ASK FATHER: Validity of Catholic with Orthodox marriage

From a reader…


Question on marriage:

Canon Law says a Catholic marrying an Orthodox Christian by an Orthdox priest has a valid marriage (as long as the usual free to marry, openness to kids etc. are part of the mix).

An Orthodox priest is a bona fide schismatic, hence can’t receive faculties (in this case, delegation). Does canon law basically dispense the Catholic’s requirement for canonical form?

Canon Law made Easy said such a wedding would be valid but illicit. But if the law provides the means, how can it be illicit?

This question has boggled my mind a long time. And that’s without considering whether or not it would be a sacramental wedding.

For liceity, it is necessary for the Catholic to request and receive permission from his or her own Catholic bishop for a mixed marriage with a baptized non-Catholic.

Most Catholics who marry Orthodox Christians obtain this permission for a mixed marriage.

Most, if marrying an Orthodox Christian in an Orthodox Church, also a get a dispensation from the Catholic canonical form of marriage.

However, for a wedding where the one party is an Orthodox Christian, and the parties marry before an Orthodox priest or bishop, even if the Catholic party doesn’t obtain a dispensation from the Catholic canonical form of marriage the resulting marriage is at least valid.

This is where not knowing all the underlying principles of Church law throws people off track if they don’t have formal training.

That said… if anyone has a messy situation that they are not sure about, or they think they need to “make a move” of some kind… GET A CANONIST.



If someone needs a good canonist, I have a couple of references.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  2. crule says:

    Latin Catholics marrying Orthodox Christians or even Eastern Catholics need to carefully navigate some canon law questions before moving forward.

    For example, if one of the parties in the marriage Orthodox or even Eastern Catholic, the wedding must be performed by a priest. Deacons cannot solemnize weddings where one of the party is Orthodox or Eastern Catholic.

    If the groom is Eastern Catholic, a dispensation of place is required if the wedding is to be in the church of the bride.

    Fun stuff!

    Latin-rite deacons cannot solemnize marriages when one of the parties is Eastern Catholic or Orthodox. (This is because in the Eastern sacramental theology, the priest is the ordinary minister of the sacrament, unlike the Latin church where the couple themselves are the minister).

  3. khouri says:

    Does the RCC really consider Orthodox clergy to be “bona fide” schismatics. Does Canon Law, Eastern or Western, the CCC or any magisterial document continue to use that word?

    According to Eastern Sacramental practice the blessing of the Church through a priest or bishop “constitutes” the Mystery.

    This is opposed to the Catholic practice of the couple being the ministers of the Sacrament through the vows and exchange of consent.

    For an Orthodox to contract a valid marriage the blessing of the clergy is nessesary. For this reason bishops always give a dispensation from form, this allows the Orthodox spouse to continue to receive the other Mysteries.

  4. redneckpride4ever says:


    The thing is marriages across the lines of particular churches (i.e. a Melkite marries a Latin) requires a host of permissions to be valid.

    Yet with an Orthodox priest, just having the marriage without permission makes it valid. Protestants, the SSPX and others don’t have that.

    What throws me is how a Catholic, bound by the laws of the Church, would not need dispensation for validity. An Orthodox priest using the Byzantine rite is not doing a Catholic Rite (meaning within the Church) hence it doesn’t satisfy a Mass obligation, while a Russian Catholic Liturgy of the same Byzantine Rite would.

    I don’t have a stake in this (I was married via a Novus Ordo priest to my wife who was then in RCIA and the bishop gave a thumbs up). I just have a naturally curious mind and tend to ask a heap of questions.

  5. TonyO says:

    To add: as far as I am aware, for any Latin Rite Catholic to marry any validly baptized Christian, if the marriage is valid, then it is sacramental. This applies not only for a Roman Catholic marrying an Eastern Orthodox, but also a Roman Catholic marrying a Protestant. The marriage is sacramental by the mere fact of the marriage being valid and between two baptized Christians.

  6. redneckpride4ever says:


    Protestant ministers can’t off canonical form though. Dispensation needed.

    Only an Orthodox priest can validly marry a Catholic without Dispensation for the Catholic. It just seems like automatic dispensation, since nothing discussed here negates the Catholic being bound by the law if the Church, no matter the jurisdiction or delegation an Orthodox priest gets from his own Church, nor what the Orthodox priest has over his own laity.

  7. redneck:

    Regarding your response to TonyO.

    And I want to remind everyone that ASK FATHER, means ASK FATHER, not ASK EVERYONE.

    You were correct.

    The following should be read very carefully by everyone.

    Canonical form binds Catholics to marry in front of the Catholic Church’s official witness, that is, a Catholic bishop, priest, deacon, or – in a case of necessity – a lay person designated by the bishop for this purpose. An exception is for a Catholic who is a member of one of the Eastern Catholic Churches, in which case the official witness must be a Catholic bishop or priest, because the Eastern Catholic(s) must receive the sacerdotal blessing.

    A Catholic (Latin or Eastern Catholic) can marry an Orthodox Christian in an Orthodox wedding with permission for a mixed marriage (for liceity) and a dispensation from the Catholic canonical form of marriage (for validity).

    However, if the Catholic party fails to obtain the permission and the dispensation to contract marriage through an Orthodox wedding, the resulting marriage is at least valid. NOTE: That seems like contradiction. The Catholic is supposed to get that dispensation. Supposed to. People should not go off and do things willy-nilly. That said, if the Catholic doesn’t – for whatever reason – get the dispensation, and marries an Orthodox in an Orthodox wedding, the marriage would still be valid. The Catholic, however, ought to have obtained the dispensation.

    This applies only when an Orthodox priest or bishop is the celebrant.

    The same “automatic dispensation” would not apply to any other “minister” or official (Protestant or non-denominational or a civil official).

    Also, two Catholics cannot marry validly in an Orthodox wedding through that “automatic dispensation”. This applies in the case of a Catholic and an Orthodox.

  8. Fr. Kelly says:

    Thank you, Fr. Z
    Canons 832.2 and 834 of the 1990 Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches seem to address this point

    Canon 832 – ?1. If one cannot have present or have access to a priest who is competent according to the norm of law without grave inconvenience, those intending to celebrate a true marriage can validly and licitly celebrate it before witnesses alone:
    … (2 cases named) …
    ?2. In either case, if another priest, even a non-Catholic one, is able to be present, inasmuch as it is possible he is to be called so that he can bless the marriage, without prejudice for the validity of a marriage in the presence only of the witnesses.

    Canon 834 – ?1. The form for the celebration of marriage prescribed by law is to be observed if at least one of the parties celebrating the marriage was baptized in the Catholic Church or was received into it.
    ?2. If, however, a Catholic party enrolled in some Eastern Church celebrates a marriage with one who belongs to an Eastern non-Catholic Church, the form for the celebration of marriage prescribed by law is to be observed only for liceity; for validity, however, the blessing of a priest is required, while observing the other requirements of law.

    I hope this helps.

  9. Eoin OBolguidhir says:

    Consider how lucky we are to have enough priests for this to be a topic of discussion! It is a kind of embarassement of riches. I spent time perusing a hundred years’ worth of parochial records from the Diocese of Ossory from the penal years. Ceremony supplie was a very frequent entry.

  10. TonyO says:

    Fr. Z, I apologize profusely if I overstepped appropriate bounds. The original questioner raised a point about the sacramentality of the marriage. The original answer, while excellent on all the points it addressed, did not appear (to me) to address whether the resulting marriage would be a sacramental marriage, and it seemed like maybe you were leaving it as an exercise for the students. I apologize if not.

    Protestant ministers can’t off canonical form though. Dispensation needed.

    Only an Orthodox priest can validly marry a Catholic without Dispensation for the Catholic.

    @ redneck: I see that, and I did not intend to imply anything to the contrary. I can see how my silence about how the valid marriage could be achieved might be mistaken to imply that it could be handled by a Protestant minister, but that’s not what I said or meant to say. Catholics should follow the canonical rules, as Fr. Z says.

  11. redneckpride4ever says:


    I wasn’t trying to accuse you of anything. My apologies if that’s how I came across.

    My focus was simply how odd it is that no mandate of dispensation is needed in that one case when marrying an Orthodox Christian in “their house”. My focus was on validity alone, not liceity or sacramentality. (Is sacramentality a word?)

    This would actually make for a great Catholic Answers Focus episode, since multiple theories could be brought up. Such theories include “automatic dispensation”, the theoretical right of the Orthodox Christian to having a valid marriage, or maybe as simple a thing as the law saying something is so therefore it goes down that way.

    Again, I wasn’t trying to attack you, and if it came across that way I apologize.

    Having a curious brain wanting to know much can be a curse. You should’ve seen me burn out my eyeballs on the Internet when I was on the DB Cooper kick years ago.

Think, proof read, preview BEFORE posting!