ANNOUNCEMENT: The North American Orthodox-Catholic Consultation Addresses Commonalities in their Respective Traditions on the Sacredness of Christian Marriage

Thursday, February 29, 2024

NEW YORK – Christians from the Orthodox and Catholic Churches in the United States and Canada have engaged in dialogue for more than a half-century. Most recently, the representatives from the two faith traditions, announced the publication of new agreed statement on marriage, The Pastoral Care of Mixed Marriages: Neither Yours nor Mine – but Ours. The Theological Consultation is currently co-chaired by Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, CSsR, the Archbishop of Newark, and Metropolitan Methodios of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston. The document was completed in Spring 2023 at a meeting hosted by St. Augustine’s Seminary in Toronto, Ontario. Like most dialogue-agreed statements, this document does not speak officially for either Church. However, it has been drafted by prominent theologians and circulated to those representing both traditions for prayerful reflection and discussion.

While commonalities exist between the two faith traditions, the Theological Consultation acknowledged that estrangement can often be seen when a Catholic and an Orthodox Christian enter into marriage. Instead of dividing the parties in a mixed marriage into “yours” and “mine,” the Consultation proposed that the parties begin with a joint solicitude for the spouses and embark on the pastoral care of each mixed marriage as “our” concern. Otherwise, they stated, the division often experienced is a painful reality for the mixed families. The new agreed statement on marriage addresses past understandings, further emphasizing the sacredness of all Christian marriage, the lifelong nature of matrimony, remarriage, the importance of the spiritual formation of children, and the need for shared and continuing pastoral care.

Differences in canonical practice between the Churches were acknowledged regarding the dissolution of the marital bond, as well as in their understanding of the constitutive elements necessary for its formation.  An affirmation was made that, in both traditions, sacramental marriage takes place in an ecclesial context through the ministry of the Church. The Consultation made recommendations on the celebration of mixed marriages in both churches, the recognition of remarriage after divorce, joint pastoral care, mutual recognition of the married life in Christ, updating of pastoral materials, and the avoidance of indifferentism as well as spiritual confusion.

The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation is sponsored jointly by the Committee for Ecumenical Relations of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America, the Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. Since its establishment in 1965, the Consultation has issued some 31 agreed statements on various topics, which may be found on the respective websites of the Assembly of Bishops, the U.S.  Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. Furthermore, as part of the ongoing dialogue on the American side, the Joint Committee of Orthodox and Catholic Bishops has been meeting annually since 1981 to discuss pastoral issues between the two churches.  A summary of their work may be found here. An analogous initiative has also long existed in Canada.