Q. My best friend is renewing her marriage vows. I stood up for her when she was married in the Church 10 years ago and she’s asked me to do the same this time around — except that she has since left the Church and this ceremony is taking place in a Methodist church. Am I permitted to witness the renewal of her vows? It breaks my heart that she no longer believes in much of the teaching of the Church but she appears to be still searching for spiritual fulfillment.
— Online reader inquiry
A. Here’s a reply from Msgr. Charles Pope:
There are cases when a Catholic ought not be present at a wedding or a wedding-related ceremony. For example, when a Catholic is marrying outside the Church without permission, or, when one of the parties is unqualified to enter the marriage (for example, when one or both have been married before and there are no annulments). In such cases, Catholics, even family members, ought not attend such ceremonies.
However, there are no canonical issues involved here.
In the first place, this is not actually a wedding, or the celebration of a sacrament per se, just a renewal of vows for an anniversary. Secondly, even if this were an actual marriage, and presuming both were free to marry, it would seem she has left the Catholic Church by formal act. Thus she is not obliged to follow all the Catholic norms for weddings, such as having her marriage witnessed by a Catholic priest or deacon.
Thus, we are left with a prudential judgment on your part. Usually in such cases we ought to do what will best keep the relationship strong, and the lines of communication open. This will likely help a possible return to the Church. To unnecessarily defer from attending might cause hurt or alienation and make your friend’s return to the Church even less likely.
Your attendance at this renewal of vows does not, of itself, affirm her decision to leave the Church. Rather, it would seem, it is an affirmation of 10 years of marriage, which is certainly something worth celebrating.