- Created on 28 March 2007
U.S. Theological Consultation, 1980
1. In this consultation's "Agreed Statement on Mixed Marriages" (New York City, May 20, 1970) reference was made to the spiritual formation of children of marriages involving Orthodox and Roman Catholic partners. The consultation affirms the position taken in that statement but now presents a more detailed explanation of its reasons for it.
Christian Marriage and the Spiritual Formation of Children
2. Our understanding of the spiritual formation of children is based on our common understanding of Christian marriage as a sacrament, as expressed in our "Agreed Statement on the Sanctity of Marriage" (New York, December 8, 1978). Christian marriage is a vocation from God in which the liberating effect of divine love is experienced through human love. This love expresses itself in permanent commitment to mutual fidelity, help and support in all aspects of life, spiritual as well as physical. It also expresses itself in the generation of new life--that is, in the procreation and nurture of children--again, on both the spiritual and physical levels. A primary responsibility of parents therefore is the spiritual formation of their children, a task which is not limited to church membership and formal religious education but extends to all aspects of their lives.
Church Community and the Spiritual Formation of Children
3. Christian marriage also has a social dimension which extends beyond the partners and their relatives. Through marriage the partners are integrated in a new way into the church community. Just as the marriage partners have a responsibility for the building up of the church, so the church community itself has a responsibility to each Christian family to foster its life of faith. In particular the community shares in the responsibility for the spiritual formation of children.
4. Practical difficulties often arise in discharging this responsibility, especially in mixed marriages. Today each of our churches insists that the children of such marriages be raised within its own communion, on the grounds that this is in the best interests of the child's spiritual welfare, thus presuming that one of the parents will relinquish the chief responsibility to the other. Yet if the purpose of the general law is indeed the child's spiritual welfare, its application should be guided by a prudent judgment concerning what is better for the child in the concrete situation.
5. The Orthodox/Roman Catholic couple contemplating marriage should discuss the problem of the spiritual formation of children with both their pastors. Both parents should be urged to take an active role in their children's spiritual formation in all its aspects. Pastors should counsel the parents, and their children as well, against indifference in religious matters, which so often masks itself as tolerance. Since unity in Christ through the Spirit is the ultimate basis and goal of family life, all members of the family should be willing, in a spirit of love, trust, and freedom, to learn more about their faith. They should agree to pray, study, discuss, and seek unity in Christ, and to express their commitment to this unity in all aspects of their lives.
6. Decisions, including the initial and very important one of the children's church membership, rest with both husband and wife and should take into account the good of the children, the strength of the religious convictions of the parents and other relatives, the demands of their consciences, the unity and stability of the family, and other aspects of the specific context. In some cases, when it appears certain that only one of the partners will fulfill his or her responsibility, it seems clear that the children should be raised in that partner's church. In other cases, however, the children's spiritual formation may include a fuller participation in the life and traditions of both churches, respecting, however, the canonical order of each church. Here particularly the decision of the children's church membership is more difficult to make. Yet we believe that this decision can be made in good conscience. This is possible because of the proximity of doctrine and practice of our churches, which enables each to a high degree to see the other precisely as Church, as the locus for the communion of men and women with God and with each other through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit.
7. In no way do we mean to minimize differences that still exist between our churches; and we are well aware of the difficulties which these differences may present for those in mixed marriages. Yet we are convinced that such marriages can be a means of spiritual growth both for the partners and for their children.
8. We are also aware that our joint recommendations on the formation of children of marriages between Orthodox and Roman Catholics differ in certain respects from the present legislation and practice of our churches. Yet we believe that our position is theologically and pastorally sound. Therefore we would urge our respective hierarchies to consider ways of reformulating legislation and pastoral guidelines in this area and of communicating this on the parish level, so that the spiritual growth of both the partners and the children of such marriages may better be fostered.
New York, NY
October 11, 1980