BCEIA-NCS Consultation

Dialogika Resources

News Release: Jewish-Catholic Dialogue Examines Mixed Marriages And Societal Pressures On Marriage Today


WASHINGTON.  Reform rabbis and Catholic clergy view mixed marriages as a serious challenge to religious identity and practice, but also as an opportunity to expose others to one’s faith traditions, said members of a Catholic-Jewish dialogue in New York City.
The semi-annual consultation of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the National Council of Synagogues (NCS) of America took place on October 19, at the Union for Reform Judaism in Manhattan. Co-chaired by New York’s Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan and Rabbi Alvin Berkun, President of the (Conservative) Rabbinical Assembly, the consultation considered changing attitudes about religiously mixed marriages in America.
“Whereas 30 years ago a Christian-Jewish couple might have approached a rabbi with embarrassment about their intentions to marry, today they’re asking about spirituality programs in which the both of them can feel comfortable,” said Jewish presenter Rabbi Charles Kroloff, Central Conference of Reform Rabbis.
Mixed marriages are becoming more common in Reform Judaism, but show a significant decline over the last 20 years among American Catholics. Forty-six percent of married Reform Jews have a spouse who identifies as having another faith, whereas 26 percent of Catholic marriages involve partners who are non-Catholic. The percentage in also progressively lower as one moves across the spectrum from Conservative to Orthodox Judaism.
Rabbi Kroloff presented a range of pastoral approaches to mixed marriage within the Jewish community, while noting that only Reform rabbis can officiate at them without incurring sanctions from their denomination. He continued, “But even in the case of Reform rabbis only between 40 and 50 percent are willing to conduct a ceremony under the chuppah”—referring to the canopy used in the Jewish ceremony that symbolizes the home that bride and groom build together.
Catholic presenter Sheila Garcia, Associate Director for the USCCB’s Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, spoke of mixed marriages against the backdrop of weakening sacramental practice among Catholics over the last three decades.
“The necessary pledge made by the Catholic in a mixed marriage to do all in his or her power to baptize and rear the children as Catholic obviously runs into conflict with the legitimate Jewish desire to pass on Jewish faith and identity,” Garcia said. “But what Catholics and Jewish today are both dealing with is an alarming trend of many in their twenties not to affiliate themselves or their kids with any organized religion.”
Calling these discussions “enlightening,” Archbishop Dolan noted that, when it comes to marriage, “we Catholics and Jews face many of the same challenges.”
Members also discussed other topics, including the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Catholic Jewish Educational Enrichment Program (C/JEEP) as a model interreligious initiative for the high school age youth. Since 1993, some 10,000 Catholic and Jewish high school students nationwide have participated in C/JEEP, experiencing firsthand about the history, teachings and traditions of the each other’s faith.
Brother David Carroll, FSC, of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, reported to the group on the Synod on the Middle East taking place in Rome, October 10-24. Concerns about religious freedom and care for the diminishing Christian presence in Egypt, Iraq, and the Palestinian territories have topped the list of the synod’s agenda.
“Increasingly, the bishops of the various Eastern Catholic Churches moan the fact that their congregants have found a better living abroad and have set up parishes in the diaspora, that is, in Europe, North America or South America,” Carroll said.
Father James Massa, USCCB staff, also briefed members on the negotiations between the Holy See and Israel on the economic portion of the 1993 Fundamental Agreement (treaty). Although significant progress had been made earlier in the year on issues like taxation and the juridical status of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, the Israeli side unexpectedly chose not to schedule the next meeting when the two sides met on September 21.
Other Catholic participants at the consultation included Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, America Magazine; Father Lawrence Frizzell, Seton Hall University; Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta; Cardinal William Keeler, retired archbishop of Baltimore; Father James Loughran, S.A., Atonement Ecumenical Institute; Bishop Basil H. Losten, former bishop of Stamford for Ukrainians; Monsignor Guy Massie, Diocese of Brooklyn, New York; Father Dennis McManus, Archdiocese of New York; Father Robert Robbins, Archdiocese of New York.
Additional Jewish participants included Rabbi Alkin K. Berkun, Rabbinical Assembly; Rabbi Moses A. Birnbaum, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism; Rabbi Daniel Cedarbaum, Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation; Judith Hertz, Union for Reform Judaism; Rabbi Joel Meyers, (Conservative) Rabbinical Assembly; Rabbi Mark Pelavin, Reform Action Center of the Union for Reform Judaism; Rabbi Daniel F. Polish, Central Conference of American Rabbis; Rabbi Gil Rosenthal, staff for the National Council of Synagogues; Rabbi David Straus, Central Conference of American Rabbis; Rabbi Jonathan Waxman, Rabbinical Assembly; and Rabbi Jeffrey Wohlberg, Adas Israel Congregation, Washington, D.C.