I'm curious about the status of marriages performed outside the auspices of the church. For example, if a non Catholic converts to the Roman church, but was married beforehand, does it "count". Based on an earlier question, I understand now that the church annuls marriages - but, if these two went on to divorce, wouldn't the church be in the position of denying a marriage they never blessed?

Along these lines, what happens if two people get married by a justice of the peace, or If ignoring the advice of a priest, they choose to find some other minister to perform the ceremony.

I realize that the church's recognition of a marriage is completely different from the state's recognition (and truthfully the practical effect of a non recognition by the church is slim), but it still makes me wonder if, say, two baptists who marry and then convert are "living in sin" until the priest recognizes the marriage.

At the extreme side of things, Im assuming that the church would never recognize a "gay marriage," considering it annulled from the beginning- but would that extend to legitimate unions simply conducted outside the aegis of the church as well?

Just curious.

  • "outside the church" - does that mean "outside Catholicism", "outside Christianity (or some subset)", "outside Abrahamic faiths", "outside faiths"... ? Did you see the comment I added on your earlier question? That strongly suggests (at least some) other Christian marriages are fully recognised by Catholicism, even inside Holy Orders. That said - it is an interesting question: I have the dubious claim of having been baptised 3 times "just to be sure", by over-zealous clergy (once in hospital - early birth; once in C of E church, once in Catholic church). (Still atheist, though! ;p) Commented May 3, 2012 at 10:39
  • My understanding is that for Catholics "the church" is always the Roman Catholic church. Catholic meaning "universal" by definition denied the legitimacy of any other church. Baptists are just as much heretics as are Nestorians and Coptics. Commented May 3, 2012 at 10:45
  • I must have been typing when you made that other comment. Sorry! Commented May 3, 2012 at 10:46
  • Wait, no I did see that one - about defecting bishops. Yes. Admittedly that's kind of the scenario I'm thinking about in some ways. Don't get too excited Peter - its going to be a while, but I do wonder if my whole trajectory has been that way. Commented May 3, 2012 at 10:48

2 Answers 2


The Roman Church does recognise marriages outside the Church. See Canons 1055 and 1056:

Can. 1055 §1. The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized.

§2. For this reason, a valid matrimonial contract cannot exist between the baptized without it being by that fact a sacrament.

Can. 1056 The essential properties of marriage are unity and indissolubility, which in Christian marriage obtain a special firmness by reason of the sacrament.

A marriage between two baptised people is by definition a sacrament: it's the couple who are ministers of that sacrament, not the officiant at the ceremony. Consequently it doesn't really matter who the officiant is (although there are rules, just to make sure that everything is done properly and legally).

As I noted in my profile and an earlier comment, I used to be an Anglican and am now a member of the English Ordinariate.

Members of my Anglican church considered joining the Ordinariate, but their previous dissolved marriages would have caused difficulty. In practice, the Church attempts to be compassionate in justice and in most cases the reason for divorce would have been a valid reason for annulment and there would be no problem — but all the circumstances would have to be investigated thoroughly.

Perhaps I should qualify the opening sentence as

The Roman Church does recognise marriages outside the Church which accord with Canon 1055.

  • This pamphlet (pdf) from the Archdiocese of Toronto is an excellent resource on marriage and annulment. Commented May 3, 2012 at 19:38
  • @KorvinStarmast The PDF appears to be no longer available, but the Archdiocese has provided FAQ and other resources linked from the sidebar of their redesigned site. Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 8:32
  • The pamphlet is still available as an archive: web.archive.org/web/20101025144703/http://archtoronto.org/… Commented Dec 25, 2016 at 20:22
  • @Athanasius Thank you Father. I suppose it might be useful to check that Mitis Judex andMitis et Misericors haven't changed these canons and therefore altered the leaflet's advice. But to know it's still available is useful (and I now have my own copy!) Commented Dec 27, 2016 at 10:00

Yes, the Catholic Church recognises marriages contracted before conversion. If for example two Presbyterians got married and one or both of them converted to Catholicism, their marriage would be considered valid. Same for two Buddhists or two pagans or the civil ceremony of two atheists or anyone else, for that matter. If their faith or philosophy or the state recognises it, it's valid.

The issue comes in only when one or both of the parties is Catholic. A Catholic must marry with a Catholic ceremony (can be a High Mass with a thousand people in attendance or in the office of the priest with a couple of witnesses... doesn't matter) in order for it to be considered valid unless they have permission (usually gotten from the local bishop) to do otherwise. Permission can be given to the Catholic party to marry elsewhere and if it is given the marriage is considered as valid as a marriage performed in the Catholic Church. This is usually done when one of the couple is a non-Catholic or non-Christian. One friend of mine married a Buddhist, with permission, at her Temple.

In the Catholic faith, marriage of a Catholic to most any other Christian is considered a Sacrament, same as marriage to a Catholic. Marriage to a non-Christian is not a Sacrament, but is still considered a holy act blessed by God. In practical terms these days, the couples are treated equally. Any marriage recognized by the Church will need an annulment if the Catholic party wishes to marry again after divorce. This means if you divorce the Presbyterian spouse you married before you became a Catholic, you will have to go through the annulment process whether the other party converted with you or not. A lot of non-Catholic spouses are surprised when they are asked to respond to a Catholic annulment proceeding on the validity of their non-Catholic wedding, but it's because their marriage is considered valid until proven otherwise.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .