4. CHRISTIAN HOME
AND FAMILY: INTER-CHURCH MARRIAGES
The consultation returned to one aspect of this topic at its Venice
meeting in 1974, when it discussed a survey it had commissioned
from Mons. Purdy of "Discussions between the Roman Catholic Church
and other Christian Churches on Marriage and the Problems of Mixed
Marriages" since 1967. This dealt most fully with the Roman Catholic/Anglican
dialogue but also surveyed discussions with the World Council of
Churches, Lutherans, Reformed, Methodists, Old Catholics and Orthodox.
It also described "changes in legislation and discipline and other
official pronouncements which have occurred within the field, and
their repercussions on dialogue".
The drafters of the fourth section of the Denver Report, which dealt
with the theme of Christian Home and Family, thought it relevant
to their particular task to conclude by laying stress on the need
for greater Roman Catholic/Methodist collaboration and for better
exchange of information among local churches. In matters which come
home so closely to the faithful in everyday life this emphasis is
Australian Roman Catholic/Methodist dialogue, having produced as
its first fruit a joint statement on baptism 1972-3, turned its
attention immediately to the theme of Christian marriage: its meaning
and pastoral implications. A statement of 1973-4 dealt
a) with marriage
in general, starting from a firm basis in scripture;
b) with mixed marriages;
c) with some practical recommendations.
Australian statement thus took very seriously the practical implications
of that joint pastoral care which was recommended by Matrimonia
Mixta and is coming to be seen more and more widely as the most
fruitful approach to a problem for which, in a divided church, no
perfect solution exists.
Since the Denver Report on Christian Home and Family, nothing has
occurred that would lead us to qualify the statement that our Churches
find "much ground for agreement" about marriage and family life,
nor to amend in any significant way the terms in which this agreement
is spelled out16.
It has, however, become increasingly clear that this view that we
have in common concerning the sanctity of marriage and its place
as the God-given context for sexual relationships, development of
family life and basis for stable human society, is being severely
challenged and widely disregarded. This widespread rejection of
the Christian understanding and practice of marriage serves to emphasize
that what differences remain between us (e.g. on the possibility
of divorce and re-marriage, and on ways of regulating conception)
are far outweighed by what we hold in common, and to remind us that
however important it may be to try and settle our differences it
is imperative that we witness together to the centrality of marriage
in God's purpose for human community. Such common witness must be
seen not as an attempt to hide our disagreements for the sake of
ecumenical goodwill but as an urgent necessity if the world at large
is to be influenced at all by the ideal and practice of Christian
This same realistic assessment of the widespread disregard of the
meaning of marriage must be brought to bear on any consideration
of interchurch marriages. These are often spoken of as posing a
"problem" in terms of doctrine, ecclesiastical polity and pastoral
care. They are in fact a problem to those marrying only if they
belong to the small minority within a minority, that is those who
are not only church members but also take the responsibilities of
membership seriously. Consequently those who do belong to different
churches and who seek guidance concerning inter-church marriage
should be welcomed for their faithful concern and not chided for
posing a problem, especially since they can hardly be held responsible
for the division between our churches which is the underlying cause
of the problem. Again, this is not to advocate a disregarding of
the difficulties nor a weakening of discipline concerning marriage.
It is to urge that what we already hold in common should be used
as a basis for marriage and family life that reflects the will of
God in Christ for human society.
As we have noted earlier, the problem of mixed marriages has been
treated, always simultaneously with a joint exploration of the theology
of marriage, at various levels in dialogue between the Catholic
Church and other confessional families notably at international
level with the Anglican Communion and in a tripartite consultation
with the Lutheran World Federation and the World Reformed Alliance.
In the former instance a report has been completed and in the latter
it is nearing completion.
The Denver Report made alternative recommendations either for a
special working party to perform this same task for Roman Catholics
and Methodists or "that the World Methodist Council consider the
possibility of joining in dialogue in progress on this subject between
the Roman Catholic Church and the World Federation of the Reformed
It is now too late for the second alternative, and it seems likely
that much treading of the same ground would be avoided if, when
the two reports referred to become available, our consultation were
to turn its attention to a comparative study of them. This could
be of value not simply to our own growth in understanding but to
the ecumenical dialogue at large: our discussions in this field
have generally revealed a calm approach and a positive emphasis
which is not always easily achieved.
Proceedings, §§ 70-71, pp. 53-4.
Back to text
Ibid., § 74, p. 54.
Back to text