PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) — The Archdiocese of Portland and a group of five evangelical-run pregnancy resource centers have bracketed off some doctrinal differences, so the two faith groups can cooperate more fully in preventing abortion and helping pregnant women.

First Image, which runs pregnancy resource centers in the Portland area, has been providing pregnancy support for women and help for those impacted by abortion for more than 30 years.

The signing of an agreement opens the doors for Catholics to provide funds to support the work of First Image. In particular, the agreement will help provide four new ultrasound machines to First Image pregnancy centers through the Knights of Columbus Ultrasound Initiative.

In the past, such cooperation has been impeded by doctrinal differences.

First Image is affiliated with Care Net, a Virginia-based evangelical Christian group that supports 1,100 centers in the United States. Care Net affiliates require staff and volunteers to sign an evangelical statement of faith. That statement is not completely in accord with Catholic teaching and has been an obstacle for Catholic volunteers who want to assist at the centers.

Evangelicals and Catholics differ greatly on many subjects, such as the authority of the church, the importance of liturgy, the nature of the priesthood and the structure of church hierarchy.

At least one Catholic organization, Priests for Life, argues that the evangelical faith declaration is acceptable, but many church leaders find it problematic. That has been the case in the Archdiocese of Portland.

Other Protestant pregnancy resource centers allow Catholics to sign a copy of the Apostles’ Creed instead. So far, Care Net has not taken that step.

A new twist came when the Knights of Columbus started helping pregnancy resource centers obtain ultrasound machines. The Knights always ask the local bishop to approve the grants. Many bishops, aware of the conflict over the evangelical statement of faith, refused to sign off on the money unless the pregnancy resource centers issued a clarification of the statement Catholic volunteers would sign.

Some pregnancy resource centers submitted the clarification to get the Knights’ funds, but many did not. The clarification was understood by some centers as a compromise of the statement of faith required by Care Net.

First Image in Portland wanted to find another way. Larry Gadbaugh, CEO of First Image, approached the archdiocese and a joint agreement emerged. While the agreement does not make it possible for Catholics to volunteer in good conscience, it does clear the path for Knights’ funding.

“Although our communion is not yet complete, this joint statement of faith and commitment to the cause of life is a concrete sign of our desire and willingness to work together as fellow Christians to bring the love and mercy of Christ to the world,” the agreement said.

The document goes on to say that the Archdiocese of Portland hopes “that Catholics will one day be able to volunteer freely at First Image by having the option to sign a statement of faith that is in harmony with Catholic beliefs.”

Portland Archbishop Alexander K. Sample signed the agreement, calling it a gesture of goodwill that expresses hope for fuller cooperation in the future.

“This is part of developing good relations with the evangelical community,” said Todd Cooper, assistant to the archbishop. “We believe that Jesus is our savior, and we share a common conviction about the sacredness and dignity of human life. Christ’s love compels us to collaborate with First Image in their wonderful work of mercy, providing support and compassion for women and families.”

Gadbaugh also welcomed the accord. “This agreement enables us to join together in extending Christ’s compassion to those threatened by abortion,” Gadbaugh told the Catholic Sentinel, Portland’s archdiocesan newspaper. “Our common commitment to the full personhood of every woman and her baby unites us in this mission of mercy.”

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Langlois is editor of the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland.