19/04/2013 08:16

On the Joint Statement on Marriage between PNG Lutherans and Catholics

By Bp. Bill Fey OFM Cap - Kimbe

16 APR 2013. Bishop Bill Fey, OFM Cap of Kimbe is the Deputy Bishop for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands. Here he explains the reasons and meaning of the soon to be approved joint Statement on Marriage between the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Roman Catholic Church in Papua New Guinea.

How did a joint Statement on Marriage between the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Roman Catholic Church in Papua New Guinea come about?

The Catholic Ecumenical and Interreligious Commission has been in existence for many years.  There has been ongoing dialogue with the Anglican Church in PNG.  Since 2000 there has also been dialogue with the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELC) in PNG.  This led to the signing of an agreement on baptism in 2003 between the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in PNG. In that statement it was said that, although divided on many things, we do recognize that baptisms in each of the three Churches are valid.  This means that when an Anglican or Evangelical Lutheran wants to become a Catholic, or vice versa, that person does not need to be, and should not be, baptized again but only needs to profess his or her faith in the new community. 

Further dialogue meetings with the Anglicans led to an agreed statement on marriage that was signed by bishops of the two Churches.  Further meetings with the Lutherans led us to also talk about marriage.  We discussed common pastoral concerns such as the fact that often young people live together and do not come to the Catholic or the Lutheran Church to get married.  After a number of years of meeting, the result is a “joint statement on marriage” between the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Catholic Church in PNG.   The Catholic bishops have just approved this statement.   After formal approval by the Evangelical Lutheran Church probably this coming June, the plan is to “launch” this joint statement next year and use this occasion to celebrate and proclaim the goodness of a faithful Christian marriage. 

Was it necessary to have this joint statement? 

Not really, but it was found to be a good way to talk together with respect and to appreciate what we hold in common as well as where Catholics and Lutherans disagree.

What are the differences on sacraments and marriage?

As we reflected together it became clear that there are important differences in what we believe. Catholics believe that Jesus Christ instituted seven sacraments as visible signs of grace through which God touches and sanctifies his people. Marriage is one of these sacraments. But Lutherans hold that Jesus Christ only instituted two sacraments: baptism and the Eucharist.  As we talked together the Lutherans explained that they believe that sacraments are ways in which God makes his forgiveness present to people.  They also explained that they believe that Jesus only explicitly said “do this” when talking about baptism (“go and baptize”) and the Eucharist (“do this in memory of me”). Of course, there are other things about which the two Churches disagree such as divorce and remarriage. There is much for further discussion.

And what are the common points?

Regarding marriage, the Lutherans said that they do believe that when two baptized Lutherans get married and have their marriage blessed in the Lutheran Church, God touches their love and helps them to be faithful to each other as a sign of Christ’s faithful love for his people.  This is similar to what Catholics believe when two baptized Catholics receive the sacrament of marriage.  Furthermore, both Catholics and Lutherans in PNG hold that marriage is to be only between one man and one woman – that polygamy and same-sex marriages are contrary to the teachings of Christ. 

How will this help couples?  What should young couples know who want a marriage in Church between a Lutheran and a Catholic?

There is a lot in this statement that would be good for young people to read when they are preparing to get married.  A short version of the statement will be made available to help Catholic priests and Lutheran pastors, together if possible, instruct couples for a “mixed” marriage.  There are important things said about being a “responsible parent” who loves and cares for his or her children.

But there are also practical things that are emphasized in the statement.  It is important to give careful instruction to Catholic and Lutheran couples preparing for marriage, to avoid encouraging marriage between couples before they are ready to make a free and informed consent to be faithful to each other and to keep a record of a Church marriage.  It is important to explain that “living together” is not the same as “being married” in a full Christian sense.  It is stated that both our Churches respect the validity of the marriages performed according to the rite of each Church. 

When a Lutheran and a Catholic want to get married in Church they need to reach a decision, with advice and permissions from appropriate Church authorities, in which Church they want their marriage to be celebrated.  When the marriage is conducted in the Lutheran Church, a Catholic priest or deacon must be present to witness the exchange of vows unless a dispensation has been granted.  But it is not necessary for the Lutheran to become a Catholic or for the Catholic to become a Lutheran for the two of them to marry. 

When a Lutheran and a Catholic marry they are asked to promise sincerely to do all in his or her power to see that the children of the marriage are baptized in their respective Churches.  Therefore it is important that they talk about the baptism and education of the children they will have, and when possible, come to an agreement about this before marriage.

Finally, the proposed joint statement makes clear that, although a mixed marriage may present difficulties to the couples themselves, pastoral care and help is to be extended to them emphasizing the positive aspects of what the couples share together as Christians in the life of grace, in faith, hope and love, along with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit.

(G.L.) (cbcpngsi.org – giorgiolicini@yahoo.com)