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This article was published in the January 1996 issue of The Journal.


by Fr Rene Beaupere and Pastor Jacques Maury

Pastor Jacques Maury of the French Reformed Church was a co-chairman of the World Council of Churches/Roman Catholic Church Joint Working Group between 1983 and 1991. Fr Rene Beaupere, O.P., has been an inspiration and stimulus for the interchurch families movement in France - foyers mixtes - for 30 years.

In 1993 the two of them came together to see if they could begin a process of response to the recommendation of the 6th report of the WCC/RCC Joint Working Group 1991, which called for "a study of the ecclesiological implications of mixed marriages". Thus their joint text, Appel a nos Eglises: Implications ecclesiologiques des mariages mixtes was produced, and in the summer of 1993 was sent to the international WCC/RCC Joint Working Group and to various individuals such as the President and Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in Rome and the General Secretary of the WCC. Because the authors were both French, they also sent it to the Joint Catholic/Protestant Committee in France.

At the Torre Pellice meeting of French and Italian couples in July 1995, Fr Rene Beaupere explained the background.

This was not a text which asked for pastoral hc1p for interchurch couples, so that they might live a little more comfortably in their present situation; it was a text which urged the Catholic Church and the Protestant churches to recognise the need to take scriously the experience of mixed Catholic-Protestant couples and groups of mixed couples, and to spell out the pastoral and canonical consequences of the existence of such couples for the life and the structures of the churches.

This is needed on two levels. The first is practical. Everyone knows that ecumenical developments depend on the commitment of particular bishops, priests, pastors; the situation is very fragile, and if clergy move on things can change overnight. If wc don't manage to translate what has been acquired into the structures and disciplines and canon law of our churches, what has been lived out could disappear from one generation to the next. The experience of mixed marriages between baptised Christians should not therefore remain marginal, but should be written into the life of the churches.

The second level is more fundamental. Pastor Maury and Fr Beaupere are convinced that neither the Roman Catholic Church nor the French Reformed Church has yet reflected sufficiently on what it means for their own members to be actively involved also in the life of another church. If things simply happen without drawing out the consequences for the lives of thc churches themselves, we may arrive at a chaotic situation, not knowing who is Catholic and who is Protestant. It is not good enough for the churches lazily to repeat those formulae which were true 30 years ago but which are no longer true. What does it mean for a church if those who take part in its life were not baptised in that church, who are "partial" members rather than full members? If we have members who are more or less members, does that not change the nature of the Roman Catholic Church in this place or the French Reformed or Waldensian Church in that place? This is the essential question which Appel a nos Eglises was asking.

(The full text is given in Foyers Mixtes, no. 101)

The authors are not putting forward a thought-out response to the Joint Working Group's call for a study of the ecclesiological implications of mixed marriages but are making a contribution based on the experience of Catholic-Protestant marriages in France and Switzerland, and are underlining the urgent need for such a study.

The present situation
1 Mixed marriages have increased in numbers so considerably that in some regions, and for minority churches they are more numerous than one-confessional marriages.

2 In the past, mixed marriages often led to withdrawal from the churches.  Today there are many cases in which they lead to deeper spiritual commitment and participation in the life of the churches (often in both churches at once).

Beneficiaries of ecumenism
3 Foyers mixtes have benefited from ecumenism. No longer so shm-ply disapproved of, their common life has been eased by a number of ecclesiastical measures (even if these are not as well known to ministers and couples as they should be).
For example:

- The pre-marriage commitment about the children's upbringing is more respectful of the couple's consciences.

- A minister of the church in which the wedding is not celebrated can take part in the ceremony.

- The same is possible for baptism.

- In France, baptisms can be registered in both churches (cf. Note du Comire mixte catholique-protestant en France sur la celebration oecumenique des baptemes d’enfants no. 11, 12).

- Groups and sessions for foyers mixtes allow them, with the help of a priest and a pastor, to share experiences and to deepen their spiritual life together and their commitment in the church and in society.

4 All this has helped many couples to respect one another's faith and to grow in their common faith, minimising differences which seem to them secondary in relation to their fundamental faith in Christ, and thus allowing them to become living witnesses to "the hierarchy of truths" (Decree on Ecumenism, 11).

Catalysts for ecumenism
Problems remain which are also challenges.

5 Having progressed far in their spiritual union. some couples find the continuation of divisions difficult to understand and are impatient for them to be overcome.

6 Eucharistic communion: cannot the admission to communion which is possible in exceptional cases become more widespread? (Cf. in France the Note sur l'hospitalite eucharistique of 1983.) Indeed, we have to recognise that in their sharing in the eucharists of their two churches many foyers mixtes go beyond these provisions.

7 Children who have followed an ecumenical catechesis have a problem in choosing the church of their definitive membership. Sometimes they want to remain linked to both, and neither knows how to help them.

8 Often the partners are committed in both churches. Even if their participation in one or the other is not of the same order, still they want it recognised in some way. How can a double belonging which is not only "emotional and spiritual" (Note of 1975, no. I) but is translated into practical service and the willingness of each to be challenged by the other church, be in canonical and disciplinary terms? Doctrinal reflection on this is urgent.

9 If ecumenical advances are not given some kind of juridical status, they risk being reversed when there is a change of minister. Would it not be prudent to get some of them translated into church structures (e.g. the status of "guest member" offered by the Reformed parish of the Annunciation, Paris).

10 Examples of commitment: catechists who work in a church other than their own; "lay chaplains" in lycees appointed by a church not their own; consultative (and sometimes voting) members of parish/pastoral/presbyteral councils, synods of another church, etc.

Ecdesiological questions

11 This phenomenological approach raises underlying ecclesiological questions; the debate on the nature and mission of the Church is seen in an existential way.

12 We are not undertaking this theological exploration; only underlining its urgency. We are convinced that what we have described represents an appeal for full unity, appeal shot through with suffering, but also with hope. Where reconciliation is lived within mixed couples and families, is it not a manifestation which is partial and provisional - but real of the unity of the Church? Have we the right to delay recognising this upon it?

13 Is there not an ecclesial reality where men and women pray together, read the Word of God together, often receive communion together, and are committed within their churches and in their witness to society? Is not this the domestic church of the Christian family?

14 How does it change the relationship between two churches if they have members who are "common" or "partially common" to both? How can this be expressed ecclesiologically?

15 This is an appeal for the conversion of the churches, a common conversion in the service of God and neighbour, conversion to the fundamental truth which will lead us to reconciliation. Some foyers mixtes are already "islands of reconciliation" and are developing the potential contained in the mutual recognition of the reality of the one baptism. This is a significant and hopeful reality; the churches should become more


Provisional responses to this Appeal were received from the Catholic Episcopal Commission for Christian Unity and the Lutheran-Reformed Council, as well as from the French Catholic-Protestant Joint Working Group (see Foyers Mixtes, no. 105). The question of whether a Catholic could be a member of the French Reformed Church without breaking his or her links with the Roman Catholic Church was raised at the regional synods of the French Reformed Church in the autumn of 1994 and at the national synod in May 1995. The Catholic dioceses of France are making a survey on the subject of "double belonging".