International News

Synod Topics Include Mixed Marriages and Abusive Spouses

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Observers told the Synod of Bishops on the family to discourage Christian women from marrying Muslim men, urge priests not to tell women to return to abusive husbands, share the truth of Church teaching about marriage, and embrace single mothers who are alienated from the Church.

The proposals were offered by more than a dozen observers – married couples and individuals – in their brief presentations to the synod assembly.

Father Garas Boulos Garas Bishay, who serves the migrant Christian community at the Mary Queen of Peace parish in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, told the synod that mixed marriages between Christian women from Russia and Europe with Muslim men is “a profound worry and concern.”

The differences between the two faiths, including Islam’s acceptance of polygamy and the obligation to teach children Islam, create “serious crises” for such couples, he said, including “irreparable rifts” and serious consequences for the children.

The priest asked why Christians seem to give up more readily their cultural and faith community and take part in “without realizing it and with tremendous superficiality, the realization of the Islamic plan of ‘demographic invasion.’” He urged the Church to see what it could do to help these families and “these women, often deceived and abused,” and the children who are often “disoriented and disturbed.”

Sister Maureen Kelleher, a U.S. member of the Sacred Heart of Mary Sisters, said a large number of people she works with are victims of domestic violence. She called on the Church to prepare priests in their formation “so they might accompany these families and not tell the woman to go back home.”

Sister Kelleher, a lawyer, helps migrant farmworkers in South Florida. She asked the synod to “recognize how many women who feel called to be in the service of the kingdom of God cannot find a place in our church. Gifted though some may be, they cannot bring their talents to the tables of decision making and pastoral planning.”

She noted there continued to be very few religious women appointed to the synod, saying that at the 1974 Synod of Bishops on evangelization there were two women from the International Union of Superiors General, and “today, 40 years later, we are three.”

Lucetta Scaraffia, a professor of contemporary history and coordinator of the Vatican newspaper’s monthly insert “Women, Church, World,” said the Church will find the right way to respond to today’s needs if they listen more to women’s changing roles and expectations.

However, the synod’s texts and contributions “say very little” about women. “It’s as if the mothers, daughters, grandmothers, wives, that is, the heart of families, were not a part of the church, of that church that understands the world, that thinks, that decides. As if one could keep pretending – even when talking about the family – that women do not exist” and forgetting the “revolutionary” approach to women Jesus had.

The number of single women heading a household is growing, she said, as it is the women who “always remain by their children, even if sick, disabled, the fruit of violence. These women, these mothers, have nearly never taken a course in theology, often they are not even married, but they give an admirable example of Christian conduct,” by caring for new life, she said.

Scaraffia told the synod fathers that unless they turned their pastoral attention and listened to these single mothers, “You risk making them feel even more disgraced because their family is so different from what you are talking about,” a concept of a family that seems too perfect and abstract and not like the ones Jesus met with and spoke about.

Jadwiga Pulikowska and her husband Jacek advised the Archdiocese of Poznan, Poland, about the pastoral care of families. They said that they consider themselves to be a normal family, but that they have been saved from crises because of prayer and receiving the sacraments.