RESPONSE OF THE CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH ABOUT THE VALIDITY OF BAPTISM CONFERRED IN THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS
Fr Urbano Navarrete, S.J.
 

1. Persistence of the Doubt

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has given a negative response to the doubt whether Baptism conferred in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known as the Mormons, is to be considered valid. The response presupposes that there had been a pastoral and administrative practice on the part of the Catholic Church that was not clear and uniform in this regard.

In an accompanying article ("The Question of the Validity of Baptism Conferred in the 'Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints'" by Luis Ladaria, S.J.) the historical and doctrinal reasons that led to this response were already given. Therefore I limit myself to explaining the pastoral, administrative, and juridical effects that can occur in the Catholic Church, especially in regard to marriage.

2. Pastoral and Juridical Effects of the 'Response'

The Response, prescinding from other considerations, has a pastoral and canonical significance of great import.

Above all, it must be emphasized that the decision was particularly aimed at unifying the pastoral, administrative, and judicial practice in the Church in regard to the Mormons, especially in the event of a request for admission to the Catholic Church or in the event of a request to marry a Catholic. Precisely for the canonical effects that this implies, the application of the Response takes on a strictly obligatory character for all those who have administrative or judicial responsibility in the Church.

We are not dealing in fact with a decision that is only doctrinal, but with a provision of significant canonical import, especially in regard to marriage. It must be emphasized that the decision of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith does not establish a presumption in the technical sense of the word according to which "a presumption is a probable conjecture about an uncertain matter" (can. 1584); but it affirms a definite truth which must direct administrative and judicial activity in the whole Church in the specific cases in which the Baptism of Mormons in relation to the Church must be considered. It is sufficient to determine with certitude that a Baptism was administered in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to consider it invalid in all of its effects without further investigation. Therefore, from now on, in questions regarding the Baptism of Mormons, the doubt regarding the Baptism has to do solely with the fact of its having been administered in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, not therefore with its invalidity, if it is determined that it was administered there.

3. The Catechumenate and Sacraments of Initiation

The Response presupposes that in all of the effects of the pastoral, administrative and juridical practices of the Church the Mormons are not to be considered as belonging to an "ecclesial community not in full communion with the Catholic Church", but simply as non-baptized. Therefore, if a Mormon wishes to become Catholic, the norms that regulate admission to the Church of non-Catholic Christians cannot be applied. Instead, it is the norms for the non-baptized who seek Baptism in the Church and prepare to receive it, that is, the norms for catechumens (cf. can. 606, 788, 1183 §1), that must be applied.

It is to be emphasized, however, that catechesis in this case must be more intense and accurate, because we are dealing in the first place with correcting and eradicating the very serious errors that underlie the very same words that the Church uses. If the Bishops' Conference, according the norm of canon 788 §3, has published statutes for regulating the catechumenate, it would be necessary to adapt them pastorally for catechumens coming from the Mormons, because they need a very specific catechesis that takes into account the doctrinal ambiguities which the catechumen might be holding. Obviously, a well adapted catechumenate prepares one for the reception of the sacraments, especially the sacraments of initiation (can. 851,1º, 866).

Precisely because according to the Response the Mormons are to be considered non-baptized, they do not enjoy the favour that the law grants to those who belong to a non-Catholic ecclesial community to be able to take part at Baptism, together with a Catholic sponsor as a witness of the Baptism (can. 874 §2). For the same reason, there cannot be applied to the Mormons the canons that regulate communicatio in sacris regarding the sacraments of Penance, Eucharist, Anointing of the Sick with non-Catholic Christians (can. 844-45), since Mormons are considered as unbaptized.

4. Marriage

a) A prior question

In regard to marriage, the decision of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has great importance, both in the administrative as well as in the judicial field. Precisely for this reason, there emerges a prior question: Does this decision apply to marriages celebrated before the publication of the Response or only to marriages which will be celebrated afterwards? The Response certainly is not a law, nor an authentic interpretation of a doubtful positive law which would concern only the future (can. 9, 16). We are dealing instead with a decision that presupposes a doubt regarding the doctrine on the validity of Mormon Baptism. Now the Baptism was the same before as after the Response. The studies that were conducted in this regard have led to the moral certitude that this Baptism is not valid, even if the remote and proximate matter and the words of the form taken materially are those of the Church. Therefore, the response applies to marriages celebrated by Mormons both before and after the publication of the response.

b) Admission to marriage

With this premise, the first consequence to be emphasized is that the marriage of Mormons contracted among themselves or with a validly baptized person is not sacramental marriage (can. 1055), and therefore the essential properties of marriage, unity and indissolubility, do not achieve that "special stability by reason of the sacrament" that is proper to Christian marriage (can. 1056). In other words, marriage contracted among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or with a baptized party is not a ratum marriage, nor therefore a ratum et consummatum, even "if the spouses have completed in a human way the act which is per se appropriate for the generation of children, to which marriage is ordered by its very nature" (cf. can. 1061).

To celebrate the marriage of a Catholic with a Mormon, the parish priest must be particularly attentive not to apply the norms for mixed marriages relative to marriage "between two baptized persons of whom one is baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it after baptism and has not defected from it by a formal act and the other of whom is enrolled in a Church or ecclesial community not in full communion with the Catholic Church" (can. 1124). Marriage according to this canon is certainly forbidden without the permission of the ordinary of the place who, after the prescribed conditions have been fulfilled, can grant it if there is a just and reasonable cause; but the marriage would be valid even if celebrated without such permission since the prohibition does not constitute an invalidating law (can. 1125-26).

On the other hand, the norms that govern marriages which are impeded because of the impediment of disparity of cult as mentioned in canon 1086 §1 should be applied: "A marriage between two persons, one of whom has been baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it and has not defected from it by a formal act and the other of whom is not baptized, is invalid" (§1). The Mormons are to be considered as unbaptized and so the marriage of one of them with a Catholic without the dispensation from the impediment granted by the competent authority—the ordinary of the place—is invalid, not just illicit. The ordinary of the place should not grant the dispensation without the assurance of the fulfillment of the conditions stated in canons 1125-26; nevertheless, the omission of this prior requirement does not render null the concession of the dispensation (§2). It should be emphasized, furthermore, that in virtue of the Response the case foreseen in §3 does not apply to the Mormons: "If at the time the marriage was contracted one party was commonly held to have been baptized or the baptism was doubtful, the validity of the marriage must be presumed according to the norm of can. 1060 until it is proven with certainty that one party was baptized but the other was not". Today there is no doubt about the validity of Mormon Baptism and so the case foreseen in this norm does not occur when we are dealing with a marriage between a Catholic and a Mormon.

c) Form of Celebration

Presupposing the dispensation from the impediment of disparity of cult, the celebration of such a marriage can become particularly sensitive in regard to the canonical and liturgical form. On the one hand, there is no doubt that the canonical form is obligatory for the validity of the marriage between a Catholic and a Mormon (can. 1117); nevertheless, the ordinary of the place can grant a dispensation, observing the conditions prescribed in canon 1127 §2. However, it is well to remember that, although the Mormons can perhaps be considered Christians socially, in the ecclesiastical forum they are to be considered unbaptized and therefore for the dispensation from the canonical form there must be applied the criteria that the Bishops' Conference has established for the dispensation from the form in marriages between a Catholic and an unbaptized person (can. 1128, 1127 §2).

In regard to the liturgical form it is necessary to remember the differences that both canon 1118 and the liturgical books establish between a marriage of a Catholic with a non-Catholic baptized person and a marriage of a Catholic with a non-baptized person. According to canon 1118, marriage between two Catholics or between a Catholic and a non-Catholic baptized person must be celebrated in the parish church; with the permission of the ordinary of the place or of the pastor, it can be celebrated in another church or oratory (§1); nevertheless, the ordinary of the place can allow that the marriage be celebrated in another appropriate place (§2); but if we are dealing with a marriage between a Catholic and an unbaptized person the celebration in a church is not obligatory, but only permitted (§3). Therefore, for the marriage of a Catholic with a Mormon, prescinding from the practice that has been followed before, as a result of the Response from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the norm of §3 of canon 1118 should be applied.

d) Pauline Privilege

It is Catholic teaching that a "marriage that is ratum et consummatum can be dissolved by no human power and by no cause, except by death" (can. 1141), while a marriage that is not ratum even if consummatum, given determined presuppositions, can be dissolved by the power given by Christ to the Church. The Response of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has a particular relevance in this area. Given that the Baptism of Mormons is considered invalid for all juridical and administrative effects, for their possible dissolution their marriage is considered as all marriages that are not ratum even if consummatum. Therefore, the Pauline Privilege can be applied here, if the conditions that this privilege requires are verified.

The first condition for applying the Pauline Privilege is that the marriage was celebrated between two unbaptized persons. In the case of the Mormons, there are two possibilities: that the marriage was celebrated between two Mormons or between a Mormon and another unbaptized person. For the sake of simplicity, we take into consideration only the marriage between two Mormons.

The second condition is the Baptism of one of the two spouses. We repeat that in the present case we are not dealing, despite appearances, with the admission into full communion with the Church of a Christian belonging to an ecclesial community that is not in full communion with the Catholic Church, but with the conversion and Baptism of an unbaptized person, with the particular difficulty that we emphasized above speaking of the catechumenate, which in this case is complicated by the fact that we are dealing with a person married to a spouse who remains in the errors of the Mormons, from which the baptized spouse has had to free himself or herself in order to accept the truths of the Christian faith.

Having gone through the catechumenate and received Baptism, for the application of the Pauline Privilege there is required the so-called "departure" of the spouse who continues to be Mormon. Such a "departure" is verified if this person "does not wish to cohabit with the baptized party or to cohabit peacefully without affront to the Creator unless the baptized party, after baptism was received, has given the other a just cause for departing" (can. 1143 §2). Even on this point, the case of a Mormon spouse who receives Baptism might present particular difficulties because the unbaptized spouse, especially if a fervent and practicing believer in the teaching of the Mormons, might want to live peacefully with the baptized party without offence to the Creator. A simple pagan in fact usually is ignorant of errors rooted in religious matters, especially in regard to Christianity; a Mormon, on the other hand, has a collection of errors, generally very deep, expressed for the most part in terms taken from Revelation and Christian theology. A precise pastoral practice should assist the baptized person in a special way, explaining the possibilities of solution that come from the Pauline Privilege, if truly life with the unbaptized spouse becomes very difficult for the exercise of Christian life.

In order for the baptized spouse to contract validly a new marriage, it is always necessary to ask the unbaptized party whether or not he or she wishes also to be baptized or at least wants to live with the baptized party peacefully without offence to the Creator (can. 1144 §1). In the case of the Mormons, in regard to the question whether to receive Baptism, a profound explanation will be necessary, indeed, a genuine catechesis, on the meaning of the new Baptism, essentially different from the one received in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In practice, it seems unlikely that there might be cases in which from one side the baptized party has a sufficient basis to seek to move toward a possible future Christian marriage and from the other side that the unbaptized spouse may decide also to receive Baptism when faced with this possibility. For the most part, the unbaptized person will respond negatively. Even in regard to the question whether the unbaptized person is willing to live peacefully with the baptized party without offence to the Creator, for the most part the response will be negative. Nevertheless, there might be the case even among Mormons, that when faced with the possibility that the baptized spouse has of contracting a second marriage, the unbaptized spouse might accept the conditions of living peacefully with the other while respecting his or her religious obligations. In this situation, probably infrequent, there will be required a very sensitive pastoral care toward the baptized party to support him or each one's conjugal life, which without doubt will not be easy because of the difference of faith and religious attitudes.

Obviously, such questioning can be omitted "provided that it is evident at least by a summary and extrajudicial process that it cannot be done or would be useless" (can. 1144 §2). If the unbaptized party responds negatively to the question or if this has been omitted legitimately, "the baptized party has the right to contract a new marriage with a Catholic party" (can. 1146) and the first marriage is dissolved at the very moment of the celebration of the second (can. 1143 §1).

The ordinary of the place, observing the norms for mixed marriages, can grant that the baptized party may contract marriage, applying the Pauline Privilege, with a non-Catholic party, baptized or unbaptized (can. 1147). In the case of Mormons, it will be only with difficulty that it will be pastorally advisable to grant the dispensation from the impediment of disparity of cult so that the baptized party can contract a second marriage with another Mormon. Conjugal cohabitation with someone who professes the same errors from which the neophyte with great difficulty has succeeded in gaining freedom would bring with it substantial dangers for the faith and practice of his or her Christian life.

Mormons currently do not permit polygamy. Consequently, the privilege enjoyed by an unbaptized person who has several unbaptized wives at the same time, upon receiving Baptism in the Catholic Church, to retain one of them while letting go of the others (can. 1148) cannot apply to the Mormons. Instead, there can only be applied to them the other privilege foreseen in the Code (can. 1149), according to which in the case of two unbaptized spouses, if one of them, having received Baptism in the Catholic Church, cannot establish cohabitation with the other spouse because of prison or persecution, he or she can contract another marriage, even if in the meantime the other party would have received Baptism, as long as the consummation of their marriage did not take place after the Baptism of the two persons.

e) Dissolution of Marriage 'in Favorem Fidel'

There are marriages celebrated between two unbaptized persons who, even if one of them receives Baptism, do not fulfil the conditions for the Pauline Privilege. Furthermore, there are marriages celebrated between a baptized person and an unbaptized person to whom obviously there cannot be applied the Pauline Privilege, which demands as a starting point a marriage celebrated between two unbaptized persons. Such marriages, however, given specific presuppositions, can be dissolved by the supreme authority of the Roman Pontiff. In the case of Mormons, applying the Response of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, such specific cases can be found among the marriages between two Mormons or in the marriages between a Mormon and a baptized person, either Catholic or non-Catholic. Since it is certain that Mormon Baptism is not valid, there is the certitude that the marriage between two Mormons and the marriage of a Mormon with a baptized person is not ratum and therefore can be dissolved just as other marriages between two unbaptized persons or between a baptized person and an unbaptized person, as long as the necessary conditions are met.

After the Response, there cannot be any doubt that, for the cases which might arise, there should be applied to the marriage of Mormons the Norms of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith relative to the dissolution of marriage "in favorem fidei". For the sake of procedural efficiency, it will be appropriate that in diocesan chanceries, cases involving Mormons be instructed with special attentiveness, especially with regard to the proof of Baptism received in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a key point for being certain that the person in question was not validly baptized. The other elements of proof are those required by the Norms for all cases.

f) Cases of Nullity

The Response might open the way to some cases of nullity for marriages celebrated between Mormons and Catholics, marriages celebrated before or after the publication of the response. The principal reason for such nullity results no doubt from the easy confusion between two types of mixed marriages: that between a Catholic and a member of an ecclesial community not in full communion with the Catholic Church (can. 1124) and that between a Catholic and an unbaptized person (can. 1086). As we noted above, marriage between Catholics and other baptized persons who are not Catholic is prohibited without the permission of the ordinary of the place, but it is valid even if celebrated without such permission, while marriage between a Catholic and an unbaptized person not only is prohibited, but the prohibition brings with it an impediment which without a dispensation renders null the marriage. Therefore, if a marriage between a Catholic and a Mormon was treated in the past or would be treated in the future as a marriage between a Catholic and a baptized person and therefore without the dispensation from the impediment of disparity of cult, such a marriage should be granted a sanatio in radice, if the necessary conditions are verified; otherwise, it could be subject to a case of matrimonial nullity. Regarding other causes of nullity, it does not seem that there are specific causes in the marriages between Catholics and Mormons that could ground a particular nullity.

 
Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
1 August 2001, page 5

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