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Indian bishops want family synod to discuss interreligious marriages

Pastoral care initiatives fall short of families' needs
Indian bishops want family synod to discuss interreligious marriages
Published: September 10, 2015 09:02 AM GMT
Updated: September 10, 2015 05:01 PM GMT

The upcoming world Synod of Bishops on the family should discuss interreligious marriages and consider relaxing the Church's strict stand against contraception, Indian bishops said.

The Latin-rite bishops in a document based on a 46-question-survey among clergy, religious and laity also acknowledged "some disconnect between the Church's teaching and the lived reality" in the Hindu-majority nation.

"The Church's pastoral care initiatives fall short of meeting the needs of the families in various situations," the statement said.

Some 50,000 people across 80 of the 131 Latin dioceses in the country responded to the survey, said the document. The Latin-rite has the majority of 172 Catholic dioceses in India.

The other dioceses belong to the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Churches. These two Eastern Catholic churches and the Latin rite comprise the Catholic Church in India.

The document prepared by the Latin-rite bishops was sent to Rome ahead of the 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops scheduled to take place at the Vatican Oct. 4-25.

The synod is to discuss "the vocation and the mission of the family in the church and in the contemporary world."

India's 18 million Catholics form 1.7 percent of the country's 1.2 billion people. They live in a variety of family systems such as nuclear families, joint families and different types of single-parent families.

The document wanted the synod to include four specific topics in the discussion. The first was on interreligious marriages and how to provide pastoral care to Catholics who marry outside the faith.

The other three topics are on pastoral care for "those who have lapsed from the faith," the impact of media and technology on families, and issues related to migrant families.


A changing society

Regarding problems related to interreligious marriages, the church can offer counseling by inviting couples in such marriages to "participate in the sacramental life of the church," it said.

The church also can assist couples who live together outside marriage to accept the sacrament of marriage and by being more compassionate and less judgmental in its approach.

The document does not say anything about offering communion to those who are divorced and remarried but asserts that the church can help people who are married according to civil law, divorced and remarried or simply living together "by helping them to appreciate the views of the Church by engaging with them and involving them in Church activities."

It suggested simplifying the process of annulling marriages, making it transparent and increasing the number of skilled personnel to handle such cases in order to speed up the process.

The document noted that the current legislation does not provide a valid response to the challenges resulting from interreligious marriages. There are no pastoral guidelines to handle practical situations, such as getting married again in other rites or attending services of other faiths.

The general view is that the church should be more accommodating, it said.

The document also pointed to "a rise in the abortion rate," saying "many lay faithful are not convinced that abortion is a sin."

"This is also the current thinking in Indian society today," a challenge the church struggles to answer through awareness programs such as pro-life campaigns, catechesis and during marriage preparation courses, it said.

Besides such programs, sex education and the promotion of natural family planning, the church also can relax its "stand on contraception in the context of increasing abortions," the document suggested.

The document also wanted the synod to discuss other points that have special context to India, namely the adverse impact of media and technology on families that is leading to "a growing phenomenon of violence especially against women and children [and of] sexual abuse, [which] is also on the increase."

Indian society is becoming "highly skewed toward materialistic tendencies and career ambitions" and there is a "growing dominance exhibited by lust, bodily gratification, addiction to pornography and use of contraception," it said.


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