Ask a Franciscan

When Catholics Marry Protestants

husband and wife

Can a practicing Catholic marry a Protestant in that person’s church, before his or her minister? Regarding the Baptism and education of children from that marriage, may the Catholic party accept either Catholic or Protestant Baptism?

The marriage of a Catholic to a Protestant in a Protestant church and before that minister is considered a valid, sacramental marriage if the Catholic party has requested and received from the local Catholic bishop a dispensation “from canonical form” (the requirement that a Catholic marry before a Catholic priest or deacon).

In fact, in the situation that you described, a Catholic priest or deacon could be present as a witness. The person leading the service, however, would be considered the minister and would be responsible for filing the necessary paperwork with the local government office.

The couple will be encouraged to meet several times with a Catholic priest or deacon before requesting from the local bishop a dispensation from canonical form.

Regarding the Baptism and religious education of children born in a mixed marriage, the Catholic party is asked beforehand by the Catholic Church if he or she will try to raise any children as Catholics. The Protestant spouse is informed of that request but is not required to make any promise about this—as was previously the case.

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14 thoughts on “When Catholics Marry Protestants”

  1. I do not understand why the Church would permit a Catholic to marry outside the Church because in Catholic weddings we promise to raise our children Catholic. The Protestant tradition is completely different from Catholic so why would the Church let the Catholic marry into this kind of situation where one parent is raising the children according to beliefs that contradict the other parent. If it is that the Catholic doesn’t really accept the Catholic doctrine but doesn’t want to formally recognize that by leaving the Church and joining the Protestant Church then they are not living truthfully.

  2. Jennifer Grady

    I agree with the commenter above. How can it be allowed, when it used to not be, especially when statistics show that many who later seek annulment are cases of mixed marriage. I am teaching my children that they should only date and marry Catholics. The difficulty that comes from being in a mixed marriage should be emphasized when counseling or catechizing young people in my opinion. The idea that allowing mixed marriages is an opportunity to convert the non-Catholic spouse is also not a good reason. In my experience in my family, more leave the faith than convert their spouse.

  3. When a Catholic promises to raise their children Catholic what does that really mean? I hope that I am not a Cafeteria Catholic and one who picks which teachings of the Church to follow. I want my son to become a Catholic because he believes in is the one true Church founded by our Lord Jesus Christ and not because I believe this to be true.

    I am a convert to the faith and as a convert it has been my observation that many Catholics don’t fully know their faith and/or they are ignorant of scripture.

    Some suggest that a Catholic who marries a Protestant will more than likely leave the Church and become Protestant in order to appease their spouse. I would argue in those cases that the spouse who left the Church to become Protestant never understood their faith in the first place.

    I have been married to a Protestant for almost 35 years. My wife has studied scripture for over 45 years. Most Protestants have been told falsehoods about the Church and those falsehoods have been reinforced by people who have left the Church.

    I teach my son about the the Catholic faith and he understands that ideas like Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide are not true. He came to this understanding not by formal Church education but by his inquiries about why I attend a different Church than Mom.

    The bottom line is you can drag your children to Mass against their will but if you first don’t understand your own faith your child will see the hypocrisy in you and fall away.

    1. Hi Scott, I’m curious to know about your conversion to Catholicism ? I came across this article because I am currently dating a Protestant but I am 100% catholic. I love my faith and my religion. But he does not want anything to do with it, but we want to make things work because we truly love each other and share all values down to a T. Except what church we will marry in. I pray for his conversion or acceptance to marry in the Catholic Church, I just feel like pushing him will make him dislike the True Church more.

      1. Hi Veronica, I have no real idea what your situation is and I’m not sure if this will be helpful insight, but will offer it anyway – I converted to Catholicism (from Protestantism, specifically Anglicanism) a couple of years ago. I think there is a big difference between:

        a) joining the Catholic Church because you accept the doctrine is true and you want to be in communion with the Bishop of Rome
        b) becoming a Catholic – that is, adopting a specific Catholic identity, which tends to involve distinctive cultural practices.

        In my experience, Catholics make a huge deal about (a) but completely neglect (b), which in my experience is what really repels Protestants – 400 years after the Reformation, where many of the theological and doctrinal hurdles have been overcome.

        Even in my case, as a high church ‘Anglo-Catholic’ where our mode of worship was almost identical to the Catholic liturgy and most of us accepted dogmas such as the Assumption and Immaculate Conception, I found the conversion jarring. To me it feels like being in exile. It’s a strange sadness whenever I walk past an Anglican church and a sense of bitterness when I’m stuck in a Catholic church on Sunday. To make matters worse, I can’t really explain it to Catholics – it’s like trying to explain the wetness of water to a fish.

        The Catholics who I like best also tend to be converts – it’s like being in a foreign country and meeting an expatriate, where the sense of alienation is somehow lessened. I’m on this site because even though I’m now Catholic, the thought of marrying another Catholic seems intolerable to me. At some level I’d have a more sound relationship with a non-Catholic, in some ways.

        I suspect in your partner’s case, there’s something visceral that is holding him back that he probably can’t put into words. You’re right, you can’t force him. Also, if he does end up converting, he’ll probably be leaving something behind that may have meant a lot to him, even if the sacraments were (and are) not valid. I guess the most helpful thing would simply be recognising this – what is a source of comfort and strength to you may be strange, alien and discomforting to him.

      2. Jesus said in John 17:3, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” God’s offer of eternal life begins when we turn to Him, repent of our sins and accept His death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. Then God reveals Himself to us and we begin to experience Him in so many wonderful ways. We get to know Him and begin a relationship with the God of the universe! The nearer we draw to Him, our friendship and love deepens as He shows Himself to us. God is all He says He is: He answers my prayers; He speaks to me, comforts me, directs me and gives me wisdom. He wants to be involved in every part of my life and He is big enough to do that. The Holy Spirit resides in me because I belong to Him. He loves me and I strive to love Him more every day. I know thousands of Christians who are so alive in Christ. It concerns me when others stress “religion” or “the Faith” instead of a personal relationship with Jesus. God is not interested in us joining a “club”, He simply wants our heart; He’ll direct us from there.

    2. Sola Scriptura (only Scripture) and Sola Fide (only faith) are, in fact true. God’s Word in the Bible is divinely inspired (from God) and Paul’s letters (in particular) remind us that faith alone is also truth.
      Certainly, belief in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross (for our sins) and resurrection to overcome death are bedrock foundation; AND belief in (and obedience to) God for His mercy and grace, which inspire us to do good works for His glory show evidence of our faith.

    3. Hi Scott! I am a secular Humanist Marriage Officiant based in Ontario. I have 10 years experience and have Officiated 229 ceremonies, and 6 funerals. The trend in our population is secular, as only 25% of us are minimally devout. Most of those folks are age 70 and older. The young are mostly not religious. So, do the math. It is not a question of people not “really” understanding their faith and dogma, it is seeing the hypocrisy in all religions. All religions are man made, no gods involved. There are over 4000 religions in the world, and about 7000 gods. You do you! But religion is waning, as education is working. Now the kids can see the hypocrisy in all religions.

    4. Lawrence Meynard

      Some of these churches these days have little oversight and simply appoint the people around them unlike the Catholic Faith.

  4. Why all of the focus on The Church meaning the Catholic Church? Aren’t we all as followers of Jesus Christ “The Church”? There are a lot of lines being drawn between Catholic and Protestant and acting as though Protestants aren’t true Christians by Catholics and Catholics being false worshipers by Protestants. I for one think it ridiculous and a huge headache. I love a Catholic girl and marriage has become a more prominent thought in my mind for us, but then I read more posts/articles/etc and I just become frustrated and disheartened by the rhetoric, assumptions, or outright bias/prejudice! Is this the way The Church is to be? Was not Paul dealing with this same sort of dissent and sectarianism in the early church? Should we not be focused on the author and perfector of our faith, instead of our earthly affiliation to a group of people!? It makes me sick.

    1. I am facing same issues now 😭 and I agree with you. My boyfriend and I are going through counselling looking towards marriage should God will, me being catholic and he is protestant; the frustration is a lot.
      Did the bible not say One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism ? What’s with all the affiliations? It’s sickening

    2. I’m in a similar situation, in a great relationship with a Catholic girl. Absolutely amazing couldn’t ask for a better girlfriend and we both love the lord. I was curious if you had any updates, is it working out? How did yall work through it?

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