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I am a practicing Catholic who wishes to marry my Buddhist girlfriend. For the marriage to be a valid sacrament in the eyes of the Church, she must be baptized as a Catholic - something she would be happy to do, but she would not want to renounce the Buddhism in which she was raised and which she practices devoutly. So a couple of questions on what is admittedly an unusual circumstance:

  1. Once she receives the sacrament of Baptism, is she required to convert to Catholicism for that Baptism - and therefore the marriage - to be valid in the eyes of the Church and in the eyes of God?
  2. I have read that a Catholic can even marry an unbaptized non-Catholic within the Church, but that such a marriage "would be valid, but not sacramental." If we were to marry in this fashion without her Baptism, is there a danger of living in mortal sin as a result? I assume if that were the case the marriage would not be allowed in the first place, but this is a grey area I would like to have clarified.
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    Your second question is asking about what Catholics refer to as a "Dispensation for disparity of cult." It is basically special permission for a Catholic to marry a non-Christian. I would recommend Googling this concept, trying to understand it a bit, and then adding it to your question for clarity. – zippy2006 Aug 6 '18 at 3:02
  • It's usually easier to fix such things if you get married by a friar. Don't you know one? For reference, vatican.va/archive/catechism_it/p2s2c3a7_it.htm – Nemo Aug 6 '18 at 8:23
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    @Nemo If I'm not mistaken, a Friar can't officiate a sacramental marriage mass (only a priest can do that), but they can officiate a non-sacramental marriage ceremony (with a proper dispensation for disparity of cult), just like a deacon or a priest. I'm not sure what you mean by "fix such things", but that makes it sounds like there is a loophole. There isn't; that's just the normal way of doing things for a marriage to a non-Catholic. – Thunderforge Aug 6 '18 at 15:14
  • "1630 Il sacerdote (o il diacono) che assiste alla celebrazione del Matrimonio". The friar is often a presbyter/priest, at least in Italy, nothing strange. (I wrote under the assumption the OP may be Italian; if not, I don't know.) – Nemo Aug 6 '18 at 19:01
  • And maybe of greatest help after the formalities is look at the books/material of Fr Richard Rohr for encouragement in your 'spiritual' marriage. e.g. Falling Forward, Immortal Diamond etc – NigelS Aug 7 '18 at 13:43
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Once she receives the sacrament of Baptism, is she required to convert to Catholicism for that Baptism - and therefore the marriage - to be valid in the eyes of the Church and in the eyes of God?

First off, Baptism is pretty big deal in the Catholic Church. In order to ensure that the adult is serious and understands what it entails, they must go through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), a series of classes about the beliefs of the Catholic faith, typically taking place over several months.* At the end of that period, usually at the Easter Vigil, they publicly profess that they believe all that the Catholic Church teaches, and express their desire to join the Catholic Church. That is, they are publicly converting to Catholicism. They then receive the sacrament of Baptism, along with both the sacrament of Confirmation and their first sacrament of the Eucharist.

In other words, converting to Catholicism is a prerequisite for Baptism (and the accompanying Confirmation and Eucharist). While you could certainly lie when you publicly say that you believe all that the Catholic Church teaches and then get baptized, that would make the Baptism invalid in the eyes of the Church, as well as the consequent sacrament of marriage (even if it's never "caught" by the Church).

If your girlfriend is not prepared to leave her Buddhist faith and convert to Catholicism, then she cannot become baptized.

* Some parishes allow individuals to join RCIA if they want to become educated in the Catholic faith, but do not intend to convert or be baptized. It's not uncommon for an interfaith couple to join RCIA together so that the non-Catholic better understands their spouse's faith.


I have read that a Catholic can even marry an unbaptized non-Catholic within the Church, but that such a marriage "would be valid, but not sacramental."

This is correct. The sacrament of marriage can only happen between two Catholics. However, non-sacramental marriage* between a Catholic and non-Catholic is permitted and valid if the proper procedure is followed. A Catholic wishing to marry a non-Christian** would need to request a "dispensation for disparity of cult". This process is described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) sections 1633 through 1637, in particular 1635 (emphasis in the original):

According to the law in force in the Latin Church, a mixed marriage [i.e. two Christians where only one is Catholic] needs for liceity the express permission of ecclesiastical authority. In case of disparity of cult [i.e. marrying a non-Christian] an express dispensation from this impediment is required for the validity of the marriage. This permission or dispensation presupposes that both parties know and do not exclude the essential ends and properties of marriage; and furthermore that the Catholic party confirms the obligations, which have been made known to the non-Catholic party, of preserving his or her own faith and ensuring the baptism and education of the children in the Catholic Church.

In other words, you must:

  • Get explicit permission from an ecclesiastical authority
    • This is usually the office of the Bishop of your diocese
    • The exact process will vary depending on your diocese, but nowadays it's typically started by talking with the priest/deacon of your parish, who then submits a form to the Bishop. Here is the form for the Diocese of Honolulu, and here is a similar form for the Diocese of Ossory.
  • Be in agreement with your future wife about "the essential ends and properties of marriage", as understood by the Catholic Church
    • The most basic of these ends and properties would be that it is a life-long monogamous union between a man and woman
  • As a Catholic, ensure that any children of yours are baptized and educated in the teachings of the Catholic Church

If these things are followed, then you are free to marry your girlfriend even if she chooses to remain Buddhist.

* The difference between a sacramental and non-sacramental marriage is partially described in this question. If you have further questions about the difference, it's best to ask a new question on this site.

** The process of marrying a baptized Christian of a different denomination (called a "mixed marriage") is similar, but has a few differences that are best answered in other question.


If we were to marry in this fashion without her Baptism, is there a danger of living in mortal sin as a result? I assume if that were the case the marriage would not be allowed in the first place, but this is a grey area I would like to have clarified.

No, if you follow the process of being granted a dispensation for disparity of cult, you are not living in any sort of mortal sin (if you fail to get the dispensation, then you would be committing fornication, which is a mortal sin). Indeed, CCC 1637 encourages the Catholic to practice their faith in the hopes of leading their spouse to join the faith of their own volition.

In marriages with disparity of cult the Catholic spouse has a particular task: "For the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband." It is a great joy for the Christian spouse and for the Church if this "consecration" should lead to the free conversion of the other spouse to the Christian faith. Sincere married love, the humble and patient practice of the family virtues, and perseverance in prayer can prepare the non-believing spouse to accept the grace of conversion.

So the Church, rather than believing you to be in a state of mortal sin, supports your marriage (so long as the criteria above were followed) and hopes that in the future it will lead your wife to convert to Catholicism of her own free will.

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To be baptized as a Catholic means to become a member of the Catholic Church, and thus believe all the things that a Catholic should believe. Part of the ceremony is for the person baptized to affirm that. Baptism is the culmination of a conversation to Catholicism, not a precursor to it. No priest should baptize an adult knowing that they did not actually believe what they are promising they believe.

To continue as a practicing Buddhist would be a conflict with the Catholic faith, and an intention to continue practicing it would be grounds for denying baptism.

People have on occasion told lies about what they believe in order to be baptized, but I'm not going to advocate that.

  • Thank you for clarifying - this was evidence of my confusion on the sacrament of baptism (something I should have known.) What about a mixed marriage that is not sacramental - is this truly permissible as a valid marriage, or is that false information? – Puzzled Aug 6 '18 at 2:47
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While it is true that one cannot be baptised without becoming a Catholic, it may be possible for your girlfriend to convert to Catholicism without renouncing Buddhism. There is substantial variety within the different sects of Buddhism and while all of them are very different to Catholicism, some of them don't necessarily contradict it. It may be that your girlfriend can be both a Buddhist and a Catholic, in the same way that other people are both republicans and Catholics. As an example, Fr. Robert Kennedy is both a Jesuit priest and a zen roshi.

One way to proceed would be to go through the Nicene creed with your girlfriend to see if there is anything there that she feels her Buddhism would not let her believe. If there doesn't seem to be any conflict, the preparation for baptism will include a series of classes on what the faith is all about. Once your girlfriend has completed these, she will know enough to determine for herself whether baptism is something she can go through with.

Alternatively it is possible to have a valid marriage with a non-Catholic, as described in some of the other answers.

  • I'm highly skeptical of this actually being a good thing. Almost certainly the philosophy of other forms of Buddhism still conflict with Catholicism. – eques Aug 7 '18 at 15:47
  • Very true. Wanted to answer similar but cannot as this Q is "protected" now. I would add that many people do not consider Buddhism a religion but rather a lifestyle. Not being Buddhist, I'm not sure what they may or may not say about the origins and purpose of the universe or life, but I do know practically everything Buddhist I see everywhere is lifestyle oriented, not religious, and I have known practicing Buddhists who felt the same. Nothing stops her from being religiously Catholic with beneficial Buddhist lifestyle traits added in. – Aaron Aug 7 '18 at 19:43
  • @eques you are right that only some forms of Buddhism will be compatible, and I have edited the answer to reflect that. But surely being a catholic buddhist is better than being a non-catholic buddhist? – eigensheep Aug 7 '18 at 22:51
  • @eigensheep that's a complicated question. My point was that I'm highly skeptical of any Buddhist philosophy of life being compatible enough to be still Buddhist. Being a Catholic Buddhist is not better than a non-Catholic Buddhist if both lead to sin and hell. A non-Catholic Buddhist might be still invincibly ignorant, but a Catholic who holds onto Buddhist ideas would be less secure on that (i.e. a Catholic should know better, a Buddhist might be expected not to have known) – eques Aug 8 '18 at 14:11
  • @eques I don't agree with any of that. The future Mrs. Puzzled has no need to convince you that she is still Buddhist, it is her understanding of Buddhism that matters, not yours. I don't see why Buddhism is more likely to lead to hell than, say, feminism or patriotism. Good deeds done by a sinner are still good, even if they aren't enough to save her from hell. It is neither desirable nor practical for a man to conceal the teachings of Christ from his wife. – eigensheep Aug 8 '18 at 23:11
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The best thing to do is to talk to your parish priest about what is needed. I have several Catholic friends who have valid marriages in the eyes of the Church and are married to non-Catholics (both those practicing other faiths and those who have no faith). There are usually a couple of stipulations (like agreeing to raise the children in the Catholic faith), but it is permissible. However, talking to your priest is the easiest way to know what needs to be done.

protected by Community Aug 7 '18 at 14:22

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