ASK FATHER: Can’t get baptism certificate. Can we still get married?

traditional marriage certificateFrom a reader…

QUAERITUR:

My fiance was baptised (as well as communion and confirmed) in a catholic church in Sicily and is unable to obtain his baptism certificate. What do we do in this situation? Can we still get married in the Church?

A recently-issued copy of the baptismal record is required for a Catholic marriage for a couple reasons.

First, and most importantly, it establishes the fact that the person in question is indeed a baptized Catholic.

Secondly, it demonstrates that the person is presumably free to marry. Had the person been married in the Catholic Church, notice of the wedding should/would have been sent to the parish of baptism. The fact of the marriage would have been recorded in the parish registers and, therefore, on the baptismal certificate.  That’s why certificates have to have been issued fairly recently.

Thirdly, it provides information where this notice should be sent once the wedding is complete.

Baptismal records are sometimes difficult to get. Language barriers, destruction of buildings and record books, war, lack of knowledge of where one was baptized … all of these and other reasons, not to mention lazy priests, hinder attempts.

If a record is impossible to obtain, there are a couple possible solutions.

Someone who was actually at the baptism can provide testimony. If the one baptized was an adult, he could attest to his own baptism. Photographs, notices, family letters can sometimes be used to prove the fact of baptism. In some cases, proof of First Holy Communion or a confirmation certificate can be used.

There would be an explanation of why a certificate was not obtained. Just because the baptism took place overseas is not a good reason. ALL Catholic parishes, through the entire world, are required to keep these records.  There would also need to be testimony taken from people who knew the person during his marriageable years, who could attest that the person had not been previously married.

In a worst-case scenario, if there is absolutely no objective proof forthcoming that the person had been baptized, and no witnesses who can attest to this, the person could be conditionally baptized. This is a last-resort option, since we really should do everything we can to avoid giving conditional sacraments.

This is also a reason why marriages at SSPX chapels and completely independent and fringe chapels are so problematic.  There are questions not only of validity but also of record keeping.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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26 Responses to ASK FATHER: Can’t get baptism certificate. Can we still get married?

  1. cpttom says:

    My wife is Chinese, from the mainland. She was baptised by her mother, as they were members of the Underground Church and there were no priests (well, non-Patriotic Church Priests) available. Her mother died so we had a bit of a twist. As Father Z describes we had to get an affidavit signed by her Father and her Uncle who had witnessed the baptism as well as her Aunt and Uncle in the States who knew about her life here before we got married that she had never been married. A learning experience indeed.

  2. Faith says:

    I volunteer in a prison. Every year in RCIA, at least one person can not get their baptismal certificate. So a conditional baptism is given. It’s not unheard of.

  3. Elizabeth D says:

    I attended a conditional baptism of two adults just this past Sunday (no, no invitations were sent out, I just remained in church for it because I know them). It was a very simple occasion, without all the formalities of ordinary baptismal ceremonies. One of them told me that her first baptism was not valid and that this was her real baptism. I believe what is done is that they soon after make a First Confession also to the same priest of any sins of their past life (makes me wonder if this also has a conditional aspect since if the conditional baptism was their real baptism then it already washed away all past sins). They will receive Confirmation and First Holy Communion at the Easter Vigil.

  4. In addition to preparing for reception of the sacraments yourself, you never know when you’ll be called upon by family or friends to be a godparent or a sponsor. Rather than waiting for the need to arise, we do well to have a copy of our baptismal certificate handy. Even if not recent – as is sometimes required – once you have it, you know where you need to go to get a new copy. In a pretty mobile modern society, this is an especially good plan.

  5. cpttom says:

    In some states (I’m in NY) a baptism is a secondary document of identification. So you can use it with another form (sometimes a utility bill or other bill that establishes your address) and your Social Security number to identify you.

  6. With all the closing and merging of parishes these days, also worth noting is that when a church is closed, baptismal records are supposed to be transferred to another nearby parish. If one was baptized at a now-closed parish, the diocesan chancery (or even Internet) should be able to identify the parish where the records are now kept.

  7. “With all the closing and merging of parishes these days . . .”

    Sounds jarring to those of us in regions where Mass attendance and vocations are burgeoning, new parishes being established and new Catholic schools opened, new (more traditional) churches and cathedrals being built, and even (in my diocese) EF Masses within reasonable driving distance of most, and plenty of enthusiastic young TLM celebrants available.

  8. Athelstan says:

    Andrew,

    And sometimes, when the parish is closed, the records are transferred to the diocesan office itself – which is what happened in my case.

    When in doubt, check with the diocese.

  9. Gerard Plourde says:

    When discussing the subject of parish closures, it must be remembered that in many cases there a number of factors involved. In urban areas parishes were often built at a time when the automobile was not ubiquitous and the means of getting to church was by foot leading to parishes with small geographical areas. Additionally, in areas with large immigrant populations so-called “national parishes” were created. Not far from me is a neighborhood that contained in addition to the main geographic parish parishes erected by the Archdiocese to serve Germans, Italians, and Poles with slightly larger boundaries. They are all within a six block area. Three years ago the Archdiocese merged them into the main parish, where the records for all of the parishes are now stored. Another factor in my area is the movement of Catholics to the suburbs resulting in the erection of new parishes to accommodate the influx.

  10. Augustine Thompson O.P. says:

    I suspect that in a good number of “cannot find the records” cases, e.g. those of prisoners mentioned above, the problem is that the church where the rite was performed has been forgotten. This can create a big problem. If you don’t know the church, then there is no where to go. Perhaps eventually this kind of information will all be kept electronically and a name search could be done.

  11. Gregorius says:

    There was one case in my parish where someone’s baptismal certificate could not be retrieved because it was overseas. A family member scanned/printed out a photo of the moment of the baptism, labeled all family members in the photo, and passed it around to those people labeled and had them sign it attesting to the baptism. One possible solution, but it would require the family be very close to each other.

  12. Cafea Fruor says:

    Another way to track down your baptismal parish is, if you remember where you were confirmed or received first Communion (if it was a different parish), as parishes are supposed to notify your baptismal parish of these sacraments, as far as I understand. So if the parish where you were confirmed reported your confirmation to your baptismal parish, then there may be a note there as to where they sent the notice. So, for example, when I got a copy of my baptismal certificate in 2000, it noted also my confirmation from the 90s.

  13. Adrienne Regina says:

    Something to consider…When I requested a copy of the 1965 baptismal certificate for one of my children, it could not be found in the records. When I asked the church secretary to check entries under his middle name, voilà.

  14. Marc M says:

    “This is a last-resort option, since we really should do everything we can to avoid giving conditional sacraments.”

    Why is that?

  15. alexandra88 says:

    This is a common problem. When I was getting married, the parish which I was confirmed Catholic (I was baptised protestant) forgot to actually keep a record of the happy occasion! I simply wrote to my former parish priest explaining my situation and he mailed a letter back testifying where and when the confirmation took place and that he was there personally to witness it. There’s always a solution.

  16. Volanges says:

    Cafea Fruor, you’re correct that contacting the parish where you were confirmed or made your First Communion can help. It may be different in other countries but when we record those sacraments here the register includes a space to note where the person was baptized.

    It should be noted that while many parishes do record First Communion, its recording is not mandated by Canon Law, unlike Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage and Holy Orders. In 11 years of dealing with baptismal certificates I never saw one that included a notation of First Communion.

  17. SanSan says:

    This is off subject somewhat, but any suggestions? Catholics who do not baptize their children…..what to do, what to do for the little souls? Please pray for Rena 15, Karina 14, Noah 13, Jack 10 and Hannah 8.

  18. Random Friar says:

    I’ve had all sorts of things happen when asking about baptismal certificates in the “Third World” — a handful of them dealing with natural disasters: a flood/volcano/fire/war etc destroyed the parish, and/or most of the diocese. In general, we’re pretty lucky here in the US.

    And yes, we have the odd chapel here or there that passes itself off as in full communion with Rome, and it breaks my heart to tell folks about them.

  19. ocleirbj says:

    @SanSan, I am facing the same issue. Pray, a lot! Get to know some saints who were graciously converted after their mothers [and grandmothers] spent years in prayer. E.g. St Augustine, Ven. Matt Talbot. There are many others. Remember that the grace of God can touch the most hardened heart. Be a good role model – they will remember you and how you lived long after you are gone. I had to surrender my own desire to see my children and grandchildren converted in my lifetime. God is patient with them as well as with us. Love them, love their parents, love them some more. :-)

  20. truthfinder says:

    When I was teaching Catechism classes, I need the copy of our students’ baptismal records in order for confirmation to proceed. One student did not know this, so from Canada, to the Phillipines we managed to get oral confirmation of the baptism and the next day a faxed copy (possibly even translated). It can be done.

  21. Supertradmum says:

    As an ex-RCIA teacher and coordinator, this lack of records can be a real problem. One parish in a diocese where I worked was missing all the sacramental records for eleven years.

    In another college campus minstry, the priest did not keep records for seven years. Can one imagine this?

    And, the other problem I came up against was the heretical usage of varied forms of baptism, other than the Trinitarian one. One woman had to be re-baptized and have her marriage sanitized as she found out when in the class that being baptized, “In the Name of Jesus” only was not valid.

    Years ago, the bishop in my home diocese had to send out letters to all the priests stating that if they had baptized “In the name of the Creator, Savior and Sustainer”, they had to find those people and re-baptize them. Can one imagine the chaos?

    At least the Catholic Church is so much more efficient, usually, than the Anglicans. I actually know personally a couple married in an Anglican church in England and the woman has never been baptized. The female priestess did not seem to mind officiating over an invalid Christian marriage-invalid on two accounts-no baptism, no real priest.

  22. eulogos says:

    One of my children was baptized I my then oarishby a priest from elsewhere who was a friend of the family. ( He used the old rite in English, which I don’t believe was allowed then, (1985) but it was great. But he himself was not doing well at that time.He started to go up to the rectory to register the baptism but then said he would do it when he got back to St-‘s. I never thought about it until I needed the certificate many years later. Neither parish has his baptism registered. As of now I do have witnesses. Can I somehow get a late entry made in the register?

  23. +JMJ+ says:

    I was in a slightly different situation when I recently applied for the Diaconate formation program in our Diocese. One of the documents I had to provide was (of course) a recently-issued baptismal certificate with confirmation of all my other sacraments. Turns out that only my confirmation had been sent back to my baptismal Parish…I had to track down the rest of them from the Parishes where they’d occurred and get letters from the Pastors (hopefully they all responded to my request to send them back to my baptismal Parish as well). This was extra difficult for my first reconciliation/first communion, as the pastor was on an emergency leave to visit his family in Central America…

  24. OlderCatholic says:

    I’m surprised to hear about all this required bookkeeping, and mildly curious to learn whether my marriage was indeed recorded at the church where I was baptized. I’m not going to further hassle the long-suffering clerks by trying to find out, though.

  25. fishonthehill says:

    On occasion I have this issue… the most interesting I have ever received was for an older couple in a second marriage… one of the individuals had a letter from the diocese stating “Baptismal records destroyed by atomic bomb… Diocese of Nagasaki” !!!!

  26. Magash says:

    You cannot imagine the problems when the Baptism in question is not a Catholic Baptism. Some Protestant groups do not keep baptismal records at all. If there is no one available who was at the baptism, as sometimes happens in RCIA cases when the person is elderly, or at least on the high side of middle age, it can be quite difficult to prove Baptism.