“The U.S. bishops stand at an important juncture in affirming the unity that Christ has given to the baptized members of his body, a unity that is ever fragile and always in need of support from the pastors of the Church,” said Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory, chairman of the USCCB Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, on the importance of the agreement.
The Catholic Church has recognized the validity of baptisms of most major Christian communions since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). In 2002, concerns over certain practices (such as baptism by sprinkling) and spoken formulas (such as baptism in the name of the Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier) used by some Christians led the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity to urge national bishops’ conferences to study their mutual understanding of baptism with other Christians. These questions were examined and resolved by Round Seven of the Reformed-Roman Catholic Dialogue-USA, which produced the Common Agreement, as well as a study entitled “These Living Waters.”
The Common Agreement affirms that both Catholic and Reformed Christians hold that baptism is the sacramental bond of unity for the Body of Christ, which is to be performed only once, by an authorized minister, with flowing water, using the Scriptural Trinitarian formula of “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” The agreement encourages all local Christian communities to keep baptismal records. The Common Agreement has already been ratified by the Presbyterian Church-USA.
The bishops will vote on the Common Agreement and an accompanying Reception Statement that calls upon bishops and pastors in the U.S. to recognize as valid baptisms from the Reformed communities in question. This will apply to baptisms performed after the agreement has gone into effect and if a baptismal certificate is provided stating that the traditional Trinitarian formula was used.
While other bishops’ conferences around the world have entered into similar agreements with the Protestant communities of their region, this document is unprecedented for the Catholic Church in the United States. As the Common Agreement would be an official agreement with other Christians, it is not amendable. The Reception Statement, however, can be discussed and amended by the bishops.