Representatives of the U.S. bishops' conference and four Reformed Christian denominations have publicly affirmed that they recognize each other's baptisms as valid.

"We are overjoyed at this historic recognition of one another's baptism and are committed to move forward in a new round exploring a common vision of the church," said Auxiliary Bishop Denis J. Madden of Baltimore.

The bishop, who chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, praised the cooperative efforts that resulted in the Jan. 29 signing of the Common Agreement on the Mutual Recognition of Baptism.

The statement was signed by members of the bishops' committee and four Protestant denominations – the Christian Reformed Church in North America, the Presbyterian Church-USA, the Reformed Church in America and the United Church of Christ.

The signing took place at a prayer service at St. Mary Cathedral in Austin, Texas, during the opening of the annual meeting of Christian Churches Together, an ecumenical association of more than 40 Christian groups.  

A copy of the agreement was given to each member of Christian Churches Together, in the hopes that they would be encouraged to consider whether they would also join in recognizing the baptisms of the other denominations.

The baptismal agreement came out of the seventh round of the Catholic-Reformed Dialogue in the U.S.

That portion of the dialogue, which ran from 2003-2010, found that the five groups agreed on a formula for baptism, which must "include flowing water and be performed in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit," according to a statement by the bishops' conference.

The U.S. bishops voted in November 2010 to approve the agreement, and members of the Catholic-Reformed Dialogue ratified the document privately in 2011.

The bishops' conference referred to the Jan. 29 signing as "a ceremonial representation of the growing unity between Christians and the progress of the ecumenical movement."

This is the first such baptismal agreement that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has approved.

Father John Crossin, executive director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs at the U.S. bishops' conference, hopes that the Common Agreement will bridge efforts for future ecumenical work.  

"There has already been a strong response from (Christian Churches Together) members who have said this represents healing," said Fr. Crossin, who is an Oblate of Saint Francis De Sales.

"In the past, there has been much confusion, and even pain, over the failure to reach an understanding on this question," he continued. "Our hope is that this would be a model for similar agreements."