Interchurch families a laboratory of unity: Benedict XVI

 — May 26, 200626 mai 2006

In his address to a gathering of ecumenical leaders in Warsaw on May 25, Pope Benedict XVI has expressed strong support for pastoral care of interchurch families. Speaking to the Polish Council for Ecumenism and leaders of other religious groups, Benedict encouraged the work of a bilateral commission of the Catholic bishops’ conference and the Polish Council for Ecumenism which is drafting a document on marriage and family life, on interdenominational marriages, and on joint pastoral care of families.

Highlighting the ecumenical potential of Christians marrying across denominational barriers, Benedict said: “The decision [to enter an interchurch marriage] can lead to the formation of a practical laboratory of unity. For this to happen there is need for mutual goodwill, understanding and maturity of faith in both partners, and also in the communities from which they come. … My wish is that in this delicate area, reciprocal trust and cooperation between the churches may grow, fully respecting the rights and responsibilities of the spouses for the faith formation of their own family and the education of their children.”

The term “laboratory of unity” has been proposed by interchurch families in France as a means of expressing the rich potential of the ecumenical experimentation in interchurch families. Far from being a pastoral problem, these couples offer an opportunity to the churches to express in their lives the real yet imperfect communion of the churches. The term “laboratories of unity” expresses the provisional character of the decisions that many couples make in order to live out their lives as domestic churches. “Domestic church” is, in turn, a theological theme proposed by the Second Vatican Council, and picked up by Pope John Paul II in his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio.

Benedict also emphasized the reciprocal responsibilities of the churches involved in pastoral care of these families, and of the spouses themselves. As affirmed by the Vatican’s 1993 ecumenical directory, each spouse has a moral obligation to raise their children in Christian faith. These moral responsibilities, when codified in church laws, can lead to conflicts between the spouses to the detriment of the unity of the marriage. The 1993 directory affirms that in Roman Catholic canon law no penalty is incurred by the Catholic spouse when his or her children are raised in another church for the sake of marital unity. In his address in Warsaw, Benedict reaffirms the rights and responsibilities of each spouse and the corresponding responsibility of the churches to respect the unity of the marriage.

The papal encouragement for joint pastoral care and the recognition of the ecumenical significance of interchurch couples repeats the earlier affirmations of John Paul II’s encyclical Ut Unum Sint in 1995, and the work of the Interchurch Families International Network.

The full text of Benedict’s May 25, 2006 address is available on the Vatican website.

Posted: May 26, 2006 • Permanent link:
Categories: NewsIn this article: Benedict XVI, Christian unity, interchurch families, marriage, pope
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