ASK FATHER: Two Catholics getting married in the Orthodox Church

From a reader…


I have friend who is getting married in the Orthodox church. This friend and his wife to be were both Catholics, but recently left the Church for the Orthodox church. Is this marriage valid? Should I attend this marriage or no?

Leaving the Catholic Church for the Orthodox Church.  I can’t – and won’t – get my head around that.  Really.  Bad.  Idea.  No, no.  There is no good reason for it.  Nope.  Don’t even try.


Firstly, two Catholics can’t be dispensed from canonical form except in danger of death (can. 1079 §1). Outside danger of death, a dispensation from canonical form for two Catholics can only be granted by the Apostolic See.

Without a dispensation from Rome (which the couple is unlikely to seek), the wedding would not be validly celebrated.  In other words, afterward they’ll be shacking up… formally… but shacking up nevertheless.

Their formal shackup might later be sanated, presuming everything else is in order.   And presuming that they returned to the Catholic Church from their ill-advised jaunt into schism.

As to whether you should attend the wedding or not, that’s a complicated situation which should be discussed in person with your pastor.  Each one of these situations must be dealt with on its own merits.  I’d like to be able to give a simple answer… every single time someone asks me this “Should I go to the wedding?” query.   But circumstances today, in which a huge number of people are barely, if at all catechized, and families are atomized, make any attempt at a cover-all answer both foolish and misleading.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Another way (and maybe a better way) this can be shot down [?!?]
    is to say that they belong canonically to the Latin church. We could (for argument’s sake) treat this as if they asked a Byzantine Catholic priest to marry them. [No. We really can’t.]
    Even in this case, since the priest is not of the same church as either the man or the woman, he would need to contact their pastor and get the bishop(s?) involved in order to obtain the needed permission to marry them (since the priest in question lacks jurisdiction over both the man and the woman). As the result of the lack of proper permission, the marriage would be considered invalid. [You are way off the rails.]

    I will admit I’ve always been curious (ever since I started my journey in the east) as to how “transfers” work canonically [You don’t TRANSFER to the Orthodox Church. You become a schismatic. And, thus, excommunicated. And you are still bound by the law of the Catholic Church.]
    if someone was initiated as a Latin, but then decided later in life at some point to enter into the one of the Orthodox churches. Would it always be invalid since you don’t have both bishops talking as you would in a transfer from the Latin church to one of the Orthodox churches in communion with Rome (I mean, one of the eastern Catholic churches) or would reception into one of the Orthodox churches “activate” some kind of “shortcut” to circumvent this required process?

    [Way out over your skiis.]

  2. robert hightower says:

    Father, the SSPX claim that a lack of access to a canonical witness for a valid marriage that would go on for three months (such as in mission territory or remote places) creates a dispensation ipso facto. [In the current code it is ONE month: can. 1116 in 1983 and 1098 in 1917] They then expand that lack of access to include moral inaccessibility and invoke that to claim that marriages solemnized with them are valid. [I don’t know about that. I inclined to say “no”.]

    I tried as best I could to present that in the way I understood it told to me. I’m wondering if there’s truth to that?

    If it is true, might that apply in this case as well?

  3. thomistking says:

    You might think that the (kind of weird) exception in can. 1127 would allow two Catholics getting married in an Orthodox Church to be validly married, since it allows a Catholic to validly (but not licitly) marry an Orthodox person without a dispensation. But since they’re both Catholics, this doesn’t actually make sense.

    [Two Catholics cannot be dispensed.]

  4. Fr Lance says:

    Incorrect Father. [No. I am right.]

    Valid. [Invalid.]

    Can. 1127 §1. The prescripts of can. 1108 are to be observed for the form to be used in a mixed marriage. [That’s not the situation here.]

    Nevertheless, if a Catholic party contracts marriage with a non-Catholic party of an Eastern rite, [That is not the situation here.]
    the canonical form of the celebration must be observed for liceity only; for validity, however, the presence of a sacred minister is required and the other requirements of law are to be observed.

    [I’m right.]

  5. Wigglesworth says:

    This answer is correct for two Catholics attempting marriage in the Orthodox Church. [And now comes the part that doesn’t pertain to this, but is interesting anyway.]
    However, it may be worth noting that a Catholic and a (real) Orthodox Christian marry validly before an Orthodox priest, even if the Catholic party has not obtained permission to do so (canon 1127, §1). [This applies only to Orthodox weddings, not to Protestant weddings , civil weddings, &c]

  6. Fr. Kelly says:

    This one is simple, guys. Fr. Z is absolutely right. In the case described, there is no grey area. Canon 1108 binds both Catholic parties. The marriage is invalid if Canonical Form is not observed and no appropriate dispensation was given by the one who has authority to give it. (The diocesan bishop)

    And it matters. Our people have the right to be correctly informed about the sacraments, and to have them celebrated validly and licitly. Since this involves the validity of a marriage, it is especially serious, since if one who they have reason to expect to know the law advises them that it might be valid is by that fact cooperating in their sins against the 6th Commandment that will presumably follow once they start living together as if they were married.

    Also for priests who may be asked about this or other marriage law questions in confession remember well Canon 1387, which says “A priest who in the act, on the occasion, or under the pretext of confession solicits a penitent to sin against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue is to be punished, according to the gravity of the delict, by suspension, prohibitions, and privations; in graver cases he is to be dismissed from the clerical state.”

    The sin solicited does not have to be with the priest to bear this penalty. [Yes, Fr. Kelly, this is a twist that a lot of priests haven’t considered. If you, as a priest confessor, tell someone that they can continue to sin against the VIth Commandment, you are, in effect, soliciting a sin against the VIth.]

  7. Fr Lance says:

    Then there is

    Can. 1124 Without express permission of the competent authority, a marriage is prohibited between two baptized persons of whom one is baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it after baptism and has not defected from it by a formal act and the other of whom is enrolled in a Church or ecclesial community not in full communion with the Catholic Church.

    The Orthodox Church requires a formal profession of faith that includes renunciation of Catholic specific doctrines. I can’t envision a more formal act of defection. So two former Catholics who join the Orthodox Church and get marriage have a valid marriage.

    [Again, NO. And again NO. The 1983 CIC was changed. Catholics who “leave” the Church even by a formal act in favor of nothing or another Church are NOT thereby no longer bound by the Church’s law. The idea is “once a Catholic, always a Catholic”. Cf. Benedict XVI’s Omnium in mentem in 2009.]

  8. Fr. Kelly says:

    Fr. Lance,
    Omnium in Mentem (26 October 2009) removes this from Canon Law.
    Since then (or its confirmation in August of 2010) it is no longer possible to defect from the Church by a formal act.

  9. Fr. Kelly says:

    Canon 1124 no longer reads as you have said Fr. Lance. Since Omnium in mentem, it says
    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.

  10. Josephus Corvus says:

    Just to make sure I understand the implications here: if down the road they get divorced and one of the parties returns to the Church, that person can most likely get a free pass on getting an annulment – which would not be so likely if they were both Orthodox to begin with or had been married in the Catholic Church?

  11. veritas vincit says:

    Does this mean that (in addition to the sin of schism) the couple are guilty of the sin of fornication, every time they have intercourse, because they are not vaildly married?

    This seems to be another issue where the requirement of “canonical form” does not lead to a good result. A marriage between a man and a woman, whether inside or outside the church, presumably with the intention to have children and raise them, is a good thing. And yet, they are denied the sacramental graces of matrimony.

    [What it means is that Catholics have the option of doing things correctly, not incorrectly.]

  12. As I understand the situation, two Christians who used to be Roman Catholic converted to Orthodoxy and are getting married in the Orthodox Church. If that is correct, than y’all have nothing to do with this. Y’all have no standing, as it were. The idea that the RC church has any claim on them is laughable, though entirely consistent with RC ecclesiastical imperialism (as we Orthodox see it and have experienced it for centuries). Please, just get over it. You might pray for their happiness and devotion to the Lord.

    [Thanks for coming into someone else’s house and, with a sneer, throwing a couple of chairs at the china. Thoughtful. I’m sure your perennially charming approach is also appreciated in meetings by the faculty at CUA. Whatever antinomian views the Orthodox hold, Catholics are obliged to follow the laws of the Catholic Church. Sometimes they don’t, but the obligation remains. The Catholic Church, in unity with Peter, has Christ’s authority to legislate. The Church says that attempts by Catholics to alienate themselves from membership in the Church are null. They can sign papers in any other Church they want and pretend all they want, but they have not, in fact, left the Catholic Church. They incur medicinal censures by doing so, because they have harmed themselves and committed scandal. They are, however, still bound by the Church’s laws, like it or not.]

  13. TradSeminarian says:

    Thank-you Fr. Z for your answer to my question (I asked on behalf of a friend). This actually brings a lot of clarity to my mind on the difference between a mixed-marriage and the situation of these two Catholics defining the Church. Thank-you Fr. Kelly for your comment about the consequences of bad advice giving concerning this situation and others similar to it. God willing I be ordained a priest I would rather not face the temporal (and especially the spiritual) repercussions of such advice given.

    I read this ( ) at the time that I asked my question and it is unfortunately incorrect because, being written in 2013, it takes no notice of Papa Benedict’s Omnium in mentem, but I do believe it would likely be correct that the marriage it talks about (one between a Catholic and an Orthodox) is valid so long as it was done before 2009 and after 1967. Correct me if I am wrong.

  14. Fr. Kelly says:

    Actually, TradSeminarian, The article you referenced seems to be correct about the case he is writing about. (a Catholic marrying a faithful Orthodox before an Orthodox priest without a dispensation) That situation is very different from the one asked about here (two Catholics marrying before an Orthodox priest without a dispensation)

    With regard to marriage, Omnium in Mentem modifies Canons 1086, 1117 and 1084. It does not alter 1127.1. So that canon remains in force even until today.
    As long as the marriage addressed in the article (between a Catholic and a faithful Orthodox before an Orthdox priest) was after 1967, and assuming there was no other cause for invalidity, it was valid but illicit, and so the woman would have to pursue a formal case for nullity if she wished to establish freedom to marry.

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