BY A SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
-Ex COMMUNICATION for Catholics entering into a non-Catholic marriage ceremony, or failing to have children of a mixed marriage baptised as Catholics, ceases from November I under the new rules for mixed marriages with Protestants published by the Austrian bishops.
The Austrian hierarchy is among the first in the world to lay down new rules following the Papal announcement of easements last May. The Austrian reforms were largely agreed with the German and Swiss bishops. but followed a proposal by the Austrian Evangelical Bishop Sakrausky that a joint commission of four representatives of each Church should work out changes.
Under the final text issued by the bishops, a difference of confession remains a barrier to marriage. But from November 1, every parish priest in Austria has the right to grant dispensation for a mixed marriage to take place within his parish or parishes.
This dispensation, however. only operates where the priest conducts the ceremony. In order to marry in a non-Catholic wedding. the engaged couple must apply to their Catholic Bishop.
He will only stipulate a single condition: that the declaration of intent to marry
must be in a public form in order to be recognised as having sacramental character by the Church. This recognition follows. therefore, when the marriage takes place before a non-Catholic parson or in a registry office.
In fact, everyone who marries in Austria, whether Catholic or not, must undergo a register as well as a church ceremony, which, the bishops acknowledge, means that everyone entering into a mixed marriage can obtain a dispensation.
But the most significant cornpromise is on education of children of a mixed marriage. In future, the Catholic partner must only give a declaration of conscience, which is not binding under Church law. which states that he or she intends to stay true to the Catholic faith in their marriage.
They therefore recognise, the declaration continues, that their faith requires them to seek Catholic baptism and education of their children. "I will make efforts to conform to this, taking into account the conscience of my partner", it ends.
STRONGER FAITH This last clause, it is felt, should meet former Protestant
objections that Catholic partners were dictating their own viewpoint. In the event, it is expected that the partner with the stronger faith will set the pattern, and that even if the children are brought up as Pro
testants. the Catholic undertaking will strengthen the likelihood of a Christian upbringing.
Finally. the new regulations foresee closer cooperation between Catholic and Protestant vicars. Instruction of engaged couples, which is now obligatory for Austrian Catholics before a wedding takes place, may be undertaken by both. The Catholic Church expressly undertakes to notify the Protestant parson of mixed marriages which will be sealed before a Catholic priest. This, it is felt, will prove a useful contribution to ecumenical care of souls.