The Catholic Church and Inter-religious Marriages: Reflections on Pastoral Theology and Practice after Vatican II

Paul Trafford <paul.trafford [at]>


This is one of the essays I submitted during the course of my Master's in the Study of Religion at Oxford University, which I completed in October 2009. It is presented here with only minor revisions. I would like to thank everyone who helped me, particularly Bill Ozanne, Secretary for the Commission for Inter-Religious Dialogue at the Archdiocese of Birmingham, who gave me strong encouragement; Fr. Patrick McCarthy for kindly providing me with a copy of his MA thesis; Dr. Philip Endean S.J. for giving me some orientation; Peggy Morgan for pointing me to WRERU's work on identity formation; and Dr. Johannes Zachhuber at Trinity College / the Theology Faculty, my tutor, for comments on earlier drafts. I'd like to acknowledge all those not mentioned here who kindly gave me support.

1. Introduction

On 4 July 1964 there took place in Chepstow, a small town in the county of Monmouthshire, the marriage of Mr. T., an English Catholic, with Miss S., a Buddhist from Thailand [1]. At the time it was considered exceptional: only after formal investigation was the marriage validated by a dispensation granted from the Vatican via the Apostolic Delegate to Great Britain. The service itself was conducted in a Catholic church strictly according to instructions provided and it was promised that any children would be brought up as Catholic.

Meanwhile in Rome there were unfolding momentous developments within the Catholic Church in the form of the Second Vatican Council (hereafter referred to simply as ‘the Council’) that would lead to major revisions.[2] The Council was convened in four sessions between 11th October 1962 and 8th December 1965. It generated a raft of documents under Pope Paul VI, including Nostra Aetate (‘In Our Age’) (1965), an appreciative declaration on the Church's relation to non-Christian religions and towards the very end of the Council, Gaudiem et Spes (1965), a sprawling engagement in the world's sociological, economic and political spheres. Heading the list of “problems of special urgency” was marriage and the family, with the exhortation: “Christians and all men who hold this community in high esteem sincerely rejoice in the various ways by which men today find help in fostering this community of love and perfecting its life” (article 47). In addition, there was Dignitatis Humanae (1965), a socially-grounded declaration on religious freedom. These are the documents that have set the tenor on Catholic pastoral engagement with marriages to non-Catholics ever since, but how does this engagement really sit with the theology and what impact has there been on ecclesiastical law?

In this essay, marriages between Catholics and non-Catholics will be investigated from theological and pastoral perspectives, looking especially at how the Church's attitudes have evolved – formally in law and pastorally 'on the ground' – in the light of broad changes in society. There is in fact a spectrum of different cases depending upon the religious affiliation of the non-Catholic party. At one end there are non-practising Catholics and non-Catholics whose baptism is recognised (in Catholic Canon Law termed mixed marriages[3]). Then there are members of Abrahamic traditions and other theistic faiths through to non-theists, atheists and those with no faith (all of which fall under the term disparitas cultus, i.e. disparity of cult/worship[4]). In order to highlight contrasts, we make some comparison between marriages where the non-Catholic party is a baptised Christian and a range of cases covering disparity of worship. We further focus on dispensations, especially with respect to the prospects for children of such marriages.

Inter-religious marriages have always been a facet of human existence, but the phenomenon appears to have become more prominent in recent decades. What have the developments been since Vatican II? We examine especially how the Church is responding in its teachings, ecclesiastical law and pastoral support against the increasing pace of change.

2. The sacrament of marriage in Catholicism

The documents from the Council variously promote marriage and religious freedom, but there was no document that combined these. To see why that was the case we need to attend to the principles of Christian faith, rooted in scripture, particularly how marriage in Christianity is held as so holy as to be a sacrament.

The Christian understanding of marriage is anchored in its doctrine of creation, as a covenant of grace expressed in the Old Testament in Genesis.Schillebeeckx notes: 'It was not the sacred rites which surrounded marriage that made it a holy thing. The great rite which sanctified marriage was God's act of creation itself... It was Yahweh and none other who, as the founder of marriage, blessed the union of man and wife' (Schillebeeckx 1965a, 39).

This was confirmed in the New Testament, when Jesus affirmed this plan in the economy of creation, as recorded in Mark:

But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.”
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh. "So they are no longer two, but one flesh.
Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."
(Mark 10:6-9)[5]:

Furthermore the New Testament emphasizes the relationship of the Church with Christ and makes explicit how marriage is linked to baptism as a divine symbol of grace, a heavenly glorification (Schillebeeckx 1965a, 158). The Church has accordingly instituted sacraments as outward signs of this inward, spiritual grace through Christ, which have persisted since the early Roman Church. This is a public witness that gives expression to the community dimension, as highlighted in the Vatican's directory for the application of principles and norms on ecumenism:

129. A sacrament is an act of Christ and of the Church through the Spirit.
130. Its celebration in a concrete community is the sign of the reality of its unityin faith, worship and community life.
(Cassidy and Duprey, 1993)

In its desire to maintain a truly Catholic community, the Church places great store in the family, which may be regarded as the core unit.It regards both partners with considerable interest in evaluating the long term prospects for the integrity of the community, which it sees as best served by both parties being Catholic. Failing that, the Church would look for the non-Catholic party being the nearest neighbour, which would be a recognized Christian.

The process of examination hinges on establishing the baptismal status, which the Church affirms as the most fundamental sacrament, expressed in the catechism as: “... the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua), and the door which gives access to the other sacraments” (Catechism:1213). Thus the sacramental basis of unity is in shared baptism and therefore the factor that determines whether a marriage is canonically a mixed marriage or disparity of worship.

2.1 Mixed marriages

The concern for community integrity has long been prevalent. In the Old Testament “mixedness” was defined in terms of relationships with a “stranger,” who was originally “somebody from outside one's own tribe or clan, and this was in itself an indication that no marriage should take place...” (Schillebeeckx 1965a, 143). However, a deeper underlying factor was the perception that Israel was a “holy people,” a nation set apart, whence mixed marriages presented a risk to faith: “For they [mixed marriages] would turn away thy sons from following me [Yahweh] that they may serve other gods” (Deut. Vii 4). As mentioned above, Schillebeeckx asserts the main concern was for the later generations: “The basic reason for opposing mixed marriages was, however, the danger which they constituted for the education in faith in Yahweh of Israel's children...” (Schillebeeckx 1965a, 144).

Particularly influential from the New Testament is the pronouncement of St. Paul, which rejects marriage with non-Christians for those who are already baptised:

Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship is there between light and darkness? What agreement does Christ have with Beliar … What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God …
(2 Cor vi. 14-16)

This attitude – which is highly alert to the risk of loss of faith – has underpinned the Church’s ecclesiastical law, particularly Codex Iuris Canonici 1917 (CIC 1917), the Canon law that was in force before the Council. This imposed an impediment on marriage with any non-Catholic, regarding such a state as a “wound on the law”(Örsy 1984, 185) and made the marriage invalid and/or illicit (not permitted). Its removal could only come by a dispensation from the Holy See. Commenting on this viewpoint, Fernando remarks: “Loss of faith was taken to mean directly and simplistically loss of eternal salvation” (Fernando 1979, 70).

The early 20th Century was thus marked by defensiveness towards other Christian denominations, but as relations thawed in the second half of the century, the Council worked quickly to soften the legal stance, first to enable the local ordinary (such as a diocesan bishop) to grant such dispensations (Matrimonii Sacramentum). Then, spurred on especially by the desire to restore Christian unity (Unitatis Redintegratio), there was the acknowledgement that “the spouses after their marriage experience the meaning of their oneness and attain to it with growing perfection day by day” (Gaudium et Spes: 48). After several years' further deliberation, there emerged Paul VI's Motu Proprio, Matrimonia Mixta (1970), which acknowledged in canon law the sacramental validity of baptism for other Christian denominations, though was still wary of the prospect of a mixed marriage:

The Church is indeed aware that mixed marriages, precisely because they admit differences of religion and are a consequence of the division among Christians, do not, except in some cases, help in re-establishing unity among Christians.
(Matrimonia Mixta 1970: paragraph 4)

In these cases, dispensation was no longer required, though permission was still needed (Matrimonia Mixta 1970: norm 1), confirmed in the current Code (CIC 1983: 1124). However, for those married to the non-baptised, the more severe line on dispensations remained (Matrimonia Mixta 1970: norm 2) and (CIC 1983: 1086.1). As Schillebeeckx remarks, “What Paul said then is still applicable today. The Catholic Church still regards a marriage with an unbaptised person as invalid in principle. It is not a marriage unless the impediment to marriage has been removed by an ecclesiastical dispensation and even then it is still dissoluble” (Schillebeeckx 1965a, 242).

Whilst (CIC 1917: 1071) had defined the impediment of disparity of worship in close dependence on the law for canonically mixed marriage, the linkage became looser in CIC 1983 with the recognition of the sacramentality of baptism. Navarrete has likened this loosening to separating conjoined Siamese twins, which have still to fully detach even in the current Code (Navarrete 1998, 110). He describes the legal relationship between the two cases as one of symbiosis, but one attributed to a common ratio legis which (reflecting scriptural passages above) is based on a danger to the faith of the Catholic party and their children and the difficulties inherent in their communion of life (110). A fuller separation can thus afford more scope to the potential for communion in canonically mixed marriages, for which Navarrete proceeds to highlight their true sacramental nature and partial communion (113).

Clearly such a distinction aids Christian unity, but where does it leave disparity of worship? It might seem that theology, scripture and thence the law offer little support to disparity of worship, but in the case of those who convert to Christianity whilst their spouses don't, St. Paul appears more than tolerant by affirming their sanctity:

For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife,
and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband.
Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
(I Corinthians 7:14)

Örsy suggests this offers some scope for theological investigation, but it is not part of present Canon Law and he cautions: “Clearly for Paul a marriage between a believer and an unbeliever is radically different from a marriage between two unbelievers.” (Örsy 1988, 113).Furthermore, as Fernando notes, the achievement of sanctification on the part of the non-Christian apparently comes without any subjective intention or consciousness (Fernando 1978a, 68).

We may at least observe Paul's difference in attitude between the prospect of a mixed marriage and the existence of one.This attitude is echoed in the Motu Proprio, which appears to recognise the reality of mixed marriage and its potential for unity and to urge pastoral support:

“They are to aid the married couple to foster the unity of their conjugal and family life, a unity which, in the case of Christians, is based on their Baptism too. “
(Matrimonia Mixta 1970: norm 14)

So Catholicism affirms the sacramentality of marriage with other Christians whose baptism is recognised, whilst pastoral support is encouraged for all marriages to aid family life, but how significant is the phenomenon of mixed marriages in actuality? What in practice is the pastoral support for such marriages?

3. Social reality and the pastoral dimension in mixed marriages

Migration has long been an issue in the Catholic Church: the sociologist Hornsby-Smith has studied in depth the demographics of Roman Catholics in Britain since the Second World War.Carrying out research with Lee based on data from a 1978 survey of national sample of Roman Catholics in England and Wales, he analysed marriage cohorts according to year ranges. He found that 30% of those Catholics who married in the 1950s were in mixed marriages, but by the 1970s this figure had surged to 67% (Hornsby-Smith and Lee 1979, 232).

Hornsby-Smith indicates that there was also a major pastoral shift: “the inner city parish, at least up to World War Two, was the focal point not only for religious worship, but also for the social, cultural, educational and entertainment needs of its members.” (Hornsby-Smith 1984, 153) This fostered an insular attitude with respect to marrying out of the Catholic faith: “Thus religiously mixed marriages were relatively infrequent and were stigmatised by the institutional Church.” However, following the expansion of educational opportunities after the war there was a growth of a “new middle class,” which became more influenced by the social norms of the professional workplace. With their occupational skills often equalling or exceeding those of their parish clergy, Hornsby-Smith claims that by the 1970s this had a significant impact: “Inevitably there were changes in priest-lay relations as some of the educated laity came increasingly to expect styles of consultation in parish decision making which they experienced at work” (Hornsby-Smith 1984, 154). The overall result was decohesion with many socio-cultural activities moving more into secular spaces.

Hornsby-Smith's sample size was only about 1000, but official data collected by the Catholic Church confirm sizeable numbers of mixed marriages. For instance in 1990 out of a total of 3,980,061 valid marriages 8.7% were with non-Catholics; in the United States 105,747 (32%) were mixed (Montan 1998, 28). These changes in demographics are widespread and more recently this trend appears to have become generally pervasive among Christians in the UK: an analysis of UK Labour Force Survey data commissioned by the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission shows increasing mixedness in inter-ethnic relations (Platt 2009). Based on that data, it may be observed that for successively younger cohorts, a greater percentage of couples where one partner is Christian are in partnerships with someone who is not baptised (Trafford 2009). What is arguably distinctive about mixed marriages today is the greater cultural diversity, more keenly felt and expressed, especially in Western secular society.

With mixed marriages on the increase, how has this affected theological reflections and the priorities among pastors? Like many, Bishop John McAreavey, comes to this topic through pastoral need, particularly for Christian ecumenism: “the topic of mixed marriages ... is an area that impinges directly on the lives of many people, as well as ecumenical relationships, in the divided society of Northern Ireland where I minister.”(McAreavey 2005, 121-122). He makes clear the goal of Christian unity and immediately sets a constructive tone of engagement, quoting a statement from the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity (Kasper 2001):

… To the ‘ecumenism of love’ and the ‘ecumenism of truth’, both of which naturally remain very important, must be added an ‘ecumenism of life’. ... Therefore, they need to come closer to each other again in their lives; they must get accustomed to each other, pray together, work together, live together, bearing the sting of the incompleteness of the communion ... (122)

Such an orientation would see mixed marriages as re-integrating some of the disintegration indicated by Hornsby-Smith's analysis, but might take place more implicitly in the secular spaces mentioned above.

In McAreavey's review of the developments during the Council, a pattern of dependent links may be discerned starting with the Vatican's recognition of plurality as an everyday reality and then the identification of its positive potential leading to dialogue. McAreavey charts especially the development of ecumenical dialogue at an organisational level, which has been extensive since the 1970s – a great number of bilateral and multilateral organisations have been set up involving the Catholic Church with other denominations (McAreavey 2005, 128-137).

McAreavey reports mainly on structures and broad ecclesiastical conditions for pastoral provision. Thus he notes, for instance, that improvements in relations between the different Churches and ecclesial communities have provided a better climate for treating mixed marriages, helped by mutual recognition of baptism between the Churches; the existence of fora at local level aid communication; and the formation of ‘mixed marriage associations’ both at local and at world level provides useful support (144-145).

There has undoubtedly been considerable investment in dialogue[7], but its movement creates tension with the canonical position on which it depends. McAreavey remarks: “Since it is in the nature of law to favour certainty and stability, it has been suggested that canon law could be an obstacle to ecumenism” and includes a suggestion that the lawyer will need to weigh up possible adjustments fitting the actual life of Christian bodies (146).

Ecumenism has been a springboard for wider dialogue about interreligious marriages. A joint study document was carried out with the World Council of Churches in the mid 90s (Pro Dialogo 96), geared to pastoral reflections. The document is in three parts, the first being based on answers provided in questionnaires sent out “to different churches and communities,” so it reflects what was happening 'on the ground' (article 5, 325). Most data was gathered from the churches and their findings indicate trends that would appear to prompt reservations: for example, interreligious marriage is not conducive in terms of rousing or protecting faith among those who had little before: “it is often stated that an already existing religious indifference and relativism often continues and is, in many cases, reinforced. The number of cases where the spouses continue to practice their faith separately is limited.Moreover, this does not happen without difficulty” (article 19, 327). Among other problematic areas, “it seems that there are more Christian spouses that convert to the other religion than the other way round” (article 12, 328).

The literature, especially from countries where Christianity is a minority, frequently talks about conflict as with the following interference of in-laws: “''They tried to convert my wife to Christianity within two weeks of our marriage''” (Fernando 1978b, 117).In Nigerian culture, the headship lies with the father and a woman is 'religionless' until married; according to Asambe, in practice “a good number of non-Catholic parties, especially men, not only renege on the promises in respect of the children, but they go further and order the Catholic party to follow them to their own churches” (Asambe 2004, 7).

Yet the statistics generally show these marriages on the increase, so rather than reaching the conclusion that disparity of worship is a no-go area, where dispensations should be refused or only grudgingly granted, efforts are being made to engage more fully with the issues and understand pastoral needs. A notable feature of this engagement in dialogue is that it has even led to hopes similar in spirit to ecumenism, in the way that religions may contribute to each other, sometimes in radical ways. For example, Pieris proposes that Buddhist-Christian conflicts in Sri Lanka might be resolved through inculturation, which entails adapting Church teachings to local culture. It potentially offers mutual benefits for other religions, reflecting a process of growth through dialogue: “The Western experience has matured the Church and has equipped her to meet a situation which the Buddhists are about to face for the first time in Asia (Pieris 1978, 102).

4. Mixed marriages and their evolving responses

The granting of a dispensation or permission for marriages with non-Catholics may be bureaucratically very simple (the application form is typically a single page), but is the culmination of a process in which ministers are obliged to consider not only legal requirements and the implicit theological rationale, but also the practical realities. Among the many considerations are preservation of the Catholic Faith, the welfare of the [Catholic] Christian community, the welfare of the betrothed and their families.

To flesh out some theological and pastoral issues and how responses are evolving, we concentrate on children. As has already been remarked, children determine the long-term future of a religious tradition, and are thus a key consideration for marriage permission or dispensation. The present Code states:

… the Catholic party is to declare that he or she is prepared to remove dangers of defecting from the faith, also to give a sincere promise to do all within his or her power to have all the children baptized and educated in the Catholic church;
(CIC 1983: 1125.1)

Although the undertaking is with serious intention [8] and the collocation of the clauses in the sentence implies a vital relationship between preservation of faith and the offspring, it's not a promise guaranteeing that children will become fully Catholic.The key phrase in the Latin original is pro viribus (‘all within his or her power’), which Örsy explains as meaning “what is feasible and fitting without doing violence to the right hierarchy of values which together make up the fabric of a happy union” (Örsy 1984, 186). This gives some acknowledgement to the rights of the non-Catholic party, for whom it may also be noted there are no obligations except to understand their partner’s position.

Almost all documents refer to the bringing up of children, particularly their religious education, as a core concern. How this should be done presents many different possible scenarios. By drawing on observations from the Pro Dialogo report and from elsewhere we examine just one, dual belonging,[9] in which two religious traditions are imparted to the children at least to some extent. This scenario raises some of the most pressing issues – covering identity, personal choice, religious freedom, and the transmission of faith – that have prompted many pastoral and theological reflections.

Identity is a facet of community and this can be at the sharp end of inter-religious encounter between specific religions. McCarthy observes that “Possibly the most sensitive area in Muslim-Christian marriage is the issue of what faith community the children will belong to.” He notes also the special role of rites of passage in contributing to their identity (McCarthy 2006, 18).[10] In view of the potential complications, the Pro Dialogo report observes that bringing up children in one particular faith gives the child a clear identity and potentially more harmonious development (Pro Dialogo 96:56, 335), yet it is recognized that it might not only be at the expense of the other tradition but also, more importantly, create a distance with the other parent (article 57, 335).

So the report changes its stance slightly to base the upbringing in one faith, whilst acknowledging the other: “When a decision is made the realistic choice points to educating the children in the tradition of one faith community, but in a spirit of openness towards – and respect for – the other religion” (article 32, 329). However, it pulls back from treating both equally, surmising that children may become “all mixed up” (Pro Dialogo 96:56, 335). Yet similarities may be drawn teaching a child two languages from birth, which can be strongly recommended (where applicable) as windows onto cultures on both sides (McCarthy 2006, 20). A research project by the Warwick Religious Education Research Unit (WRERU) on ‘Religious Identity Formation of Young People in Mixed-Faith Families’ has found evidence that in daily family life many children handle more than one religion without significant problems.[11] Research from the secular context will likely continue to present such challenging findings; indeed, religion may be regarded as a cultural phenomenon and as such the question becomes integration of cultures, echoing Pieris’ comments above.

There is no consensus on the way forward when it comes to sharing both faiths. The Pro Dialogo report tells us that “This risks a lack of specific identity” and the children may attach no importance to either religion, leading to “indifferentism” (Pro Dialogo 96:60, 335). In contrast, McCarthy, in considering specifics, is sceptical of the case where sacraments are avoided so as to harmonise on what is in common and implies it would ignore potential educational value: “For one the children do not really ‘belong’ to either community ... would they really know and learn very much about either in order to make a conscious decision in the future as to which religion they would adhere to?” (McCarthy 2006, 20). As there is no universal solution to the problem of children and religious inheritance, each case needs to be treated on its merits, especially mindful of local circumstances and the many associated practical issues.

It’s against this backdrop that some new thinking has been emerging that implies a much greater acceptance of religiosity beyond Catholicism. Some Catholic writers are addressing the subject in a way that seeks ways to embrace the values and humanity of the other, an approach that currently has no place in Canon Law. For instance, Pieris advocates a more subtle approach to the nurturing of religiosity over time: “a religious atmosphere has to be created in the home where human values common to both religions are emphasised and a graduated introduction to the deeper form of both religions can be given” (Pieris 1978, 105). McCarthy notes: “Whichever faith is chosen, it is also beneficial that the children are taught about the other faith, especially the similarities and to celebrate feasts of both traditions. Children generally prefer so for they experience the richness of both traditions” (McCarthy 2006, 21).

Once this orientation is accepted, there can be recognition that “there are couples who have succeeded in sharing their religious identities, giving each other support while doing so.” (Pro Dialogo 96: article 51, 334). This leads on naturally to success factors, which will hearten not just the couple but the pastors. They include an interest in the partner's religion through reading about and observing the practice of the partner's religion (article 52, 334) and an attitude of respect that doesn't overstep the boundaries (point 53, 334). The precise details matter less than the general spirit of openness.

The process is evolving to such an extent that McCarthy offers: “An interfaith marriage may facilitate the taking of the Muslim-Christian dialogue to a completely diverse and broader dimension than that of meetings between the experts from both traditions” (McCarthy 2006, 3). Such pastoral reflections have implicit theological ramifications and some of the theological thinking is being pushed still further. Pieris goes to the very core by reconsidering baptism and inviting Christians to enlarge their notions, notably adopting a concept from another religion in the process. “Baptism is a universal calling to “live for others to the point of self-immolation”, a “bodhisattva” ideal, symbolised by the cross of Christ.” He points to the spirit of Christ’s actions, particularly on the cross, as being more important than the ritual expression. So children should be “converted” to this spirit of baptism (Pieris 1978, 105-6). Such an expression, which emerges from someone both with theological training and years of experience counselling couples is significant.It may show a way to progress discussion on theology and ecclesiastical law that puts disparity of worship on a new footing, and perhaps eventually determine an analogue for the unity in ecumenism.

5. Conclusions

The Catholic Church continues to affirm the family as a core unity of its community and that only marriages between Catholics will fully preserve its sanctity. However it has recognized that various factors in society, especially demographic shifts and secularisation, are leading to more cases of Mr. T and Miss S. This has obliged marked changes in engagement, encouraging a more dialogical approach with considerable investment in resources addressing mixed marriages, especially with respect to pastoral concerns.

Since the sacramental status of baptism of other Christian denominations was legally validated in 1970, there has been considerable progress in Christian ecumenism and such marriages can point to Christian unity. However, by highlighting the issue of children, it’s evident that inter-religious marriages have been far more problematic: whilst such marriages can be seen as opportunities for growth, there remain many challenges to faith, especially in the wider community context. Nevertheless, recent pastoral initiatives, especially those that seek affirmation of the other, have fostered new theological reflections that may point a way to something analogous to ecumenism. Time will tell how all these pastoral and theological developments in inter-religious marriages will affect Canon Law, which appears to be increasingly left behind.



  1. References will generally be cited in the Harvard System.
  2. For Vatican documents shorthand designations used for citations will be made in [] brackets.
  3. References to Vatican documents are generally to English language versions published on the Vatican Web site.
  4. Web addresses last checked on 27 May 2009.

Official documentation from the Holy See

Acta Apostolicae Sedis, ( = AAS), Romae, Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, 1909-1928; Civitate Vaticana, Typis polyglottis Vaticanis, 1929-

Cassidy, Edward Idris and Duprey Pierre, 1993. Pontificium Consilium ad Christianorum Unitatem Fovendam - directory for the application of principles and norms on ecumenism, Vatican City, 25 March 1993. In: AAS 85 (1993).
Available at:

[Catechism] Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum, 1992. Catechism of the Catholic Church Part 2, Section 2, Chapter 1: Article 1: The Sacrament of Baptism, Vatican City, 11 October 1992.In: AAS 86 (1994).
Available at:

[CIC 1917]Codex Iuris Canonici. Pii X.Pontificus Maximi iussu digestus, Benedicti Papae XV auctoritate promulgatus, Romae, Typis polyglottis Vaticanis, lii, 1917, 916p

[CIC 1983] Codex Iuris Canonici. Auctoritate Ioannis Pauli Pp. II promulgatus. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana,1983. In: AAS 75 (1983), part 2, xxx, 317p
Available at:

Translation by Canon Law Society of America, 1983. Code of Canon Law: Latin-English Edition. Washington DC CLSA
Available online at:

[Dignitatis Humanae] Second Vatican Council, 1965. Declaration on Religious Freedom - Dignitatis Humanae - on the Right of the Person and of Communities to Social and Civil Freedom in Matters Religious, Vatican City, 7 December 1965.In: AAS 58 (1966), 929-946.
Available at:

[Gaudiem et Spes] Second Vatican Council, 1965. Pastoral Constitution on the church in the modern world - Gaudium et Spes, Vatican City, 7 December 1965.In: AAS 58 (1966), 1025-1120.

Kasper, Walter, 2001. Prolusio of Cardinal Walter Kasper: Present Situation and Future of the Ecumenical Movement.In: Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity: Plenary 2001, Vatican City, 12-17 November 2001.
Available at:

[Nostra Aetate] Second Vatican Council, 1965. Nostra Aetate: Declaration on the Relation of the Church to non-Christian Religions, Vatican City, 28 October 1965.In: AAS 58 (1966), 740-744.
Available at:

Paul VI, 1970.Matrimonia Mixta, Motu Proprio, Vatican City, 31 March 1970. In: AAS 62 (1970), 257-263.
Available at:

[Pro Dialogo 96] World Council of Churches/Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, 1997. Reflections on Interreligious Marriage, Pro Dialogo 96, Vatican City, 1997 (Issue 3).

[Unitatis Redintegratio] Second Vatican Council, 1964. Decree on Ecumenism: Unitatis Redintegratio, St. Peter's, Rome, Vatican City, 21 November 1964. In:AAS 57 (1965), 76-89.
Available at:

Secondary Literature

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Arwick, E., Mixed Race and Mixed Families in Britain: The Case of Growing up in a Mixed Faith Family. In: Commission for Racial Equality (CRE). eConference: mixedness and mixing, 4-6 September 2007.
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Asanbe, Jude Abidemi, 2006. Mixed Marriages in the Light of Ecumenism: Problems and Prospects, Interchurch Families: Issues and Reflections (IFIR), Interchurch Families, April 2006.

Ayrinhac H. A., 1918. Marriage Legislation in the New Code of Canon Law, Benziger.

Fernando, Mervyn, 1978. The Catholic Church and “Mixed Marriages”: A Brief Historical Sketch In Buddhist-Christian Mixed Marriages, Dialogue New Series Vol. V. Nos. 2 & 3 May- December 1978, The Ecumenical Institute for Study & Dialogue, Colombo, Sri Lanka, 1978, 66-76.

Fernando, Tarsi, 1978. The Report of the Consultation on Buddhist-Christian Marriages. In Buddhist-Christian Mixed Marriages, Dialogue New Series Vol. V. Nos. 2 & 3 May- December 1978, The Ecumenical Institute for Study & Dialogue, Colombo, Sri Lanka, 108-119.

Hornsby-Smith, M.P. and Lee R.M., 1979. Roman Catholic Opinion: A Study of Roman Catholics in England and Wales in the 1970s University of Surrey.

Hornsby-Smith, Michael P., 1984.Priests, People and Parishes in Change: Reflections of a Sociologist, Volume 65 Issue 766, New Blackfriars, 153-169.

McAreavey John, 2005. Mixed Marriages: Conversations in Theology, Ecumenism, Canon Law and Pastoral Practice, Ecclesiastical Law Journal, 8, 121-146.
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McCarthy, P. 2006. A Pastoral Accompaniment to Muslim-Christian Marriage, MA Thesis, Institute of Study on Religions and Cultures, Pontificio Collegio Irlandese, Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, 2006.

Montan, A., 1998. Matrimoni misti e problemi pastorali. In: Associazione Canonistica Italiana (Autori Vari), I Matrimoni Misti [codice 2503-6], Studi Giuridici XLVII, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Città del Vaticano, pp. 23-55.

Navarrete, U., 1998. L’impedimento di “disparitas cultus” (Can. 1086). In: Associazione Canonistica Italiana (Autori Vari), I matrimoni misti[codice 2503-6], Studi Giuridici XLVII, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Città del Vaticano, pp. 107-137.

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1. The author's parents.

2. For general coverage of the Council see e.g. (Alberigo et al 2006) and (O’Malley 2008).

3. In this essay, the narrow sense of 'mixed marriage' will only apply when discussing Canon Law; otherwise it will mean marriage with any non-Catholics.

4. ‘Disparity of cult’ is a general distinction between any baptised Christian and the non-baptised.

5. Biblical quotes are according to the New Revised Standard Version (Anglicised Edition).

6. The 1917 canon is mentioned only briefly here, though the present canon is largely derived from it.For a commentary on marriage refer to Ayrinhac 1918, and for its relation to the 1983 canon see Navarrete 1998.

7. One very visible result is the Association of Interchurch Families, whose Web site ( ) containing a great wealth of literature, with considerable content by Catholic ministers.

8. In the Catholic context, intention and free will are key factors underpinning the determining of dispensations.

9. We might expect a significant number of cases where a parent already has a mixed faith background, in which case there is multiple belonging.

10. McCarthy's thesis is notable for its dialogical orientation and detailed consideration of children’s issues.

11. At WRERU's conference on 26 March 2009 it was reported that children are easily able to hold multiple identities.


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