High-level ecumenical meetings come and go, but for the membership, mixed marriage remains the stickiest practical problem of a divided Christendom. With the arrival of the marrying season, the World Council of Churches plan to include a paper on this flaw in the ecumenical ointment in its upcoming Study Encounter volume.

The paper was the basic resource for a World Council team that discussed marriage problems with Roman Catholic representatives at a four-day meeting near Rome last month. The WCC paper expresses disappointment that the Vatican mixed-marriage decree a year ago merely reinforces old requirements, rather than applying the spirit of Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism. Because Rome can’t quite recognize the “separated brethren,” a Protestant-Catholic marriage in a Protestant church is invalid, and children of a mixed marriage must be raised as Catholics. These nettlesome rules are not only under study in the WCC, but in the negotiations between Roman Catholics and the National Council of Churches.

Just before the meeting, the Vatican eased up considerably on Eastern Orthodox marriages. Applying rules Vatican II made for Eastern Rite Catholics to Orthodoxy, local Roman Catholic bishops have wide discretion in freeing the Catholic partner from canonical requirements so the wedding can be held in an Orthodox church.

This liberalization went into effect on Easter Eve, and a week later an even more revolutionary step was planned. The Vatican gave permission for a Catholic girl to be married in a Catholic church by the groom’s father, United Church of Christ clergyman Alden A. Read, a retired Navy chaplain now assigned to a prison at Las Padres, California.

Msgr. William Baum, Catholic ecumenical director, says it’s the ...

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