From a reader…
I have two younger brothers who are close in age and who were both baptized Catholic as babies. Very early in their life, when they were around 1 and 3 years old respectively, our mom left the church and has since attended a Methodist church. Since canon law requires permission for the validity of a marriage for those baptized as Catholics, would my brother’s marriage be valid since he never had any conscious time being raised a Catholic? I know two baptized Protestants who have never been Catholic validly and sacramentally marry, but former and current Catholics who are baptized do not validly marry outside the church or without her permission.
The Church operates under the ancient dictum:
Semel Catholicus, semper Catholicus.
Once a Catholic, always a Catholic.
Or, if we want to be technical: Semel baptizatus, semper baptizatus. You can’t change the fact that a) you were baptized and b) that baptism happened in the Catholic Church. (Mine happened in the Lutheran Church, a fact I would change if I could, but I can’t, anymore than those baptized in the Catholic Church can change that fact.) We will leave aside attempts to “defect” from the Church by a formal act rather than by negligence or laziness, which doesn’t figure into this entry. Besides, the Church’s law about that was changed in 2009. HERE
Being a Catholic is not like joining a club. In a club, if you fail to pay your annual dues, or you stop attending, or even make a fuss and shred your registration card you can be kicked out. Or you can voluntarily leave.
Not so with the Church.
Once you’ve been baptized Catholic, your only choices are to be a practicing Catholic, or a lapsed Catholic.
Even excommunication, despite what some think, doesn’t kick you out of the Catholic Church. Instead, it’s more like you’re put into the penalty box until you come to your senses, reform your life, ask forgiveness, and come back.
You don’t get re-baptized, you just get absolved. You get your penalty lifted, and you’re back in the pew with the rest of us, praying, and struggling, and trying to get to heaven.
To turn the sock inside out, think of it this way: The bonds of the baptized Catholic and the Catholic Church run in both directions. The Catholic might stray but the bond is there anyway. The Church wants you, dear Catholic, to be in the Church and she won’t let go of you if you are simply running about doing silly things and not practicing your Faith.
And so, all Catholics are bound by the laws of the Church, even if they’re not aware of them.
That means marriage laws too.
Catholics who marry outside of the Church, and who don’t obtain a dispensation to do so, aren’t really married. This includes those who were baptized as Catholics while infants but who never practiced their faith after that.
Dura lex, sed lex.