Baptized Catholic as infant - validly married outside Church or not?

Let’s say that a person has been baptized in the Catholic Church as an infant. If I am understanding canon law correctly, that person remains a Catholic, even if they “leave the Church” and associate themselves with another church. Canon Law has recently been revised (Benedict XVI) to remove the provision that allowed Catholics to marry outside the Church if they had “left it by a formal act”. Therefore:

  1. If that person has been baptized in the Catholic Church, but for some reason never practices the faith and never receives any instruction in it, do they validly marry if they marry outside the Church?

  2. If that person has been baptized in the Catholic Church, and is raised for at least part of their life in it (such that they remember being taken to Mass as a child and possibly received some catechetical instruction), do they validly marry if they marry outside the Church?

  3. And if the person in scenario #1 person divorces the non-Catholic spouse and marries a Catholic, can they then get an annulment based on having been bound by the marriage laws of the Church (defect or lack of form)? And what about scenario #2?

And one more question, potentially more difficult:

  • Are not all baptisms Catholic, and do not all infants (at the very least) baptized outside the Church remain Catholic until they reach the age of reason and choose to embrace another faith (or reject any faith at all)? If so, what is the difference between their situation and the situation described in scenario #1 above, canonically speaking? Put another way, at what point does any baptized person cease to be bound by the marriage laws of the Church? Does the fact that their baptism is not “on the books” of a Catholic parish make the difference here, and if so, why?
  1. No
  2. No
  3. Yes

And to your last point—no, not all baptisms are Catholic; they are recognized as valid by the Church but do not bind the baptized to Church marriage rules.


Your scenario 1 and 2 are really the same. How much catechesis or whether there’s any upbringing within the faith is irrelevant to the Canons here. In the case(s) you describe, there’s no valid marriage outside the Church, and a simple lack of form “annulment” will allow for marriage within the Church.

The Church doesn’t view all baptisms as Catholic as Julian said above. We acknowledge most Protestant baptisms as valid, but that doesn’t equate to Catholic. One is not obligated to Canon Law until formally received into the Church, either by a true Catholic baptism or through their profession of faith and Confirmation as an adult.

I see what you are saying.

In instance #1, I had more in mind a child who was raised with absolutely no awareness of the Faith, and who might not even know they were baptized as a Catholic. It can happen. We don’t have a worldwide database of who is Catholic, what parish they were baptized in, and a way to identify them — there is no “Catholic social security number”, so to speak. (Jack Chick of anti-Catholic comic book fame might disagree with me on this. Oh, wait, he’s dead.)

In instance #2, I had in mind more a child who might have been taken to Mass with their parents or grandparents, possibly received some CCD instruction, possibly even made their first communion, but then things fell by the wayside. Some families just quit going to Mass, and others choose another church and start taking their children there at a young age.

I thought we viewed all baptisms as Catholic sacraments, and that anyone baptized as an infant is a Catholic, until such time as they reach the age of reason, and either implicitly or explicitly regard themselves as something other than Catholic (or, put another way, fail to regard themselves as Catholic).

So I suppose in order to be more precise, we could say this (although it’s not quite how we’d put it, I don’t think):

because as I said above, we do acknowledge most as valid baptisms. But we really can’t say this:

because that implies they’re subject to Canon Law, which they aren’t unless received by the Church. This is one reason why emergency baptisms done somewhere away from a church or priest need to be reported and “finished” if possible when circumstances permit. The intent is there, which suffices spiritually, but there’s no official record (sacramental register), which is what the Church will look for in other questions of Canonical rights.

You are going to get different answers here as well as from every parish priest you ask.

I was that cradle baptized Catholic who received instruction and FHC before my parents left the church and I married outside the church. I was told my marriage was everything from invalid, lacking form, illicit, etc ad nauseum. Big problem was that my husband wanted to be Catholic and no one could solve our marriage issue so he could convert and I could revert and leave our marriage intact. Really. It would have been easier if he had not wanted to be Catholic I could have had our marriage radically sanitized.

Were you not able to get your marriage convalidated (as opposed to radical sanation)? I’m assuming your husband was OK with having a Catholic marriage. Your reversion should have been as simple as going to a priest, having him (or another priest) to hear your confession, going through the process of being dispensed from disparity of cult (in that your husband was not yet Catholic), and taking Catholic marriage vows.


All baptisms are not valid so are not acceptable to the Catholic Church. That canon law allowing no binding was changed effective Dec 1, 2010. That canon law allowing no binding was first created in 1983.

Catholics do not marry validly in any scenario if they are baptized Catholic and marry outside Catholic form (which would be in a non Catholic ceremony without dispensation).

If they marry outside Catholic form, there is no decree of nullity, because there is no marriage.
There is no putative marriage, meaning one that enjoys the favor of the law until proven invalid.

There is only paperwork connected to establishing freedom to marry— that is handled differently in different places around the world.

That isn’t actually relevant. But, no, one isn’t a member of the Catholic Church if one is baptized outside the Church. They are a member of the body of Christ, which substance in the Church, but they are not canonically Catholics.

Ecclesial law binds only Catholics, per the law itself.


Only those baptized into the Catholic Church are bound by ecclesial laws, and they never cease to be bound by the law unless they law itself provides for that.

A person validly baptized into another Church or ecclesial community is not bound by ecclesial law as it currently stands, except as specified in the law (for example a non Catholic marrying a Catholic).

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Not sure where you got this idea, but the Church does not teach this.

I heard it proposed as an idea one time. I have been reading about the Catholic Faith for 45 years. That’s a lot of reading. It does make sense, especially in light of what we say in the Creed about “one baptism for the remission of sins” — ONE baptism, not “Catholic” baptism and “Protestant” or “Orthodox” baptism — but that doesn’t make it true.

There was an excellent article once upon a time called “Are Protestants Catholics?”, but I can’t find it online. I may have it here in my computer archives (30 years’ worth!) and could possibly put it out there on Google Drive, if anyone cares to read it.

Well, this is true, one faith, one baptism. In that sense, yes we are all Catholic because we all are baptized into the one Church.

HOWEVER, that is not the same as being Catholic canonically— subject to Church law. The Pope certainly has the authority to extend Church law to all the baptized, but does not.

The law itself defines who it subject to the law. Only those baptized into the Catholic Church (and by that I mean the visible ecclesial structure not the invisible “all believers”) or received into it are subject to the law. Exceptions being where a non-Catholic seeks marriage to a Catholic.

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I think that is the key here. The Church has the absolute right to say who is subject to its canons, and who is not. All sacraments are “Catholic” sacraments, and perhaps all baptized infants are “Catholics” until they reach the age of reason and, either explicitly or implicitly, choose otherwise. Even granting this, they are not subject to canon law.

According to Fr. Hardon, all marriages between any two baptized people are indissoluble. However, those who are baptized Catholic are under the Church’s laws, which includes their administrative laws regarding marriages, such that any marriage to a non-Catholic or to have the ceremony performed by a non-Catholic minister needs to be permitted by the bishop. So, in my case, I was baptized as an infant in the Catholic church, was not raised in the Church at all and “married” another baptized Catholic by a protestant minister. Every single priest I have talked to, be they regular diocesan priest or Fraternity priest has said this is an easy case, no marriage took place.

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I disagree with this statement. I was baptized in my parent’s Protestant church at three weeks old. For my parents, my family, and myself when I came to understand baptism, the concept of it being a “Catholic” baptism was never considered. I was a baptized Christian in the XYZ Protestant church. At that time there was no choice to be made, explicitly or implicitly, to be Catholic or not.

I did not convert to the Catholic Church until much later, and my Protestant baptism was completely valid as it was done in the correct form with the correct matter.

So rather than saying all valid baptisms are Catholic baptisms, it may be better to state all valid baptisms are Christian baptisms. Those with valid Christian baptisms who are in the Catholic Church are subject to the canon laws of the Catholic Church.

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And this is why it is important that parents realize they are binding their child to follow the laws of the Church. Parents need to make their children aware of the Church laws on marriage from an early age and keep discussing these as the child grows up.

It is sad when parents never talk to their kids, so, little girl grows up thinking TV weddings are the must have or a teenage boy thinks that running off to Vegas is the best idea.


No, and it wouldn’t have been considered. People don’t generally say “I am being baptized, but I am choosing not to be Catholic”. Nevertheless, the choice is, in a certain sense, implicit. For instance, if I choose to go to Las Vegas on vacation, I have implicitly chosen not to go other places that I could go instead, such as Miami, Hawaii, Branson, or Cancun. If I choose to marry the girl next door, I have implicitly chosen not to marry any of the other three billion women in the world.

No argument there.

The Catholic Church has traditionally not recognized a concept of “pan-Christianity” that would make Catholicism, for all intents and purposes, just another Christian denomination — maybe the most complete, maybe the oldest, but still, just part of the “Christian church”. Our Lord never willed the Church to be divided, with some believing some things, and others believing other things. I do concede that the Orthodox churches have a claim on having been established by the apostles, having existed from the very beginning, and having autonomy to control their own affairs, Rome only serving as a primacy of honor and place (primus inter pares) with the authority to settle doctrinal disputes where all other efforts have failed. But the Protestant and evangelical churches were not in God’s plan. That may be undiplomatic, but it’s the truth. If they have valid sacraments, such as baptism and matrimony+++, it is only because these sacraments can be confected by laymen who have the intention of “doing what the Church does”. And which church is that? The Catholic Church, or at the very least, the sum total of the particular churches founded by Christ and the apostles, the undivided Church of the first thousand years.

+++ I seriously have to question the validity of many Protestant and evangelical marriages, because they go into marriage with the idea in the back of their minds, even if never acknowledged or spoken, that divorce is a possibility and that it will dissolve the sacramental marriage they are confecting. This speaks to me as a defect of intention. Does the Catholic Church not ask, in its annulment questionnaires, whether each spouse understood that marriage is indissoluble and permanent? Why does this matter for Catholics but not for non-Catholics?

All Christians are baptized into the Body of Christ…if using the proper Trinitarian formula…Catholics who are baptized into the Catholic faith remain Catholic for life whether they consider themselves Catholic or not…those who are not of the Catholic faith yet have valid baptisms are not baptized Catholics and do not need to make any sort of decision in later life…anyone can call themselves Catholic…but if they wanted to truly become Catholic then they would have to be confirmed into the Catholic Church.


But they do make a decision when they reach the age of reason, the decision to follow Christianity as they perceive it, and later on in life, when they grow in learning and wisdom, to elaborate upon that decision — possibly to embrace Catholicism, possibly to embrace something else, possibly to remain in the church of their upbringing, or possibly to reject Christianity (or all religion) entirely. And some people change their minds throughout life.

Protestants and evangelicals generally do not regard their denomination as “the one true church”. Orthodox do, and so do LDS (Mormons), Jehovah’s Witnesses, possibly others.

Yes…they may make a decision in later life to either change…stay in what church they were baptized or reject it all…I was referring to your statement that perhaps all baptized infants are “Catholic” until they reach the age of reason and then either explicitly or implicitly choose otherwise…no they don’t…if you are baptized in the Catholic church then that is what you are for the rest of your life whether you like it or not the Church recognizes that you have had a valid baptism and are Catholic whatever you decide to become later in life…if you are not baptized in the Catholic church…you are not Catholic…if someone who was not baptized in the Catholic church wishes to become Catholic in later life then they would have to be confirmed.

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