Mixed Marriages: Can the Problem Be Solved?

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    Mixed Marriages: Can the Problem Be Solved?Source: Fortnight, No. 108 (Jul. 4, 1975), pp. 4-7Published by: Fortnight Publications Ltd.Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25545464 .Accessed: 28/06/2014 18:26

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  • 4/FORTNIGHT > ?????' I ? ' ?? ?????????? III IH. I ??? I .I. I ii ??I II I II ?i?? ,

    Mixed Marriages: Can the Problem Be Solved? The clash of personalities between Father Des Wilson and Bishop Philbin has obscured the more important issues which lie beneath Father

    Wilson's resignation. The most

    important of these is the need in the

    present political situation far the Roman Catholic Church to give leadership to its members on the vexed issues of mixed marriage and

    segregated education. In this issue we

    look in depth at the position of each of the main churches on mixed

    marriages, and at the real and irrational fears of the Protestant

    community North and South of the border. . . . A

    * * * *

    1. The Problem The issue of mixed marriage and

    separate education has arisen in every country where there are substantial Roman Catholic and Protestant communities. The fundamental prob lem is the claim of the Roman

    Catholic Church to be the one true

    Church; in the words of Father Devine in a recent article on mixed marriage (Reality, May 1975), 'God's plan for the salvation of mankind through his Church, which subsists only in its fullness in the Roman Catholic

    Church' imposes an obligation of divine law on the Catholic to bring up his children as Catholics. This law, as

    explained by the recent International Consultation on Mixed Marriage held in Dublin last autumn, is not created

    by the Pope's decrees but merely given human and practical effect by them. Protestant denominations make no, such claim to exclusive religious truth and find it impossible to accept the Roman Catholic position.

    It is this basic clash which has

    prevented any real progress being made at the Ballymascanlon talks. The Roman Catholic position has been eased in recent years, as shown in the panel opposite, but it is still a rule of the Church that any' Roman Catholic must have permission from his or her bishop before entering into a

    marriage with a non-Catholic, whether in a Catholic church or anywhere else. If he or she proceeds to get married in a registry office or in a Protestant

    church without permission the

    marriage is not recognised by the Roman Catholic Church, and the Roman Catholic is technically living in

    sin, and may be debarrred from communion and other benefits of church membership.

    The problem in Ireland has been made worse by the extremely conservative attitude taken by many Roman Catholic bishops on the

    granting of dispensations, particularly in the Cork diocese under Bishop Lucy and to a lesser extent in Down and Connor under Bishop Philbin. In areas like these a written undertaking

    may still be required from the Catholic

    party to secure the promise which is

    required under Canon Law about the education of the children. The only ground on which a dispensation will be readily granted allowing the Roman Catholic to be married in a Protestant Church is when the Protestant party is son or daughter of a clergyman. Before any dispensation is granted, even if the marriage is to take place in the Roman Catholic

    Church, the priest must fill in the form

    printed opposite, which requires him to report on the likelihood of the Catholic's promises being carried out.

    2 Protestant fears Protestants' reaction to this attitude is a mixture of annoyance and fear.

    They are annoyed at the inconsisten cies of the Roman Catholic position which adopts broad statements about freedom of conscience and mutual

    respect, as in Vatican II and even in the report of the Ballymascanlon Con

    ference, but seems in practice to deny the equal rights of the Catholic and Protestant partners. And they are afraid that the results of the'hard line attitude of the Roman Catholic Church on granting dispensation will be a progressive weakening of the Protestant community both North and South of the border. It is is this fear which in the words of the Irish Foreign Minister, Dr Garret FitzGerald

    speaking to the International Consul tation last September, makes the issue of mixed marriages one of the most divisive in Protestant/Catholic rela

    tions both in the Republic and in Northern Ireland.

    In the Republic the fear is very simply that the Protestant community

    will slowly and inexorably be

    extinguished, a fear which is expressed primarily by Church of Ireland

    ministers. The plain figures are hard to contest on this issue: in 1901 there

    were 343,000 Protestants in the

    Twenty Six Counties; in 1961 the figure had declined to a mere 144,000 and appeared to be dropping by upwards of 10% each decade. In an

    important article in 1971, on Religion


    /. Initially there should be consultation with both partners of the intended marriage. At this consultation the Church of Ireland

    doctrine of Holy Matrimony should be

    explained, and it should be clearly indicated that the marriage can be solemnised in a

    Church of Ireland Church according to the rites prescribed in the Book of Common

    Prayer, with all legal and spiritual propriety, and without the requirement of any prior promises concerning the baptism and

    upbringing of any children ofthe marriage. 2. Further, where possible, there should be

    joint consultation involving both partners with the respective Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic clergy in which assurance should be sought that the 'pro viribus' clause in the Motu Proprio regulations .. . will not be interpreted as to exclude the partners

    from exercising freely their responsibility in conscience regarding the baptism and

    upbringing of any children ofthe marriage. 3. At this joint consultation arrangements

    for the joint pastoral care of the family should be discussed and agreed by the

    respective clergy, recognising the equal responsibility of both churches and the

    equal responsibility of both partners for the

    religious upbringing of the children. 4. If the partners freely decide to be married in a Church of Ireland Church . . . the

    Church of Ireland clergyman may, in consultation with the partners . . . invite the

    clergyman ofthe Roman Catholic partner to assist in the marriage ceremony, remember

    ing that the administration ofthe vows must be reserved in all cases . .. to the Church of Ireland clergyman.

    If the partners decide freely to be married in a Roman Catholic church and the Church

    of Ireland clergyman be invited to take part in the marriage service he should accept such invitation only if the assurance sought in section 2 is given and if the arrangement

    for joint pastoral care in section 3 is agreed.

    ^ ^ ^ VHHHB

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  • FRIDAY 4th JULY 1975/5 I- -'

    and Demographic Balance in Ireland Brendan Walsh isolated four main factors in the decline of the Protestant

    population in the Republic: high age, low fertility and marriage rates, and the mixed marriage phenomenon. By 1975 he had amended his position somewhat in claiming that mixed

    marriages as such have not had an

    important impact on Protestant

    birthrates. But his original view is

    supported by a study of what happens in mixed marriages in the Ferns

    diocese in the Wexford area. In 1973 H W Robinson published a very detailed study of the Church of Ireland community in the diocese

    which showed that of the 94 children of the 61 mixed marriages covered in the study 86 were being brought up as

    Roman Catholics and only eight as

    Protestants. Whether these figures are the natural result of a small minority community intermarrying with a

    majority community or are directly due to the Roman Catholic position on

    mixed marriages is arguable. But the Protestant community in the Republic certainly feels itself to be at risk,

    particularly in rural areas, and the conservative attitude of the Roman Catholic hierarchy seems to many to be deliberately geared towards

    continuing the process of absorption.

    3, The Northern position Fears of the extinction of the Protestant community in Northern Ireland are clearly irrational. But the

    equally emotive fear that Roman Catholics will increase sufficiently to outvote the Unionists is quite enough to make mixed marriages an even

    more divisive issue than in the South. The figures which are available do

    not suggest that this is a very rational

    fear, at least in the short term. In the

    country areas, as exemplified by the Roman Catholic diocese of Armagh, the proportion of mixed marriages celebrated in Roman Catholic churches is relatively low: between 1971 it declined from just over 5% to 3% of all Roman Catholic marriages. In Belfast and other urban areas the

    figure is almost certainly higher; in some parishes it has been estimated that up to 25% of marriages in Roman

    Catholic churches are mixed, though the overall figure is probably more like 10% of 15%. In contrast the

    proportion of mixed marriages celebrated in Protestant churches is

    much lower, as indicated by the Church of Ireland figure for Antrim, Down and Belfast, in 1974, of a mere


    MIXTA (1970) (Extracts from Reality, May 1975)

    The Roman Catholic attitude to mixed

    marriage is often but inaccurately referred to as the Ne Temere decree. This decree was

    originally issued by Pope Pius IX in 1907 and was primarily directed against secret

    marriages by Roman Catholics; to

    discourage this it declared that all Roman

    Catholics were ipso facto excommunicated if they attempted marriage before a

    non-Catholic minister. This was later

    incorporated in the Code of Canon Law of 1918, which prescribed the following requirements for mixed marriages: (a) The non-Catholic pam> had to guarantee

    to remove the danger of perversion ofthe Catholic party.

    (b)Both parites had to give guarantees to

    baptise and educate the children in the Roman Catholic faith alone,

    (c) There had to be moral certainty that these guarantees would be fulfilled,

    which was usually secured by demanding the promises in writing,

    (di The Catholic was bound to strive with

    prudence to convert the non-Catholic.

    In 1966 a new instruction, Matrimonii Sac ramentum, was issued by Pope Paul VI.

    Under this the Catholic party was to be instructed on the serious obligation of baptising the children and bringing them up in the Roman Catholic faith, and had to

    make an express promise to do so; the non-Catholic was to be informed of the Catholic's obligation and had to promise .

    sincerely hot to put any obstacle in the way of its fulfilment, a promise normally given in

    writing; if the non-Catholic could not in conscience make such a promise the matter was to be referred to Rome.

    In 1970 Pope Paul issued his Motu Proprio Matrimonia Mixta which modified still

    further the conditions of dispensation under which the Catholic is permitted to marry a non-Catholic under the Code of Canon Law: (a) The'Catholic party must declare himself

    ready to remove all dangers to his own

    faith. (b) He must promise to do all in his power to

    have the children baptised and educated in the Roman Catholic Church. .

    (c) The non-Catholic is to be informed of these obligations of the Catholic, but he

    himself is not required to make any promise.

    This rule is currently enforced in Northern Ireland by requiring the priest who is

    approached about a mixed marriage to

    complete the following form which is sent to the Bishop of the diocese who may then

    grant the. necessary dispensation.


    My Lord Bishop, I request permission so that., a Catholic,

    aged.of the Parish of..may lawfully and validly marry.not a Catholic, who was

    baptised in the.denomination/has not been baptised. These two people have known each other for about.

    They first came to make arrangements for marriage on.-.

    and they would like the marriage to take place in the Church of

    .on.at. The required instructions have been given; the Prenuptial Enquiry

    form has been completed; and I have established their freedom to

    marry. The Catholic has made the following declaration and promise


    Signed.Date. This declaration and promise has been explained by me/ and by the Catholic Party to the non-Catholic Party, whose reaction was.

    I think the likelihood ofthe children being baptised and brought up as Catholics is very good/good/slight. I am satisfied that the ends and essential properties of marriage,

    particularly its indissolubility, are not being excluded by either party. The circumstances ofthe case and the reasons why I recommend this

    request are.

    Signature of priest. Date.

    People in need of Advice and Assistance may contact the NORTHERN IRELAND MIXED MARRIAGE ASSOCIATION

    c/o 8 Upper Crescent, Belfast BT7 INT. Telephone 25008

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    Report of Working Party on

    Social and Community Problems

    MIXED MARRIAGES ! Yb. As long as our Churches remain divided

    Mixed Marriages will bring tensions, both

    for the marriage partners and their children.

    The acuteness of these tensions and of the

    problems they create is likely to be in

    proportion to the depths of the divis...


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