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In connection with the arrival in Poland of growing number of refugees who belong to various non-Catholic Christian Churches, the Legal Council and the Council for Ecumenism of the Polish Bishops’ Conference has prepared the PRO MEMORIA concerning religious services provided to the faithful of Churches and Ecclesial Communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church, dated 8 March 2022.

This document recalls the basic rules of conduct of Catholic pastors (regardless of rite) in relation to baptized non-Catholics who request the administration of the sacraments, sacramentals or the celebration of a funeral.

For a complementary perspective of the question of the administration of sacraments and sacramentals to refugees arriving in Poland, we also recall the PRO MEMORIA on the pastoral relations of the Latin Church with Catholics of the Eastern Churches, dated 4 October 2018, which was prepared by the Legal Council of the Polish Bishops’ Conference.

Press Office of the Polish Bishops’ Conference


concerning religious services provided to
to the faithful OF Churches and Ecclesial Communities
not in full communion with the Catholic Church

Given the presence in Poland of numerous refugees belonging to various Christian non-Catholic Churches, especially the Orthodox faithful, they may turn to Catholic pastors with requests for religious services. This document, therefore, intends to remind you of the basic rules of conduct for Catholic pastors (regardless of rite) with regard to baptized non-Catholics who request the administration of the sacraments, sacramentals or the celebration of a funeral.

Regarding prayer with other Christians, “Catholics not only can, but indeed must, seek out opportunities to pray with other Christians.” “Global realities such as warfare, poverty, the plight of migrants, injustice and the persecution of Christians and other religious groups also demand the attention of Christians who can join together in prayer for peace and for the most vulnerable” (The Bishop and Christian Unity: An Ecumenical Vademecum, 17 and 19).

Catholics should be willing to help other Christians to participate in services, especially on Sundays, in their own church or house of worship. If their participation is difficult, especially because of a lack of local places for the worship of their communities, Catholics should openly invite these Christians into their churches so that they may pray in accordance with the principles recalled in this document.

Naturally, the following rules do not apply to the faithful of the Eastern Catholic Churches, who are in full communion of faith, recognize the sacraments and hierarchy. The pastoral relationship between them and the Latin Church is defined in the “Pro memoria” of the Legal Council of the Polish Bishops’ Conference dated 4 October 2018.


  1. Basic Principles
  2. As a general rule, Catholic ministers administer the sacraments licitly to Catholics, and baptized non-Catholics receive the sacraments licitly from ministers of their Churches or Ecclesial Communities.
  3. However, in extraordinary situations in which the faithful are unable to go to the minister of their Church or Ecclesial Community, Catholic ministers may provide certain religious services to baptized non-Catholics, especially to the Orthodox faithful, since these faithful must not remain without access to the sources of divine grace, especially the sacraments. In the relationship with the Orthodox Churches, it is important that the apostolic succession be preserved in them, and thus the understanding and validity of the sacraments.
  4. The giving a sacrament or providing other religious services to baptized non-Catholics does not change their religion and must not be used for proselytizing purposes. The ministry of Catholic ministers consists in providing spiritual assistance that the Catholic Church can offer to the faithful of other Churches, while respecting their denominational identity and ecclesiastical affiliation (cf. Ecumenical Directory, 125). Hence, it is important to ascertain in advance whether this is not prohibited in a particular non-Catholic Church.


  1. Administration of the Sacraments to the Faithful of the Eastern Churches (e.g., Orthodox)
  2. The Sacraments of Penance, the Eucharist and the Anointing of the Sick

According to Can. 844 § 3 of the CIC and Can. 671 § 3 of the CIO), “Catholic ministers administer the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick licitly to members of Eastern Churches which do not have full communion with the Catholic Church if they seek such on their own accord and are properly disposed.”

The sufficient reason for the administration of each of these three sacraments is the request expressed on one’s own initiative and the proper disposition of the person making the request. However, the unavailability of an Orthodox minister is not a condition for the administration of each of these sacraments.

The Catholic minister should first ascertain whether the request is not due, for example, to ignorance or helplessness, and give the petitioner the necessary explanations. This is especially true in the case of the Eucharist, which is a sign of belonging to the Church. In many cases, it will be appropriate to redirect the Orthodox believer to an Orthodox priest.

If redirection is difficult and the request for the sacraments is spiritually motivated, the petitioner’s disposition should be examined. When administering the sacraments, a Catholic minister is obliged to be guided by the principles of the Catholic doctrine and discipline—this means, for example, that he cannot give Holy Communion to a non-Catholic Eastern Church believer who is divorced and living in a new union, even if he can receive it in his Church. Sacramental confession may be a good opportunity to evaluate the petitioner’s disposition. It is important to know that many Eastern Churches require their faithful to receive the sacrament of penance before each reception of the Eucharist.

If a child is asked to be admitted to First Holy Communion, especially if that child attends Catholic school catechesis, then it is permissible to admit the child, keeping in mind that for an Orthodox child this will not be the first time they receive the Eucharist, since the first reception of Holy Communion took place at the time of baptism and confirmation. It will therefore be the first confession and celebration of Holy Communion.

Concelebration of the Eucharist with Orthodox priests is prohibited.

  1. Baptism

According to Can. 868 § 3 of the CIC and Can. 681 § 5 of the CIO, “The infant of non-Catholic Christians is licitly baptized, if the parents, or at least one of them, or the one who legitimately occupies the same place, request it; and if it is physically or morally impossible for them to approach their own minister.”

A Catholic minister can licitly baptize a child at the request of non-Catholic parents only if they do not have access to a minister of their Church. The parents must make their request in writing. By keeping such a document in the parish archives, the Catholic pastor can protect himself from being accused of proselytism, that is, of unduly soliciting a change of denomination. This stipulation does not apply if the child or the parents are in danger. Baptism must be administered in accordance with the liturgical books of the Catholic Church.

In this case, the baptizing Catholic minister does not incorporate the child in the Catholic Church; hence, it must be noted in the book of the baptized that the child belongs to another Church that is not unity with the Catholic Church.

In the case of the baptism of a person over the age of fourteen, the rules for the baptism of adults must be followed, and in the case of children over the age of seven, they must also express their wish to be baptized.

A baptismal certificate must be given to the parents or adult baptized. It is also impossible to exclude a situation in which Orthodox parents requesting baptism for a child express the wish that he be incorporated into the Catholic Church and propose Catholic godparents. In such a situation, the diocesan curia should be consulted on the matter.

Persons of the Orthodox faith may also act as godparents in the Catholic Church, but always together with a Catholic godparent (Cann. 685 § 1, n. 2 and § 3 CIC; Ecumenical Directory, 98).

  1. Marriage between two Orthodox Christians

Admittedly, according to Can. 1116 § 1 of the CIC and Can. 832 of the CIO, “If a person competent to assist according to the norm of law cannot be present or approached without grave inconvenience, those who intend to enter into a true marriage can contract it validly and licitly before witnesses only: 1/ in danger of death; 2/ outside the danger of death provided that it is prudently foreseen that the situation will continue for a month”, however, “the Ordinary of the place may grant to any Catholic priest the authority to bless the marriage of the faithful of the Eastern Churches not in full communion with the Catholic Church, if these, of their own free will, themselves request it and if nothing prevents the valid and licit celebration of the marriage. The priest himself, if prudently possible, should inform the competent authority of the non-Catholic Church concerned”. (so, also in CIC Can. 833).

The pastor does not have the authority to bless the marriage of two non-Catholics. If a Catholic priest is approached by two Orthodox Christians who wish to be married, he must ask the local ordinary for the authorization to bless the marriage. A local ordinary cannot give this authorization to a deacon (Can. 1108 § 3 of the CIC, Can. 828 CIO). The couple wishing to be married should present their request for marriage in the Catholic Church in writing.

In the absence of documents confirming the reception of baptism, the testimony of witnesses should be used, and in their absence, the sworn statements of the couple. The testimonies of witnesses and the declarations of the bride and groom should also confirm that they are not already married. It is necessary to ask directly whether the couple of the Eastern rite has not previously gotten married in church (orthodox church). This is necessary because, in non-Catholic Eastern Churches, it is possible to get married a second or a third time; hence the “single status” may be understood in different ways. All documentation should be presented to the diocesan curia together with the request for the authorization to bless the marriage.

The fact that the marriage has been contracted must be recorded among the marriages in the parish register, with a clear indication of the spouses’ denomination, and a marriage certificate should be issued to the couple.

III. Administering the Sacraments to Other Christians (e.g., Protestants)

  1. Some churches and communities are not in the same situation as the above-mentioned Eastern churches with regard to sacramental life. Some of them, for various reasons, celebrate only certain sacraments. However, a member of such a community may come to ask a Catholic minister for the sacraments of Penance, the Eucharist, or the Anointing of the Sick. According to Can. 844, § 4 of the CIC and 671, § 4 of the CIO, “if the danger of death is present or if, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops, some other grave necessity urges it, Catholic ministers administer these same sacraments licitly also to other Christians not having full communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who seek such on their own accord, provided that they manifest Catholic faith in respect to these sacraments and are properly disposed.”

The conditions for the administration of these sacraments to these Christians are as follows:

(a) the candidate’s request and proper preparation,

(b) a death threat situation,

(c) or other grave necessity subject to the judgment of the diocesan bishop,

  1. d) inability to go to one’s own minister
  2. e) an expression of Catholic faith regarding the sacrament requested (e.g., faith in the forgiveness of sins in the sacrament of Penance, in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, or in the special grace given to the sick by the sacrament of Anointing of the sick, and in the necessity of the ministerial priesthood to administer them).


  1. Other Acts of Divine Worship – regarding all baptized non-Catholics
  2. Sacramentals – Blessings

According to Can. 1170, “Blessings, which are to be imparted first of all to Catholics, can also be given to catechumens and even to non-Catholics unless there is a prohibition of the Church to the contrary.”

  1. Burial

According to Can. 1183, § 3 of the CIC and Can. 876, § 1 of the CIO, “In the prudent judgment of the local ordinary, ecclesiastical funerals can be granted to baptized persons who are enrolled in a non-Catholic Church or ecclesial community unless their intention is evidently to the contrary and provided that their own minister is not available.”

The conditions for celebrating the funeral of a non-Catholic Christian are as follows:

(a) the request of the persons organizing the funeral,

(b) the unavailability of a minister of the non-Catholic community,

  1. c) the certainty that the deceased was not opposed, i.e., that he or she did not expressly exclude a Catholic form of funeral before death,

(d) the Ordinary of the place has given his consent,

  1. e) during the funeral Mass, the name of the deceased is not mentioned in the Eucharistic prayer, but it may be mentioned in the appropriate prayers of the Mass (collect) and in the invocations of the Prayer of the faithful (Ecumenical Directory, 121).


  1. Making a church, chapel, cemetery, or church building available

According to Can. 670 § 2 of the CIC and art. 137 of the Ecumenical Directory, “if non-Catholic Christians have no place in which to worship God worthily, the local bishop may allow them to use a Catholic building, cemetery, or church,” and “if priests, ministers or communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church do not have a place or the liturgical objects necessary for celebrating worthily their religious ceremonies, the diocesan Bishop may allow them the use of a church or a Catholic building and also lend them what may be necessary for their services.”


+Ryszard Kasyna
Chairman of the Legal Council of the Polish Bishops’ Conference

+Jacek Jezierski
Chairman of the Council for Ecumenism of the Polish Bishops’ Conference

Pelplin – Elbląg, 8 March 2022


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