Marriage To A Pagan


What if I decide to become Catholic and am married to a Pagan? How would that work in the church? Would they tell me I can’t be Catholic or that my marriage is not legitimate?


Edited to add: Given @WayneLeigh’s subsequent mention that his wife is a baptized Catholic, my answer here isn’t accurate. I’ve edited it to reflect a more complete and accurate position, based on this additional information…

No, as long as you and/or your wife are not baptized Christians or Catholics, there is no reason why you might be told that your marriage isn’t valid.

Are you a baptized Christian? Or are you unbaptized?

Your marriage is what’s known as a “natural marriage”. It’s not sacramental, since your spouse is unbaptized. Nevertheless, natural marriages are as valid as sacramental marriages (with the same set of conditions and caveats).

So, don’t sweat it: your marriage doesn’t prevent you from becoming a Catholic!


When I was a child, I was baptized into the local baptist church, and my wife used to be Catholic and, as far as I know, was also baptized back in the day.


Oh. So, your wife has ceased self-identifying as a Catholic? (Was this something that she decided on her own as an adult?) Was she a practicing Catholic when you two got married?


No, she was Pagan when we got married, and so was I.


OK. So, the fact that your wife is a baptized Catholic means that I need to correct my previous answer. It’s gonna be a long and detailed and technical and precise explanation, so be patient with me…

(Essentially, the Church generally doesn’t recognize that someone might attempt to cease being Catholic (with one odd exception). Basically, once you’re baptized a Catholic, the Church recognizes you as a Catholic for life; so, if a person falls away from the practice of the faith, they don’t “become” something else – they’re just not a practicing Catholic any longer.)

At the end of the explanation will be this advice: talk to your pastor when you decide to enter into the Catholic Church. Not a lay minister, or RCIA coordinator, or even a deacon. Talk directly to your pastor. He should be able to assess your particular set of circumstances and guide you appropriately.


So, @WayneLeigh, here’s the situation:

“Once a Catholic, always a Catholic.” It holds for your wife. And, in fact, since you’re a baptized Christian, the Church generally recognizes that baptism, and will not “re-baptize” you. (Rather, you’ll be “coming into full communion with the Church.”) The Church already recognizes you as a Christian.

Now, for a valid marriage, you need three things: consent (both you and your spouse must wish to enter into what the Church understands as a valid Christian marriage), lack of impediments (that is, a lack of any situation that would make it impossible for you to marry (e.g., you’re already married to someone else, or your fiancee is your sibling, etc, etc)), and adherence to the ‘form of marriage’ that your Church or denomination requires.

The Catholic Church’s requirements for ‘form’ are a wedding in a Catholic church building (church, chapel, oratory, etc), officiated by a priest or deacon. (While preparing for the wedding, it is possible to request that the requirements of form be dispensed with, and when this is granted, a couple (generally a Catholic and a non-Catholic) are no longer required to follow the ‘form’ that the Church prescribes.) Protestant denominations tend not to have requirements of ‘form’, so any marriage they recognize as valid, the Church recognizes as valid.

So, the validity of your marriage, in the eyes of the Catholic Church, at this point in time, depends in part on your wife’s adherence to the requirements of ‘form’. Given that you both were practicing pagans at the time you married, I would assume that your marriage didn’t take place in a Catholic Church, by a Catholic minister?

Strictly speaking, that would mean that the Church would hold the stance that your marriage – while civilly valid – isn’t valid in the eyes of the Church as a valid sacramental marriage. (But don’t worry – there are still things you can do, as you enter into the Church, to ensure that your marriage is sacramentally valid.)

There is one small footnote / loophole. Did your wife ever formally ‘defect’ from the Church, by any means (writing and/or declaration to the Church)? There was a period of time in which a person could do this, and that would change the situation. (At the present, that loophole has been removed from the law of the Church, so there’s no opportunity to “formally defect” any longer.)

So, unless your wife “formally defected” from the Church during a certain period of time, then the Church would see your marriage as not sacramentally valid. (Since you’re a baptized Christian, and she’s a baptized Catholic, your marriage – if valid – would be sacramental already!)

Like I said – highly technical, somewhat confusing, and quite precise. Talk to your pastor and get his advice. There are ways to convalidate your marriage, even if your wife has no desire to cooperate with the Catholic Church.

Does that make sense? Do you have any questions?


So, is there any way to do this if his wife doesn’t wish to be Catholic or even Christian? That seems to be what is implied in his posts.


Yes. It’s called sanatio in radice (or “radical sanation”, in English). It does not require the participation, or even permission, of the spouse who is hostile to the Catholic Church or the notion of a convalidation of the marriage.


So if the church doesn’t recognize my marriage as valid, does that mean they think I’m committing adultery?


Strictly speaking, no. Adultery only occurs when a person who is married has sexual relations with someone other than their spouse.

(However, since you might be in an invalid marriage, then you might be committing fornication. Like I said, though, you can correct this situation. Your pastor will be able to guide you through the process (it’s essentially a documentary process, and pretty simple. Your pastor will know what to do – or at least, who he should call in order to enter into the process).)

One last note: I didn’t ask you anything about any other previous marriages you or your wife may have entered into, prior to marrying each other. This information is relevant to the process, as well. I’m not going to ask you to reveal that sort of personal information on an internet forum, and I recommend that you do not volunteer it. Talk to your pastor, in confidence. He’ll be able to help you out!


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