Q. “The sins of the fathers are visited on the children.” Is that saying an adage, a Catholic teaching or God’s own words? Thirteen years ago, two relatives of mine received an equal and large bequest. An oral directive from the deceased had provided that each beneficiary should donate one-fifth of his inheritance to a church restoration fund.

Both were clearly aware of the directive, but only one complied – thus putting an end to any harmony in what had been a close family. The complying relative’s descendants are now enjoying financial comfort, while the other’s family has suffered a huge reversal of fortune. Is the saying I quoted first of any relevance here? (Metuchen, New Jersey)

A. Certain passages in Scripture – taken in isolation – would seem to lend credence to the adage you quote. One, in particular, is Exodus 20:5, which says, “I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their ancestors’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation.”

But the context of that passage is God’s deliverance of the Ten Commandments, specifically where he speaks about the sin of idolatry. What the Lord is saying is that the practice of idolatry has a way of inserting itself into a cultural heritage; raised in such a tradition, children will be hard-pressed to overcome it.

Does that mean that children will be punished by God simply because their parents sinned? By no means. Ezekiel18:20 could not be more clear: “Only the one who sins shall die. The son shall not be charged with the guilt of his father, nor shall the father be charged with the guilt of his son.”

In the example you raise, I don’t believe that the family’s reversal of financial fortune comes as divine retribution for the ethical failings of an earlier generation. But I do think that moral laxity can sometimes seep down through one’s descendants and make life troublesome many years later.

Q. My daughter is scheduled to be married four months from now, and her fiance is a born-again Christian. He was baptized a Catholic in his country of origin, but when his family immigrated to the United States, they began to attend a Christian charismatic community. My daughter was baptized and raised as a Catholic, educated in a Catholic school and still practices her Catholic religion faithfully.

My concern is that they have now opted not to get married in a Catholic church. The pastor of the fiance will officiate at their wedding in a garden ceremony. I am encouraging them to have their marriage blessed subsequently by a Catholic priest, and they both seem willing. But I don’t know whether this is possible and, if so, how to accomplish it. What are the requirements for having a marriage convalidated by the Catholic Church? (Dublin, California)

A. This may be even simpler than you thought. It’s possible that the upcoming ceremony itself, given the proper permissions, could be recognized by the Catholic Church as a valid marriage. Your daughter’s fiance, now a practicing Christian charismatic, would not be considered a Catholic and a dispensation can be granted for what is considered a “mixed marriage.”

Also, not infrequently the Catholic Church allows non-Catholic clergy to officiate at such a mixed marriage (especially if the officiant has a close connection with the non-Catholic family) – and sometimes in a nonreligious setting (e.g., a garden).

So your daughter and her fiance should speak with a local Catholic priest, who will know his diocese’s guidelines and will help them seek the necessary permissions.

If for some reason this does not work out, then subsequently, sometime after the ceremony that is planned, the marriage could be convalidated (or “blessed”) in the Catholic Church. For this, they would need to meet with a priest, fill out the required questionnaire and receive diocesan approval to repeat their vows before a priest in a Catholic church.

(Questions may be sent to Fr. Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.)