Catholic, United Church committee work on marriage statement

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  • January 26, 2011
OTTAWA - A joint committee from the Catholic Church and the United Church of Canada are in the draft stages of a shared statement on marriage, despite being on opposing sides of the marriage debate.

The draft is the result of six years of focused dialogue on marriage and it could be another two years before it is made public. It will be a joint statement but not a consensus document, said Julien Hammond, an Edmonton archdiocese ecumenical officer who has participated in the dialogue on behalf of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB).

“The readers will be surprised the dialoguers have so much agreement,” he said.

CCCB Assistant General Secretary Bede Hubbard said it will be an important document for reflection by Catholic bishops and all Catholics.

“It is a statement by the dialogue group composed of persons appointed by the CCCB and the United Church,” said Hubbard, who stressed the group does not speak in the name of the Catholic Church or the CCCB.

The churches presented “drastically different positions” before the Supreme Court of Canada in the 2004 marriage reference, he said. The churches realized they could not talk about anything else unless they dealt with marriage.

The Catholic Church argued marriage is a social institution composed of a man and a woman in a life-long commitment that best provides for the procreation and raising of children for the greater good of society. The United Church argued that marriage should be redefined to two persons so as to include committed, life-long relationships between same-sex partners.

When the marriage dialogue began, they started with an exploration of the factums each church had filed with the Supreme Court in the marriage reference requested by the Chrétien government.

“We realized in very short order that that was not a very helpful ecumenical approach,” he said.

The factums were set up in an adversarial system with a “winners take all” approach that was “contrary to the whole spirit of ecumenism,” he said.

They decided to take a theological tack, exploring tradition, Scripture, the sociological context and “what our respective church teachings mean for this time and place,” he said.

Open dialogue is regarded as the first step towards unity in the Church. Hubbard said the joint statement will be an important contribution to the ongoing dialogue.

Hammond said it has been fascinating how the two churches can look at the same verse in Genesis and arrive at different conclusions, not based on their approach to the text but on a different ecclesiological position.

“The United Church is always pushing towards a greater inclusiveness, while the Catholic Church is wanting to respect the tradition that has been handed down,” he said.

The different approaches mean that while the churches “basically agree on the theology of marriage,” they don’t agree on “who the people who are going to be subject to that theology.”

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