QUAERITUR: Baptism outside one’s parish

From a priest:

After 17 years as a priest I’m surprised I can’t track down an answer to this, but even our diocesan faculties booklet is unclear.

A priest of our diocese baptized an infant whose parents are registered in my parish. The baptism was in the parish where he serves in residence. I did not give permission for the baptism, and now I’m wondering if permission is even required. I looked up all the canons cited in our faculties booklet (esp. c. 530, p. 1), but none of them specifically say that permission is required in this case. Is the permission just a courtesy to a pastor, or is there a canon hidden somewhere that specifically requires a pastor’s permission?

Canon 530.1 establishes that baptisms are “especially entrusted” to the pastor (parish priest) of the person.  This is a relaxation of the former law which reserved baptism to the pastor (and others lawfully delegated).

These days there’s no need for any dispensation or real permission for a bishop, priest or deacon (who, in accord with can. 861, are ordinary ministers of the sacrament) to baptize someone who is not his subject, as long as the baptism takes place in the territory with which he has been entrusted.

Thus, if he wanted to baptize outside of his territory (emergency situations excepted, of course), even if the one being baptized were one of his subjects, then he would need permission from the local pastor.

That said, it is polite protocol for the parents to inform their pastor that they are taking their child to be baptized by another priest. They don’t need their pastor’s permission to do so, but, since baptism is a task “especially entrusted” to him as their parish priest, and since he is the one charged with caring for their and their whole family’s spiritual welfare, it is the polite thing to do.

One point, however, set off an alarm…. albeit a minor alarm.

You write of the parents who are “registered in” your parish.

Unless there is particular law, registration in a parish has no canonical weight.

One’s parish is determined by one’s domicile (unless there is a personal parish, such as an ethnic parish – which is another matter).

Even if the parents in question are “registered” at St. Ethelburga’s, if they reside within the territory of Our Lady Tower of Ivory parish, then their canonical parish is Our Lady, Tower of Ivory.  The pastor of Our Lady Tower of Ivory is the one to whom the baptism of their children has been “especially entrusted”, not the pastor of St. Ethelburga’s.

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  1. Supertradmum says:

    Many dioceses and parishes have rules on this because of two things. One, the parish priest and bishops want the parents, or at least one, to be practicing Catholics. They want at least one of the godparents, according to Canon Law to be a practicing Catholic. In addition, most parents must take pre-Baptismal classes in many dioceses and parishes before Baptism. Along with this, parents should be members of a Church and taking part in that Church.

    That does not mean a priest cannot be asked as a guest priest to baptize a child. We did this and got permission of the bishop and the parish priest. as we wanted a close friend to do the Tridentine Baptism. But we did ask permission and did the courteous thing.

    As to priests not knowing what is correct, I can go online and look at most diocesan or parish websites and find out this information, at least in America. I like the distinction between domicile and registration, but for all the above reasons, many parishes do require registration. The abuses of nonpracticing Catholics wanting baptism without any relationship to a parish has been too common in the past. But, that is another question.

  2. tech_pilgrim says:

    About which parish you are in based on one’s domicile , let me ask a follow up question. You mentioned a personal parish, like an ethnic parish, is another matter. What about an oratory? Here in St. Louis, I go to St. Francis DeSales Oratory, run by the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. I am positive the rector would have said something when we registered if there was a concern, so this question is more out of curiosity as to how the law applies.

  3. Supertradmum says:

    tech_pilgrim, the Oratories of St. Philip Neri in Great Britain are also parishes, but one must register to have weddings. I know, as I was a registered parish member and had my wedding at the Brompton Oratory. As to the St. Louis Oratory of the Institute of Christ the King, you would have to ask it they have permission from the bishop for all sacraments. Can they do First Communions and Baptisms and such? Not all orders are given carte blanche permission for such.

    For example, I know of a charming chapel in France where there is not permission for sacraments except for Mass and Confession. The bishop determines this. If one wants permission to get married there, the bishop says yes or no. Baptisms are not allowed there and the people who regularly go to Mass there as it is the allowed TLM, and have babies must go and register their sacraments in the local parish, where they do not go to Mass. The priest has permission to do the sacraments but not in the TLM chapel. That is what the bishop decided. I am sure you can ask the Institute your question, as they would know the answer.

  4. Athelstan says:

    The Oratory of St Francis de Sales is, indeed, an oratory, and as such a personal parish with no defined parish boundaries; and it has permission from the ordinary to celebrate all the sacraments, baptisms included. Even if you live in, say, St Charles or Florissant. [“and as such”… No. By the fact that it is an oratory it is not assumed automatically to have the status of a parish.]

  5. jkm210 says:

    I think people should be registered in a parish so that they have a regular place for receiving formation and the sacraments, and to direct their tithe. Ideally, this would be in their geographic parish. However, there are all sorts of reasons why a geographic parish wouldn’t work for everyone. My husband is a full-time church employee, and we have always been members of his employing church, despite always having lived within different geographic boundaries and once even in a different diocese. Other reasons might be that some parishes have no religious education programs for children, or that certain parishes have handicapped-accessible amenities, including things like sign language translation.

    There are two Catholic churches within blocks of each other in the town I now live in, and I have no idea which geographical parish I might fall into. I doubt the busy pastors would care to hear from me just letting them know that I will be taking my family and my tithe elsewhere!

  6. The Masked Chicken says:

    I attend and am registered at a Dominican parish which is in the heart of downtown where no one lives (mostly commercial/administrative buildings). My nearest church is a few blocks from where I live, but miles from the Dominican parish. Many people who attend the Dominican parish (and it is huge) are in a similar situation. The priests near my house have never even seen me (I move a lot). Does this mean that in an emergency I am supposed to call the local church instead of the one where I am registered and known?

  7. Melody says:

    Personally I think the concept of territorial parishes really needs to be updated. While on one hand it is useful for the building of new parishes, the idea that one’s membership is determined by geographic location is a relic of a time when transport for most people was extremely limited.
    Where I live, it is not uncommon for extended families that live apart to all attend the same parish. Sunday is a time for community and family. This is especially the case in parishes where the extraordinary form is celebrated.
    I myself attend the parish near where I used to live. Even were it not for the sorry state of the nearer parish, I would not want to lose the mentorship of those at my current parish, who helped me when I quite literally alone, as I moved there after most of my family died.

  8. bourgja says:

    The Archdiocese of Cincinnati will not even release the parish boundaries upon request, unless the pastor of the parish asks for them. Thus it is impossible there to know which parish is your true domicile!

  9. Philangelus says:

    We bolted from our geographic parish in our previous city. In the spirit of charity I won’t detail all our reasons, but one of the reasons was a serious enough breach that I reported it to the Bishop’s office.

    The priest in our new parish, five miles from the old one, baptized both our subsequent children. I figure they’re valid baptisms, and honestly, it was much better from a spiritual perspective to escape my geographic parish than to remain there, no matter how you determine who belongs where. :-(

  10. silicasandra says:

    To echo jkm210, there are eight Catholic parishes within two miles of my home (I live in the “burbs.”) I have no idea what the boundaries are, although our parish states that they serve our municipality and a neighboring one, and to register there you have to provide proof of residence in one of the two municipalities. I don’t know if there is overlap with the other parishes and their boundaries or not. I would imagine there has to be because of how close they are (or perhaps they are ethnic parishes.) Three of them are actually shorter trips than to our current parish (we are on the edge of our community). We are very happy with our parish though and wouldn’t dream of leaving. But there are signs for festivals for every other nearby parish all along our street!

  11. Banjo pickin girl says:

    Masked Chicken, You may be in my parish (though Dominican parishes tend to be in inner cities). No, these Dominican parishes in inner cities where no one lives are different. They are there because the bishop allows the Dominicans to run them, otherewise they would have to be closed because there are no people living there. In an emergency call your Dominican parish of course.

  12. CharleyCOllins says:

    Athelstan says: “The Oratory of St Francis de Sales is, indeed, an oratory, and as such a personal parish with no defined parish boundaries.”

    No, it is an oratory, and as such serves as the church of the Institute. If a personal parish has been established, then that oratory also serves as the parish church of the personal parish.

    The importance of territorial parishes is that everyone has a parish, even if they are not the most regular Catholics. Every Catholic has a place that is theirs, and at which they have certain rights. It also means that every pastor has a duty to preach the Gospel within his parish, and also has pastoral responsibilities to the institutions (hospitals, schools, nursing homes, etc.) within his parish boundaries. If you did away with non-territorial parishes, it would make the Catholic Church a protestant institution, in which one chooses a congregation which suits them. I know on a practical matter, that is the case, and most dioceses have instituted diocesan rules stating that someone can “register” in a parish which is not their territorial parish, and have the same rights as someone who does live in the parish, but this does not take away the rights of those who live in the territory and don’t “register”. Also in the US, non-parochial churches often offer the same “services” as parishes, with the permission of the bishop. By canon law, these churches should be registering their weddings, baptisms, etc. at the local parish church, although many do not. Of course, this does not need to concern those attending the churches in question for the most part – there are no rules as to where you go to Mass, and any baptism performed will be a valid, Catholic baptism. The only time it would be a concern would be if you were being married in a non-parochial church and the priest/deacon did not have delegation from the proper pastor. However, generally speaking, any such marriage would be celebrated by a properly delegated priest/deacon. Things are much less loosy-goosy in Rome. I was married in a non-parochial church, and the parish priest came from the parish church (which was across the street) with the marriage registry. After we signed it, he came and took it back to his church! Sadly, in Rome’s city centre, there are many churches, but only a few are parish churches. And some of them require a hefty fee before they will grant delegation for any marriage in their territory (which was not the case with my marriage, just to make clear!).

  13. Joshua08 says:

    I have been told that, in general, priests are given faculties even over those not actually having their domicile at a parish, but who are registered there, as a matter of course. That was what I told when I asked about a funeral and on another occasion with a wedding, which normally must be done at the parish of domicile of one of the two spouses.

    However, lack of registration cannot be itself a reason to deny any sacrament or service. If I die, and am not registered, the parish still had the duty to have my funeral. And I have a right to the sacraments at my parish, regardless of registration. There are, of course, actual canonical norms that may restrict this right in some instances.

    I think that ff a priest baptises an infant which is a subject of another parish, he is to notify the pastor that he be recorded in the territorial parish’s baptismal registry. That is canon law. Permission is not required here, but notification is, at least soon after the fact. I would assume, unless some particular law is in place, that even if the parents are registered at where the baby is baptised, the actually pastor to whom they are subjects due to their domicile must be informed. At least that is my understanding of canons 877 and 878 on the registration of a baptism.

  14. Suburbanbanshee says:

    When I was a kid, most parishes in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati that I visited, including my home parish, had a large map on the wall of the narthex, showing exactly where the parish boundaries were. They have all disappeared long since, come to think of it. Hmm.

    I suppose that concealment of parish bounds would be an indirect consequence of the elimination of Beating the Bounds and other Rogation procession activities. Yet another reason we should start again, if cool prayers for the parish and dragon banners weren’t enough.

  15. I have no competence in canon law, but I recall reading an allegation by a qualified canon lawyer that–under the 1983 revision of the code–a Catholic has no obligation to support, attend, or rely sacramentally his geographical parish. Therefore (in contrast to previous law) one is free to attend and support another parish in which he does not reside.

    Instead, the obligation (he said) goes the other way–the pastor of a parish has the obligation to meet the sacramental and spiritual needs of those Catholics residing within his parish.

  16. Greg58501 says:

    Prior to converting to Catholicism, I was a Mormon. Incidentally, Mormons adhere to a fairly strict territorial system, where your congregation is assigned based on where you live. The logic they give for that, which in my mind makes sense, is that congregations that are perceived as superior for any reason will attract more parishioners, ensuring that the inequality persists. Applied to Catholicism, imagine if everybody who was traditionally minded left a parish due to it’s liturgical “innovations.” Who would remain to combat and try to remedy those innovations?

    As it turns out, this philosophy resulted in my attending RCIA at a church that most of my peers advised against. In my mind this was ultimately a good thing. That church’s RCIA was taught by a deacon who disagreed with the Church on a number of issues (contraception, necessity of the bishops/heirarchy, ect), and my fellow students probably wouldn’t have heard the Church’s actual stance on those issues had I not been present. I’m not saying I necessarily convinced anybody, but at least they know the right answer.

    Incidentally, when I later moved, I found myself equidistant between two parishes. I never could figure out which one’s boundaries I officially am within, so I just picked the one that was slightly closer. I do wish there was a means available to laity to figure out official boundaries.

    As always, just my thoughts on the subject.


  17. APX says:

    I don’t think this is heeded to too much in my home diocese, as I know of relatives who had no problems priest shopping when their territorial priest wanted to defer baptism because they weren’t married yet ad their child was born out of wedlock. They also weren’t (and still aren’t) practicing Catholics.

  18. Matt R says:

    Part of the problem is that so many parishes went out to lunch over the last 40 years, while a select few remained outposts of orthodoxy. My parish is certainly not my geographic parish, and the Dominican parish that many of my friends attend is certainly not their geographic parish either, but both of our parishes fulfill unique missions (the EF Mass and the Dominican mission) that are not met by any other parish. (Now, the EF is now offered at another parish, but it was only at our parish until last year…BUT it still isn’t the geographic parish of the majority of Mass-goers!)
    I’m not sure how to fix this issue of canon law. There are some areas where geographic parishes are a must. Arlington is one example, at least when I was there; however, even there it becomes a problem, because you can still get permission to go to a parish you are not resident in. On the other hand, most dioceses don’t face this issue.

  19. asshur says:

    Baptism outside your formal parish is something i have a bit of experience (neither me nor my two daughters were baptized in our territorial parish, for quite diferent reason each), and at least in old catholic Europe, not even courtesy communication to our p.p. is demanded/expected. But as registration is done usually in the baptizing parish get ready for long life administrative troubles (and even worse when in different countries, as myself)

  20. chcrix says:

    Interesting that the Archdiocese of St. Louis has an interactive feature on its website that actually helps one find within which parish one lives.

    The two EF oratories however are fully accredited parishes without boundaries.

  21. APX says:

    The other issue is when you live in an area of multi-culturalism. I’m not 100% certain which parish is my territorial parish. It’s either the Korean parish, Vietamanese parish, Portugese parish, or Mandarin Parish. I speak none of those languages and am not part of those cultural traditions. Yes, I could fulfill my Sunday obligation, but I would not get the appropriate pastoral care necessary to become a holy person.

  22. Volanges says:

    Most Catholics have no idea about this. My first two children were baptized in 1979 & 1982, so under the old Code. I was a military dependent so fell under the care of the Catholic Chaplain but, not knowing any better, went back to my birth parish so that the priest who had witnessed our wedding could baptize them. My dad made the calls to the priest each time and I was simply told to show up with the baby and godparents on one of the Sundays of my vacation. The baptisms are registered in that parish.

    The requirement for permission came to my attention when I was secretary for my parish and stumbled upon a notation in the baptismal register of the Mission we also served. A baby had been baptized at St. Anne-de-Beaupré and the priest had entered it in the Mission’s register and written “Baptized at St. Anne’s without permission.” I asked our pastor about it and he explained. As the person responsible for baptismal preparation, I often had to write letters to certify that parents who were going out to have their babies baptized had done the preparation. There are many such couples in our parish, where most young people come from somewhere else and return to their former parishes for marriages and baptisms. After verifying with the Pastor that it was OK to do so, I always added “Fr. Joe Smith, Pastor, has granted permission for the Baptism to take place in your parish.” It at least assured the other priest that he wasn’t doing something behind our Pastor’s back.

  23. Red Cardigan says:

    Like others who have commented here, I have no idea how to find my geographic parish–the diocese doesn’t appear to make that information widely available.

    However, if the church closest to me actually is my parish based on domicile, I have a question. The parish is made up of a main church and a mission church. The main church is the one closest to me; however, both churches technically belong to one parish and share one (very dedicated and wonderful) priest. Since the mission church was more in need of my family’s presence to help with their choir, we registered at that church and attend it most of the time (though we occasionally go to Mass at the other, “main” parish church, and usually to confession at the main church as well).

    So–if, in fact, my geographic parish is this one, am I actually a member of my geographic parish even though I go to the mission church which is farther away from my home, or would I have to attend the nearer church building to be a member of my geographic parish? If it’s one parish, would anyone who is part of that parish be able to register at and attend either church?

    It’s not a huge concern, but I’m intrigued by the question of how mission churches that are part of a parish fit in to the geographic parish concept.

  24. jflare says:

    “Even if the parents in question are “registered” at St. Ethelburga’s…“especially entrusted”, not the pastor of St. Ethelburga’s.”

    Eek! Yick!
    I do hope our local ordinary doesn’t decide to become extra prickly about this before I marry. This plausibly could happen within a few years and, honestly, I’m not at all keen on marrying in the church that could fairly claim responsibility for me canonically.

    The church itself readily qualifies as one of the more beautiful ones I’ve come across here in the US. Stained glass, beautiful paintings, more traditional architechture, that sort of thing. Sadly, the mentality of the congregation seems to me..unable or unwilling to match. I rarely attend Mass there, but when I have, I’ve seen many people, adults and parents included, wearing rather more casual attire. Musically, it seems they don’t realize that beautiful Chants and polyphonies could be offered instead of plain songs. I don’t remember if they allow young ladies at the altar, but I’m fairly confident that they’re not as concerned about..more complex vestments.
    In general, I get more of a blah from the place than anything else.

    Oddly, the parish where I DO attend Mass, a four mile drive, lacks some of the nice murals, but it makes up for that with pretty paintings for Stations (yes, they DO have wooden crosses above them!), the stained glass windows might readily compete with a European church for inspirational character, we do our best with Chant, polyphony, and various Latin expressions where appropriate, and our boys receive plenty of instruction and encouragement regarding service at the altar.

    Granted, if I DO wind up marrying, my prospective wife would obviously have some say in the matter too!
    Even so, I do hope I can be wed in my current home parish, should I be called.
    If I’m going to marry, I’d like to be among friends and a parish that cares.
    (Yes, I know, that sounds fairly harsh. Regrettably, I think it’s close enough….)

  25. jflare says:

    “Applied to Catholicism, imagine if everybody who was traditionally minded left a parish due to it’s liturgical “innovations.” Who would remain to combat and try to remedy those innovations?”

    Greg, I’ve been occasionally troubled by that concept, I admit.

    Having been a military officer for several years, I never even considered that I might technically fall under the canonical jurisdiction of one church or another. I did a fair bit of “church-shopping” or “church-hopping” during my second tour, trying to find something that “fit”. At one point, simply to save myself a small amount of commute time, I actually found the church that seemed to me closest to where I lived. I did not go back twice. In retrospect, it’s possible that I happened to choose a day designated as a “parish and school spirit” day. ..And, prior to that, I’d never been inclined to being super picky about manner of dress. (..Rather difficult to be fussy when you’ve been to Mass many times wearing BDUs. *shrugs*) I’ll even acknowledge that the chosen apparel depicted the particular church and school. Even so, I decided I couldn’t tolerate a parish in which half the congregation wore jeans and t-shirts to Mass. I felt I needed to be able to require SOME decorum. This was Sunday Mass after all, not weekday Mass at high school.

    Trying to stay somewhat focused though, I briefly attempted exercising a minor influence on a parish I attended in my current local area. I didn’t try very long. I simply didn’t feel that wearing a suit and a nice overcoat really had any worthwhile impact on a parish in which most people wore casual slacks and fairly typical “school-day” coats.

    That and the fact that, as a military officer, I tended to be somewhat less predictable as to when I could BE at Mass, not to mention somewhat more itinerant. Knowing that I wouldn’t be there for much more than two years, I tended to feel like something of an outsider just about everywhere. I figured if I started making suggestions, people would ultimately discern that I’d be moving on within a defined time frame..and that would be the end of THAT.

    So, yes, we could make a case for being willing to correct abuses in your technical canonical parish. Problem might always be that, in order to REALLY make an impact, you almost need to be someplace long enough that people get to know you and trust you. AND, they must be willing to make changes, however slowly.

    As you might discern from above, I’ve never felt I could exercise a worthwhile influence on anyone. Beings I’m not yet married–so noone needs to worry about me being fussy about the faith my kids will witness–and have few real anchors to anything, I’m pretty easy to dismiss.

  26. quamquam says:


    I would read Canons 877 and 878 in quite the opposite direction: ‘the pastor of the parish in which [baptism] was administered’ is the one who must be informed if someone else administered the baptism – not the pastor of the parish where the parents reside:

    Can. 877 §1. The pastor of the place where the baptism is celebrated must carefully and without any delay record in the baptismal register the names of the baptized, with mention made of the minister, parents, sponsors, witnesses, if any, the place and date of the conferral of the baptism, and the date and place of birth.

    Can. 878 If the baptism was not administered by the pastor or in his presence, the minister of baptism, whoever it is, must inform the pastor of the parish in which it was administered of the conferral of the baptism, so that he records the baptism according to the norm of ? can. 877, §1

  27. frscott says:

    How about this: the parish in which the child is baptized is committing to the spiritual welfare of the child. Therefore, if you are members of St Olaf but go to St Sixtus for the Baptism, St Sixtus (as a parish) is making a promise they cannot keep.

    I have gotten this argument before when I, as a priest, have found another parish in the area to Baptize a child in the EF when such a service was requested. I’m the only priest willing but am not a pastor yet. It has also come up when parents wish to return to their home parish to baptize their first child. The ironic part of it all is that the baptisms are held after Mass with just family and friends present (most of whom are not members of either parish, or not even Carholic at all).

    Has anyone else heard of this argument against baptisms in a parish other than your own? Does it even carry any weight?

  28. Athelstan says:

    Your first duty is to your family, not your territorial parish.

    One hopes you’re not forced to choose. But sometimes, you are.

  29. jesusthroughmary says:

    For those who are wondering about the official boundaries of parishes near them, the Diocese has the boundaries of every parish on record.

  30. Penta says:

    jesusthroughmary: Yes, but if they won’t share the data, then it’s fairly useless. I believe several commenters have pointed out that their diocese won’t share said data.

  31. jesusthroughmary says:

    That seems silly, considering the parish boundaries are required by canon law to be published at the erection of the parish, precisely so that they are a matter of public record.

  32. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Greg, what you says makes sense; only, it is not our duty, and I have the general idea that whenever we treat something as a duty which really is none, the result is problematic.

    Thus, it is in a sense our duty to reform the word. On the other hand our parish (of attendance, or in the U.S. probably registration) is meant to be our safe haven; it is not our duty, but a highly supererogatory task to reform it. I’m not speaking of course of the (in my experience very little) amount of “Church bureaucracy” (no derogation intended) where the canonical pastor as such has a say.

    if everybody who was traditionally minded left a parish due to it’s liturgical “innovations.” Who would remain to combat and try to remedy those innovations?
    The bishop. That among other things is his job. [Besides the fact that, @jflare, I couldn’t bring myself to count as abuse when the congregation pops up on a Sunday, which I guess was not Easter Sunday or another solemnity, etc., in jeans, presumably modest ones, and t-shirts.]

    Reverend dear @Fr. Scott, where in the baptism liturgy does the parish promise anything to the child? I thought that was parents and godparents. Honest question.

  33. Moro says:

    I know this is a matter of canon law, but doesn’t all the fuss over what priest can do what and where seem silly. It seems to me that if a priest is validly ordained and in good standing, he should be allowed to perform all the sacraments in his church, or another provided he has the pastor’s permission as a matter of courtesy. It seems like we split hairs of something that in the grand scheme of thing is not a big deal.

    Same thing with confession and the matter of faculties in a given diocese. I know diocesean priests typically have faculties to hear confessions everywhere, but religious priests not necessarily. Why can’t any validly ordained priests administer the sacraments without restriction when there is genuine need to do so? These minutiae of canon law strike me as being absolutely ridiculous.

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