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Mixed Marriage

A marriage between Christians and non- Christians, or between members of different Christian denominations. Generally it is understood as indicating marriages between a Roman Catholic and a baptized non-Roman Catholic. The Roman Catholic Church still continues to discourage such marriages, arguing that although they are a consequence of the division among Christians, they do not, except in some cases, help in reestablishing unity among Christians. This view is reciprocated in Protestant denominations, but not unanimously accepted.

Until 1966 it was maintained that mixed marriages could be acceptable only after episcopal dispensation, conditional on the promise of both Catholic and non-Catholic party-normally in writing-that the children of such a union would be baptized and instructed in the Catholic faith, based on Codex Iuris Canonici. In that year the “Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” issued an instruction, Matrimoni Sacramentum, which sought to find a more realistic norm for a worthy reappraisal of mixed marriages. One of the significant changes was that “excommunication for attempting marriage before a non-Catholic minister is abrogated.”

In 1970 Paul VI issued an Apostolic Letter, the Motu Proprio, determining norms for mixed marriages, in which he confronted two major issues: (1) that no human authority has the right to dispense a Catholic from the duty of keeping the faith and handing it on to his children; (2) that the church has no right to require a non-Catholic to make a promise against his conscience. The letter indicates certain changes while still holding as firm a position as possible. Marriage between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic still requires an episcopal dispensation, without which the marriage is deemed invalid. The dispensation is granted on condition that the Catholic partner “as far as possible” ensures Catholic instruction for children. This is incumbent now on the Catholic party only, but the non- Catholic party must be informed of it. It is now also possible that at the wedding service there is some form of cooperation between priest and minister, subject to previous episcopal sanction, and that the ceremony conducted in the church of one partner be followed by a service of blessing or thanksgiving in the church of the other, so long as there is no second exchange of marriage vows.