BALTIMORE (RNS) The U.S. Roman Catholic bishops on Tuesday (Nov. 16) approved a mutual agreement with four Reformed Protestant denominations to recognize each other’s baptisms as valid, a pact that was six years in the making.
Gathered here for their annual fall meeting, the bishops voted 204-11 to approve the baptism agreement with 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 ecumenical and interfaith committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called the agreement a “milestone on the ecumenical journey.”
“Together with our Reformed brothers and sisters,” Gregory said in a statement, “we Catholic bishops can once again affirm baptism as the basis of the real, even if incomplete, unity we share in Christ.”
The Roman Catholic Church has recognized the validity of most Christian denomination’s baptisms since the groundbreaking Second Vatican Council in the mid-1960s. In 2002, however, concerns arose over practices by Reformed Christians such as baptism by sprinkling and substituting different names for the Holy Trinity, according to the Catholic bishops.
Under the agreement, Catholic ministers will presume that baptisms performed by the four Reformed denominations will accord with Catholic doctrine, which requires an authorized minister to use flowing water and invoke God as “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” Gregory said. The agreement could be particularly useful for Reformed Christians who wish to convert to Catholicism or marry in the Catholic Church.
With about 2.1 million members, the PCUSA is the largest Presbyterian denomination in the U.S., and has already approved the agreement. The other three denominations are expected to approve it in the near future.