LAST week's relaxation of the Catholic Church's discipline on mixed marriages has met with varied reactions from Anglicans and the other Christian Churches affected.
The new decree, which lifts the excommunication on Catholics contracting m a r riages in a non-Catholic Church and modifies the provisions regarding the promises made by the non-Catholic party, is seen as a compromise between the major changes sought by Anglicans and the "no major change" line supported by Hierarchies in some countries, including Britain.
Its issue at this particular time is regarded as a prologue to Archbishop Ramsey's visit to Rome. It is felt that if it had conic immediately after his meeting with Pope Paul it might have been regarded as the outcome of their talks.
A Church of England spokesman said: "The present relaxation by the Roman Catholic Church on the difficult question of mixed marriages is encouraging. Experi
mental rules announced today by the Pope are a hove VI beginning, and Anglicans will watch the progress of the new development with interest and sympathy.
"The Archbishop himself is not commenting on this issue prior to his visit to Rome.°
But the General Secretary of the Free Church Federal Council, Dr. R. A. Vine, welcomed the changes involved in it.
He said "We appreciate the much greater difficulties that the Roman Catholic Church experiences in modifying its attitudes, in that it is more firmly rooted in its history and dogmas than are the other Churches."
Some commentators see in the lifting of the excommunication sanction a step to appease the feelings of the non-Catholic Churches. On the individual level, it will mean that the Catholic partner in a mixed marriage that was performed outside the Church is not for that reason barred from the sacraments.
But the marriage is not recognised by the Church until it is "put right". So the difficulty about the sacraments is not basically affected since the Catholic party will be regarded as "living in sin".
SEVEN PROVISIONS There are seven main provisions in the new decree.
1. The Catholic partner has a grave obligation to provide for the Catholic baptism and education of any children of the marriage, and will be required to make the "promises" as before.
The non-Catholic is to he "invited" to promise not to interfere in the Catholic partner's ditties. But if the non-Catholic conscientiously objects to this the bishop is to consult the Holy Sce about it.
In ordinary circumstances the promises are to be given in writing, but in some cases the marriage partners may give them orally.
2. In countries where the law forbids religious education, the marriage can still be allowed so long as the Catholic partner guarantees "to take every possible step" towards Catholic baptism and education of the children, and the nonCatholic snakes a guarantee of good will in the matter.
3. In order that a mixed marriage should be valid, it must be conducted before a Catholic priest, but exceptional cases can be referred to Rome.
4. Bishops can now allow the solemnisation of a mixed marriage.
5. Joint celebrations by Catholic and non-Catholic ministers must be "absolutely avoided". The bishop may allow a non-Catholic minister to give an address in the church after the Catholic ceremony, and prayers may be recited with non-Catholics.
6. Bishops and parish priests are to be "attentively vigilant that mixed marriages actually conform to the promises made".
7. There is no longer a penalty of excommunication attached to "attempting marriage" in a non-Catholic church. This relaxation is retroactive.