Why does the Catholic Church consider protestant baptisms valid sacraments, but not protestant marriages?
This is a false perception on the Catholic viewpoint on Protestant marriages.
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.
Catholic sacraments must be administered by Catholic ministers and must be of the appropriate Rite where applicable. Protestants are not Catholic; thus Canon Law does not apply to them.
Can. 844 §1. Catholic ministers administer the sacraments licitly to Catholic members of the Christian faithful alone, who likewise receive them licitly from Catholic ministers alone, without prejudice to the prescripts of §§2, 3, and 4 of this canon, and can. 861, §2.
§2. Whenever necessity requires it or true spiritual advantage suggests it, and provided that danger of error or of indifferentism is avoided, the Christian faithful for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister are permitted to receive the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick from non-
Catholic ministers in whose Churches these sacraments are valid.
§3. Catholic ministers administer the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick licitly to members of Eastern Churches which do not have full communion with the Catholic Church if they seek such on their own accord and are properly disposed. This is also valid for members of other Churches which in the judgment of the Apostolic See are in the same condition in regard to the sacraments as these Eastern Churches.
Can. 846 §1. In celebrating the sacraments the liturgical books approved by competent authority are to be observed faithfully; accordingly, no one is to add, omit, or alter anything in them on one’s own authority.
§2. The minister is to celebrate the sacraments according to the minister’s own rite.
Protestants are not bound to Canon Law in regards to marriage. Catholics are obliged to adhere to the Code of Canon Law.
Marriages of non-Catholic Christians (Protestant marriages)
Baptized Protestants are not bound by the form of marriage, i.e., they do not have to exchange their consent in the presence of a Catholic official. A baptized Catholic who left the church by a formal act and married after the year 1983 (the year the present code of law went into effect) is not bound by the form of marriage either.*
The Catholic Church considers marriages of Protestants to be valid marriages. So if two Lutherans marry in the Lutheran church in the presence of a Lutheran minister, the Catholic Church recognizes this as a valid sacrament of marriage. If an Episcopalian man marries a Presbyterian woman before a Justice of the Peace, the Catholic Church recognizes this as a valid sacrament of marriage.
This is consistent with our theological understanding of marriage. Once the two ministers (baptized Christians) have exchanged their consent a valid, sacramental marriage (c. 1055) has been brought about. Indeed how odd it would be if the faith community only recognized the marriages of Roman Catholics as valid sacraments. Baptism is the foundation of the Christian life (CCC, 1213 & 1617).
However, once the Catholic Church recognizes a marriage as a valid sacrament, any question of invalidity must come before a church tribunal. Marriage is both a private and public reality. An investigation of validity concerning a Protestant marriage occurs if a subsequent marriage involves a Catholic. The faith community at large is concerned for its individual members. The marriage of any member of the Church affects all the members (c. 1059).
So if two Lutherans marry and subsequently divorce, and the divorced man now wishes to marry a Catholic woman, he is not free to do so. He would only become free if the Church issued a declaration of nullity for his first marriage. Nearly twenty percent of formal marriage cases pending before the Boston Tribunal pertain to marriages of non-Catholic Christians.
*The motu proprio Omnium in mentem of 26 October 2009 has now been altered, by Pope Benedict XVI.
The Code of Canon Law nonetheless prescribes that the faithful who have left the Church "by a formal act" are not bound by the ecclesiastical laws regarding the canonical form of marriage (cf. can. 1117), dispensation from the impediment of disparity of cult (cf. can. 1086) and the need for permission in the case of mixed marriages (cf. can. 1124). The underlying aim of this exception from the general norm of can. 11 was to ensure that marriages contracted by those members of the faithful would not be invalid due to defect of form or the impediment of disparity of cult.
Experience, however, has shown that this new law gave rise to numerous pastoral problems. First, in individual cases the definition and practical configuration of such a formal act of separation from the Church has proved difficult to establish, from both a theological and a canonical standpoint. In addition, many difficulties have surfaced both in pastoral activity and the practice of tribunals. Indeed, the new law appeared, at least indirectly, to facilitate and even in some way to encourage apostasy in places where the Catholic faithful are not numerous or where unjust marriage laws discriminate between citizens on the basis of religion. The new law also made difficult the return of baptized persons who greatly desired to contract a new canonical marriage following the failure of a preceding marriage. Finally, among other things, many of these marriages in effect became, as far as the Church is concerned, "clandestine" marriages.
In light of the above, and after carefully considering the views of the Fathers of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, as well as those of the Bishops' Conferences consulted with regard to the pastoral advantage of retaining or abrogating this exception from the general norm of can. 11, it appeared necessary to eliminate this norm which had been introduced into the corpus of canon law now in force.
Therefore I decree that in the same Code the following words are to be eliminated: "and has not left it by a formal act" (can. 1117); "and has not left it by means of a formal act" (can. 1086 § 1); "and has not left it by a formal act" (can. 1124).
Likewise, having heard the views of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, and after inquiry among my venerable brethren, the Cardinals of Holy Roman Church in charge of the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, I decree the following:
Art. 1. The text of can. 1008 of the Code of Canon Law is modified so that hereafter it will read:
"By divine institution, some of the Christian faithful are marked with an indelible character and constituted as sacred ministers by the sacrament of holy orders. They are thus consecrated and deputed so that, each according to his own grade, they may serve the People of God by a new and specific title";
Art 2. Henceforth can. 1009 of the Code of Canon Law will have three paragraphs. In the first and the second of these, the text of the canon presently in force are to be retained, whereas the new text of the third paragraph is to be worded so that can. 1009 § 3 will read:
"Those who are constituted in the order of the episcopate or the presbyterate receive the mission and capacity to act in the person of Christ the Head, whereas deacons are empowered to serve the People of God in the ministries of the liturgy, the word and charity".
Art. 3. The text of can. 1086 § 1 of the Code of Canon Law is modified as follows:
"A marriage between two persons, one of whom was baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it, and the other of whom is not baptized, is invalid".
Art. 4. The text of can. 1117 of the Code of Canon Law is modified as follows:
"The form prescribed above must be observed if at least one of the parties contracting the marriage was baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it, without prejudice to the provisions of can. 1127 § 2".
Art. 5. The text of can. 1124 of the Code of Canon Law is modified as follows:
"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".
All that I have laid down in this Apostolic Letter issued Motu Proprio, I now order to have the force of law, anything whatsoever to the contrary notwithstanding, even if worthy of particular mention, and I direct that it be published in the official gazette Acta Apostolicae Sedis.