Bishops OK baptism pact with Reformed churches

November 17, 2010

In a "milestone" pact six years in the making, the U.S. Catholic
bishops ap­proved a mutual agreement with four Reformed Protestant
denominations to recognize each other's baptisms as valid.

The
American bishops, assembled in Baltimore for their annual fall meeting,
voted 204 to 11 on November 17 to ap­prove the baptism agreement with
the Pres­byterian Church (U.S.A.), the Re­formed Church in America, the
Christian Reformed Church and the United Church of Christ.

Archbishop
Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, chairman of the ecumenical and interfaith
committee of the U.S. Con­ference of Catholic Bishops, called the
agreement a "milestone on the ecumenical journey."

Added Gregory:
"Together with our Reformed brothers and sisters we Catholic bishops can
once again affirm baptism as the basis of the real, even if incomplete,
unity we share in Christ."

"This is a significant moment in
ecumenical history," said Robina Winbush, who directs the PCUSA
ecumenical department.  "In the context of so much that divides us and
upon which our churches may not agree, we remind ourselves that our
fundamental unity begins and is rooted in our baptism."

The Roman
Catholic Church has recognized the validity of most Christian
denominations' baptisms since the ground­breaking Second Vatican Council
in the early 1960s. In 2002, however, concerns arose over practices by
Reformed Chris­tians such as baptism by sprinkling and substituting
different names for the Holy Trinity, according to the Catholic bishops.

Under
the agreement, Catholic clergy will presume that baptisms performed by
the four Reformed denominations will be in accord with Catholic
doctrine, which requires an authorized minister to use flowing water and
invoke God as "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit," Gregory said. The
agreement could be particularly useful for Reformed Christians who wish
to convert to Catholicism or marry in the Catholic Church.

The PCUSA has already approved the agreement. The other three denominations are expected to approve it in the near future.  —RNS