ASK FATHER: May a Catholic elope?

From a reader…


May a Catholic elope? Is this a valid marriage? If not, how did one correct it?


May a Catholic elope? Presuming said Catholic has a paramour of the opposite gender, sufficient finances to pay for the bus fare, and a free afternoon, certainly!

May a Catholic elope and have it considered to be a true and valid marriage? That’s perhaps a bit more complicated.

Catholics understand that marriage is a contractual, covenantal arrangement. Catholics understand that, between baptized persons, marriage has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament. Catholics understand that a wedding – the sharing of consent between two persons to bring about their lifelong commitment – manifests a living symbol of God’s love for His people, Christ’s love for His Church, and a remedy for that soul-achingly angsty question asked by each and every human soul: despite our uniqueness, we were not made to be alone. Marriage – and the wedding that sets it off – is not “about the couple” despite what decades of Hollywood and Madison Avenue solons have attempted to say. Marriage takes place within the context of a community. It belongs to all of us. Your family, friends, colleagues, compadres, associates, well-wishers, fellow parishioners, and even a few disinterested strangers have a reasonable expectation that they will be included in the wedding, and allowed to bask in the effluent grace emanating from your act of matrimonial consent. It need not be a big, complicated, and expensive affair. Flowers are optional, as are an elaborate ball gown, a rented tuxedo, a harpist, professional photographer, silken bags of Jordan almonds, and diminutive tumblers with bells on their slippers.

Centuries of literature about elopement demonstrate that there are situations and circumstances where a marriage can be done in this manner, and sometimes there are circumstances that warrant it. Personally, I think those circumstances are quite rare. If your father would fly into a murderous rage at the thought of you daring to marry a Montague, perhaps running off to Friar Lawrence (though I’m not sure that barely turning 14 is a good time for making such a life altering decision). If your village elders rigidly refuse to allow persons with considerable melanin in the basal layer of their epidermis to marry persons with very little melanin in their epidermis, traveling to the next county where more reasonable laws prevail might be justified.

Regardless, for the marriage of a Latin Catholic to be valid, the couple will need to marry in the presence of at least two witnesses and a qualified minister of the Church. The law presumes that the couple will marry at their own parish church, or at least at the parish church of one of them (canon 1115). If not, the couple should get permission from their pastor to marry elsewhere. If the couple were to elope without seeking their pastor’s permission, the marriage would still be presumptively valid, if they marry in the presence of the pastor of the church where they wed, or in the presence of a priest or deacon delegated by that pastor. Most pastors aren’t going to take kindly to a couple simply showing up on the front porch asking to be wed – some form of marriage preparation is customary, and in some dioceses, legislated. Six months seems to be the common average. Marriage is not something to rush into.

If a couple has eloped without getting their marriage officiated by a priest or deacon who is qualified to do so (e.g.,, if they ran off and got married in Vegas by an Elvis impersonator), they will need to have their marriage regularized. See your local, friendly pastor for advice on the steps that need to be taken to fix the situation, as there may be particular wrinkles that need to be ironed out.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, HONORED GUESTS and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. JustaSinner says:

    Poor Juliet. At the age of nearly 14 questioning if she were becoming an old maid. Being that her father was pushing for her to marry two summers hence at 16.
    Somehow, age of marrying is related to lifespan, no? In the Bard’s classic, this was about 48 for nobility, slightly less for commoners. I would say waiting until 24-25 would be a stretch.
    Funny thing, lifespan…England countryside 1000AD averaged 51…48 in Italian nobility in 1600AD.
    Elopement vs $100k debt monster wedding? Well…

  2. leftycbd says:

    Sad but true:

    I have a friend who did go and get married surreptitiously in Vegas. 10:years later, at the divorce, they discovered that the wedding ‘chapel’ in Vegas never filed the paperwork, and as such they were never legally married….

  3. beelady says:

    Thank you, Father Z for posting this question.
    My husband and I eloped in 1991. At the time, he was a lukewarm catholic and I was a lukewarm protestant.
    After our son was born, we both began our spiritual journeys. His brought him back to the faith and mine brought me into the church in 2000. Unfortunately, the issue of our elopement was not addressed during my formation and several years went by before we were aware that there was a problem.
    I was reading “Catholic Answers” magazine one day and came across a question similar to the one posted here. I was absolutely shocked to learn that our marriage was invalid.
    I contacted our new priest (we had switched parishes as our faith grew) that same day. He calmed me down, explained the situation, and advised us to live as brother and sister until our marriage could be convalidated.
    It was an easy process – it only took about a month. We met with him a few times and went to Confession. He married us on a weekday with just two close friends as witnesses.
    I pray that the person who posted this question will avoid eloping. If they have already eloped, I pray that they will contact their pastor and have their marriage validated as soon as possible.

  4. Pingback: Zap Big Pulpit – Big Pulpit

  5. Pingback: TVESDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

Comments are closed.