Vatican warns Italian women against Muslim marriages

Vatican cardinals have warned Italian women against tying the knot with the rising numbers of Muslims in Italy, citing what they say cultural and religious diversities.

Church officials say that Italy has seen 20,000 marriages in 2005 between Catholic women and Muslims, whose population touches the one million mark, the BBC News Online reported Monday, December 26.

Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Vicar General of Rome, had said that cultural differences over issues such as the role of women and education of children make it difficult for Catholic women to marry Muslims. “The experience of recent years leads us as a general rule to advise against or in any case to discourage these marriages,” he wrote in a document released last month.

“Mixed Catholic and Muslim couples who intend to have a family have other difficulties above and beyond those experienced by other couples, when one considers cultural and religious diversity,” wrote cardinal Ruini, a conservative thinker close to late Pope John Paul II.

Late Pope John Paul II was the first pope in history to pray in a mosque, when he visited Damascus. His successor, Benedict XVI, has insisted that he is also keen to promote religious and cultural dialogue with the Islamic world.

Cardinal Ruini also expressed concern at the growing number of Catholic-Muslim marriages, calling it “intrinsically fragile”. “According to the Italian statistics office ISTAT, there were more than 19,000 such marriages in Italy last year,” he added.

Ruini’s warning echoed a similar one last year by Vatican cardinal Stephen Hamao, who wrote about what he called the “bitter experiences” that European women have had in marrying Muslims.

Commenting on the warning of Catholic-Muslim marriages, an Egyptian Catholic priest said the move comes in response to concerns over the growing numbers of Muslims in Italy.

“The warning expresses fears of the Catholic cardinals that Italian women who marry Muslims would later revert to Islam,” priest Kristian Van Spen, professor of philosophy, Cairo University, told Tuesday, December 27. “In addition, they are also concerned that children born to this marriage will also embrace Islam.”

“This, consequently, will lead to an increase of the number of Muslims in Italy,” he stressed.

There are an estimated 1.5 million Muslims in Italy, a country of about 58 million people. Many European voices have been warning of the increasing number of Muslims in Europe.

Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci warned in her book “La forza della ragione,” which translates as The Force of Reason, that Europe is turning into “an Islamic province, an Islamic colony” and that “to believe that a good Islam and a bad Islam exist goes against all reason.”

The Egyptian priest cited a number of motives leading to the marriage of the Italian Catholic woman from a Muslim “In addition to the social pressures, the Catholic woman who marries a Muslim does not have the right to inheritance unless she reverts to Islam,” he said. He ruled out any dialogue on marriage between Catholics and Muslims as part of the interfaith dialogue.

Observers who monitor Europe’s Muslim population estimate that several thousands of men and women revert to Islam each year, according to a report by the Christian Science Monitor Tuesday.

Islam Online, 27 December 2005

See also “Cardinals issue marriage warning”, BBC News, 26 December 2005