which does not lead to orgasm, the question then becomes one of the "occasions of sin." An occasion of sin is something which, while in itself may not be sinful, places us or another in a situation in which we are susceptible to temptation or sin. For ourselves, we bear the full responsibility for whatever sinful consequences should arise should we willfully expose ourselves to actions or environments which we know will cause us to become sexually excited, often beyond our ability to resist temptation. Hence, putting oneself willfully into an occasion of sin can become, itself, a sin in this way. Only you can say what is an occasion of sin for you and what isn't. This pertains not only to temptations which may arise at the time, but also those which may arise later, as in the case of activities which may tempt someone toward the sin of masturbation long after the fact.

But this is in regard only to ourselves. With regard to others, the question takes on a whole new dimension: one of charity toward our neighbor. Even if we have judged that such activity is not an occasion of sin or temptation for us, we have no way of knowing how it will effect the other person involved. Should we, by our actions, place someone in an occasion of sin that they otherwise would have avoided, then we bear a great measure of responsibility for whatever consequences result. Since we have no way of knowing what constitutes an occasion of sin for another, charity requires that we always act on the side of caution.

One thing that particularly concerns me in your post is the idea that some form of sexual activity is necessary to show your love for your boyfriend. Your feeling that the relationship should move forward is a normal one—we all want our relationships to grow—; but the problem lies in equating that growth with sexual activity which is particularly ordered toward marriage and children. Many young people ruin what chances they have for establishing lasting, loving relationships because they convince themselves that they can't be in love if they are "just friends." So they start playing around with sex, thinking that this qualifies them as lovers. Convinced that they are no longer friends but lovers, they continue this way sometimes even into marriage, without the friendship between them continuing to grow. One of the divorce statistics they never tell you is that for couples who were not sexually active before marriage, the divorce rate is practically non-existent. There are probably several reasons for this, but one of them is most likely the fact that these couples never regarded sexual intercourse as the "be all and end all" of human relationships. It isn't sex that makes one a lover, it's love itself; and love, after all, is a form of friendship. The couple that doesn't continually work on deepening their friendship doesn't stand a chance, no matter how much "passion" they may share.

Another problem here is the way the whole subject of "romance" is presented today. Watch just one hour of television on any channel and you'll be persuaded that romance = sex. If two people become obsessed with the idea that, without some from of intimate physical contact, they are "just friends" and it's not going anywhere, then they have not yet discovered what real love is. In marriage, sexuality is a very important part of love; but it is not the sex that makes the love. Sex in marriage is an expression of love (one of many), and thus is a vital compliment to love; but sex, even in marriage, does not define the relationship. Otherwise we would have to conclude that older couples who may have stopped having sex are no longer in love.

I'm glad you wrote, and I hope something I've said here is helpful to you.

Subj: Would it be a sin to...
Date: 95-01-22 20:52:33 EST
From: Killer

This is very serious so please answer, would it be a sin to get a sex change??

Dear Killer,

Yes. The Church has always classified this procedure as willful mutilation, and every moral theologian who has ever written on the subject agrees. While it is clear that there are many who suffer from the notion that they are the wrong sex, the Church has never recognized the surgical alteration of the body as a reasonable solution to this problem. Bear in mind as well that such an operation does not and cannot change the genetic identity of the person involved. Genetically speaking, the individual always remains the same sex as before, which is why continued use of hormonal drugs is required throughout life to repress the natural tendencies of the person's genetic make-up.

The Church regards the sex change operation as a surgical solution to what is actually a psychological problem.

Subj: Interdenominational Marriage
Date: 95-01-25 00:54:21 EST
From: Jennifer
To: Fr. M


My boyfriend and I (and presumably eventual husband) have been having long painful talks about religious choices and raising children. He is Catholic, I Congregationalist. After much debate, I agreed to have our children baptized as Catholic, with the understanding that we would expose them to my faith as well. I would have preferred to baptize them in a nondenominational ceremony and expose them to both churches until they start to express their own choices; however, my boyfriend made it quite clear he did not think it worthwhile to expose his children to Catholicism if they could not partake of the sacraments. It has never been my wish to keep our future children from their father's religion; and so I took the painful step of allowing his religion to take precedence over mine in this case. This was a big step for me, as I am concerned that my beliefs get equal treatment. I have gone out of my way to learn an awful lot about Catholicism; I've read books, been to mass many times, talked to many Catholic friends (and browse this folder!). My boyfriend, on the other hand, has been to church with me three times. (We've been dating two years, although he would say that for the past five months he has been unable to attend my church as he is a military officer stationed overseas.) I am taking it on faith that the good parts of my denomination—and I think there are many—will be respected by him as I respect the good parts of his denomination (of which there are also many). What we both appreciate tremendously is that we are both Christians of strong faith and that is the most important thing.

My biggest difficulty, after making this decision, came when I learned that if my children are baptized Catholic, the Catholic church will ask them not to take communion in my church. It seems that I am being asked to make the same choice that my boyfriend resisted so strongly. Could you explain a bit about why Roman Catholicism takes this stance? I realize there are substantial differences between Catholics and Protestants regarding transubstantiation. I understand that is why the Catholic church will not serve me communion, though I am a baptized Christian. I do not understand, though, why a Catholic can't participate in a Protestant communion ceremony? If the conversion to body and blood is the issue here, why would a Catholic believe that this would only happen in a Catholic ceremony, and not a broader Christian ceremony?

I have worked hard at issues such as this one—harder, I think, than my boyfriend will give me credit for, which has been tremendously frustrating for me. I think there are a lot of wonderful things about the Catholic church (though in fairness I also have expressed to my boyfriend my dislikes, especially with regard to Catholic stances toward women), and my boyfriend couldn't tell you much about my church. We love each other very much, but this has been terribly difficult to work through. I would really appreciate your guidance.


Dear Jennifer,

Thanks for your letter, and I'm sorry it took so long to get back to you. We've had a fire here, as you may know from browsing the folder, and I'm way behind in my work.

First of all, I sincerely respect your desire to do what's right with regard to the religious upbringing of your children. Before I answer your question about communion, let me first point out that in order for a Catholic to marry a non-Catholic in a manner recognized by the Church, the Catholic party must promise to do all in his or her power to see that any children resulting from the union are baptized and raised as Catholics, part of which is seeing that they complete their initiation by the eventual reception of the sacraments of Penance, Holy Communion, and Confirmation. While non-Catholics may see this as unfair, the simple fact is that we believe ours to be the true faith, and our sacraments to be established by Christ himself. To take any other attitude would be, for us, hypocritical.

While your boyfriend is certainly free to attend church with you, as a baptized and confirmed Catholic he has an obligation to participate in the celebration of the Eucharist on Sunday and on Holy Days of Obligation, regardless of any other type of service he may attend in addition. I can certainly see how this might pose a time problem for him, especially if his Sundays are not entirely free.

With regard to Holy Communion, there are a couple of points to keep in mind. First, it's important to recognize that the Catholic understand of the Eucharist is totally different from that espoused by most other Christian denominations. We believe that the Eucharist is the actually Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus, not just a symbol. This Eucharistic miracle exists only in those churches where validly ordained priests, tracing their priesthood back to the Apostles in an unbroken line, offer the sacrifice of the Mass in a worthy manner. Communion services in most other churches, even though they may externally resemble the Mass in many ways, do not make present to us the Eucharistic presence.

Moreover, the act of receiving Holy Communion has a symbolic significance far beyond what is understood in most non-Catholic churches. For us, the act of sharing in the Eucharistic table constitutes an act of unity not only in fellowship and community, but also in doctrine. More than just a community of faith, the Catholic Church is also the guardian and instructor in the ways of the faith, commissioned as such by Christ himself. To share the Eucharist with a community that does not share that faith is to celebrate a unity that does not exist, except on the superficial level of fellowship.

I hope this has helped some, and please don't hesitate to ask if I can be of further help. Be assured of my prayers for both of you on this journey.

Subj: Is the church really honest?
Date: 95-01-27 19:36:48 EST
From: Zickie

Father, I am a Catholic who has been burned by the church many times, I'd like to know how to get past the hurt and pain and the distrust I feel. I'd like to feel safe and like I belong. I know of many bad things that have happened and it appears if you question the church or it's priests you are scorned!!! Help me to come back.

Dear Zickie,

Well, without knowing how you feel you've been scorned or by whom, it's hard to answer your question directly. But when I encounter people with feelings like yours in my ministry, further conversation usually shows that it's not really the Church as such which as "burned" them, but particular individuals in the Church, whether a priest or someone else. That Christ entrusted his Church to human beings who are imperfect is a reality of the incarnation with which we must all come to grips. As a priest, I could mention many occasions or situations where I might feel that my superiors have treated me unfairly—and every priest could tell you stories—, but does that mean the Church is not true? No. It means that people are not perfect. And if we set up perfection in each of its members as a mark of the true Church, then we have misunderstood the nature of the incarnation.

Subj: Re: Remarriage without form
Date: 95-02-01 20:02:33 EST
From: Teacher

Dear Father: I am free to marry in the Catholic Church. However, after five years, my future husband's divorce and child custody case has still not been heard in the court system. Once it is, I do not believe I should have to wait for my non-Catholic future husband's annulment to go through prior to my marriage. What in the Scripture says that my future marriage would not be valid. God bless. M2Teacher

Dear Teacher,

Our Lord's words regarding the indissolubility of marriage are quite clear: "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery" (Luke 16:18). The decree of nullity is a declaration by the Church that a marriage in question did not in fact either because certain conditions required for a valid marriage did not exist at the time of the wedding, or because certain invalidating conditions, known as impediments, existed at the time of the wedding. A questionable marriage is always considered valid until proven otherwise. The Church does not witness the marriages of those previously married until it has been proven that the previous union did not, in fact, exist.

Subj: Please HELP Answer Qs??
Date: 95-02-02 19:45:16 EST
From: ShieldsUp

I am a bit confused and concerned. My friend & I were both raised Roman Catholic. He has wanted to be a Priest for as long as I've known him, but for one reason or another he never was able to pursue it—until recently that is. A couple years ago he mentioned to me that he was looking into what would be necessary to enter. He spoke to some church official & came away very disappointed—he didn't go into details. A few months later he told me he had discovered a potential solution—he would study to become a Reader then Deacon in the Old Roman Catholic Church. I was glad for him, but was a bit confused about this. I did some investigation and learned that the Old Roman Catholics are Independent from the Roman Catholic Church, but it's liturgy and teachings seemed almost identical. The major differences I found were more political than anything. My curiosity being peaked, I search for more info and more answers, but up to now I've only been able to learn more about the Old Roman Catholics, but I haven't been able to find anything that addresses how the Roman Catholic Church views the Old RC. My friend was just ordained recently to the Priesthood in the ORC. Other Roman Catholics I've spoken to about this are of the opinion the being ordained in the ORC automatically excommunicates him from the RC. Others have said that the ORC is just another Rite in Catholicism and has equal footing with the RC. I am confused.

How does the Roman Catholic Church view the independent Catholic Churches—particularly the Old Roman Catholic and Reformed Roman Catholic Churches?? Does Rome in any way acknowledge their validity or are they classified along the same lines as Anglicans & other Protestant denominations? Does Rome view their sacraments as valid? Can a Roman Catholic be a member of a Reformed Catholic Church & still be "in good standing" with the Roman Catholic Church. Does the RC consider RC who become Independent Catholics as having excommunicated themselves from the RC.

Please enlighten me.

Dear ShieldsUp,

Just prior to the turn of the century, during the First Vatican Council, the Diocese of Utrecht, Switzerland, separated from the Catholic Church over the issue of Papal infallibility. As was the case with the European Protestants, those in the Utrecht Church who emigrated to other countries eventually ended up establishing their own branches or "Churches." These have various histories and founders, but all along the same idea: the reproduction of Catholic culture and ritual but without an allegiance to the Pope.

However, because they are separated from the unity of the chair of Peter, recent years have seen vast theological differences between the teachings of some of these churches and the that of the Catholic Church.

My understanding is that the Reformed Catholic Church is a rather recent phenomenon, linking the traditional external rites of Catholicism with a liberal moral and social agenda which allows for contraception, divorce, a married clergy, etc.

The Catholic Church regards these various churches as "schismatic," that is, separated from the unity of the Church, but often with valid sacraments. Those who formally become members of these churches share in the excommunication which the schism necessitates. The excommunication arises from the consecration of bishops without a mandate from the Pope.

Subj: Masonry v Papal Infallibility
Date: 95-02-04 14:01:03 EST
From: Rdhaz

Dear Father:

I have been doing some minor research on Freemasonry. It has always been my understanding that Catholics are forbidden to join this society or any other secret society.

Based on the Papal Encyclical "Humanum Genus" by Pope Leo XIII, of which I have a copy, Freemasonry is so incompatible with Christianity and is so intrinsically evil that no one who values his name as a Christian can cooperate in any way with this society. The encyclical goes into such great depth in denouncing the society that it would seem impossible to renounce what he has said—without denying the doctrine of Papal Infallibility.

Not only did Leo XIII denounce Freemasonry with his encyclical Humanum Genus but according to section 5 of the encyclical: "The first warning of the danger was given by Clement XII in the year 1738, and his Constitution was confirmed and renewed by Benedict XIV. Pius VII followed the same path; and Leo XII, by his Apostolic Constitution, "Quo graviora," put together the acts and decrees of former Pontiffs on this subject and ratified and confirmed them forever. In the same sense spoke Pius VIII, Gregory XVI, and many times over Pius IX."

Watching the writings of the Masons on one of the AOL forums and having spoken to a few of them regarding their "religion," I shudder at the depth of their zeal over what is a dark secret to those of us on the outside, to their initiates (and to themselves, I would imagine). You can't get a straight answer from them—even when they are cornered in a discussion. Just a bunch of double talk about how we, who do not understand them, are intellectually incapable of doing so or are so bigoted with our religious dogma that we have lost our freedom to think freely.

Having heard of their many blasphemous oaths of initiation, their occult rituals, their involvement with the overthrow of Christian civilization with respect to the French Revolution, the persistent teachings of the Catholic Church and indeed their own writings, it is impossible to believe that a Catholic could be a member of this organization.

The Masons boast of having Catholics, both laity and clergy, to be among their ranks, in good standing with the Church. I maintain that this is impossible. How can this be otherwise?

Dear Radhaz,

I understand your confusion regarding Masonry. For a long time, many people had argued that the old ban against joining the Masons should no longer apply since, at least in this country, they appear to be little more than a philanthropic organization, while European Masonry remains solidly anti-Catholic.

But in 1983, just one day prior to the promulgation of the new Code of Canon Law, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a declaration reinforcing the ban in the United States, in which they stated that "the stated goals of Freemasonry remain incompatible with the Gospel of Christ and the teaching of the Catholic Church," and that it was still to be regarded as serious sin for Catholics to involve themselves in the activities of Masonic lodges. The entire text of the declaration can be found in the book, "Christianity and American Freemasonry," by William J. Whealon, published by Our Sunday Visitor Press.

Subj: Question re:priests
Date: 95-02-08 12:04:47 EST
From: PyeLine
To: Fr M

Hello Fr M!

I hope that this new year finds you in good health both physically and spiritually. It's been some months since I've fired off a question to you. And since our last correspondence I have purchased a catechism of the Catholic Church. The reason for this letter....

A friend and I were discussing our faith, spiritual lives, and religions. (she is Christian, though not Catholic) I've been back to the church only 2 years, and in that time have been learning what I can and coming to some beliefs and decisions as an adult. She had quite a few questions, some of what she has heard doesn't seem accurate to me. Anyhow, one of the queries that she had, had to do with the church of old. She heard that there had been a time when Catholics were not allowed to read the bible, and were to rely on the priest only, for information and interpretation. Sooo, I'm curious as to if this is true. It certainly would have no effect on my growing faith and our church. I feel quite grounded in that I'm were I belong, however I would like to learn a bit more about the old ways. And if you could answer this question re: priests and the bible that would be great.

Take care Lisa P.

Dear Lisa,

Sometimes the polemical side of evangelical Protestantism likes this idea that the Church forbid people to read the Bible, but this is not true. There were two reasons that Bibles were not widely distributed in the Church up until the late Middle Ages: (1) because, before the invention of printing, books had to be copied by hand and most people could not afford them, and (2) very few people in the world could read. It was primarily through the preaching of her priests and through the art of the great cathedrals (particularly in windows) that the Church sought to bring the stories of the Scriptures to her people. The very minute that printing became affordable, the Church began the task of distributing the word of God. Remember that Guetinburg's first printed Bible was a Catholic Bible. The first translation of the Bible into a language other than Greek or Latin was a Catholic translation into German.