ASK FATHER: Can a Catholic layman officiate at the marriage of non-Catholics?

From a reader…


Is there any situation in which a Catholic layman could officiate a wedding? A friend has been asked to officiate at a non-Catholic wedding ceremony between 2 non-Catholic persons and is unsure whether the Church would approve

In theory, yes. A Catholic layman who is a justice of the peace or a civil/secular judge can officiate at the weddings of two people who are not Catholic.

The Catholic Church only tells Catholics how to marry. It does not tell Lutherans, Jews, Buddhists, or Jesuits… ooops … atheists, etc., how to get married.

Only Catholics are obliged to follow the Catholic canonical form for a wedding. Non-Catholics do not have to.

Two non-Catholics are free to marry in just about any way they choose. The resulting marriage of the two non-Catholic people is valid provided there are no prior bonds. If the parties are baptized (Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, etc.), the marriage is not only valid, but is regarded by the Catholic Church as sacramental even if the Protestants do not believe it to be such.

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  1. Kenneth Wolfe says:

    However, it should be clearly stated a Catholic should not be falsely “ordained” to administer wedding vows. For instance, the following Sister of Mercy should not have done this:

    “Lisa Patrice Goldstein and Peter Andrew Nosal were married April 20 at the Providence Public Library in Providence, R.I. Sister Margaret Dempsey, a Roman Catholic nun and the bride’s great-aunt, became a Universal Life minister to officiate at the event.”

  2. Gaby Carmel says:

    A few years ago, my youngest brother was getting married in a civil ceremony to a divorced lady, and both parties had been brought up as catholics although they became atheists as adults. They asked my catholic husband to perform their marriage ceremony, which the law of the country allowed, although he was not a justice of the peace. We appreciated that they meant well, but my husband refused on some pretext that had nothing to do with religion. I wonder what a canonist would have told us had we discussed that particular case when it occurred? What about ex-catholics, then? If their present atheistic convictions are sincerely held, are they to be considered non-Christians in such a case? I expect lots of cases of cases of the kind happen nowadays, unfortunately.

  3. Susan C says:

    Gaby Carmel,
    In my understanding, no. Baptism leaves an indelible mark on the soul. They may not be practicing Catholics, but they are still Catholics. Nothing they do can undo the sacrament of baptism.

  4. Gaby Carmel says:

    Susan C: Yes, I agree with you, and that is why we didn’t want to be involved in that ceremony, because we felt it as a betrayal and an insult to the Faith, whatever their current belief. Instead, it was a catholic bishop acting as if he were a layman who performed the civil ceremony! I made sure he was aware that he had deeply shocked and scandalised us, and sent a report to his superiors…

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