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“Ask a Priest: Could I Put Off Baptizing My Children?”
Q: I am a devout Christian and Catholic. The man I am with is Muslim. If we were to get married, my significant other believes we should allow our children to choose their own religion and not make them choose between one or the other. Neither of us will convert. He is OK with getting the blessings of a church. However, he is against the baptism of our children as he feels that takes away their right to choose. If I were to remain a devout Christian, but would hope to show our children both religions to respect my significant other, would we still be able to marry in a church? And would I be turning on my own faith by allowing our children to choose if they want to be baptized or not when they’re older and more understanding? – Christina
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: For you as a Catholic to marry a Muslim validly, it would require a special permission from your bishop.
One of the conditions for you to marry a non-Catholic is that you have to promise to raise the children in the faith. This implies baptizing infants.
Canon law (that is, Church law) deals with the conditions needed for mixed marriages (between a Catholic and non-Catholic Christian):
Can. 1124 Marriage between two baptized persons, one of whom was baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it after baptism, and the other a member of a Church or ecclesial community not in full communion with the Catholic Church, cannot be celebrated without the express permission of the competent authority.
Can. 1125 The local ordinary can grant a permission of this kind if there is a just and reasonable cause. He is not to grant it unless the following conditions have been fulfilled:
1/ the Catholic party is to declare that he or she is prepared to remove dangers of defecting from the faith and is to make a sincere promise to do all in his or her power so that all offspring are baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church;
2/ the other party is to be informed at an appropriate time about the promises which the Catholic party is to make, in such a way that it is certain that he or she is truly aware of the promise and obligation of the Catholic party […] [boldface mine]
In the case of a Catholic and a non-Christian, the above norms need to be weighed even more heavily.
The practice outlined by the Church (about baptizing and raising in the faith, with the expectation that a non-believing spouse agree before marriage) is based on the premise that as Catholics we believe that baptism and faith are necessary for salvation and spiritual health.
That’s not conditioned by whether a spouse agrees or not, but whether it is true or not. Catholics believe it is true, and to risk their child’s salvation would not only spiritually endanger the child, but also call into question the depth of their own faith.
So, the idea behind infant baptism is that you want to give good things to your children. Baptism takes away original sin and infuses special graces into their souls.
To wait for them to reach adulthood before deciding on baptism is a faulty argument. It’s a little like not teaching a child to read, on the grounds that the child can decide when he turns 18 whether he wants to learn to read. By then, the damage of not knowing how to read will hamper the child all his life.
Indeed, your children eventually would need to make their own decision to follow Christ. Baptism and other sacraments will help prepare them to make the right decision.
But back to your friend.
Marriage is the first step on a journey of a shared life after a period of discerning whether you love each other and how.
When husband and wife do not agree on something fundamental, such as religion, there is a risk that if one or both later feel drawn to live their respective religions more deeply, it could result in friction or, at worst, in open conflict.
That your friend respects your Catholic faith but questions baptism and catechesis for your children is something you should both discuss frankly and clearly before pursuing marriage.
In any case, it would be good to speak with your pastor.
And remember, religion isn’t ultimately about respecting the wishes of a spouse. It’s about giving due honor and worship to God.
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