After years of discussion, the Baptist and Roman Catholic bodies in Italy signed an agreement on "interchurch" marriage this week.
The agreement, called "A Common Document for a Pastoral Approach to Marriages between Catholics and Baptists in Italy," addresses issues encountered by such mixed church couples.
In Italy, there are only about 6,400 Baptists who are members of one of the 116 churches of the Christian Evangelical Baptist Union of Italy (UCEBI). By comparison, more than 87 percent of Italy's 60 million population identify themselves as Roman Catholic.
"As the number of Baptists in Italy is very small, only in a few marriages are both spouses Baptists," read the UCEBI document accompanying the agreement, according to the Baptist World Alliance. "In fact Baptists often marry Catholics and this becomes an interchurch marriage.
"In order to clarify the situation, it has become necessary to reach an agreement between the Baptist Union and the Catholic Church."
The agreed on document, which was signed by the head of the UCEBI and the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) on Tuesday in Rome, seeks to prepare the mixed church couple for marriage and family life. It also clarifies the relationship between each individual in the marriage and their respective church.
Anna Maffei, president of UCEBI, said the document offers Baptist pastors in Italy a "practical guide" on the confessional differences between the two communities so that these disagreements will not be seen as an obstacle in the couple's marriage.
Included in the agreement are shared Baptist and Catholic views on marriage, such as God's creation of man and woman in their reciprocity and the duration of marriage. The document also offers guidelines for mixed couples regarding the Italian civil law, the marriage preparation process, the marriage ceremony, and the raising of children.
"The document is a common step in the journey of ecumenism between the Catholic church and the Baptist churches in Italy in a particularly sensitive field," commented Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of CEI. The document is also "likely to pave the way for further developments," he said.
Both the general assemblies of the UCEBI and CEI have voted to accept the agreement.