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Indian priests censured for violating norms in interfaith marriage

The couple failed to give an undertaking before the local bishop promising to bring up their children in the Catholic faith

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Indian priests censured for violating norms in interfaith marriage

The marriage photo of a Muslim man and a Catholic woman whose interfaith union became controversial in Kerala for not following church procedures. (Photo: Sanatanprabhat.org)

Church officials in southern India have censored two parish priests for failing to follow church laws in conducting a marriage between a Catholic and Muslim, and they also declared the marriage invalid.

The decision came after a synod tribunal of the Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Church based in Kerala investigated the marriage for over a month, said Father Jacob Palakapilly, deputy secretary-general of Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council.

"The synod will write to the respective bishops of the priests for appropriate action against them," Father Palakapilly told UCA News on Jan. 5.

Retired Syro-Malabar Bishop Mathew Vaniyakizhakkel blessed the marriage between a Catholic woman and a Muslim man on Nov. 9 at a parish church in Ernakulam-Angamali Archdiocese in Kerala.

A photograph of the couple published in a local newspaper started a discussion, mostly on social media, with some criticizing the Church for promoting Christian-Muslim marriage at a time of "love jihad."

Church leaders, including the synod, had openly opposed love jihad, a term used to allude that Muslim men marry Christian and Hindu women feigning love while aiming to convert them to Islam.

Some questioned the procedures followed for the marriage and accused the priests of taking a bribe to help solemnize it.

As the issue made media headlines, Cardinal George Alencherry, major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, ordered the synod tribunal to probe it.

The tribunal found the priests guilty of not obtaining permission from local bishops for solemnizing the marriage as required by church laws.

The bride belongs to a parish in Irinjalakkuda Diocese, while the marriage was conducted in a parish of Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese.

The bride's parish priest issued a no-objection letter to the parish priest where the marriage was solemnized without seeking approval from his bishop.

"It was the duty of both parish priests to ensure that such an interreligious marriage to be solemnized inside a Catholic church has the written permission from the bishop. The law mandates it. But the priest failed to ensure it, and therefore the marriage is also invalid," Father Palakapilly said.

The law requires that a bishop grants permission only after the couple give an undertaking that no attempt will be made to change the Catholic partner's religion and that their children will be brought up in the Catholic faith.

"In this case, the couple have failed to give such an undertaking. And they did not insist on the express permission of the bishop," Father Palakapilly explained.

Although the marriage was declared invalid, the couple can rectify it by following the proper procedures, he added.

Bishop Vaniyakizhakkel, who retired as bishop of Satna in central India, had expressed his regret in blessing the marriage after the social media war broke out against it.

He said he personally knew the family of the bride and therefore joined to bless the marriage.

The bishop later said he was unaware the parish priests did not follow the correct procedure.

The Syro-Malabar Church has repeatedly warned its young women about being victims of love jihad and claimed that several Catholic girls were victims of such an operation.

Its synod in January 2020 appealed to the federal and state governments to conduct a probe into love jihad.

Kerala state police, who probed the case earlier, said in 2009 that no organization had lured girls by feigning love to convert them.

However, in December the same year, the state High Court observed that a case diary of the police indicates a "concerted effort" to convert women with the "blessings of some outfits."

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