Are dispensations for disparity of cult too easily given?

To clarify: “dispensation for disparity of cult” is permission, given to a Catholic, to marry someone who is not a baptized Christian.

I get the impression that it doesn’t take much to obtain this kind of dispensation. Apparently all that is required is a talk with an “investigating” clergyman, during which the non-Catholic party – so I’ve been told – is gently probed as to whether he/she is willing to raise his kids “according to Catholic values” – or some such phraseology. I’ve never attended one of these talks, so I can’t say for sure how things are worded exactly, but I do know several agnostics that passed the test without any problems, got married to their Catholic fiancees, and are now married-with-children. In the cases I personally know, the non-Christian spouse ended up not getting baptized, not getting their children baptized, and basically continuing in their attitude of disinterest toward Christianity. It seems clear therefore that no commitment is obtained from the non-Christian to draw closer to the Faith. It seems rather that these investigative interviews are so amicable, and the questions so vague, that the non-Christian can get through them, obtain the dispensation, and continue on in their irreligious lifestyle, without ever sensing that they’ve broken a promise or agreement. (And the Church doesn’t arrange any follow-up interviews after the marriage to check how things are going.)

I think there is something seriously wrong with this. It seems to me that these dispensations bring about the opposite of what they’re intended to do. Instead of opening the door for the non-Christian to join the RCC, they effectively open the door for the Catholic spouse to lapse (or lapse farther), for the children to grow up without a religion, and basically for the non-Catholic spouse’s disinterest in religion to infect the entire family. In addition, it’s a recipe for problems later on in the marriage. If the lapsed Catholic spouse ends up needing to draw close to the Faith at some point in their life, he or she can get no support from the other spouse or the children. He or she will be the only Catholic in the household, and that will be looked upon by the others as a quaint heritage at best. This can create terrible internal turmoil for the lone Catholic spouse when he/she is going through a rough patch in life. I’ve seen this happen, and it’s tragic, but at that stage there is nothing that can be done except tell the lone Catholic spouse to return to the Church alone regardless of the inevitable awkwardness that creates inside the family.

In summary, I think it’s very unwise of the Church to give these dispensations easily, as She apparently does.

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Let’s say the church took the opposite approach, and refused to allow Catholics to marry non-Catholics. What do you think would happen?

I can certainly see your point, but I’m not sure there is a workable alternative in a society where people tend to marry for love.


I agree. The Church cannot force the non-Catholic to become Catholic, nor can they make them “promise” to raise their child Catholic. As for the Catholic spouse becoming a lapsed Catholic, that is on them and not on the Church. You know, free will and all.


Allow me the use of some hyperbole for a moment:
…doesn’t the Church hand out forgiveness in the confessional too easily? After all, those folk just walk in there, express contrition for a sin, and they get absolved; yet the Priest knows perfectly well that they are still humans prone to sin, and they’ll probably just be right back in a few weeks/months confessing again…probably the same sin.

Obviously, this is NOT apples to apples, and not really a fair comparison, but there can be some parallel drawn. The Church is in the business of bringing people to Christ with mercy and Sacraments. The hope is that the Catholic party will bring his/her non-Christian spouse [to be] to Christ via the virtue of their Marriage. This is expressed in the Scriptures (1Cor 7:14), and so we may place a certain degree of hope in it. All the while, the Church can’t control whether or not the Catholic follows through on their end of the deal, so to speak. People are responsible for their own choices in life.

“13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.” (1Cor 7:13-15)

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Think about the most likely alternative, though. The couple will still marry, outside of the Church, though. Then there is zero chance kids will be baptized and brought up Catholic. I am not sure what you would like the alternative to be. You think the Catholic member of the couple will just say “OK then. We will break up and I will find someone else to marry”? Not likely.


I believe the dispensation is for the Catholic person in the marriage, not the other half.

But I agree that pastors, or whoever talked to the couple, could step it up a little given that currently, many marriages are in a bad way.

I found this, in regard to you saying “without ever sensing that they’ve broken a promise or agreement.” from the Canon Law made Easy website. Although I don’t know if receiving a dispensation amounts to a promise or agreement.

“People who obtain such dispensations and permissions often never even know about them.”

That’s the way most doors open. They open the same way whether you’re coming in or going out.


Here is what the Church actually says about it:

Can. 1086 §1. A marriage between two persons, one of whom has been baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it and has not defected from it by a formal act and the other of whom is not baptized, is invalid.
§2. A person is not to be dispensed from this impediment unless the conditions mentioned in can. 1125 and 1126 have been fulfilled.
§3. If at the time the marriage was contracted one party was commonly held to have been baptized or the baptism was doubtful, the validity of the marriage must be presumed according to the norm of can. 1060 until it is proven with certainty that one party was baptized but the other was not.

Can. 1125 The local ordinary can grant a permission of this kind if there is a just and reasonable cause. He is not to grant it unless the following conditions have been fulfilled:
1/ the Catholic party is to declare that he or she is prepared to remove dangers of defecting from the faith and is to make a sincere promise to do all in his or her power so that all offspring are baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church;
2/ the other party is to be informed at an appropriate time about the promises which the Catholic party is to make, in such a way that it is certain that he or she is truly aware of the promise and obligation of the Catholic party;
3/ both parties are to be instructed about the purposes and essential properties of marriage which neither of the contracting parties is to exclude.

[There is more mentioned in Cann 1127/1128]

Yes you totally misunderstand the dispensation from disparity of cult.

The pastor is to ensure the Catholic party retains the freedom to practice their faith and raise children Catholic. Not an insignificant issue in some parts of the world (for example parts of the world where a Christian woman wants to marry a Muslim man). But in the West, the Catholic party is not typically impeded from pacticing their faith or raising the children Catholic.

The other part of the dispensation ensures the non Catholic party understands the essential properties of marriage and can give valid consent (not a temporary thing, for life, one spouse— remember in Muslim countries men can have 4 wives—, ordered to children, etc).

The priest is not to recommend the dispensation to the bishop if he has concerns about any of the above.

You also assume the unbaptized party is irreligious, but they could be religious in another faith such as Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, etc.

The dispensation process has NOTHING to do with the unbaptized party converting, it has to do with ensuring rhe Catholic party can practice their faith freely.


Interesting. I had not thought of that, but going back and reading Canon Law, Can 1125 makes perfect and clear sense in this light. Thanks for the clarification!

But the “mixed” couples I know are all Western couples, with one of the two being agnostic, atheist, or lapsed-from-another-denomination, and in all cases what has happened is that the children did not get raised Catholic, and the lone Catholic spouse has become lacklustre in their practice – understandably so, because neither the other spouse nor the children will come to Mass, join in prayer, or really relate to the Faith in any way. It’s hard to keep that up for a lifetime, especially because it leaves you without anyone in your own household to talk to about your religious practice. And raising the kids Catholic is pretty difficult if the other spouse doesn’t convert. How are you going to say mealtime prayers? How are you going to pick schools? How are you going to read the Bible with your kids? – if in all these things the other parent shows that they consider it irrelevant or silly?

Marriages between Catholics and Muslims/Hindus/etc. are a different story. It’s extremely rare for such marriages to take place without the spouses deciding beforehand who will convert. If neither wants to convert, the marriage simply doesn’t happen. (I know this because that’s the way it is where I live.)

Anyway, I’m puzzled that you all seem so sure the requirement for a dispensation has nothing to do with promoting a united religious life inside families. As if it’s “perfectly fine” for one parent to practice their religion while the other parent and the kids remain alien to it.

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That door is ALWAYS open, for ALL of us. It’s up to us to decide that we won’t walk through it.


I think this is likely misplaced blame. If someone is strong in their faith, they continue to practice regardless of what the people around them do. Perhaps they don’t raise the children in the faith for the very reason that their faith never was that strong to begin with. I don’t think you can blame this on the fact that they married someone outside of their religion. I suspect many of these couples get married in the Church to satisfy family expectations at the time.


But again, that’s up to the individuals. As Scriptures testify, the practicing Catholic WILL rub off on their spouse, if they are doing what is expected of them. The spouse does not remain alien to it by virtue of the practicing spouse “practicing”. Can the Church be responsible for the practicing spouse who does not practice? No. That’s all we’re saying.

One thing is certain, mixed marriages are hard, and marriage is already hard enough. Significant numbers of both Catholics and non-Catholics in the West do a horrible job of marriage. They often marry for the wrong reasons. And the marriages don’t last. I think the bigger issue is the Church doesn’t do a good job of instructing people about marriage.

One thing that really bugs me is that on the front of our bulletin each week is a number to call for anullments. They are that common that they offer a special contact and phone number for it.

Keep in mind this was written at a time when people were converting. So it was more common to have a spouse who converted where the other had not.


The Church is universal, not Western.

That’s on the Catholic. Our faith is not dependent on what others do or do not do. Perhaps you had an overestimation of their practice of the faith in the first place.

That is not the way it is everywhere.

It doesn’t.

And don’t confuse the responses giving you facts with an endorsement of disparity of cult or mixed marriage.

It’s not that they’re that common—it’s that marriage issues are often an impediment to a lapsed Catholic’s return to the faith, or a non-Catholic’s conversion. A wise pastor makes sure the information to discuss that situation is readily accessible.

Keep in mind, the formation of children is the responsibility of the parents. The remote preparation for marriage is properly within the context of the Catholic family. I assure you neither my husband nor his siblings would have ever brought home a non-Catholic potential spouse. Their parents farm to them properly in the sacrament of marriage.

When a couple approaches the church for marriage, they are already a couple. They are already determined to get married. The canons regarding dispensation or permission for mixed marriage, are put there to ensure the minimum requirements for a valid marriage can be met. And to ensure that the Catholic is not in danger of persecution or restriction from practicing their faith. Marriage is a natural right, and the church does not seek to impose upon The faithful more then it must in this regard. People have a natural right to choose their spouse.

The church will not refuse to Mary a couple unless it is clear that the marriage will not be valid.

Maybe. That assumes these people know about the Catholic Faith enough to have a desire to seek an annulment. Given what actually goes on in many parishes in regards to marriage it doesn’t seem to me this could be very common. I can only say as a convert seeing that was a big turnoff. It reinforced the idea of Catholic divorce for me.

Only if you make it hard.

I’m Catholic, my wife was raised with no specific religion (nominally Christian) and later converted to Judaism. We respect each other’s faiths and talk about it regularly - almost daily. The kids are raised Catholic. My wife is at the catholic school and church more than I am. I attend Shabbot services when I can.

Why people have to make things difficult is beyond me.

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