Catholic church weddings and children born out of wedlock

My cousin just got married this weekend in a lovely Catholic ceremony. I must admit I was surprised that the Catholic church was Ok with them getting married, since she just had a bouncing baby boy (Michael) in July. The priest was certainly aware of this; he baptized baby Michael. Now, I have no problem with children out of wedlock, as long as the child is cared for properly, but I thought this was a HUGE no-no for the Catholic church. Did the parents have to repent of their pre-marital sex before being married? It’s hard to repent of an action that gave them an amazing and wonderful little boy (<—no bias).

I know the Catholic church is usually pretty strict about its rules for marriage; my mother was excommunicated for marrying my father (who was divorced). If my mom ever wanted to become Catholic again, she’d have to have the marriage annulled, offically say, “it never happened”. (And my brother and I therefore become virgin births?)

So what’s the rules for who the Catholic church will marry?

“Eppur, si muove!” - Galileo Galilei

The Catholic Church only annuls marriages which were performed by that church, Guad. AFAIK, said church does not allow someone whose spouse is still living (assuming a church-performed marriage) to marry in the church.

My bet is that the issue (baby) is considered a gift of God and the action (premarital sex) is considered sin; therefore, the Church most likely exacted (1) promise to cease and desist the sin, (2) promise to marry in the Church, and (3) promise to raise the child in that Church.

Obviously, number (3) was brought to the fore prior to (1) and (2).

For logical conendrums of this sort, please check out the royal family of Monaco.

RE: the royal family mentioned above. In that case, the current Pope actually declared that a marriage which never happen was in fact a valid marriage and therefore the issue of said “presumptive marriage” were not illegitimati and thus eligible to inherit the throne.

I thought the line of succession in Monaco is striclty through the male line, so the activities of the variuos female members of the royal family were irrelevant to the succession?

In reply to the OP, I believe that the RC church does require the couple to abstain from sex prior to the marriage, once they ask the priest to marry them. But, there’s no bar on marrying because of past sins - Paul’s line, “better to marry than burn [in lust]” would seem apropos.

I remember something about that the Catholic Church will sort of move the marraige date up to before the child’s conception. In other words, the couple are considered to have been married when the child was conceived. So the child is not illigitimate. Something like that anyway.

Work like you don’t need the money…
Love like you’ve never been hurt…
Dance like nobody’s watching! …(Paraphrased)

I think that possibly due to shrinking flocks that the Priests have to do what they can to keep the fold together. They’ve gotten considerably less anal over the last 50 years because of people bailing out on the strictness.

A woman I worked with married in 1947 or so. She was catholic, her husband was protestant. She was not allowed a big wedding, friends to witness or a dress. They married in the rectory office. It was all hush hush. All because she had the audacity to love a man that was not catholic. She said her priest was the most relaxed cleric she could find because if she married outside her faith it would have killed her mother. Then this woman never went back to church again because of the hypocrisy of it.

I’m an escaped catholic and hubby is a lax Lutheran. We married in the catholic church with a preist and pastor officiating. It was no problem. I think they are desperate to keep the numbers high and will bend the rules ever so slightly, as society changes.

The church has definitely gotten more relaxed over the years. I’ve been to no less than three Catholic/Jewish combination weddings-- my male, Catholic cousins all seem to like Jewish women-- and in each case, the ceremony was jointly performed by a rabbi and a Catholic priest.

My husband and I were married in a Presbyterian ceremony. About 15 years later he decided he wanted to return to the Catholic church. As a condition, we had to be married again by a priest (although they chose to call it a “blessing.”) However, we were told that we could have had a Catholic wedding with my father (a Presbyterian minister) as part of the ceremony originally and it would have been acceptable.

“Legitimacy” is a (somewhat moribund) civil concept dealing with inheritance. That being the case, the Church has nothing much to say on the subject at all, although in domains where the Church’s opinion on what is and is not a valid marriage has legal force, the Church naturally gets dragged into the question.

(In any case, the rule has always been that the children of a putative marriage honestly entered into are legitimate.)

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams


Did you have to recite your vows again? That might mean that they wanted you to participate in the Sacrament of Matrimony. It would not exactly be “getting married again” (although the differences would run into quibbling). In the RCC, the priest does not “marry” anyone. The actual Sacrament (which is what the RCC is interested in) is performed by the couple. The priest (or bishop or deacon) does provide a blessing and an official church witness to the event, but it is the couple who actually perform the event.


In my parish, the priest wont even tell the non-Catholic partner to consider being catholic (he would like it to happen but he doesn’t say anything to them). My brother and his fiancee are planning to get married in 2001 and she is Jehovas witness (she is leaving that behind her BTW), and my mom who is also a catechism teacher told her that they would ask her to consider baptising her children Catholic but they wont force her to.

After Vatican II the church has relaxed quite a bit. So much so that a lot of the hardcore people are switching to Protestant denominations for that strictness. Many of the older folks are pissed off that the church is so ‘liberal’ (to quote one lady) in it’s policies nowadays. Fortunately, I never grew up with that Catholic guilt because many of the priests in my parish didn’t believe in doing that to people.

  1. Regarding the ‘relaxed’ atmosphere of the modern RCC: Haven’t you ever heard of Vatican Council II? The RCC has made a definite, self-determined effort to engage the modern world rather than stand apart from it. This doesn’t mean accommodating or compromising its principles, but it does mean trying to be more understanding and compassionate and even a bit more practical. To impute the intention that priests are changing all the rules just to keep numbers is a totally bigoted and mean-spirited comment. Honestly, Shirley Ujest, you can’t think of a better reason than head-counting for priests to be more compassionate and pastoral?
  2. Regarding marriages with pre-marital children: This point applies to all the following points, too; namely, a baptized Catholic has a right to marriage in the Church (as long as there are no pre-defined impediments, such as an existing previous marriage). So, if Mary and Bill have a baby, and one of them is Catholic, they can not be refused the right to marry in the Church.

Of course, they still need to go through the regular preparation, even if they have a civil marriage under their belts. Also, the priest can make life umm… challenging for them. Like insisting on counseling first.
3. Regarding marriage in the case of pregnancy: There used to be a sense of urgency in these cases (a cultural urgency, which many clerics went along with) to get them married before the baby comes so that it’s not a bastard. Nowadays, most priests will say, “Hey, if your pregnant, that’s not a sign to hurry-up the wedding, it’s a sign to slow down the wedding. If you don’t know how to prevent a baby during pre-marital sex, what makes you think you’re ready for marriage right away?” IOW, marriage is delayed until after the baby is born. This is to ensure that the marriage is taking place for all the right reasons and not simply for the sake of the baby.
4. Regarding questions of legitimacy: The RCC used to keep track of legitimacy. It used to be that a man could not be ordained a priest if he was illegitimate (the reason given was that it was usually an embarrassing secret with which the priest could be blackmailed). In the new code of Canon Law (promulgated in 1983), the Church has become legitimacy-blind. It no longer keeps tabs or ever asks about legitimacy. It’s a non-issue ecclesially.

So, when people think that an annulment will illegitimacize their children, the RCC says, “Not in our eyes, since we don’t recognize that category.” Of course, this doesn’t satisfy many people, so many priests pastorally point out that the children born in marriages that were entered into with good faith and believed to be valid (a *putative * marriage as jwk said), are always legitimate (i.e., the children are perpetually putatively legitimate).

  1. Regarding what marriages are and aren’t recognized: The RCC obligates its members (and under the new Code, only its members which are officially RC through baptism or being officially received into the Church) to be married in a Catholic Church with an official RCC minister presiding. The minister could be a priest, deacon, or in mission territories, a designated lay man or woman. If a RC does not follow this rule, the RCC does not recognize this marriage as existing (and calls it an invalid marriage).

A RC can get a dispensation from this form of marriage, but only for a good reason. Usually, it’s because the RC is marrying a non-RC. And this is especially prevalent in RC-Jewish weddings. The RCC recognizes and understands many Jews’ reluctance to be in a Christian Church (what with all that relatively recent persecution of Jews by what is technically a heretical Jewish sect). And so dispensation is routinely granted for the Catholic to marry in a hall with a Rabbi presiding.

Since the Code is not binding for non-RCs, the RCC actually does recognize the validity of marriage for two non-RCs, even if their marriage is purely civil!
6. Regarding ‘blessing’ non-RC marriages: If a marriage is not recognized to be valid (as in the case of a Catholic being married outside the form of marriage without permission), that invalid marriage can be validated. That’s the correct term. Some people call it getting the marriage blessed.

You do have to recite the vows again, because the RCC doesn’t recognize the validity of the first vows. (And yes, it is the couple who are the ministers of the sacrament administering the sacrament to each other in the vows – the minister is just an official witness.)

Of course, if there is an impediment to getting the marriage validated (such as a previous valid marriage) then there can be no validation (‘blessing’) until that impediment is removed (such as with an annulment).
9. Regarding children and mixed marriages: The RC party has to promise to have the child baptized and to share his or her RC faith with the child. The non-RC only has to be aware of this promise that the RC party makes. The non-RC party does not have to make any promises. Also note that the promise that the RC party makes does not necessarily exclude the non-RC party from sharing his or her faith with their children. The promise simply guarantees that the RC faith will not be excluded.

The non-RC party is never forced to convert, although, the non-RC party is usually given the information on how to convert if he or she wanted to.
8. Regarding the OP (finally!): It’s very easy to correct fornication – you get the fornicators to marry, which is relatively easy to do. It’s very difficult to correct what is technically adultery – you have to annul the previous marriage, which is a very involved process.


Great post, moriah! I took Canon Law at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, CA, right at the time the 1983 canon was coming out – interesting experience.

Most of the old 'regs know that my husband is a former Jesuit priest. This is one of those “impediments” that is not easily dispensed. As even the new canon says: “A man who has been ordained invalidly attempts matrimony.” At the time we married this Pope was not granting dispensations; even today the way to get them is to say, as with annulments of marriages, that there was no true vocation, and thus no true Sacrament of Holy Orders. Since that would not be a truthful statement for my husband to make, he remains undispensed, in the eyes of the RC church we are not married, and I believe this is one of the few remaining situations where the children are considered to be not legitimate. My understanding is that if any of my boys wanted to become an RC priest he would have to get a dispensation, based on his parentage.

We were married by an Episcopalian priest, and so the Episcopal church does consider us married. That church recognizes my husband’s Orders, as well, and we have (::gasp: :slight_smile: just in the last month or so started attending a (rather high) Episcopal church. The pastor there has already approached my husband with an eye toward making him assistant clergy.

So ironic, that the Catholic church will accept into its clerical ranks Episcopal priests who are married but leave the Episcopal church over doctrinal matters (notoriously, the ordination of women), but expels from its clerical ranks its own men who seek to marry. I do acknowledge that the RC Church is a human institution, and thus like all such institutions imperfect, but this bothers me, likely because it strikes home.


Great post Moriah, you cleared up some things I did not know much about. Anyway i noticed that some people tend to think the RC church is still stuck in it’s pre-Vatican II days and has no contact or concern with it’s members. The pastors in every church I have been to have always had a great understanding of the needs of their parishoners. It’s a tad insulting to say that priests are relaxing rules just to get more people into the flock (actually my parish has had a resurgence of participation and membership recently). A family friend who is a priest actually started bilingual masses in his parish to get the Mexican immigrants and the mostly white, upper-class people in his parish to actually get to know eachother and actually form a community (i’ve been to one, quite interesting).

He also founded several group homes for children who had been abused, neglected, or just troubled. He was demoted from being a parish priest for doing this by our previous bishop. Fortunately he has a parish now and also still runs his group homes.

Moriah: your item number 4 did not address the matter of the marriage in the Monaco case. More background:

  1. Monaco requires legitimate male RC heir.

  2. Boy child’s mom (the princess) gets married and then has a civil divorce, no child from 1st hubby.

  3. Princess mom gets pregnant and has boy.

  4. Said mom appeals to RC church to have 1st marriage annulled so she can marry boy’s daddy. Sole reason why she can’t marry boy’s dad is church opposition.

  5. Boy’s dad dies in accident.

  6. 1st hubby dies in different accident.

  7. Pope says “hey, you would’ve married the kid’s dad if you could’ve–what the hey! The child’s legitimate!”

  8. Next question.

Our Renaissance Faire, like most, occasionally hosts a wedding. I was at a mixed RC/Jewish wedding once where the rabbi never turned up. The priest, having done mixed marriages before, read both parts.

(From a technical religious viewpoint, there’s no reason Jews have to be married by a rabbi – in fact, it seems to be an idea they copied from Xtians – so there was no problem.)

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

This is correct for a marriage between Jews. However, from a “technical religious viewpoint,” Jewish law does not recognize marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew as Kiddushin (a ‘real’ marriage). Jewish law is not binding for the Reform movement of Judaism, so many Reform (and also Reconstructionist, Renewal, Humanist, etc.) rabbis will perform mixed-marriages. No Orthodox or Conservative rabbi (AFAIK) will participate in such a ceremony, although mixed couples are usually welcome in Conservative synagogues, after the fact (with restrictions on the participation of the non-Jewish partner).



Answer #1: We really don’t keep track of legitimacy anymore. We only track validity of marriages as they stand right now. So, hey, if it makes everyone happy, we’ll say the boy’s legit, it don’t matter to us.
Answer #2: Yes, we do track marital validity. But validity is a legal term. The legal process can rule something that is thought to be valid as being invalid and vice versa. And the legal process can make that ruling become retroactive. This is the case of all annulments; the putative valid marriage is declared invalid (null) in light of new evidence. And it is declared annulled from the beginning, retroactively.

So, in Monaco’s case. Once the woman’s first husband died, she would have been free to marry the second husband. Since she petitioned to do so before their deaths, she would have done just that if she could. But since she can’t, we’ll rule that she would of and in fact, by legal decree, we’ll say she did. So, that would have made the marriage valid and the boy legitimate (not that we keep track of legitimacy, mind you).
Anser #3: What is done through a legal procedure and judgement can also be done by simple pronouncement from the proper authority (the Pope – sort of like a governer’s pardon). So, if the Pope says so, then that’s that. Hopefully, he did it for all the right reasons.


Moriah: what you’re apparently ignoring is the fact that the one and only reason the woman could not marry the child’s father was the Pope’s opposition to that marriage.

Unlike the United States, there is precious little separation of Church and State in Monaco.

“If it makes everyone happy?” Oh, please! What about all the other children who have been labeled “illegitimati” by the RCC? “We don’t keep track of legitamacy?” That statement is obviously wrong–why else would the current Pope, in the 1990s AD issue such a decree if one does not keep track? Perhaps you meant “we don’t keep track of legitamacy for the common horde but we do for the royal families so the Vatican can still get its cut/hold on power.”

Try to keep up.