Baptists and Catholics in Italy reach agreement on marriage


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Baptists and Roman Catholics in Italy have signed an agreement on "mixed" or interchurch marriages between members of the two Christian faith traditions, reports Michael Ireland, chief correspondent, ASSIST News Service.

According to a news release from the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), the agreement, called "A Common document for a pastoral approach to marriages between Catholics and Baptists in Italy," addresses Baptists and Catholics who marry each other, in order to help these couples in their preparation for marriage and family life.

The document also seeks to deepen couples' awareness of their rights and obligations toward each other, and clarify their relationship with their respective churches.

The BWA news release states that Anna Maffei, president of the Christian Evangelical Baptist Union of Italy (UCEBI), said that with this document "we offer to our communities and our pastors a practical guide so that the confessional difference that remains between the future spouses may not be experienced as an obstacle but as enrichment."

Maffei, who signed the agreement on the behalf of Italian Baptists, said that "respective churches should not be competitors anymore but places of listening and encouragement to communion," highlighting "all that is unifying in spirit and love of God."

Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI), who signed for Italian Catholics, declared that "the document is a common step in the journey of ecumenism between the Catholic church and the Baptist churches in Italy in a particularly sensitive field" and is "likely to pave the way for further developments."

The BWA news release says the agreement holds special significance for Baptists.

"As the number of Baptists in Italy is very small, only in a few marriages are both spouses Baptists. In fact Baptists often marry Catholics and this becomes an interchurch marriage," states an accompanying document released by the UCEBI.

"In order to clarify the situation, it has become necessary to reach an agreement between the Baptist Union and the Catholic Church," the document says.

The BWA news release explains there are approximately 6,400 Baptists who hold membership within the 116 churches of the UCEBI. In contrast, more than 87 percent of the population of more than 60 million in Italy identify themselves as Roman Catholic.

The news release goes on to say: "The agreement includes aspects of marriage that are held in common between Baptists and Catholics, such as the creation of men and women in their diversity and reciprocity, marriage as a parable of the alliance between God and God's people, the love shared by the couple, and the duration of marriage.

"Pastoral care for mixed marriages is also of significance in the signed agreement, including the responsibility of the respective churches, and the need for a shared and ongoing pastoral care program by both pastor and priest."

The BWA says the document offers guidelines to be followed by mixed couples on aspects of Italian civil law, the marriage preparation process, the marriage service or ceremony, and the upbringing of children.

The agreement, which was signed on Tuesday, June 30, in Rome, is the culmination of a process that began in October 2007 with the signing of a "Joint text for the pastoral care in interchurch marriages between Roman Catholics and Baptists in Italy," by respective commissions of the UCEBI and the CEI. Both commissions met jointly to study interchurch marriages and to draft the agreement.

The agreement was voted into acceptance by the general assemblies of both the UCEBI and the CEI, which paved the way for its signing.