I want to address an issue that is causing heartbreak and accusations that your pastor and staff do not love parents coming for baptism. I will address what makes one eligible to be a Godparent from the perspective of Holy Matrimony: “Do Catholics have to be married in the Catholic Church?” The simple answer is yes. In Holy Matrimony, a baptized man exchanges consent with a baptized woman before God promising a love that is faithful, permanent, exclusive, self-sacrificing and life-giving. They enter a public state of life both in the eyes of the Church and society; therefore, their marriage ought to be public with vows exchanged before a priest (deacon), witnesses, and the faithful. (Cf. Catechism, No. 1663.)
All Catholics are bound to be married in the Catholic Church. The Church in which one has been baptized and confirmed and receives Holy Communion, ought to be the Church in which one is married. Whether a Catholic is marrying a Catholic or a non-Catholic, the expectation is for the marriage to take place in the Catholic Church. For a good pastoral reason one can receive a “Dispensation from Canonical Form” from the bishop to be married by a non-Catholic Christian with your intention of remaining Catholic and raising your children in the Catholic faith. (Cf. Code of Canon Law, No. 1124-25)
However, if a Catholic enters a marriage outside of the Church without the necessary dispensation, the marriage is not recognized by the Church. Moreover, this places them in a state of mortal sin. If a Catholic marrying either another Catholic or anyone else gets married in another Church or by a Justice of the Peace, that marriage is invalid. That marriage has legal standing in the eyes of the state, but is not legitimate in the Church.
As a pastor, I am surprised by how many are ignorant of this obligation. Too often, couples tell me that they are not married in the Church. When I explore with them how this can be rectified, I am surprised that they did not realize they had to be married in the Catholic Church or first receive a dispensation to be married elsewhere. Sadly, some resent the fact that the Church considers their marriage to be invalid and that they must follow the proper steps to have their marriage validated. Clearly, pastors, parents and religious educators (all of us) need to stress the importance of marriage in the Church to those in our care.
In the Rite of Baptism that godparent must vow before God and the Church that they will teach the child to live the Catholic faith primarily by the way they live in unity with Catholic teaching. It should be obvious that living together without Holy Matrimony is a mortal sin that prevents one from receiving Holy Communion. A couple living together without the Sacrament of Matrimony, while being very nice people and beloved of the parents, are not able to testify by their actions that they live according to the teachings of the Catholic Church.
On this Good Shepherd Sunday, I reaffirm my wholehearted commitment to love, console, counsel, and correct my flock. I approach invalid marriages with compassionate fatherly love and my only desire is to help every Catholic to receive Holy Matrimony. For some this means walking with you during the painful process of seeking an Annulment. For others, it simply means celebrating Matrimony with or without Mass. This can be simple and without cost or you can have a “Big Church Wedding” with fine clothes, flowers, and a party. If you are not eligible according to Canon Law to be a godparent, please see me to work on correcting this. I would love to plan your Catholic wedding. I hope this helps you to understand the obligations in baptism and matrimony.
Peace in Christ, Fr. Paul