WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

Interchurch families and baptism

Sally and John Faisandier

When interchurch couples are preparing for marriage, the Roman Catholic partner is required to make the following promise:

…I sincerely undertake that I will do all that I can within the unity of our partnership to have all the children of our marriage baptised and brought up in the Catholic Church.

The 1993 Roman Catholic Ecumenical Directory states:

At the same time, it should be recognised that the non-Catholic partner may feel a like obligation because of his or her own Christian commitment.

In a pamphlet the British Association of Interchurch Families has produced, interchurch couples are encouraged to work out the issues surrounding the baptism and Christian upbringing of their children together.

The pamphlet also recommends: ‘It is wise to discuss this before marriage, but not to make a final decision until a child is born, as your attitudes may well develop after marriage.’

We found this out for ourselves! When our son was still an infant, we asked the priest to welcome him into the Catholic Church as a catechumen – which was a way that we could ask for him to be welcomed into God’s church without specifically saying that he was a fully baptised Roman Catholic.

However, it was another eight years before we really addressed the problem again – and it wasn’t because we were ready to! Rather, it was because our hand was forced when our son asked if he could make his first communion in the Roman Catholic Church along with all the other children in his class at the Catholic school.

At that point we had long, painful discussions about our respective traditions, our concerns if he was baptised into the other’s church, and our difficulties with him growing up in one church to the possible detriment of the other. Eventually, we arrived at a compromise that also met our son’s approval.

Unknowingly, we had stumbled on a way forward that other interchurch families in other countries had already come to: it is based on the fact that most Christian churches state: ‘We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins’. We therefore agreed to have our son baptised in the Anglican Church and then went ahead with his entry first communion and confirmation into the Roman Catholic Church.

We are pleased that we did this, because our son now tells people that he is Anglican and Roman Catholic, and he feels that he belongs in both of those churches.

This painful process eventually allowed us all to make an important breakthrough in our ability to combine the two denominational traditions in our family.

In 1999 the Uniting Church of Australia and the Roman Catholic Church published a report on the national dialogue between the two churches which outlines their agreed position on interchurch marriages. In that document, they acknowledged that they were able to recognise each other’s baptism, and outlined a number of possibilities for the interchurch family when dealing with this significant event in their lives:

ß The baptismal rite in one church could make reference to the other church and their shared fellowship in Christ.

ß One church could borrow elements from the rite of the other church in its celebration of baptism for an interchurch family.

ß Each church could develop and celebrate a rite to welcome / recognise / bless a child and an interchurch family when the baptism has taken place in the other church.

ß Representatives of the other church could be present at the baptismal celebration.

ß Representatives of each church could be present at the baptismal celebration.

ß Representatives of each church could participate officially in the baptismal celebrations of the other church.

ß Each church could baptise its own candidates in a single common ecumenical ceremony.

The report concludes this section strongly, by stating:

Denominational tensions which may occur about baptism at the birth of a child are confronted by the triumphant assertion of the interchurch marriage, What God has joined together, let no one put asunder!'(p53-54).

In 2003 the Second World Gathering of interchurch families was held near Rome. A paper was adopted by the 11 countries represented at that gathering which is called ‘Interchurch Families and Christian Unity’. In that paper, similar approaches to the Australian document were listed, but the paper also suggested the following:

Sometimes the fact of the baptism is recorded in the registers of the two churches of the parents. In some countries a Certificate of Christian Baptism has been produced listing the churches that have agreed to accept it as evidence of Christian baptism.

Because the mutual recognition of baptism is so fundamental to the ecumenical movement, interchurch families would like to see the churches build on this foundation. Despite the obvious practical problems, could not churches of different traditions share more frequent celebrations in which they baptise others beside interchurch families? Could these celebrations also be occasions when all Christians re-affirm their baptismal promises together? (p13).

We offer these thoughts to readers who themselves are grappling with such issues. We encourage you to explore with your priest and pastor creative ways of addressing the baptism of your child that does not have to mean a loss of either parent’s religious traditions.