The U.S. bishops voted overwhelmingly in favor of a common agreement on Baptism Nov. 16. The move has been called a “milestone” in ecumenical relations with certain Protestant groups.
During their fall assembly in Baltimore, 95 percent, or 204 bishops, voted in favor of an accord that would bring the baptismal practices of four Reformed Christian churches in union with those of the Catholic Church in the U.S.
The document, titled “Common Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Baptism,” holds that Baptism is to be performed only once in a person’s lifetime. It adds that Baptism must be performed by an authorized minister, with flowing water and the employment of the Scriptural Trinitarian formula of “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
Although other bishops’ conferences around the world have established similar mandates, this is the first of its kind in the U.S.
The vote of approval allows “Catholic ministers to presume that baptisms performed in these communities are 'true baptism' as understood by Catholic doctrine and law,” Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta told the assembly of bishops on Nov. 16.
“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,” he explained, “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.”
The agreement is the result of six years of study and discussion between the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and representatives from the Presbyterian Church-USA, the Reformed Church in America, the Christian Reformed Church, and the United Church of Christ.
Fr. Leo Walsh, associate director at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, explained the accord in a Nov. 12 e-mail to CNA.
Fr. Walsh called the initiative a “milestone in the ecumenical journey” that will aid interaction with Reformed Christians at the parish level.
He explained that the agreement will foster awareness of Baptism as the basis for “the real but imperfect communion that exists among Christ’s followers.” It will also prohibit the use of “innovative” liturgical formulas.
Mutually recognizing Baptism as “the gateway to eternal life” will advance Christian unity in obedience to Jesus’ prayer that “all may be one,” Fr. Walsh added.