The American Association of Interchurch Families, founded by Father George Kilcourse – A Brief History of the role of Father Kilcourse

Father George A. Kilcourse, Jr. Ecumenist and Author ““whatever is truly Christian never conflicts with the genuine interests of the faith; indeed, it can only result in more ample realization of the very mystery of Christ and the church.”

Fr. George Kilcourse

Fr. George Kilcourse is a scholar in the fields of Thomas Merton studies, ecumenism, and religion and literature. His latest book is Flannery O’Connor’s Religious Imagination (Paulist Press, 2001), and previous books are Ace of Freedoms: Thomas Merton’s Christ and Double Belonging: Interchurch Families and Christian Unity (1993) . He is the former editor of and frequent contributor to The Merton Annual and has written dozens of scholarly articles.

Fr. Kilcourse has been recognized as a Wyatt Fellow by the University for his excellence in teaching and is a graduate of Bellarmine College.


Father Kilcourse visited the PCPCU in Rome in 2005


Fr. George Kilcourse, Professor of Theology at Bellarmine College in Louisville and the founder of the American Association of Interchurch Families (AAIF) in 1990, commented on Fr. Orsy’s presentation. ‘He has contributed new insight and perspective to the dilemma faced weekly by authentically interchurch families,’ said Fr. Kilcourse. ‘Fr. Orsy is a distinguished canonist and theologian who invites all of us in the Catholic Church–interchurch families, bishops, ecumenists, canon lawyers, and pastoral ministers–to recognize how we can responsibly progress toward the full communion to which the Second Vatican Council committed us. This insight opens new doors. We begin to see interchurch families as not merely a problem but also as a gift – as Fr. Orsy so aptly named them, “a grace offered for the healing of the churches.”‘

*       *      *       *       *

Ecumenism in interchurch marriage

Nov. 27, 2009

When Steve and Jo Ann Schweitzer, a Cincinnati couple in a Catholic-Presbyterian marriage, first presented a workshop 13 years ago on what canon law still refers to as “mixed marriages,” one couple attended. Today similar workshops draw 75 couples or more.

Deacon Fred Merritt of the Cincinnati archdiocese’s family life office told NCR he estimates that nearly 40 percent of marriages there are interchurch.

“We approach these marriages like any marriage. The couple requests a wedding date at the parish and then they enter into the parish’s specific marriage preparation process.”

He said many times a deacon is asked to prepare and preside at the wedding, since they are usually marriages outside of Mass.

In those cases where a couple would like to be married in a non-Catholic facility, permission from the archbishop must be obtained. The Catholic party in the wedding is asked to sign a document indicating the intention to teach the children about the Catholic faith. In those cases where the non-Catholic party is not baptized, a dispensation must be obtained through the chancery, according to Merritt.

Merritt said that there are as many interchurch marriages between Catholics who seldom attend Mass as there are with those who frequently attend. “I find that many times the interchurch engaged couples attend each others’ liturgy together on a regular basis to try to better understand how it could affect their own practice in the future.

“Unfortunately, many couples who do this tell me they feel more welcomed at the non-Catholic liturgy than at the Mass. The non-Catholic often feels like an outsider while the Catholic is welcomed at the non-Catholic liturgy.”

In the Savannah, Ga., diocese, an area where Catholics are fewer in numbers, the split between Catholic and interfaith marriages is about even, said Pat Brown, a sister of St. Mary of Namur and director of the family life office. “From 1998 to 2009 pretty consistently we have had almost 50/50 Catholic and interfaith marriages. In 2009 there were 236 Catholic marriages and 178 interfaith marriages. In the Hispanic community we find most of the marriages are Catholic.”

She said marriage preparation in the diocese does not focus specifically on or offer a special session for interfaith couples, “although that would be ideal. Many of our couples find it difficult to schedule even the one-day workshops since many are military, students or young professionals, so we haven’t offered an additional workshop for them. We do encourage discussion of spirituality, religious values and decisions around raising children while respecting each other’s faith.”

Interdenominational, ecumenical, interreligious, interchurch — all these terms are used. “Some involved in ministry prefer ‘interchurch’ because it defines each partner’s commitment to remain true to his or her religious heritage while working to restore unity among Christian churches,” said Elizabeth Bookser Barkley, professor at Cincinnati’s Mount St. Joseph College who writes about Catholic marriage.

“Whatever you call them, these marriages can enrich both partners and their churches if couples, along with their faith communities, acknowledge early on that they’ll have to work to keep both faiths intact.”

Couples in interchurch marriages “don’t like to see their marriages treated like problems,” says Fr. George Kilcourse, professor of theology at Bellarmine College in Louisville, Ky., and founder of the American Association of Interchurch Families. “The problem is not their marriage, but the division between churches into which they’ve been baptized. We need to start putting the emphasis where it belongs: Christian churches’ indifference to unity.”

The Second Vatican Council’s “Decree on Ecumenism” speaks of the scandal of baptized Christians and churches being divided, according to Kilcourse. “For that reason, the church irreversibly committed itself to the visible restoration of full communion. In the same way, the council’s reference to ‘the separated brethren’ suffers from misunderstanding. Such a separation or division of Christians implies an anomaly. It is a situation which ought not to exist among baptized persons.”

It’s not that Protestants have arrogantly separated themselves from the Catholic church; Catholics and Protestants alike are victims, Kilcourse said.

He cited the words of the “Decree on Ecumenism,” which said: “The children who are born into these communities and who grow up believing in Christ cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation, and the Catholic church embraces upon them as brothers, with respect and affection.”

Kilcourse said that a pair of steps could move the church toward healing this division with regard to interchurch marriages.

  1. “First, Catholics need to recognize the integrity with which interchurch families constitute a ‘domestic church,’ a church of the home that responds to Christ’s universal call to holiness.”
  2. Second, bishops need to embrace and put into practice all the pastoral possibilities envisioned in the Vatican’s 1993 “Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism.”

“The extraordinary possibility of limited eucharistic sharing is pastoral care especially relevant for authentically interchurch couples. They are very different from ‘mixed marriage’ couples because they conscientiously remain active in their own church, participate to varying degrees in their spouse’s church, and both take an active role in the religious education of children. They bring both extraordinary gifts and unique needs to the church.”

Newly married interchurch couples benefit from open-mindedness, listening to one another’s religious story, and making visible in their relationship the unity that Christ wills for the church, according to Kilcourse.

“I often remind such couples that in the marriage rite we affirm, ‘What God has joined, we must not divide.’ In that sense, we priests and deacons who witness interchurch marriages are defenders of the bond in a special ecumenical sense. The church even delegates to the Protestant spouse a special ministry in the church — to see that children are raised according to the law of Christ and the church. In light of Vatican Council II’s ‘Declaration on Religious Liberty,’ a Protestant spouse is free to make an equivalent promise as the Catholic about baptizing and then raising the child in his/her own church.

“So couples need to work out, in the context of their unique relationship, the religious identity of children in a way that respects their ecumenical, or interchurch, identity.”

The council reminded us, Kilcourse said, that “whatever is truly Christian never conflicts with the genuine interests of the faith; indeed, it can only result in more ample realization of the very mystery of Christ and the church.”

Rich Heffern is an NCR staff writer.

Double Belonging: Interchurch Families and Christian Unity [Paperback]                 by George A. Kilcourse Jr. (Author)

In a work that’s useful to both interchurch families and their pastoral ministers, the author addresses such issues as marriage preparation, joint celebration of sacraments, children’s religious education, selection of “home churches” and more.

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This excellent and prophetic book deals with the practical difficulties of marriage among Christians of various churches as well as implied theological issues. It will be useful to couples planning or involved in such marriages, to clergy ministering to church members with spouses in another denomination, and to anyone concerned about future directions in Christian ecumenism.

Kilcourse emphasizes that these couples are not the problem: Christian disunity is. While written from a Roman Catholic perspective, the book has a deep understanding of issues and could aid all Christians.

Essential for public and seminary libraries; recommended for academic libraries.

Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Paperback: 179 pages

Publisher: Paulist Pr (March 1992)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0809132923

ISBN-13: 978-0809132928

Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.3 x 0.6 inches

Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces

Double Belonging Interchurch Families and Christian Unity
Author: George Kilcourse
Double Belonging explains the theological, psychological, and pastoral issues involved when two people who are deeply committed to their own different faiths plan to marry. This new thinking in the church sees a role for both to remain faithful to their own churches and raise their children in a truly “interchurch” family. These are the dedicated Christian families, Catholic and Protestant, who belong doubly to two churches.

Fr. George Kilcourse explores the pastoral implications of these families, including the needs and attitudes of engaged couples, their in-laws and the newlyweds themselves. In Double Belonging, Kilcourse strengthens the identity of these families by examining the “gifts” they have to offer their now-divided churches. His persuasive pastoral theology supports “interchurch” families who actively participate in the churches of both wife and husband because the children and spouses of these families create a unique “double-belonging” by virtue of a common baptism and an active church life. Denominational boundaries are removed in the joint cooperation and common goals of the family, and the ecumenical future becomes brighter than ever before.


Conversazione at Caravita – Rome

21 April 2009, Tuesday • 6.30 PM (18.30)
Interchurch Families:
Challenges and Opportunities for Common Witness

The Rev. George Kilcourse
Professor of Theology, Bellarmine College, Louisville, USA
Founder of the American Association of Interchurch Families

A Reception will Follow • All are welcome


Flannery O’Connor’s Religious Imagination: A World with Everything Off Balance [Paperback]     by George A. Kilcourse Jr. (Author)

Book Description

Publication Date: November 1, 2001

Flannery O’Connor’s deep Catholic faith permeated her writing, sometimes in unexpected ways. Indeed, her very imaginative and sometimes grotesque characters were often searching for redemption, many seeking God’s grace through unusual, even bizarre means. Flannery O’Connor used many tools in crafting her work, especially the use of irony and the darker dimensions of humor. She strongly opposed the increased secularism of the modern world, and what she saw as its pervasive nihilism.

George Kilcourse, Jr., uses Flannery O’Connor’s correspondence with her friends and associates to help define her approach to writing, and to give insight into her literary characters. Her roots in the deep South color much of her work.

This book provides important insights into the life, work, and faith of Flannery O’Connor. It will be ideal for use in college theology or literature classes, although the general reader will also benefit from it. Indeed, anyone wishing to explore the religious dynamic in O’Connor’s writing will appreciate this fascinating book.


George Kilcourse shows O’Connor’s deep theological kinship with the great Catholic minds of her time. — Ralph C. Wood

It will enrich your appreciation of an important modern writer. — The Courier-Journal

This book succeeds in showing Flannery O’Connor as imaginatively gifted and theologically learned. — America

About the Author

George A. Kilcourse, Jr., a priest of the archdiocese of Louisville, holds a Ph.D. from Fordham University. He is professor of theology at Bellarmine College, Louisville, KY.

Product Details

Paperback: 336 pages

Publisher: Paulist Press (November 1, 2001)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0809140055

ISBN-13: 978-0809140053

Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 0.6 x 0.1 inches



Ace of Freedoms: Thomas Merton’s Christ [Hardcover]   by Father George A. Kilcourse, Jr.

From Library Journal

According to Kilcourse (theology, Bellarmine Coll.), Merton’s quest for his own identity was rooted in his kenotic Christology and contributed to his ability to lead readers to find their own identity.

Kilcourse develops this thesis from an examination of Merton’s poetry, as well as his various prose genres. Through the kenotic Christ, Merton “discovers the epiphany of Christ in the human experience of poverty, in historical discontinuities, at the margins of Christendom, and in the rejection and vulnerability of the world’s scarred victims and despised outcasts.”

This book is both a reappraisal of Merton as writer, critic, and spiritual leader and spiritual reading in itself. Highly recommended for all libraries.

Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

Hardcover: 288 pages

Publisher: Univ of Notre Dame Pr; First edition (January 1993)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0268006369

ISBN-13: 978-0268006365

Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.1 inches




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Iris Garden

Prades 2000

By Ginny Bear
Redmond, Washington

Prades’ first spring in the new millennium was well underway as thirty Merton pilgrims arrived for a nine-day program to Thomas Merton’s birthplace. A little further up the slopes of Mt. Canigou, the flowers had already dropped from the peach trees on the mountain side of the Abbey of St. Michel de Cuxa, and the iris garden on the town side was a mass of colour.

Down the hill, 6,000-inhabitant Prades retains its ancient charm. Although the twenty-first century has arrived (to the relief of those who patronized the convenient commercial Internet access shop), the town itself remains the embodiment of a world that was civilized long before Europeans discovered the New World. I had researched the area in books and on the Internet in advance, but it was even more beautiful than promised.

Prades is located in the south of France, in a valley where several rivers meet on their way to the Mediterranean, in the Pyrenees-Orientales administrative department. It is also part of Catalonia, a Catalan-speaking region on both sides of the nearby Spanish border. Thomas Merton was born in Prades, eighty-five years before our visit, on the second floor of an ordinary building, at an unpretentious intersection of Prades’ narrow streets. Although his artist parents had hoped Prades would be a haven, the nearing of the conflicts of WW I as well as money problems led them to the United States a year later. Merton returned to southern France with his father from the ages of 10-13, and later, although he never returned again, kept alive his memories of France as well as his fluency in the language.


This lifelong attachment was all very obvious and reasonable to the members of the second Thomas Merton in France pilgrimage, from the moment we arrived. The majority of us were Canadian, the rest from the U.S. Drawn by the well-known Cistercian (Trappist) spiritual teacher and prolific author, we gathered for a total experience of academic seminars, fellowship, travel, and French hospitality.Donald Grayston and Judith Hardcastle were our tour leaders, competently arranging the academic content as well as serving as regional experts, answering questions ranging from advising those who had hoped to scale Mt. Canigou (not this year, the snow line was still too low), to those who needed to know what kinds of medicine were available at the local pharmacy. Another key person, although not listed on the brochure, was Christine Hicks, of the Prades Tourist Office, English but long resident in Prades. I do not think anyone will soon forget the barbecue held at her home for the local and international Merton Society members, with an endless parade of meats from the grill, and remarkable demonstrations of agility in drinking from long-necked pitchers held high in the air!

Three well-known Merton scholars were part of the pilgrimage: the already mentioned tour leader Rev. Donald Grayston (Anglican), author of several essays and articles on Merton, Fr. George Kilcourse (Roman Catholic), recipient of the 1995 book award from the ITMS for Ace of Freedoms: Thomas Merton’s Christ, and Sr. Donna Kristoff, OSU (Roman Catholic), artist, ITMS board member, and Merton researcher and teacher. It was a unique opportunity to engage with them both formally and as fellow pilgrims.

The rest of us ranged from the irrepressible Sr. Michelle, 50-years professed pride of the Ursulines, to three articulate college students, with a good variety of people in between. The interchange of views was sometimes bracing, but new friendships were made, and each participant had cause to be grateful to that “great and mischievous monk” who drew us all to Prades.

Open-Air Market, Prades

We stayed in two hotels in the center of town. We breakfasted in our hotels, speaking quietly with other participants about the day just past or the day to come. The program was a combination of lecture/discussion seminars, group travel, and free time. Classes were only a few blocks away, either in the old town hall off the town square, or in the Tourist Office. Seminar topics included: Merton as Icon, The Mertons: A Family of Artists, Autobiographical Writings, Contemplative Poet, Merton in St. Antonin, Zen Brushstrokes, French Poems, Frenchness of Merton and Contemplative Social Critic. Only those who were attending for academic credit had a final paper to write.Time passed at a different speed in Prades, and we tried to adjust. Lunch hour was longer than an hour, but that didn’t mean we could wander aimlessly through Prades looking for lunch, since many of the shops closed at mid day. It took a while to understand when we needed to hurry, and when we didn’t. Group meals went on for hours sometimes, as we sampled the cuisine of the area and got to know each other better. Other times, meals were opportunities to go off individually or in small groups, providing occasions to try out high school or more recently acquired French. Although some spoke English, any sincere effort to speak French seemed appreciated by the tolerant townspeople, already accustomed to tourists such as those who come to the annual Pablo Casals music festival.

 Lunch in St. Antonin

We spent one night in picturesque St. Antonin, several hours away by bus. St. Antonin is located in a valley with steep cliffs, next to a river now promoted for kayaking and canoeing. The town has not lost the medieval flavor it had in Merton’s time. Many streets are too narrow for cars, with mysterious gates opening to the river, another street, or not opening at all. A large but architecturally unremarkable church remains at the very center. Like most of the churches we visited, it was very quiet and not recently renovated, and I wondered how much more lively it would be for Sunday masses. We visited the stone house built by Merton’s father, and met the friendly couple who lives there now. The town seemed to draw us all into a meditative wandering of its streets, and we left reluctantly for the bus ride back to Prades.The pilgrimage closed with a last delicious dinner at the hotel, with a clown who did not need English to entertain, and with awards made appropriately and humorously to each person. I don’t remember all of the awards, but mine was “Brave Vegetarian”, and another participant was presented with and graciously wore an appropriately monogrammed papal miter! The following morning we dispersed in all directions of the compass, all grateful for nine precious days in Merton’s French homeland.

Abbey at St. Michel de Cuxa

A year later, I still savor the beauty of Prades and southern France, far from the rolling fields and knobs of Kentucky where Merton spent the second half of his life. But paradoxically, his entrance into the enclosed monastery only strengthened his French ties. Merton could not come to France, so France came to him. The Cistercian order originated in France centuries ago, and it was a matter of monastic obedience for Merton to work with French language materials as well as to serve as French interpreter for visitors. I suspect that this obedience must have also had an element of joy, judging by the relish with which he discusses all things French in his writings.

We too, of the Merton Pilgrimage, gained a taste of that French part of Merton’s joy.

Simon Fraser University will be offering another ‘Thomas Merton in France’ pilgrimage in May, 2004.



Topic: “Resurrecting the Body Ecumenical”
Convener: George Kilcourse, Jr., Bellarmine University
Presenters: Janice Thompson, University of Notre Dame; Ralph Del Colle, Marquette University
Respondents: Joan McGuire, O.P., Director of the Office of Ecumenism & Interreligious Affairs, Archdiocese of Chicago; Thomas P. Rausch, S.J., Loyola Marymount University

Ralph Del Colle developed the theological imperative of ecumenism and growth “toward full communion in truth and charity” in the context of his marriage to an Episcopalian wife. He drew from Vatican Council II teachings, the 1993 Directory for the Application of the Principles and Norms of Ecumenism, John Paul II’s encyclical letter Ut Unum Sint., and “Interchurch Families and Christian Unity,” the 2003 Rome paper of the World Gathering of Interchurch Families. The bulk of his remarks focused upon spiritual ecumenism. He forthrightly voiced his “serious reservations over Catholics sharing Eucharistic communion in their spouse’s church.” In support of his thesis, Del Colle pointed out that Catholics are “more sacramentally dense in their spirituality” than other Christians, a fact that poses for him an “enormous” difference. Even though his wife is an Episcopalian, he finds that “we still do not have the same sacramental sensibilities.” Identifying three aspects of ecumenism found in UUS (renewal and conversion, the fundamental importance of doctrine, and the primacy of prayer), Del Colle concluded that, “Ecumenism cannot bypass communion in truth.” He offered the example of developments surrounding the consecration of Gene Robinson to the episcopate as disruptive of ecumenical relations and potentially church-dividing within the Anglican Communion: “What for her [his wife’s] church is a matter of discipline is for my church a matter of doctrine.”

Janice Thompson admitted in her reflections both a challenge and opportunity. She and her husband “have struggled with the rules that each of our two churches impose on the way we are able to worship together and the ways we are able to celebrate or mourn major family events in our two communities.” The Anglican in an interchurch marriage, Thompson insisted on the “special role” they play “in the healing and resurrection of the ‘body’ of the church ecumenical.” Her initiative and success in receiving the local Roman Catholic bishop’s permission for Eucharistic sharing with her husband at Mass on their wedding day (before the Marriage liturgy) met resistance from a Catholic in her husband’s family. The bishop then asked whether her actions appeared to produce more division than unity. She described being “stunned” and “hurt” by the experience; however, the following Sunday her Catholic husband did the most to offer healing by following her for the first time to communion in the Anglican Church.

Thompson reflected on the affirmations of Lumen Gentium and Familiaris Consortio: the family is a “domestic church” and “a specific revelation and realization of ecclesial communio,” upholding interchurch family experience as itself an embodiment of church. She singled out the analogy of interchurch families as “connective tissue” to heal the body as articulated at the Rome 2003 Gathering of Interchurch Families—a description of their vocation vis-à-vis divided churches. She described interchurch couples as “inter-personal bridges of understanding and trust” to correct misunderstandings and bring richer understandings to their respective churches: “Because of our commitment to each other, my husband and I have learned to be far more patient and forgiving of each other’s church communities when we run into problems, much like we have to be patient with our in-laws.”

Joan McGuire remarked how Ralph Del Colle and Janice Thompson witness in their lives and reflections to ecumenical principles of self-revelation, distinctions between not only ecumenical relations but also liturgical and non-liturgical Protestant practices, and the necessity of partners to continue loving and communicating when they differ in beliefs and forms of worship. The presentations on spiritual ecumenism, the body ecumenical, and the domestic church suggested to her that a new interchurch “BEM” [Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry] study on Baptism, Eucharist and Marriage is opportune. Aware of the difficulties that interchurch children may experience, McGuire, nevertheless, asked if children raised in one church with a deep appreciation of another church might not result in a generation of well qualified ecumenical dialogue partners. She also expressed hope in actions beneficial to interchurch families from Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Walter Kasper, theologians who have lived in countries with many interchurch families.

Thomas Rausch pointed out how Janice Thompson’s paper “lifts up the pain” experienced in interchurch marriages. He insisted that her in-law who “blew the whistle” on Eucharistic sharing on their wedding day did not understand where the Catholic Church is on this exceptional practice. Rausch remarked that the metaphor of interchurch families as “a connective tissue” between divided churches (“Interchurch Families and Christian Unity,” The Second World Gathering of Interchurch Families, Rome, July 2003) suggests a more organic model of unity. He affirmed Del Colle’s description of Pentecostals as not seeking intercommunion; yet many Pentecostals, Rausch replied, are willing to recognize the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and some want Eucharistic hospitality. He emphasized the difference between a simply “mixed marriage” and a truly conscientious interchurch marriage. Referring to Del Colle’s Episcopalian wife, he admitted that the ordination of Gene Robinson as bishop in the Episcopal Church presents a difficult case. Yet in the Roman Catholic Church, Rausch remarked, there is also division on this issue (especially among younger Catholics).

On the question of intercommunion and Eucharistic hospitality, Rausch found Vatican Council II ambiguous but also noted that the council did not absolutely forbid communio in sacris. He distinguished terms to ask that the Catholic Church reflect on catholicity—not seeing it as “full” or “perfect” communion, but as “universal” vs. “particular.” Such inclusiveness in the church’s catholicity would acknowledge all expressions of Christ, even if not full or complete. He recommended recognizing the ecclesial status of other churches on the basis of creeds, consensus statements on justification, etc. He pointed to ecumenical communities living together (such as Taize and covenant relationships) as signs of growing communion. In He asked, What is to prevent the Roman Catholic Church from recognizing occasionally discreet Eucharistic sharing? Rausch advised that we “push the envelope” because (1) sacramental marriage is a true communion in Christ that merits Eucharistic expression, and (2) discreet permission for Eucharistic sharing in the case of interchurch families who already share faith and life is most appropriate. He cited the February 2005 article in The Tablet, reporting that Swiss bishops have secured Vatican permission for Eucharistic sharing at the marriage liturgies of interchurch couples.

Bellarmine University
Louisville, Kentucky


Virginia 1996

The ninth international conference of interchurch families held at Virginia Wesleyan College, Norfolk, Virginia, USA, 24-28 July 1996, brought together participants from Canada, England, France, Ireland, Italy and the United States. It was the ninth biennial English-speaking international conference, but the first to be held outside the British Isles.

This alone gave a new global dimension to the interchurch family movement. The fact that in 1998 the English-speaking international conference will return to Europe but will join together with the French-speaking movement of foyers mixtes, with simultaneous translation into both languages, will significantly deepen this global dimension.

We offer this number of Interchurch Families as a Virginia Report; a reminder of those days together for those who were present, and a way of sharing in them for those who could not be there. All the texts are shortened, but we give something from each of the main addresses by the Revd Dr Judy Bennett of the Virginia Council of Churches, Nicola Kontzi, who works with Fr René Beaupère, O.P., at the Centre St Irénée, Lyon, Canon Martin Reardon, General Secretary of Churches Together in England, and Fr Ladislas Orsy, S.J., of Georgetown University, a leading expert in canon law. Fr Falardeau, Director of the Office of Ecumenism in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico, prepared his text for one of the workshops; it offers a good introduction to the conference theme:

Interchurch Families: Catalysts for Church Unity.

We are grateful to participants who sent in their reactions to the Virginia experience, and sorry they had to be so drastically shortened. There was a wealth of workshop riches which can only be mentioned here: Fr George Kilcourse on interchurch families as a case study in Koinonia; Mitzi Knutzen and Sr Peggy O’Leary on the Minneapolis Lutheran-Catholic Covenant and Guidelines for Interchurch Marriage (details on this in a later issue); Bonnie Mack of the Cincinnati Family Life Office on “Living in the Weaver’s Home” – family spirituality; Barb and Michael Slater on “We all need windows – setting up a local group of AIF”; Fr Philippe Thibodeau, Director of the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism, Montreal, on “Reception: what can we do to help the churches?”; Fr Gregory Wingenbach, Director of the Kentuckiana Interfaith Community, on “Beyond dialogue – sharing in marriage and family life”. One regret expressed by a number of participants was that there was too little time for sharing experiences in small groups; some of the worskshops partially fulfilled this need.

We hope to offer other material later – a fuller version of Fr Orsy’s address, workshop material and an update on what has been happening around the world before Virginia and as a result of the conference. Michael Lawler, Director of the Center for Marriage and Family at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, spoke of his research on interchurch families, and we hope to give progress reports. Further reflections on Virginia, post-conference news and suggestions for the way forward for interchurch families on the global level will be warmly welcomed by the editor.

Mention should be made of the great debt of gratitude owed both to Fr George Kilcourse of Bellarmine College, Louisville, for all the work he put in to the organisation of the conference, and also to the local covenanted Church of the Holy Apostles (Episcopalian and Roman Catholic) at Virginia Beach, whose clergy and members shared in parts of the conference and welcomed participants so warmly to their community and to their homes.

Ruth Reardon

Interchurch Families Around the World

In our last number we offered a round­up giving a brief history and current preoccupations of interchurch families in France, Britain and Ireland. As promised, we now extend our view to other parts of the world. We shall continue the process in the Summer 1994 Journal. Please send us your news! (Email it to the Association of Interchurch Families, London, England)


A pluralist society

In his recent book Double Belonging Fr George Kilcourse lecturer in theology at Bellarmine College, Louisville, Kentucky, suggests that interchurch marriage questions were addressed later in the U.S. than in Europe because of the immense complexity of the situation. There are so many church groupings that interchurch families are far more diverse.

In the late nineteen­seventies a Central New York Interfaith Marriage Ministry set up by couples included Christian­Jewish marriages as well as mixed Christian marriages; Dr Richard Lawless, Vicar for Education of the Catholic Diocese of Syracuse, NY, tells the story in his book When Love Unites the Church (1982), which draws on his own experience of marriage with Lisette, an Episcopalian.

ARC marriages

The Anglican­Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) was mirrored in the United States by ARC/USA. Its first twelve­year report, Where We Are: a Challenge for the Future, called for some decisive action to follow on from its Agreed Statements. A Joint Committee of Episcopal and Roman Catholic Diocesan Ecumenical Officers (EDEO/ NADEO) got to work by encouraging and evaluating the “ARC Covenants” which were linking some of the parishes of the two communions.

In the early nineteen­eighties they followed up this work with parish covenants by starting to look at the lived experience of “ARC couples”, and brought out several booklets (ARC Marriages, Pastoral Care for ARC Couples) and ARC Baptisms for the use of those concerned with the pastoral care of Episcopal­Roman Catholic families. George Kilcourse was involved in this work at national level, and then in the production of Episcopal­Roman Catholic Marriage Guidelines for the Archdiocese of Louisville and the Diocese of Kentucky in 1985. The two Dioceses of Albany (Roman Catholic and Episcopal) had already brought out a booklet Pastoral Considerations: Episcopal­Roman Catholic Marriages in 1982.

A Lutheran­Catholic group

It was the celebration of the 450th anniversary of the Augsberg Confession in 1980 that led to the formation of a group of Lutheran­Catholic couples in Milwaukee. Three pastors in Brookfield, Wisconsin agreed that a good way of getting Lutherans and Catholics to know each other better would be to start with couples who were partners in interchurch marriages. Thus “Lutheran­Catholic Dialogue Couples” (their logo LCDC formed into the early Christian fish symbol) was born. The group is still going today, and draws from nine congregations in and around Milwaukee. Martin and Ruth Reardon were able to take greetings from English AIF when they visited the group at the home of Ronn and Jacquie Rieger in September 1993.

Ecumenical marriages

When it was not a case of bilateral guidelines or groups, the preferred term to distinguish mixed Christian marriages from interfaith marriages was for a time “ecumenical marriages”. Working with a sociologist at Bellarmine College, George Kilcourse produced a survey called Ministry to Ecumenical Marriages for the Archdiocese of Louisville in 1983, while in 1987 NADEO published hisEcumenical Marriage: an Orientation Booklet for Engaged Couples, Families, Pastoral Ministers, Religious Educators.

In preparation for this booklet, pilot groups of “ecumenical couples” had been established (or discovered) in five cities in the United States, some of them bilateral (Lutheran­Roman Catholic, Episcopal­Roman Catholic), some multilateral, and had used the AIF (England) publication, Two­Church Families as a catalyst for discussion and reflection. “Unlike England”, wrote Fr Kilcourse, “we do not have a single, dominant bilateral model for ecumenical families. And in some significant ways the inherited wounds and attitudes of divisiveness reflected in Two­Church Families are not nearly as deep or scarred in our nation where religious pluralism and ecumenical cooperation flourish.”

Orthodox Family Ministries

In North America the Orthodox­Roman Catholic dialogue had a primarily pastoral focus, and included consideration of mixed marriages and interchurch families. Joint statements were followed up between 1985 and 1990 by the national Office of Family and Pastoral Ministries of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, whose Director at that time was Fr Gregory Wingenbach. Guidelines published included Marriage in the Orthodox Church (1987) and Two . . . Yet One in Christ (1989).

An American AIF

In 1988 George Kilcourse was present at the fifth International Conference of Interchurch Families at Lingfield, England and made personal contact (correspondence began long before) with interchurch family movements in Britain and France. He was able to announce the good news of the imminent establishment of an American Association of Interchurch Families (AAIF). The Louisville group, along with other groups with whom he was in contact when preparing Ecumenical Marriage, had unanimously agreed to launch a U.S. network of interchurch families.. NADEO gave a grant for the publication of the first two issues of The Ark, AAIF’s newsletter, and these issues (multiple copies) were distributed through all the Catholic Diocesan Ecumenical Officers. Three couples from Milwaukee, Tideville, and Louisville addressed the Ecumenical Officers at the NADEO National Workshop on Christian Unity at Indianapolis in 1989.

The Louisville group of Interchurch provided the editorial and design staff for The Ark, which first appeared in 1989. They worked closely with Dr Gregory Wingenbach, who in 1990 became Director of the Kentuckiana Interfaith Community in Louisville, and in 1992 The Ark became a pullout from KIC’s newspaper, Horizon. An Interchurch couple from Louisville, Pete and Mary Jane Glauber, with their three children, were present at the sixth International Conference of Interchurch Families at Corrymeela, Northern Ireland, as were Fr Gregory and George Kilcourse.

Roman Catholic/Southern Baptist couples

ARC couples have not been the only ones to get bilateral attention. In parts of the south a high proportion of mixed marriages involve Roman Catholics and Baptists, and in 1990 two sets of guidelines were issued for those involved in preparing such couples for marriage: Southern Baptist­Roman Catholic Interchurch Marriage Guidelines Recommended for the Archdiocese of Louisville and the Long Run Baptist Association and Ecumenical Marriages: a Handbook for Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists in Virginia, the latter sponsored by the Virginia Baptist General Board and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Richmond.

The Louisville Guidelines were shorter, and were sent out by the Archdiocese and the Association on a trial basis. The dialogue team which prepared them committed themselves both to recruit Southern Baptist­Roman Catholic couples to join them in “peer ministry” programs of marriage preparation, and also to act as facilitators for couples who wished to assess their marriage, at six or eighteen month intervals after their wedding, at a brief Interchurch marriage workshop. The Virginia handbook was issued by the Diocese of Richmond and the Baptist Association of Virginia in a more finished form, it included a commendation of AAIF as a resource body.

Family Life Ministries

Many of the initiatives described above came from the ecumenical side; more recently those concerned with marriage and family life have entered the field. In the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland,Ohio, the Office for Marriage and Family Concerns worked with the Interfaith Commission to produce Guidelines for Interfaith Marriages in 1985; these were concerned with both ecumenical and interreligious marriages.

In 1988 the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska, issued Preparing for an Ecumenical Marriage, a text developed by the staff of the Family Life Of flee specifically for interdenominational couples, and expanded more recently with a section on parents and family members. This was offered as a supplementary program to the standard marriage preparation. However, Omaha did not begin with a text; Sr Jan Mengenhauser of the Family Life Of flee began by gathering a pilot group of couples in 1986 ­an “Interfaith Marriage Support Group”, and this became a parish­based programme in 1988. The supplementary program Preparing an Ecumenical Marriage was implemented in 1989 in three main ways: a trained ecumenical couple were responsible for the five sessions of the general marriage preparation programme, highlighting the special issues and skills important in making their marriages work; two trained couples presented a panel discussion for those who could not get to the five sessions ­ couples already married were invited as well as those preparing for marriage; and ecumenical couples in specific parishes were trained to do a parish­based ecumenical marriage preparation program supplementary to the standard one. The Family Life Office has also offered a retreat day for ecumenical couples, and Omaha couples have acted as facilitators in ecumenical dialogues.

Another Family Life Office which has developed work with Interchurch couples is that of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Ohio. One of the staff members, Bonnie Mack, is herself a Presbyterian married to Tom, a Roman Catholic, so has a personal involvement. The Cincinnati Family Life Office has trained Interchurch couples for marriage preparation, and gradually an on­going group has come into being. In May 1993 Cincinnati and Louisville couples met together for a joint seminar, “Listen to our story”, hosted by the Louisville AAIF chapter. Then in October the Cincinnati Association of Interchurch Families was officially formed at an overnight retreat held at Higher Ground Retreat Centre in Indiana.

Other dioceses are following suit. The Center for Family Ministry in the Diocese of Joliet organized a day workshop in March 1993, with George Kilcourse, for couples involved in marriage preparation, and as a follow­up offered a two evening workshop for couples themselves in the autumn.

And so on

AAIF is trying to keep contact with all the Interchurch family groups and initiatives which can be found in the United States ­ a difficult task in a country of that size. The Ark has reported on groups or chapters in Virginia Beach, in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania, and in Tri­Boro, New Jersey. A group in Colchester, Vermont, called together on the initiative of the Diocesan Ecumenical Commission, had several meetings n 1991 and 1992, and hopes to meet again in 1994. There are probably others. As in England, groups and chapters will tend to form and disappear depending on who is where when, but all efforts contribute to the lengthy process of getting the spiritual needs of Interchurch families known in all our churches, stimulating pastoral care for such families, and working towards the day when we shall all come together in the One Church of Christ.


Interchurch and mixed couples would be helped by seeing the churches working together in marriage preparation and support.

If the churches could come together for marriage, they would both be supporting Interchurch families and fulfilling a mission which is of great urgency today. This is the conclusion which the Group for Local Unity of Churches Together in England reached in its report which is due to be published in 1994, the International Year of the Family.

Starting from the other end, beginning not from a concern for Christian unity but for the survival of marriage, a similar plea for the churches to get together for marriage preparation and support has recently been made in the United States (see Marriage Savers, by Michael McManus, Zondervan, 1993). In some parts of the United States local churches have covenanted together in a Community Marriage Policy, agreeing on minimum standards for the preparation and support of marriages celebrated in church ­ any church in the area. They have drawn on the best experience right across the denominations, and agreed to use it together, in a common policy.

Fr. George Kilcourse

  • In April 2009 Dr. Kilcourse presented a paper entitled “‘Revelation’ and the Good under construction: Ruby Turpin’s Entry into the Purgative Way,” at Reason, Fiction and Faith: An International Flannery O’Connor Conference at Pontificia Universita della Santa Croce, Rome, Italy.
  • His review essay on Kenneth Paul Kramer, Redeeming Time: T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets,” appeared in Spiritus [Journal of the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality] VIII:2 (Fall 2008), 238-41.

Beatitudes for Interchurch Families

Blessed are the interchurch spouses who participate also in the church of their partners from another Christian tradition; theirs is the Kingdom of God.

Blessed are the interchurch parents who share fully together in the religious education of their children; such children will grow to see the unity of the Body of Christ.

Blessed are the sorrowing interchurch families who have not found pastors to accept and minister to their needs; they will be comforted.

Blessed are the merciful interchurch couples who patiently work with their pastors and help to awaken them to Christ’s presence in their marriage; they will know mercy.

Blessed are the interchurch spouses who are pure of heart; their marriage will be recognized as a sacrament of Christ.

Blessed are the interchurch couples who minister to engaged and newly married interchurch couples; on them God’s favor rests.

Blessed are the interchurch families who hunger and thirst for the unity of the Body of Christ; they will be satisfied.

Blessed are interchurch spouses when they persecute you and utter all kinds of slander against you because you have married a Christian from another tradition; you will be called daughters and sons of God.

Offered by Fr George Kilcourse,
Professor of Theology at Bellarmine College,
Louisville, Kentucky

Fr George composed these beatitudes for a presentation which he made in California in 1997. He writes: “In my preparation, I spent time in prayer reflecting upon how often our AIF work gets derailed with intricacies of church bureaucracies and laws. So instead of writing a new Decalogue or Ten Commandments for Interchurch Couples, I decided that it would be more in the spirit of Jesus to proclaim Blessings. Interchurch families are indeed a genuine grace in the life of the churches. And these modest Beatitudes are an attempt to celebrate their faith-filled lives. “


International conferences of interchurch families

The Association of Interchurch Families in England (founded 1968) has always wanted to know what was happening to similar families in other countries. In 1969 the second national conference included speakers from Holland and France, priests involved in the pastoral care of interchurch couples.

Rydal 1980
The first English-speaking international conference was held in 1980, at Rydal Hall in the English Lake District. The purpose was consultation between the three interchurch family associations in England, the Irish Republic (founded 1973) and Northern Ireland (1974). A couple from Australia also participated. The conference sent a letter to the Synod of Bishops that met in Rome in 1980 on the subject of Marriage and Family Life, with a copy to Cardinal Willebrands, President of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. Interchurch families were encouraged by the Cardinal’s intervention on mixed marriages in the Synod debates. The 1980 meeting showed them that on the international as well as on the national level it was valuable to meet for mutual support, and also to find a common voice.

International conferences in Britain and Ireland, 1982-1994
From then on, English-speaking international conferences were held every two years, and the French foyers mixtes, based on Lyon, regularly sent two French couples as participants. The following conferences were held between 1982 and 1994:

  • 1982 at Corrymeela, Northern Ireland, on the theme: Authority: marriage, baptism, communion.
  • 1984 at Dunblane, Scotland, again focusing on Authority: personal and institutional values.
  • 1986 at Bellinter House, Navan, Irish Republic, on the theme of ‘Double Belonging’.
  • 1988 at Lingfield, England, on Faith and its expression in beliefs and practice.
  • 1990 at Corrymeela, Northern Ireland, on Spirituality.
  • 1992 at Perth, Scotland, on Telling our story.
  • 1994 at Bellinter House, Irish Republic, on The Nurture of Mixed and Interchurch Families.

Virginia 1996

In 1996, largely thanks to Fr George Kilcourse, who had participated in Lingfield 1988 and subsequent conferences, and had been joined by a few other Americans and a Canadian couple, Joy and Edouard Bédard, the ninth conference moved to the United States. It was held at Norfolk, Virginia, on the theme Interchurch Families: catalysts for Church Unity. Some Canadian interchurch families participated.

Meanwhile, the first francophone international meeting had been held at Versailles in 1995, and a second at Lyon in 1997. Previously, French-speaking conferences were held regionally in different parts of France, in Switzerland and in Italy (see Interchurch Families 2000,10,2, pp.9-10, for the series of Franco-Swiss-Italian conferences held in northern Italy between 1970 and 1999). There was a third francophone conference at le Rocheton, near Paris, in 2000. A fourth is planned for 2004.

First World Gathering of Interchurch Families, Geneva 1998
Virginia 1996, the first international English-speaking conference held outside Europe, and Lyon 1997, the second francophone international conference, were followed in 1998 by the first World Gathering of Interchurch Families, organised in Geneva by French and Swiss foyers mixtes. It was the first bi-lingual conference, with French and English on equal terms, and some German used too. The theme was Interchurch Families and the Churches (see Interchurch Families 1999, 7, 1).

Edmonton 2001
Following Geneva, the French did not wish to commit themselves to a conference in Canada, but French- and English-speaking groups agreed to follow up Geneva 1998 together, with a second world gathering in or near Rome in 2003. The Canadians planning Edmonton 2001 were very ready to provide English-French simultaneous translation, but it was not needed since the Canadian interchurch family groups have as yet no wholly French-speaking couples in membership. Two of the main speakers were, however, French-speaking Canadians, Brother Gilles Bourdeau OFM, Director of the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism in Montreal, and Bishop Marc Ouellet PSS, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Their addresses were given in English.

Edmonton 2001 was thus the tenth in the series of English-speaking international conferences that have brought together interchurch families mainly from Britain and Ireland, North America and Australia. There have regularly been a few others, and Edmonton was enriched by participants from Germany and Austria, besides a Ghanaian priest working in Canada who presented a beautiful Ghanaian cloth to interchurch families worldwide. It was used as an altar-cloth in Edmonton and will go to Rome. The January 2002 number of Interchurch Families (10,1) was devoted to the Edmonton conference.

Second World Gathering of Interchuch Families, Rome 2003
As for Geneva 98, we are using in English a direct translation of the French description Rassemblement Mondial to distinguish this multilingual gathering from the series of English-speaking international conferences from Rydal to Edmonton. The planning group (Preproma) is working in four languages: English, French, German and Italian; these will be the languages of the conference. The first meeting of the planning group was held in Luserna near Torre Pellice in July 2001 and decided the theme of Rome 2003: United in baptism and marriage: interchurch families/ foyers interconfessionels/ konfessionsverbindende familien/ famiglie miste interconfessionali – called to a common life in the Church for the reconciliation of our churches.

The second full meeting of Preproma took place in Lyon in July 2002. The four language-group co-ordinators have met several times. A preparatory group has worked on the paper printed in this number of Interchurch Families (pp.1-7) by email and postal correspondence, with a final meeting in Zurich in September 2002. The Rome World Gathering will take place in the Better World Centre at Rocca di Papa, 24-28 July 2003. There is regularly updated information on the interchurch families world web site,


Interchurch Families


2-4 MAY 1992

This year Scottish AIF bravely agreed to host the seventh international conference of interchurch families. They made up for small numbers by their enthusiasm, and masterminded a lively weekend. St Mary’s Redemptorist monastery on Kinnoull Hill, Perth, with wonderful gardens and far-reaching views, was an ideal setting.

In 1990 we met in Ireland. Unfortunately the Northern and Southern Irish associations were unable to send representatives this time, but two couples came from the French Foyers Mixtes and Fr George Kilcourse, founder of the American AIF, joined us as he has done twice before, together with Orthodox priest Fr Gregory Wingenbach from the Kentuckian Interfaith Community. Dan O’Connor, Scottish Episcopalian priest and director of Scottish Churches House, acted throughout the weekend as a valued observer; we were grateful for his quiet encouragement.

Telling our Stories

On Saturday national groups presented the current situation within each association. Thanks to a timely detour off the M6, the English group were able to show the very first copy, hot off the reels, of the new AIF video, accompanied by a brief description of our current Development Appeal and of Mary Bard’s book in preparation: Telling our Story.

The Scots, mostly young families, presented a telling sketch. The group emigrated to the moon, each member having a different reason – to find a church where they really felt they belonged, to get away from parents’ well-meaning comments, to find an encouraging priest, and so on. Fortunately, they all agreed to return to earth rather than forming a new church on the moon, and to keep trying!

The two French couples represented different generations. They used their own experience to show how things in France have changed over the years with regard to marriage, baptism, religious education and eucharistic sharing. The children of the older couple had been baptised into the French Reformed Church, as the parents felt this gave them more options – interestingly, the opposite of what is often decided in England, perhaps explained by similar attitudes of the Roman Catholic Church in England and the French Reformed Church towards the ‘majority’ church.

Double Belonging

On Sunday morning George Kilcourse spoke on the ‘Telling our Story’ theme. His recently published book Double Belonging narrates the experience of many interchurch families, together with a theological commentary. He underlined the fact that, as the climate in the churches as a whole becomes more ecumenical, the more interchurch families are able to attend and hold ecumenical workshops and meetings, and the more people will appreciate the contribution interchurch families can make. The text of his talk is given in the Centrepiece of this newsletter.

Fr Greorge, looking at the U.S. situation, said that interchurch marriages, although growing in number, are still seen as an unwelcome phenomenon, a problem rather than a resource. But a high degree of ecumenical and interfaith co-operation is taken for granted, and couples find that their impact on hesitant or hostile clergy is greater if they affirm positively that interchurch marriage is the fruit of the Holy Spirit across the whole church. The church recognises and blesses that which is holy. Couples acting in co-operation with God are bringing themselves into the presence of God.

In our discussions we talked a lot about the vulnerability of interchurch couples – especially through their children – at different stages of their marriage, and therefore of the reluctance of the couples to be exposed because of this. George felt that the associations should act as the memory and conscience of the church, and by using video and various publications should tell the story of vulnerability and faith to illustrate the success of the interchurch family.

When Dan O’Connor summed up his feelings about the conference, he stressed that telling our stories needs to be linked with telling The Story (Jesus got into trouble about the rules because he put human need first). The new ecumenical instruments which have been set up in Britain show that the churches have committed themselves to moving forward together, so we may now call them to account when they seem to move too slowly, and to forget the needs of those who suffer most from christian divisions. As we have said so many times before, the disunity of the churches is the abnormality, not the marriage of interchurch couples.

Our worship during the weekend included songs from the Iona community and a lively dramatisation of the gospel by the children, who had also created decorative altar and lectern frontals. Moments of quiet prayer and of sharing the eucharist together united us in the peaceful oratory. We were also united in a visit to Scone Palace, an energetic ceilidh and our enjoyment of a robust Scottish diet.

Looking Ahead

The next international conference in 1994 coincides with the United Nations International Year of the Family, and we hope to focus on the theme of the nurture of mixed and interchurch families, while in 1996 we are invited to meet in the United States. The different emphasis in each national association enables us all to put our own situation into clearer perspective. It is good to know that the American association is growing fast, and that new groups are starting in New Zealand and Canada. Perhaps next time they will be with us too. Melanie Finch


Ethics As Fiction’

Flannery O’Connor’s Sacramental Art

The Catholic fiction writer from Georgia, Flannery O’Connor (1925-64), once volunteered that it would be 50 years before readers understood her stories. Half a century after the publication of her first novel, Wise Blood (1952), and the inaugural collection of her short stories, A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1955), interpreters of O’Connor gain well-timed momentum through Susan Srigley’s stimulating, cogent analyses.

Flannery O’Connor’s Sacramental Art breaks significant new ground, exploring the ethical implications of O’Connor’s sacramental view of reality. Srigley describes her task: “to approach ‘ethics as fiction.’” Defining Christ’s love as “love that serves one’s neighbor, a love for neighbor that equals or surpasses love of self,” she proposes such love as the source of O’Connor’s “ethic of responsibility.” Her analysis suggests how O’Connor’s attention to the interiority (ethos) of fictional characters either gives rise to responsible action or exhibits a vacuous inertia.

The first chapter assesses the influence of Jacques Maritain and Thomas Aquinas. Such scrutiny is wisely aimed, because O’Connor described herself as a “hillbilly Thomist.” Srigley translates challenging philosophical and aesthetic principles into lean, illuminative sentences. A Canadian who teaches religions and cultures at Nipissing University, in North Bay, Ontario, she mines Maritain’s sense of “the habit of art,” and “the work of the intellect to make it live” as key to understanding O’Connor’s métier.

The chapter “Sacramental Theology and Incarnational Art” renders a Catholic understanding of the intellect as integral to the soul’s movement toward mystery. Contemporary Catholics who bemoan the fundamentalism of catechisms and narrow moralizing will take heart from O’Connor’s caveat, duly noted in Flannery O’Connor’s Sacramental Art: “We Catholics are very much given to the Instant Answer. Fiction doesn’t have any.” No wonder she identified the great Catholic sin as “smugness.”

O’Connor finds the compass for her fiction writing in the marriage of transcendental beauty, the beauty that God beholds, with aesthetic beauty, the beauty perceived through the human senses. In her vision of reality, the horizon of the visible world opens to the invisible world. The physical unites with the spiritual, challenging the dominant culture’s ignorance of spiritual reality. (Srigley seems unaware of O’Connor’s debt to William F. Lynch, S.J., although she interweaves references to the analogical imagination and the interpenetration of finite and infinite.)

Srigley takes issue with critics who radically separate O’Connor’s theological inquiry from her fictional landscapes and characters. She demonstrates how the two are integrally connected in the religious artist’s imagination. Individual chapters on O’Connor’s two novels, Wise Bloodand The Violent Bear It Away (1960) and the short story “Revelation,” from the posthumously published collection Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965), offer Srigley’s interpretations in terms of an “ethic of responsibility.”

One disappointment I have about Flannery O’Connor’s Sacramental Art is that it evaluates so few short stories (her forte) vis-à-vis the ethic of responsibility. Her stories were frequently nominated for the O. Henry Award, which she received numerous times. Granted that “Revelation” is a signature O’Connor work (and Srigley’s analysis proves insightful about Ruby Turpin’s “purgatorial vision”), discussing this one short story only alongside two novels is a marked imbalance.

A substantive concern is Srigley’s interpretation of Hazel Motes, the protagonist of Wise Blood. She concludes that Hazel’s self-blinding “reveals his continued misperception of spiritual reality” and that his atonement by ascetic practices implies a return to his family’s religious views. Along with Richard Giannone and other O’Connor scholars, I perceive authentic conversion beyond his philosophical quest, as he confronts false religion and its surrogates with the exclamation, “It ain’t true.” O’Connor insisted that something in storytellers and their listeners “demands the redemptive act…demands that what falls at least be offered the chance to be restored”—as well as the costly grace that measures “the price of restoration.” I would also suggest that Tarwater’s drowning-and-baptism of Bishop in The Violent Bear It Away is a more intentionally ambivalent action than Srigley seems to think. If the novel is truly “a minor hymn to the Eucharist” as O’Connor described it to one correspondent (a quotation Srigley surprisingly omits), then the form of words for the meaning of sacrament bears more theological significance than she allows.

As a theologian who has used Flannery O’Connor’s fiction in teaching undergraduates and graduate students for over a decade, I applaud Srigley’s approach to “ethics as fiction” and look forward to more of her provocative and intelligent interpretations of Flannery O’Connor.

Rev. George Kilcourse, a priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville, Ky., is a professor of theology at Bellarmine University there and the author of Flannery O’Connor’s Religious Imagination (Paulist, 2001).


History of LARCUM 

Bishops’ Ecumenical Dialogue 

1.  1991 Bishop James R. Crumley, Jr.  “The History and Challenges of the Ecumenical Movement”

2.  1992  The Rev. George Kilcourse  “When Our Members Marry”

3.  1993 Dr. Janice Love “Sign Post on the Road to Unity: Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry”

4. 1994 The Rt. Rev. Roger J. White “Covenants and Covenanting”

5. 1995 Dr. H. Frederick Reisz, Jr. “Envisioning, Feeding, and Ministering Hope”

****Covenant Signed by the Bishops****

6. 1996 The Rev. Gerard Austin, OP “The Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist) The Making of Christians

7. 1997 Panel Representatives from Each Diocese “Race Relations: Searching to be Faithful to the Gospel”                                                                                                      *****Joint Declaration Against Racism Signed by the Bishops*****

8. 1998 Dr. Scott Jameson Jones “Implications for the Whole Church in light of Recently Released Ecumenical Documents”

9. 1999  The National Institute for Dialogues on Multi-Culturalism and Anti- Racism (Sandra Peters and Charlie Virga) “In the Name of God: The Churches Stand Against Racism”

10. 2000 The Rev. Dr. Daryl S. Everett and Dr. Robert D. Hawkins  “Supporting the Interchurch Family: Ecumenical Marriage”

11. 2001 Avery Cardinal Dulles and Dr. David S. Yeago  “Justification Today: What is the Spirit Saying to the Church?”

 12. 2002 – Spring  The Reverend Elizabeth S. Gamble    “Living Faithfully as Christians in a Multifaith World”

13. 2002 – Fall The Reverend Georg Retzlaff, PhD  “Embracing the Culture of Life – The Death Penalty in Theological, Biblical Context”

14. 2003 –Winter Dr. Michael Root  “Authority Ecumenical Challenge”

15. 2003 – Fall  The Most Reverend Placido Rodriguez  “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us”

 16. 2004 Dr. Carl Evans   “Who are our Neighbors? The Changing Religious Landscape in South Carolina and the Challenges for Communities of Faith”

 17. 2005 – Dr. Michael Root and Dr. J .Robert Wright  “In One Body Through the Cross (the Princeton Proposal)”

 18. 2009 – Brother Jeffrey Gros  “Moving Beyond Isolation: Embracing an Ecumenical Vision 


The Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University is hosting a conference focusing on Thomas Merton’s poetry on Friday and Saturday, October 19-20, 2007.

The Merton Center is the official archive of Thomas Merton’s manuscripts and is the repository of the most complete collection of Merton materials in the world.

Participants in this conference will have the opportunity to visit the Thomas Merton Center. Special exhibits in the W.L. Lyons Brown Library and the Merton Center will focus on Merton’s poetry. There will also be opportunities to listen to recordings of Merton reading his own poetry.

In the Dark Before Dawn: New Selected Poems.

by Thomas Merton, edited with an introduction by Lynn Szabo.

Published by New Directions

George Kilcourse.

George A. Kilcourse is Professor of Theology at Bellarmine University and Director of the MA in Spirituality Program in conjunction with Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He is the author of Ace of Freedoms: Thomas Merton’s Christ and Flannery O’Connor’s Religious ImaginationA World With Everything Off Balance (2001). From 1993 until 2003 he served as co-editor of The Merton Annual.


Exodus 33:12-33;
I Thessalonians 1:1-10;
Matthew 22:15-22

One day, an 8 year-old was absent-mindedly walking home from school. He gazed at the little pencil in his hand. It was small, just 3 inches long. Thinking it was too small to use, he absent-mindedly threw the pencil away.

That evening, he told his grandfather that he needed a new pencil. “Why?” the old man asked, “you had a perfectly good one this morning.” “It was too small,” the boy argued. “Let me see it,” the grandfather asked.

The boy casually explained that he threw the pencil away. “You’ll have to find it,” the grandfather told him. So he handed the 8 year-old a flashlight, told him to retrace his steps, pay attention, and find the pencil. The boy retraced his path to school. He searched bushes and gutters. People thought he’d lost something valuable. When he told them it was a pencil, they laughed. Two hours later the boy found the 3 inch stub of a pencil and raced home to show his grandfather.

The old man was glad the boy had found it. He told his grandson, “Sit beside me and I will explain why I made you find it.” “Always remember that wasting anything is a bad habit,” he said. “Imagine if millions of people around the world threw away perfectly good pencils everyday. Hundreds of thousands of trees are chopped down every year for pencils. People work hard in pencil factories. To throw away a pencil is violence against nature. Today you threw away a pencil; tomorrow you will throw away something else that is still of use. Ask yourself, ‘Am I justified in throwing it away?’”

Grandfather explained the second lesson: “You need to learn that affluent people in affluent societies can afford to buy everything in large quantities. Since they have an abundance, they think they have the license to waste.” When we over-consume the world’s resources we steal from the poor. He pointed out how this imbalance gives rise to crime, violence, and prejudice. Then he gave the 8 year-old a new insight into human nature: “When people cannot get what they need through honest hard work, and when they see others having too much or wasting what is precious to the poor, they feel justified in taking it by force.” So the boy learned that the world can produce enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed. The grandfather concluded,“Our greed and wasteful habits perpetuate poverty, which is violence against humanity.”

The boy in the story I just told you is a native of India. His name is Arun. I met him and worked with him for a week in June at an institute in Boston where we were both teaching this summer. His grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi, awakened the world to the damage done by our “passive violence“–which is the root of all physical violence. It’s frighteningly easy to think that some generic communal confession of sins makes for reconciliation. Reconciliation is the “root canal” surgery of our spiritual life. We resist forgiveness with every nerve in our body. Revenge appears so much more satisfying. Some people even destroy themselves–and others–rather than take the initiative to be reconciled. It’s a form of pride–because we resist being vulnerable enough to admit our complicity in evil, our fault in the quarrel, the argument, the slight, or the sting of what went wrong between people. Revenge is fuelled by anger. And anger is like electricity: if you aren’t intelligent enough to harness and respect it, electricity can destroy; once you respect electricity, it has so many wonderful uses.

I know a person who has spent a second career in Hospice work. (Hospice people are the angels of our culture–I cannot say enough to praise them!) This person–I’ll call her Alice–tells about one middle-aged woman–I’ll call her Wanda–who was dying. Observing her rapid decline, Alice knew the end was near. Wanda had a rural background and was without many city friends. So she asked Wanda if there was any ‘unfinished business’ she had. After about ten minutes of stony silence she said, “Yes, it’s been 12 years since I’ve seen either of my children.” Alice went into action. She located the daughter, who was in the military; but never found Wanda’s son.

When the daughter entered the apartment a week later, she was hesitant and stiff. She and Alice talked for half an hour. Finally, Alice led the daughter to her Mother’s bedside. Both Wanda and the young woman looked at each other from across the bedroom. Neither made a move or spoke. Alice was confused. She waited five minutes, then said she was going to fix coffee for everyone–and left the room.

After a minute or so, the daughter looked at her mother and asked, “Why? How could you do it?” Her mind was fixed on events twelve years earlier. As a ten year-old girl she had returned home from school early one afternoon (complaining of a stomach ache) and seen her mother, Wanda, shoot and kill her stepmother. The police never thought to ask the ten year-old about the crime because she had run back to school and then came home at the regular time–paralyzed by fear.

In a matter of moments both Wanda and her daughter were in tears. Wanda reached out and said, “I’m so, so sorry!” and cradled her sobbing daughter in her arms. Alice walked in and saw the dying woman stroking her daughter’s red hair. That’s what reconciliation looks like–violence and alienation are emptied out, and a gentle hand rhythmically strokes the head of someone much beloved. I’ve no doubt that the father of the Prodigal Son stroked his unruly hair and caressed his head just like this Mother was doing for her daughter days before dying.

The law of revenge tells us, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” And suddenly all the world is toothless and blind. Violence answered with violence always spirals out of control and leads to worse violence. We have such a slow learning curve when it comes to this truth.

Our “passive violence” is the root of all physical violence. Our ignorance of the ways we are responsible for other people’s physical suffering, for their emotional and spiritual wounds–this is sin that clamors for healing in reconciliation.

Gandhi perhaps understood Jesus as well as any modern person. He found Jesus’ Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount to be the fullest expression of spiritual life. Someone asked him, “Then why don’t you become a Christian?” He answered, “I don’t find Christians living these beatitudes”–being meek, hungering and thirsting for justice, being clean of heart, being peacemakers. As soon as they do, said Gandhi, “I will be the first to be a Christian.”

Matthew’s gospel today turns to a conflict story between Jesus and the ruling religious parties. Jesus is approached by opponents who challenge him with a question about ‘political authority.’ He, in turn, poses a counter-question to compel his antagonists to declare first their own loyalties concerning divine authority.

Jesus asks: “Whose inscription and image is on this coin?” This text has been the long-standing object of misinterpretation by persons who would impose a “two-kingdom” theology upon it. The issue is not one of compatibility between the claims of “heavenly” and “human” authority, but ofconflict. The question of whether to pay taxes to Rome was indeed a “test.” As far as Jesus was concerned, the question is not his but theirs. So he forces them to “own up” to their collaboration. As a devout Jew, Jesus would not even carry a Roman coin. So he asks them to produce a coin. The image of Caesar on the coin would have settled the matter. Palestine minted its own coins used by Jews who resisted the Romans occupying their land. The inscription on Roman coins extolled Caesar as the “august and Divine Son”–a god! The rival authorities of God and Caesar could hardly be stated more sharply. This text does not exhort Jews to pay Roman taxes. Jesus escapes a trap by challenging his antagonists to reveal their own political allegiances.

Most of the pivotal episodes in the gospels are composed around questions to, by, or about Jesus. Jesus is not the sage who explains life’s mysteries but the great interrogator of public and private arrangements of privilege and power: “Can Satan exorcise Satan?”; “What will the owner of the vineyard do?”; Is a lamp brought indoors to be put under a basket?”; “Should wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?” So skilful is Jesus at turning the questions around that the gospel declares, “no one dared anymore to press questions to him.”

Like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. practices Jesus’ ability to question and to expose false allegiances. Liberal clergy asked him to halt his 1963 civil rights campaign in Birmingham, to withdraw from demonstrations–calling them unwise and untimely. In his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” King wrote these lines:

I must make two honest confessions of faith to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderates. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to “justice,” who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice, who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with you methods of direct action,” who paternalistically believes that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom.

As Dr. King stated, it is our responsibility to probe with our questions the discrepancy between rhetoric and reality, between stated values and practice. “Speaking truth to power” has never seemed so relevant or necessary as in our times.

–Who gives the United States (my country!) the right to “police” the globe?

–Why are more and more women and children living in poverty?

–With the United States facing such financial difficulties, why is spending on military personnel and weapons not cut severely?

–Why do so many of our churches simply mirror the dominant culture?

Now is the time to reclaim the early Church’s hallmark: “see how they love one another.” Love applies to our relationships with each other as “church,” and to our outreach to every other human person.

May God give us the greater courage to be both recipients and agents of the mercy, forgiveness, and reconciliation that we wish to see in our world. So that we might gather one day together to feast at the great banquet of God’s Kingdom: Christians with one another, with Jews and the peoples of Islam–even with those whose way is the great religions of Asia.

George Kilcourse

The Catholic Virginian

August 14, 2006 | Volume 81, Number 21


‘Double belonging’ families affirmed at Virginia Beach

Group pictureBy Barbara Hughes
Special to The Catholic Virginian

Married couples from Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Carolina and Virginia were affirmed for their unity as a couple at the recent conference of the American Association of Interchurch Families held at Virginia Wesleyan College in Virginia Beach.

“As the smallest expression of church, your unity as a married couple images the unity for which the Church longs,” Dr. H. Richard McCord, Jr., executive director of the Secretariat for Family, Laity, Women and Youth of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops told them at the opening session.

“The family is holy not because it is perfect, but when it recognizes God’s grace at work in it,” Dr. McCord said, speaking as both a husband and father. “Families celebrate the sacred within the ordinary and moments of God’s love shine through when we least expect it,” he added. He commended the couples for “Double Belonging,” a term which has been applied when both husband and wife are registered members in both their own denomination as well as that of their spouse.

For many this commitment means not only attending their spouse’s church, but being active participants in study groups and ministries. These couples regard their commitment to support one another as a sign of their union with Christ.

Encouraging members of the audience to share their views, Dr. McCord said they play a key role in shaping the message he would take back to the Catholic bishops. In response to Dr. McCord’s invitation, couples shared the strengths and challenges of being an interchurch couple as well as lessons that the bishops and the larger church could learn from their example and experience.

One woman referred to what she called “The Protestant Shuffle” describing how the non-Catholic member of the family had to shuffle to the end of the pew while other family members received Communion. Not being able to share Eucharist was high on the list of painful situations that interchurch couples encounter.

Another was the lack of support on the parish level for their situation and what seems to be a lack of sensitivity by the use of language that is often hurtful to persons of other faiths. “Even the term ‘non-Catholic’ implies that if you are not Catholic you don’t count,” said one person. Since 40 to 60 percent of marriages taking place in the Catholic Church are mixed marriages, couples felt the high number merited its own office within the USCCB.

On Saturday morning (July 22), Father George Kilcourse, Professor of Theology at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky, reported on the meeting that took place October 11, 2005 between delegates from nine countries and the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity (PCPCU) in Rome.

During the meeting Father Kilcourse was appointed Interchurch Families’ Liaison to the PCPCU and the delegation was charged by that body to educate bishops and priests regarding the use of the Ecumenical Directory of 1993.

Father Kilcourse explained that Roman Catholic Canon Law is pastoral by nature and takes into account and provides for exceptions. “Bringing the perspective of exception regarding Eucharist means that limited ‘Eucharistic sharing’ may, under certain conditions, be offered to baptized believers of other Christian denominations when there is a bona fide need,” the priest explained. He cited situations where children have chosen to refrain from receiving First Communion because one of the parents was denied Eucharist. “That constitutes a bona fide need,” said the priest.

Another example could be during the Sacrament of Matrimony when celebrated in the context of a Mass. Referring to the 1993 Directory on Ecumenism, Father Kilcourse said, “the Vatican’s 1993 Ecumenical Directory explicitly states that the question should be raised whether Eucharist may be offered to the Christian bride or groom who is not Catholic since the couple is united sacramentally in Marriage.”

Another outgrowth of the meeting was a theological working group headed by Dr. Thomas Knieps of the American College in Louvain, Belgium, himself a Catholic in an interchurch marriage.

The purpose of the project is to further explore (1) the reality of the “domestic church” within the context of interchurch families; (2) issues of authority that divide; (3) ethical issues such as medical experimentation, and (4) the definition of marriage. The goal is to have the rough draft completed by April of 2007. The draft would then be circulated internationally for feedback and presented at an international event in 2008.

Father Kilcourse summed up his hope for interchurch families: “These couples and their children bring unique gifts to the church. As Pope Benedict XVI said recently in Poland, they are living ‘laboratories of ecumenism.’ “The U.S. Bishops are currently drafting a Pastoral Letter on Marriage. Interchurch families deserve similar affirmation and support in this important Pastoral Letter.”

Copyright © 2006 The Catholic Virginian Press.

This article is displayed on the AAIF Web site with permission of The Catholic Virginian.

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