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Question
Hello Father, I just would like to ask if the church won't allow to baptize a child if his parents are not married at church. My sister-in-law was wedded in civil not in church. They were turned down by the church because they were required to have a church wedding first before the baptism of their child, or have a church wedding scheduled, and the church's office will only release the baptismal certificate after they wed to the church.This is a requirement here in a church from a province in the Southern Philippines. I just then had this quick thought that what will happen if the mother is a single-parent or still in her minor-age. Anyhow, I need your expert advice with regard to this matter. Thank you and advance Happy Christmas.

Answer
In answer to your question I am not aware of any rule forbidding the Baptism of a child of parents who are either divorced and remarried or married civilly but not in the Church.  However this only applies to my diocese and the continental USA.  Other places, other dioceses may have different requirements.  

That being said---just because something is not forbidden does not entail it should be done, can be done or is a good idea.  We would be jumping to conclusions to go from "there is no rule against it" to "therefore in every circumstance it must and should be done."  

The priest in question from my view did NOT "turn them down" NOR did he "refuse" to Baptize their child.  What the priest is rightly doing is trying to form the couple in the Catholic Faith and help them to understand what a big commitment Baptism is.  In other words the priest in essence said "Before I proceed with a Baptism there are certain things that need to happen so that the celebration of the Sacrament will be not only meaningful for you but spiritually fruitful."  You have to remember that as Catholic parents they have a DUTY and an OBLIGATION to form their and teach their child the ways of the Catholic Faith.  Having their marriage recognized by the Church will only HELP them to better do this.  

In this case a couple was married outside of the Catholic Church.  They need to have their marriage blessed and recognized by the Church.  When they do that the priest will be happy to baptize their child. This from my view is not unreasonable.  I fail to see why the couple would not JUMP at the opportunity to have their marriage recognized by the Church and blessed by God--especially a couple that wants to pass on their Catholic Faith to their child.  That would also make the Baptism of their child so much more meaningful as the parents who have had their marriage blessed see the hope of eternal life shine on their child.  

When people come to the Church for Baptism or ANY Sacrament (except Anointing of the Sick) there is ALWAYS  some period of preparation the people need to go through PRIOR to reception of the Sacrament.  The period of preparation is going to depend on the situation. The Church does not just hand out sacraments without proper discernment and formation. The Church wants to ensure the people receiving the sacraments are properly disposed and formed.  

In general a priest would NEVER outright just REFUSE to Baptize a child.  This does NOT however entail that someone who requests their child be baptized can have it done right away. In an emergency ANYONE can Baptize even a non-catholic. So my question in this case is: "What is the rush?  Why is it an unreasonable request for the couple to have their marriage recognized by the Church PRIOR to proceeding with the baptism of their child?"

If I met a couple in such a case I would likely proceed in the same manner.  I would tell them that I am happy to baptize their child--but I would like them to have their marriage recognized by the Church before proceeding with the Baptism. That is easy enough to do--it is not like it would be a huge burden.

If the couple was divorced and remarried I would want to begin the annulment process with them.  I might proceed with the Baptism without that happening---but there would need to be a good REASON given as to WHY that needs to happen.  "I think your being too judgmental and intolerant" is NOT a good reason. "I don't want to do the work necessary for the annulment because it is challenging and hard" is NOT a good reason--since we cannot just ignore the fact that the person had been previously married--and we cannot just throw that marriage aside because the person finds it offensive the Catholic Church cannot and does not condone divorce and remarriage.  (Note that Divorce is not sinful--but Divorce does NOT dissolve a marriage--which is why a person in the sate of divorce is not free to enter into another marriage without an annulment.)  

I have never understood why people think the Church should just indiscriminately hand out sacraments regardless of a person's disposition to receive the Sacrament, period of formation or without any basic requirements.  People always have a right to approach the Church when they desire to receive a Sacrament. However their desire to receive the Sacrament MUST ALWAYS involve a period of discernment that in some way involves the Church through the parish priest or delegate to ensure a proper formation and spiritual disposition for worthy reception. Sometimes this period is going to include having to come to terms with certain things in a person's life which present an obstacle to worthy reception of a Sacrament--and doing what it necessary so that the obstacle can be removed and the person can receive the Sacrament fruitfully and worthily.  

I want to assure you that that a single mother should have NO FEAR in approaching a priest for the baptism of her child. While the Church NEVER condones pre-marital sex, nevertheless women who have chosen life and brought their children to term and intend to raise their children (despite the inherent challenges of single motherhood) deserve our respect and admiration. Men are often called the "stronger sex" and while that may be true when it comes to brute strength, I have always believed that women are the stronger sex when it comes to enduring challenge, suffering, pain, etc.  Men who have relations with women then run out on them especially when a pregnancy results don't deserve to be called "Men."

Any priest who would give a single mother a difficult time solely because she is a single mother does not know what it is to be pro-life---nor does such a priest understand what the priesthood is about.  Just as a man who gets a women pregnant then runs out on her does not deserve to be called a "Man" so too a priest who would refuse to baptize the child of a single mother solely because she is a single mother does not deserve to be called "Father" or for that matter "Reverend."  

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Father Dave Bechtel

Expertise

I am a Catholic priest in good standing and in active ministry in the Diocese of Scranton PA. I can answer most any question about the Catholic Faith, however my area of specialization is Systematic Theology. Systematic Theology is a branch of theology that focuses on the fundamental tenants of the Faith and the Dogmas of the Faith. I have specialization on the Reformation and Catholic vs. Protestant theology/issues and answering Protestant challenges to the Faith.

Experience

I was ordained in June of 2008. Since that time the thrust of my ministry has been specialized. In my first assignment I was an assistant pastor. A year later I was sent to work in education. I spent six (6) years in education and have now assumed my first pastorate. While education was the thrust of my ministry, nevertheless I continued to have a hand in parish ministry, hospital chaplaincy and prison chaplaincy. Now that I am out of education I will obviously be focusing more on parish work than specialized ministry. I have two years of formal Clinical Pastoral Education and prior to ordination I successfully pursued Board Certification for health care ministry through the NACC. My certification needs to be renewed and I plan to seek dual certification in health care ministry (NACC and APC) when I renew my certification. I have a breadth of experience working with Protestant ministers and collaborating with them to achieve the goals of hospital pastoral care and chaplaincy. These ministers run the spectrum from the liberal to the conservative.

Education/Credentials
Bachelors of Science-- University of Scranton PA Masters of Arts Theology--- Saint Mary's Seminary and University Baltimore MD Masters of Divinity--- Saint Charles Borremeo Seminary Philadelphia PA Board Certified Chaplain (up for renewal)

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