Converts and civil marriage


It was my understanding that a civil marriage between a baptised non-catholic and someone who is not baptised is recognised by the Church as valid and natural. I also thought that, should the non-baptised partner later be baptised Catholic that there would be no obligation to marry in church. Is this a matter of Canon Law, common policy in the Church worldwide, or is it something that is left to the judgement of individual priests or bishops? There seems to be some difference of opinion on the issue. Your help on this would be greatly appreciated.


The civil marriage between a baptised non-Catholic and a non-baptised person would be considered by the Church to be a valid marriage. If the non-baptised spouse later became baptised, the marriage would at that point also become sacramental.

These were the actual circumstances of my former marriage…and I am now divorced and seeking a declaration of nullity.


The church recognizes the marriages of baptized Christians as valid. However, is the Christian one baptized in the Trinitarian form (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)? If not, a possible question arises. Not everyone who calls himself a Christian is as far as the church is concerned. However, having said that, the Church does give every bit of the doubt to the fact that a marriage is valid.

Also, the question of Pauline and Petrine privilege might come into play in your stated instance.

So, suggestion is to ask a priest or a person who is a bit more familiar with the workings of a diocesan tribunal. You are in a definite grey area.


Yes, this is *generally *true. The Catholic Church recognizes marriages between non-Catholic Christians and the unbaptized as valid, natural marriages so long as any form requirements in their *own *faith traditions were met (and most other faiths don’t have a requirement of form). Any such marriage would also have to meet the requirements regarding impediments and prior marriages-- but I presume you are talking about two people free to marry.

(For example, Methodists don’t have any required form so a civil marriage or marriage by a Methodist minister are both considered valid forms for a Methodist. The Orthodox, in contrast, do have their own canonical requirements of form. The Catholic Church would recognize an Orthodox person married in their own form, but would consider invalid any marriage attempted by an Orthodox person contracted outside their valid form).

This is also correct. The marriage is already valid. The baptism of the unbaptized party makes it also a Sacrament and therefore indissoluable.

This is established in Canon Law. It is not merely a practice nor is it up to an individual priest.

When the unbaptized party begins instruction in RCIA, all of the details of their marriage will need to be discussed with the priest in an interview just to make sure that nothing is being assumed. Baptismal certificates, record of the marriage, freedom from prior bonds, etc, will be looked at.


Thanks for all your replies. You’ve started to clear up the conflicting information for me 1ke. My wife was baptised Orthodox, but was not a practising member of that Church when we got married. I’d like to look at the Canon Law myself, but can’t find the relevant parts on the Vatican Website. I’d be really grateful if you could tell me what numbers or sections I should look for.


this post is not accurate


Canon Law can be found here.

However, you aren’t going to find a paragraph about this explicitly. It is going to be derived from the canons regarding impediments, consent, intent, and form.

What would need to happen in this case would be a detailed discussion with a priest and someone knowledgeable about Canon Law from the diocese.

On this forum, there is a very knowledgeable canon lawyer who works on the marriage tribunal of his diocese. You should Private Message him because a lot of what you are looking for is going to be found in reference materials known as a *commentary *on canon law.

PM cameron_lansing and pose your question to him. He will be able to point you in the right direction.

I’m really not sure what would need to happen in this case regarding your marriage. In the case of a nullity petition, I believe this marriage would be found null due to lack of form. How to correct that with your wife being a non-practicing Orthodox and you desiring baptism into the Catholic faith… hmmm that’s a real stumper… I’m not quite sure.


I’ll second the suggestion that a commentary would be of more help than merely looking at the code itself. But if you are curious, the most relevant rule for your situation can be found in the eastern rite law, canon number 781 (see here).


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