Caution Over Interreligious Marriages Is Reiterated

Church in Italy Takes Special Note of Catholic-Muslim Unions

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ROME, FEB. 6, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The Church in Italy continues to send up warning flags about the special difficulties faced by spouses in interreligious marriages, especially those between Catholics and Muslims.



The issue recently came to the fore again when ISTAT, the country's statistical office, revealed that the number of marriages between Italians and foreigners had tripled in 10 years.

In 2005 the Italian bishops' conference issued guidelines in its note "Marriages between Catholics and Muslims in Italy."

Bishop Giuseppe Anfossi of Aosta, president of the episcopal conference's Commission for the Family, addressed the issue again in the Jan. 28 edition of Famiglia Cristiana magazine.

A man and a woman are "very distant objectively … when they plan a life as a couple and a family, while belonging to two such different cultural and religious worlds," Bishop Anfossi wrote.

"And it is known that the more distant two candidates for marriage are, the more is asked of them in terms of dialogue, understanding and love," he observed. "When the Church suggests prudence in the case of a marriage where one of the partners is Muslim, it is not guided by precautionary measures but simply interprets the objective difficulties … [related] to the way of understanding marriage, which is very different between the two parties."

Shared concern

Last Jan. 22, on Vatican Radio, the undersecretary of the episcopal conference, Monsignor Domenico Movagero, also referred to the episcopate's note. He observed that the document's "attitude of firmness and prudence" regarding Catholic-Muslim marriages "is very much shared by Muslim religious authorities."

The reason is that "both religions have a tendency to be exclusive," the monsignor said. "[Both] present themselves as religions that in some way give norms for the present and the future."

Among the difficult situations cited by Bishop Anfossi in Famiglia Cristiana, is formation in the faith. For a Muslim man, the prelate observed, a male offspring must be educated in the religion of the father.

"However, the Church asks the Catholic mother who marries according to the rite of our religion to do everything possible to propose the Catholic faith to the children," Bishop Anfossi noted. "Naturally, the Muslim father is asked to consent to his wife's wish."

Monsignor Mogavero told Vatican Radio: "The Catholic spouse commits himself or herself, should he or she request the dispensation to enter into marriage, to safeguard not only their own faith but also to educate as Catholics and to baptize in the Catholic Church the children that are born.

"This exigency is the same also for the other spouse, so that inevitably -- even with all good will, with all intelligence and ability to dialogue on this point -- frictions and problems will quite likely arise."

"No" to polygamy

Another point addressed by Bishop Anfossi in his commentary is that "marriage for Islam is not made to last forever."

"The Muslim husband is invited to address this problem," the prelate wrote. "If the experience he had in his original family was positive, if he reflects on the proposal and accepts its value, if he knows his wife's religious world and, above all, if he loves her, he can truly agree to the request, knowing that it also includes a 'no' to polygamy."

Statistically rarer is the reverse case: of a Muslim woman who marries a Catholic man.

This situation, Bishop Anfossi warned, can cause even greater problems: "Islamic law, which is conserved in the codes of family law of the various Muslim countries, does not consent to and therefore does not recognize this marriage, but exacts the conversion of the future husband to Islam."

Another factor is cultural. Some groups, the prelate said, face difficulties in assimilating into Italian culture.

"Naturally, in such cases, other cultural and historical factors intervene, [such as] a predisposition to dialogue and a quality of soul and heart that no one can measure," he wrote. "[I]f they are united to a sincere spirituality and authentic faith, then they can effect the miracle and truly achieve the birth of something new, valid not only in terms of cultural laboratory, which brings different worlds closer, but also of authentic dialogue between religions."