Sir, - It is interesting that Patsy McGarry ("Rite and Reason", May 28th) quotes at relative length from Professor Sexton and Dr O'Leary's interesting references to mixed marriages, in their submission to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. Yet he seems to have ignored the Catholic bishops' submission to the same forum. This would have brought him up to date on the Catholic Church's current practice in relation to mixed marriages, which has moved on from that which his article describes.
Pope Paul VI's Matrimonia Mixta of 1970 was more than a "slight change". Before then, a guarantee was required of both parties that all children of the marriage would be baptised and brought up as Catholics. Since 1970, no undertaking of any kind has been required of the non Catholic party. The nature of the undertaking was changed from one requiring a guarantee the Catholic is now asked to promise to do all that he/she can within the unity of the marriage to have the children baptised and educated as Catholics.
In their 1983 Directory on Mixed Marriages, the Bishops' Conference recognised that how the Catholic partner succeeds in practice in a particular marriage "depends not only on the Catholic's efforts, but also on the agreement and co operation of the other partner".
This was further explained by the Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism issued by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in 1993. "In carrying out this duty of transmitting the Catholic faith to the children, the Catholic parent will do so with respect for the religious freedom and conscience of the other parent and with regard for the unity and permanence of the marriage and for the maintenance of the community of the family."
An important development in Ireland was the introduction in 1991 of a revised standard prenuptial inquiry form in the Catholic Church. The purpose of the revision was to situate the inquiry within the pastoral preparation for marriage, as distinct from seeing it merely as a canonical investigation to establish the couple's freedom to marry. In this pastoral context every Catholic's acceptance of the Christian understanding of marriage, their obligation to preserve their faith and their responsibility to have all their children baptised and brought up as Catholics are important.
For that reason, the new form includes the following questions to be asked of all Catholics Do you accept that marriage has been instituted by God and made a sacrament by Christ? Are you resolved to remain steadfast in your Catholic faith and to practice it regularly? Do you promise to do what you can within the unity of your partnership to have all the children of your marriage baptised and brought up in the Catholic faith?
This has one important implication as far as the promises made by the Catholic partner in a mixed marriage is concerned. The declaration and promise are already contained in the answers to these questions. For that reason they are not made again in the application for permission for a mixed marriage. The result is that in Ireland today nothing more in the way of undertakings is required of the Catholic partner in a mixed marriage than is required of Catholics marrying one another.
The Catholic Church recognises explicitly that the religious upbringing of the children is a joint responsibility of both parents. The obligations of the Catholic party "do not, and cannot, cancel out, or in any way call into question, the conscientious duties of the other party" (Irish Bishops' Directory on Mixed Marriages). The 1976 Directory on Ecumenism, issued by the Bishops' Conference, states. "Full recognition should be given to the basic principle that in a mixed marriage husband and wife alike have a Christian duty to contribute spiritually to the marriage, to their children's upbringing and to the general life of the home. Their obligations in conscience towards God and in relation to church membership are essentially of the same nature, whether explicitly declared or not. Each party must respect the inviolability of the conscientious convictions of the other and seek to resolve conflicts with the fullest regard to Christian truth and love."
Finally, Patsy McGarry states that "a Protestant minister may attend a marriage, but it must be conducted by a priest." This is true, of course, if the marriage is in a Catholic church, though the priest may invite the minister of the party of the other church to participate in the celebration, to read from the Scriptures, give a brief exhortation and bless the people. However, Catholic Church documents over 25 years provide for the similar participation of a Catholic priest at a mixed marriage celebrated by a Protestant or other Christian minister in a church of another denomination. Yours, etc., Director, Catholic Press and Information Office, Dublin.
Patsy McGarry writes. My intent in quoting from the submission by Professor Sexton and Dr O'Leary to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation was to illustrate, through their findings, "the profound effect" of the Catholic Church's teaching on mixed marriage on the birth rates of minority communities in this country. In their submission to the Forum, and as outlined by Mr Cantwell, the Catholic bishops concentrated on the teaching itself, rather than its effect.