Catholics Marrying Mormons

Q: My husband and I have been married almost 21 years now. He was raised as a Mormon, though he is a non-believer in any faith. We were married in the Church during a time when they had not fully decided on the validity of Mormon baptism. Since then, the Church has decided Mormon baptism is not valid. What ramifications does this have on my marriage? I am a committed, traditional Catholic and am raising our sons in the Faith. My husband is very understanding of my devotion, something I insisted on long before we were engaged. — Jodie

A: While this question refers to a rather uncommon scenario, marriages between Catholics and non-Catholics in general are anything but uncommon, particularly here in the United States. Let's first take a look at what the code says about such marriages, and then focus on Catholic-Mormon intermarriage as a specific example. 

An important distinction must be made between the marriage of a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic, and that of a Catholic and a non-Christian. Canon 1086.1 states that marriage between a Catholic and a non-baptized person is invalid. The concept of sacramental invalidity was discussed in detail in our July 19 column — but in short, such a couple could go through all the external motions of a Catholic wedding, yet there would be no sacramental effect, and the couple would not in fact be truly married in the Church.

But canon law provides that this impediment to a valid marriage — known as the impediment of disparity of cult — may be dispensed. The general notion of dispensation tends to be alien to us, as it does not exist in U.S. civil law. Imagine that you were driving 55 mph in a 40 mph zone, and a police officer pulled you over and accused you of speeding. You really were driving faster than the speed limit, so his accusation would be justified. But now imagine that you were able to pull out a certificate from the governor of your state, declaring that you personally were legally permitted to drive faster than the law ordinarily allows, because the governor felt that you had good reason to do so. Neither the police officer nor any traffic judge in the state would be able to punish you!

This might be a fanciful analogy, but it illustrates the Church's concept of dispensation. A bishop (or other diocesan official with dispensing authority) may dispense a Catholic member of his diocese from certain canonical requirements, if he believes that it is justified in a particular case (c. 85). That Catholic then is not obliged to follow the law in question. This happens with some regularity when Catholics seek to marry non-baptized persons. Once a dispensation — known as a "dispensation for disparity of cult" — has been obtained, a Catholic may validly marry a non-Christian. 

When a Catholic wishes to marry a baptized Christian who is not a Catholic, however, the law is different: canon 1124 asserts that without express permission from the competent authority, marriage between two baptized persons, one of whom is Catholic and the other is not, is prohibited. Note that the wording is significantly different from that of canon 1086.1. While marriage to a non-Christian is invalid without a dispensation from the law, marriage to a non-Catholic Christian merely requires permission. If the couple for some reason failed to get this permission, the marriage would be valid, although technically it would be illicit (illegal).

Why does the Church make it more difficult for Catholics to marry non-Catholics, whether they're baptized or not? The Church's chief concern is for the faith of the Catholic party to the marriage. 

Marriage to someone who does not share his basic beliefs understandably poses a challenge to a Catholic, who has to preserve his faith without the benefit of sharing it in common with his spouse. It is the responsibility of a diocesan bishop to see to the spiritual welfare of the faithful in his diocese (c. 383.1), so he must rightly be concerned about the Catholic party's faith. Before granting either a dispensation to marry a non-Christian, or permission to marry a non-Catholic Christian, the bishop is obliged to see to it that Catholics seeking to marry non-Catholics are prepared to remove any dangers of defecting from the faith (c. 1125 n. 1). The same canon notes that the Catholic party to the marriage must promise to do all in his power to raise any children of the marriage as Catholics. If it does not appear sufficiently clear that the Catholic is willing to do this, the bishop will refuse to grant the dispensation or the permission for the marriage to take place. On a similar note, if the non-Catholic spouse is clearly hostile to Catholicism, to the Catholic party's continued practice of the faith after the marriage, or to the notion that the children of the marriage are to be raised Catholic, the bishop will be hard-pressed to find any justification for granting a dispensation or permission. While it may seem to a casual observer that marriages between Catholics and non-Catholics are always allowed, it is important to realize that the bishop's approval of such a request is not automatic!

People who obtain such dispensations or permissions often never even know about them. Generally, when the pastor of the Catholic party meets with the prospective spouses, he assesses whether there is any possible threat to the Catholic's faith, and makes a determination to seek a dispensation or permission from the bishop. Unless the bishop disagrees with the pastor's assessment of the situation, the request is generally granted. The dispensation or permission is in fact a part of the marriage record, and should be noted in the parish sacramental register.

Returning to the original question, does a Catholic seeking to marry a Mormon need a dispensation to marry a non-Christian, or permission to marry a non-Catholic Christian? Mormons do have a form of baptism, but for years there was uncertainty among Catholics as to whether or not it was truly valid. Several statements from the Vatican in the past 30 years indicated that it was valid, but this did not satisfy many Catholic clergy here in the US, who had more direct contact with Mormons and were convinced that their baptismal rite had no sacramental effect. Discussion of this issue, therefore, continued until 2001, when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) declared that the baptism conferred by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly called Mormons, is invalid.

What effect does this statement have on marriages between Catholics and Mormons celebrated before 2001? It is important to keep in mind that the Congregation's statement is theological, not canonical. If something is theologically true, it has always been true, because the truth does not change! Since Mormon baptism is invalid now, and since there is no evidence that either the Mormon rite of baptism or their theological understanding of it has changed, it was also invalid in the past. Therefore it does not appear possible to suggest any sort of a "grandfather clause" for those marriages that took place before the CDF's 2001 pronouncement. Because the Catholic Church does not hold that Mormons are baptized, it is necessary to obtain a dispensation if a Catholic and a Mormon wish to marry in the Catholic Church. Without such a dispensation, the marriage would be invalid.

Since, however, many in the Catholic hierarchy here in the US never believed that Mormon baptism was valid, it was common practice in at least some dioceses simultaneously to grant permission to marry a baptized non-Catholic, AND a dispensation for disparity of cult, as a precaution. In this way, the marriage would be valid whether the Mormon party's baptism was valid or not! It is quite possible that this was done in your case without your knowledge.

So what do you have to do to ensure that your marriage is valid? The answer may surprise you: nothing. As canon 1060 states, marriage enjoys the favor of the law, so a marriage is presumed valid until the contrary is proven. Unless a marriage tribunal finds that your marriage is null, the Church presumes that you are validly married; and unless you seek an annulment, no marriage tribunal is going to examine your marriage! The task of a marriage tribunal is to examine whether failed marriages were ever truly valid in the first place; it is not their function to establish whether your happy marriage is in fact valid or not.

If your conscience nevertheless dictates that you enquire further, the thing to do is to consult your pastor. Tell him the situation, and accept his advice. Keep in mind that the Church's laws on marriage are intended for the good of souls — causing you to worry about the status of your marriage has never been their purpose.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • Guest

    Another excellent article that skillfully clarifies Church teaching on marriage and annulment.

  • Guest

    That is just about the most complete, concise explanation I've come across.  Thank you so much!

  • Guest

    I think this article misses an important distinction in cannon vs. theology at least as far as my laymons understanding goes and was explained to me by a priest friend of mine.

    There are two terms of importance, one that is not used in the article at all. 

    licit (legal)  

    valid (sacramental).

    Someone who does cannot partake in a sacrament cannot have a valid (sacramental) marriage. That does not preclude them from being lagitimately married withing church cannon law (licit).

    So assuming cannon law is followed a non-baptized person may be licitly married in the church, but an annulment usually addresses two things.

    My understanding of the importance of the differences is that the indisoluability of sacramental marriage as Jesus directs it is meant for those who are believes and cannot be expected to be binding on those who are not, as recorded in Paul letters. So in the case of a civil devorce a declaration of nullity is much more easily granted because there was never a sacramental bond and the declartion is more of a legal formality rather then an ivestigation as to weather or not the sacrament existed in the first place.

  • Guest

    Dear Fishman,

    I do not quite follow your point.

    Additionally, please spell check your writing because your readers will miss your point if they can't understand what you are saying.

  • Guest

    The above article blurs and in fact makes no distinction between a sacramental marriage (aka valid marriage) and a non sacramental marriage. 

     

     Traditionally the indissolubility of marriage as indicated by Jesus is a attribute of a sacramental marriage.

     

     

    In the writing of Paul for instance he makes reference to those who are married to unbelievers (non-Christians).  It is better they stay married, in hope of converting their spouse, but if the unbeliever dismisses them they are free to marry.

      Believers are not permitted however to dismiss or be dismissed.  There is not possible to dissolve a sacramental marriage.  

    Someone who is not validly baptized does not have a sacramental marriage regardless of weather or not they have a licit ( legal ) marriage within cannon law.

      

    The original question was: “What ramifications does this have on my marriage?”

     

    From the practical standpoint I’d say not much, but from a theological standpoint if there is every a reason to apply for annulment, marriage to someone who is not baptized is nearly sufficient grounds in and of itself for the declaration to be granted, because although the marriage was legally permitted it is not a sacred and indissoluble sign.

    That is my understanding of how things work in any case.  I’m by no means an expert.

     

     

  • Guest

    Fishman, about the only thing here that's correct is your last sentence.  Any marriage between a Catholic and a non-baptized person is a non-sacramental marriage.  That doesn't mean that it's not valid.  Validity and sacramentality are two totally different concepts, that may or may not overlap.

    And since you bring it up, it's pretty easy to dissolve a sacramental marriage, if it hasn't been consummated.  Happens frequently, in fact.  That's not what this article is about, though.

    Since you acknowledge that you don't understand "cannon" law, perhaps it would be best to defer to the experts. 

    Clare with no i

  • Guest

    What I was asking about is this.According to my parochial vicar ( a priest friend of mine).there is a proper distinction to be made between the terms valid and licit.In his usage at least the term valid can ONLY be applied to SACRAMENTAL marriages and the term LICIT is properly applied to non-sacramental marriages that are still marriages in the context of church law.That is to say a marriage can be licit ( legal by cannon law) but not valid (sacramental).

    What I wanted to know was if anyone else had heard of that distinction?

    The reason I asked is because the article doesn't seem to make that distinction all.sorry if i didn't make my question clear. 

MENU