Irish churches urged to bless mixed marriages: Report says couples meet hostility

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RELUCTANT churchmen were yesterday urged to give full blessing to couples who marry across Ireland's religious divide.

An extensive inter-church inquiry into ways of fighting sectarianism called for changes in the way the increasing numbers of religiously mixed marriages are handled locally on both sides of the border.

One in sixteen marriages in Ulster is mixed, but not all couples, either there or in the Irish Republic, find the sympathy and understanding they seek from their churches and families, Dr David Stevens, secretary of the working party that produced the report, said.

In the run-up to the wedding ceremony, particularly outside Belfast and Dublin, some couples met unco-operative, even hostile clergymen and priests, he claimed. The baptism of the children of mixed marriages was also a sensitive area.

According to the report from Dr Stevens's group, published as a discussion document after a two-year investigation, attitudes need to change.

More bridge building between the Protestant and Catholic churches is required and each tradition's hurts and grievances should be acknowledged, it suggests.

The working party appeals across the sectarian divide for a profound change of heart, urging people to abandon myths, share blame for Ulster's conflict and find new ways of living together in peace.

It claims that sectarianism, including the violence, springs from attitudes which have been fostered and valued on both sides of the community for a long time.

Dr Stevens said: 'Even though there are ways of doing things which have been agreed at national level, clergy on both sides do not always operate within the spirit of them, particularly at local level.'

The report, discussed today by Ireland's church leaders at a meeting in Newry, Co Down, makes a series of other recommendations to reduce sectarian tensions, including support for a Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland; moves to increase public confidence in the security forces; more effective fair employment procedures; a review within the Irish Republic of its protection of minorities.