Gauging Interfaith Marriages in France

New Report Published on Situation of Religious Confessions

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PARIS, JAN. 16, 2001 (
Is an interfaith marriage possible? Is it desirable? And what about the children?

The January issue of Actualite des Religions carried the results of research on mixed marriages in France. In 1998, about 15,000 newlyweds, out of a total of 270,000, fell into this category. In two-thirds of the cases, one of the spouses was Muslim.

The study reveals the attitude of different religions to mixed marriages, which extends from rejection to unconditional acceptance.

«Whether pleasing or not, it must be expected that, with the mixture of peoples and cultures, interfaith marriages will be increasingly common,» the review´s director, Jean Paul Guetny, wrote. «Beyond the singular phenomenon they represent, they invite each one of us to see exactly where we stand with regard to other religions: in a relation of fusion, of absolute separation, or of differentiated unity.»

The research focused on Catholics´ position vis-à-vis this reality, and states that the bishops believe that each case must be studied individually, before deciding whether to grant a dispensation. The study offers a detailed panorama of the position of the other most representative religions of France.

In the case of marriage between Jews and Catholics, for example, the official position is quite rigid: an unconditional no, both by orthodox as well as liberal Jews.

«It is a sin,» the rabbi of the synagogue of the Vosges in Paris, Charles Liche, said in an interview. «It is totally prohibited, both in the case of a Jewish man who marries a non-Jewish woman, or vice versa [a non-Jewish man marrying a Jewish woman]. In the first case, the children are not Jews, but in the second, they are.»

Contrary to Catholics, the rabbi said, «we do not try to win souls. It is difficult enough to be born a Jew. We don´t want to make this gift to anyone.»

Daniel Farhi takes a softer line. A rabbi of the Jewish liberal movement in France, Fahri accepts the request of children born of mixed marriages to follow religious education and celebrate the bar mitzvah initiation ceremony of Jewish religious youth.

The report tells the story of a Jewish-Catholic couple who celebrated their marriage with a double ceremony in the respective rites. Each one continues to practice his or her own religion. However, in face of one successful marriage, there is no lack of failures. In the case of another couple, the marriage ended in divorce, because the conversion demanded of the woman led to her loss of identity.

The Muslims, however, do not consider marriage a sacrament. In each case, consent depends on the person´s sex. A Muslim man can marry a non-Muslim woman (on condition that she is neither atheist nor polytheist). However, a Muslim woman is absolutely forbidden to marry a man of another religion.

And the children? «According to our law, they automatically become Muslims, because it is the father who transmits the religion,» explained Dalil Boubaker, the Sunnite rector of Paris´ Great Mosque.

Boubaker recounted the story of a Catholic woman and Muslim man who have been married for 30 years in civil law because at the time there were many obstacles and prejudices to their marriage. They now participate, along with other Muslim-Christian couples, in a meditation group of the Secretariat for Relations with Islam, founded by Father Michel Lelong, which provides the opportunity to study the two religions in depth. Their first son, 31, has chosen Islam. Their other son, 29, married a Catholic in the Catholic Church.

Protestants state they are unconditionally open to mixed marriages, both between Christians as well as between different religions.

Louis Pernot, Calvinist pastor of the Reformed Church of the Star in Paris, talks about a «spiritual bilingualism,» including the Muslims.

«Protestants,» Pernot explained, «… are willing to let the minister of another faith celebrate a marriage with me in my church and add their liturgy to mine, although they do not oblige me to say it with him.»

The only condition Pernot puts for a mixed marriage is this: «The non-Christian spouse must not be opposed to the possibility that his future children might hear talk about Christ.»

At the formal level, it seems that problems between Buddhists and Catholics are reduced to a minimum, given that Buddhism does not attach great importance to marriage (contrary to funerals). Rather, according to Catherine Pages, a follower of Japanese Zen Buddhism, «the acceptance and support that each spouse gives to the religious practice of the other are in direct proportion to the sincerity and depth with which each one of the two is committed to his/her faith.»

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