BALTIMORE, Maryland, NOV. 17, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved an agreement recognizing as valid the baptism of four Reformed Christian churches.
The conference voted Tuesday during its fall general assembly in Baltimore to approve the “Common Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Baptism.”
The agreement has been the result of six years of study and discussion between the representatives of the U.S. Catholic bishops and the Presbyterian Church-USA, the Reformed Church in America, the Christian Reformed Church, and the United Church of Christ.
Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, chairman of the USCCB Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, noted Tuesday in a statement that this vote was a “milestone on the ecumenical journey.”
“Together with our Reformed brothers and sisters” from the four churches, he said, “we Catholic bishops can once again affirm baptism as the basis of the real, even if incomplete, unity we share in Christ.”
“Our conference looks forward to seeing all four of the authoritative bodies of the Reformed communities approve the common agreement as we have today,” the archbishop said.
He explained that once it is approved by the other four denominations, the agreement will “allow Catholic ministers to presume that baptisms performed in these communities are ‘true baptism’ as understood in Catholic doctrine and law.”
The prelate continued, “The presentation of a baptismal certificate by Reformed Christians who wish to come into full communion with the Catholic Church, or to marry a Catholic, assures Catholic ministers that the baptism performed by a Reformed minister involved the use of flowing water and the biblical invocation of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
Archbishop Gregory affirmed that Catholics and Reformed Christians “have moved one step closer to that fullness of communion which will be realized, in obedience to the Lord’s prayer — ‘Father, may they be one’ — on that day when together we can celebrate in oneness of faith and ministry at the one holy table of the Eucharist.”
The conference noted in a press release that the common agreement affirmed that baptism is “the sacramental bond of unity for the Body of Christ, which is to be performed only once, by an authorized minister, with flowing water, using the Scriptural Trinitarian formula of ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit.'”
It noted that the agreement encourages the local Christian communities to keep baptismal records, a practice already held in the Catholic Church.
The press release stated that other bishops’ conference around the world have entered into similar agreements with the local Protestant communities, but this document is “unprecedented” for the Catholic Church in the United States.
It explained that the Catholic Church in general has recognized the validity of most major Christian communions since the Second Vatican Council. However, in 2002, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity encouraged the episcopal conferences to meet with the local Christian communities to study and discuss their mutual understanding of baptism, to clarify doubts and questions about the reciprocity of the practice within the various churches.