Catholic, United Churches Find Common Ground on Marriage

By Swan, Michael | National Catholic Reporter, February 15, 2013 | Go to article overview

Catholic, United Churches Find Common Ground on Marriage


Swan, Michael, National Catholic Reporter


While the Catholic church and the United Church of Canada aren't about to agree about same-sex marriage (Catholic against, United in favor), the official Roman Catholic Church/United Church of Canada Dialogue has found significant common ground in their theologies, liturgies and pastoral approaches.

"In the end it is good news that we were able to say something together on marriage," said Michael Attridge, a University of St. Michael's College theology professor who was one of the Catholic representatives in the dialogue. "A very important topic--something that's very important to both our churches."

The 23-page final report on marriage makes no change in either church's teaching on marriage and does not try to paper over significant differences on same-sex marriage, divorce and marriage as a sacrament. However, by analyzing the Catholic and United church marriage ceremonies and official documents, the dialogue found common ground.

Both believe that marriage must be the free choice of the spouses, is intended to be a lifelong commitment, is "a commitment to self-transcendence" that serves not just the couple but children and the whole community, and is a vocation to holiness. Both believe that pastorally marriage preparation is important.

The United Church of Canada was formed in 1925 through the union of Canadian Methodists, Congregationalists and about two-thirds of the Presbyterian churches in Canada. The agreement was ratified in an Act of Parliament. Other smaller groups of churches and individual congregations have joined the United church, so that approximately 3,200 congregations belong to it today, making it Canada's largest Protestant denomination, according to its website.

The two church bodies decided to tackle marriage in their official dialogue after the United church and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops found themselves submitting opposing factums to the Supreme Court in 2004, before the court ruled on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage.

"This is exactly what the dialogue is for," said the Rev. Richard Bat, a United Church of Canada representative. "We both believe we're disciples of Jesus Christ. How is it that we were sitting in different places? ... What we wanted to do was get past the stereotypes."

A "winner-take-all" legal debate is the wrong way for Christians to discuss their differences, said the final report.

"While remaining honest about real differences, we wanted to discover ways to celebrate and to build upon our important commonalities," reads the report's introduction.

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