BY A SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
REFORM of the present rules on mixed marriage dispensations was urged by a large majority of 90 people engaged in Christian unity work who met at Heythrop College, near Oxford, last week for an Ecumenical Conference. sponsored by the Ecumenical Commission of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales.
The general feeling was that they would like the bishops to consider whether the Church's teaching on marriage -that children of a mixed marriage must be brought up as Catholics — would not be better carried through by the consciences of the partners rather than by actual legislation.
The obligation of Divine Law upon the conscience of the Catholic partner would remain as ever, but the conscience of the other partner should not be forgotten. At any rate, it was hoped that urgent talks between Catholic and Anglican bishops and between Catholic bishops and leaders of other denominations would proceed urgently on the implications of mixed marriages.
TAKING TEMPERATURE The conference was a private consultation, mainly for Catholics engaged in unity work, although some eminent non-Catholics were present, including Bishop Sansbury of the British Council of Churches. Many of those present are active in diocesan ecumenical commissions. They regarded the conference as an opportunity to exchange experience and, as one member put it "to take the ecumenical temperature." The three bishops of the Ecumenical Commission were present — Bishop Holland, the president who took the chair; Bishop Langton Fox, Auxiliary of Menevia, and Bishop Burke. Auxiliary of Salford.
Fr. John Coventry, S.J., read a paper on the opening day summing up the present state of evolution in Catholic ecumenical work, and the next day there was a paper by Fr.
Cuthbert Rand on "Ecumenical Difficulties of Catholics."
Bishop Sansbury spoke on the third day on "Working for Unity and/or Serving the World." Prayers that day were led by Principal A. R. George of Richmond Methodist Theological College.
Fundamental ecumenical difficulties were discussed in small groups before being referred to the conference as a whole. The six major topics raised were mixed marriage dispensations, pastoral care of mixed marriages, mutual recognition of Baptism, unity work at the local level, joint prayer (including the Eucharist) and devotion to Our Lady.
The conference stressed the pastoral value of care of mixed marriages by the clergy of both parties. Several speakers referred to the Vatican Council's Decree on Ecumenism, and its teaching that non-Catholic Churches are a means of salvation — a different emphasis from that on which former legislation on mixed marriage was based.
JOINT PRAYER Non-Catholic Christians in a mixed marriage should be encouraged, one group agreed, to receive the spiritual help of his or her own minister. The clergy of the two divided communions could help the couple to form a habit of joint prayer by praying together with them.
It was also suggested that the partners should have experience of each other's Church life in a regular fashion
including non-cornmunicating participation in one another's Eucharistic worship.
A marked emphasis emerged from the discussions on unity services composed especially for joint worship between divided Christians. But members from several parts of the country, and of different traditions. felt there was sometimes a coldness about these services because they were not the regular and familiar worship of any one Christian Communion.
This sort of experience of others' worship was seen as essential. One group put it: "This should not be regarded as a danger to faith, but rather as an enrichment of the experience of prayer, and as often giving a greater appreciation of our own heritage."
The conference also hoped that the opportunities for noncommunicating attendance at the Eucharist of other Christians should be extended.