The rules for interfaith marriages state that the church will not combine wedding ceremonies with practices from other communities and faiths.

After wedding stirs row Syro-Malabar church to issue set of rules on interfaith marriages
news Faith Wednesday, November 25, 2020 - 10:02

The Syro-Malabar church has decided to issue a set of rules to ensure that interfaith marriages in the Christian community are held in adherence to strict canon laws. A set of protocols will be prepared and sent to Bishops to make sure that the marriage of people between two faiths (termed disparity of cult marriages in the church) are solemnised in the  Catholic way. The decision to issue the protocols were taken after a recent interfaith wedding in Ernakulam kicked up a controversy within the community. The wedding ceremony of a Christian woman and a Muslim man held at Kadavanthra St Joseph Church on November 9 triggered a row, as it was attended by a former Bishop of Satna in Madhya Pradesh. 

The Catholic Bishop, identified as Mathew Vaniakizhakkel of Satna, was photographed with the interfaith couple at the wedding. Traditionally, Bishops do not attend mixed marriage ceremonies. The emeritus Bishop, aged 74,  later expressed regret for attending the marriage, and in a letter, wrote that he had only done so “because of his close association to the bride's family.” The Catholic Church in Kerala has for long been claiming that 'Love Jihad' - a conspiracy which claims that Muslim men are luring Christian and Hindu women by marrying them - is. a reality. It has also claimed that Christian women were being lured into the IS. Considering this narrative, a former Bishop posing with a Muslim groom and a Christian bride stirred up the row among believers. 

The Bishop also regretted “creating confusion among the faithful with his presence at the mixed marriage.” His expression of regret has brought “great relief” to the faithful in the archdiocese, reports stated.

Following the controversy, Syro-malabar major archiepiscopal tribunal under the church ordered a probe into the incident, and the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council (KCBC) will look into the same. Bishops will also be directed to issue strict guidelines to the priests on conducting 'disparity of cult' marriages in the church.

The Roman Catholic canon laws lay down the conditions for an interfaith couple to marry in a church, termed 'Disparity of Cult' marriages. "To conduct a church wedding, a permission from the Bishop of the diocese is required and this has to be applied for the by Christian partnet or his/her family. In the case of the Ernakulam wedding, the family had allegedly not taken the Bishop's approval," a source aware of the events told TNM. The archibishop of the Ernakulam-Angamali diocese has now been ordered to probe the incident. 

Rules for interfaith marriage 

The Canon laws for interfaith marriages state that the church will not combine wedding ceremonies with practices from other communities and faiths. The ceremony in the church will be held in strict adherence to canon laws if the non-Christian partner expresses willingness to be part of the Christian ceremonies.

However, certain traditions such as Thali (tying the sacred thread), ring exchange, garlanding, Mantra Kodi (gifting a saree) and lamp lighting will be retained, as "they are familiar practices to those from other faiths too.”  The Catholic priest will solemnise the ceremony, the rules state.

The church considers only a marriage between two Catholics as sacrament. A marriage with a non-Christian is to be “considered as an event which happens in unusual circumstances.” Since interfaith marriages are not sacrament, there will be no holy communion but only a wedding service.

The church also said that, if the non-Christian, who has not gone through baptism, wants to marry a Christian, then there are specific rules that the couple has to adhere to. The rules state that the couple's children will have to be baptised and undergo a Christian education. Further, the Catholic partner will have to promise that he will not “sway from his faith despite being married to a non-Christian partner.”

Following the row, a group of progressive voices within the Catholic church welcomed the 74-year-old's Bishop move to attend the mixed marriage, stating that mixed marriages were universally accepted in the Catholic church.

This incident comes in the backdrop of governments promising legislation on the concept of 'Love Jihad'. The Synod alleged that women from the Christian community in Kerala were being lured by the Islamic State. 

The set of rules will be issued after the probe by KCBC, and after the archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamali diocese Mar Antony Kariyil submits a report. 

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