If some baptisms done in non-Catholic churches are valid, why does baptism in a Catholic church make you "Catholic" in regards to getting married?

Hi there. I have been listening to the Catholic Answers Live radio show daily for a few months now and I am a little confused about an issue related to baptism and marriage. It is my understanding that if two Protestants get married (and neither was ever baptized Catholic) that they can be viewed as having a valid marriage. However, if a Protestant marries someone who was baptized Catholic, but never received any of the other sacraments nor identifies as Catholic and has actually converted to a Protestant denomination, that the marriage would not be considered valid, because technically the one party is still Catholic (because of their baptism) and therefore the marriage would only be valid if they got permission from the Catholic Church. Assuming I am correct in my understanding up until this point, what makes Catholic baptism so special? Especially considering that Protestants who have been baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit do not need to get rebaptized when they convert to Catholicism? I understand we are only supposed to have one baptism. However, I then don’t understand why a marriage between a Protestant and someone who is Catholic in baptism only wouldn’t have a valid marriage.

The crux of why I am concerned about this is because I am contemplating converting, and was baptized Lutheran and feel if I don’t get re-baptized in the Catholic Church, it would seem my baptism is somehow inferior. Or at least that there is something about being baptized in the Catholic Church that is more valid or makes you more Catholic.

Thank you very much for your time!

We need to remember that there are two kinds of laws: divine and ecclesiastical (i.e. church). Divine laws are true always and everywhere. Church laws are changeable and are meant to address organizational issues.

What makes a valid baptism is considered of divine law, therefore no Church law can undo what divine law does. That means that as long as the proper matter, form, and intent are present then the sacrament of baptism validly takes place.

The Church, technically, claims authority over all the baptized. The Church could create a law that all baptized persons must be married in the Church to be valid. However, this would not be very practical and would result in many persons of good will living in invalid marriages. Therefore, the Church applies Her laws only to those who are within the Church:

Can. 11 Merely ecclesiastical laws bind those who have been baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it, possess the efficient use of reason, and, unless the law expressly provides otherwise, have completed seven years of age.

Someone who is baptized outside the Catholic Church is bound by divine law but not by the Church’s laws. Once they are received into the Catholic Church they are forever bound by the laws of the Church. This also includes the Church’s marriage laws:

Can. 1124 Marriage between two baptized persons, one of whom was baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it after baptism, and the other a member of a Church or ecclesial community not in full communion with the Catholic Church, cannot be celebrated without the express permission of the competent authority.

What to do with someone who was baptized Catholic but has not practiced the faith in years/decades and wants to get married in another Christian community is a matter of Church law, not divine law. Therefore it is changeable and malleable to the circumstances of history.

At one time the 1983 Code of Canon Law recognized something called “formal defection” and how it relates to marriage. However, this created many practical problems for the people trying to return to the Catholic Church but who were also divorced. So the Church, as it is Her right, amended the law so that formal defection had no impact on the laws of marriage for Catholics.

Your baptism as a Lutheran is not “inferior” since it is as valid as a Catholic baptism in terms of grace. When you are formally received into the Church all Church laws will then apply to you and it will be, canonically speaking, as if you were baptized in the Catholic Church.

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