Non-sacramental marriage / God present in prison

Q. A marriage took place in a Catholic church. The groom had not been baptized, and the couple later divorced. Now this same woman is planning to marry a different man and wants the marriage to be celebrated in the Catholic Church.

What procedure must she follow to see that this can happen? (I understand that the first marriage would not be considered a sacrament, since the first groom was not baptized.) (St. Cloud, Minnesota)

By Fr. Kenneth Doyle

A. Catholics can receive permission from their diocesan bishop (called, technically, a dispensation from disparity of cult) to marry someone who has never received Christian baptism — which is evidently what the woman in question did for her first marriage. It is true, as you say, that this marriage was not a sacramental one; as the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, baptism is “the door that gives access to the other sacraments” (No. 1213).

And if the non-baptized spouse could not receive a sacrament in that wedding ceremony, neither could the baptized one. You can’t have a “half-sacrament.”

Nevertheless — in response to your question — that first marriage was still a valid marriage in the Catholic Church’s eyes, a holy covenant.

So, if the woman now wants to marry a different man in a Catholic ceremony, she would first need to obtain a church annulment for her earlier marriage. She should speak with her parish priest or contact her diocese to inquire about beginning that process.

Q. A recent letter in your column from an inmate in Jefferson City, Missouri, has been in my heart in such strong way that I had to write.

(Editor’s Note: That letter was from someone who had been in prison for 25 years and was seeking to have his sentence changed from life to the death penalty because of what he termed his “unbelievable suffering” and the fact that his heart was “hardened” and he could not discover any role that God might possibly have for him to play in prison.)

I, too, am an inmate; I have served 23 years of a 15 years-to-life sentence. I have been denied three times by the parole board because of the “nature of the crime” — which is a constant, unchanging fact, although I have changed positively from the very core of my being.

God comes to me often in the darkness and reminds me of his love. I trust him and know that he has forgiven me, even though the system has not. Even in prison, he brings people into my life to encourage my spirit, so that I can live for him and with the hope of pleasing him somehow.

Mr. Jefferson City should ask to see a priest who can offer him some counseling and the help of the sacraments. The death penalty would mean that Satan won, the prison system won and God lost. It would be cheating the Lord out of the redemptive life he wants to give.

Let Mr. Jefferson City know that he is worth so much to God. He should help God by working with him, not against him. God loves this man and is on his side. (Marysville, Ohio)

A. I have chosen to run this letter not simply for the advice it offers to the prisoner in Missouri, but for a larger purpose: It shows that every person is worthy of redemption and capable of it. The Marysville inmate — obviously incarcerated for a serious crime — has evidently found a spiritual core deep within his soul.

I am reminded of what Pope Francis said in 2015 while visiting a prison in Philadelphia: “The Lord goes in search of us; to all of us he stretches out a helping hand. It is painful when we see prison systems that are not concerned to care for the wounds, to soothe pain, to offer new possibilities.”

Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.


Catholic News Service is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' news and information service.

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