- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 15, 2004

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican warned Catholic women yesterday to think seriously before marrying a Muslim and urged Muslims to show more respect for human rights, sex equality and democracy.

Calling women “the least-protected member of the Muslim family,” it spoke of the “bitter experience” some Western Catholics have had with Muslim husbands, especially if they married outside the Islamic world and later moved to his country of origin.

The comments in a document about migrants around the world were preceded by remarks about points of agreement between Christians and Muslims.

The document said the Vatican hoped Muslims would show “a growing awareness that fundamental liberties, the inviolable rights of the person, the equal dignity of man and woman, the democratic principle of government and the healthy lay character of the state are principles that cannot be surrendered.”

When a Catholic woman and Muslim man want to marry, it said, “bitter experience teaches us that a particularly careful and in-depth preparation is called for.”

It said one potential problem was with Muslim in-laws and advised future mothers that they must insist on church policy that children born of a mixed marriage be baptized and brought up as Catholics.

If the marriage is registered in the consulate of a Muslim country, the document said, the Catholic must be careful not to sign a document or swear an oath including the shahada, the Islamic profession of faith, which would amount to converting.

The document highlighted the contrasting approaches the Vatican has taken in recent years toward Islam, which has emerged as a strong rival for souls, especially in Africa.

Pope John Paul II has broken ground in dialogue with Muslims and even prayed in a mosque in Damascus, Syria. He won praise in the Muslim world for strongly opposing the Iraq war.

But Vatican officials and leading Catholic prelates have expressed increasingly critical views about the spread of Islam and the challenge this poses for Catholicism.

The Vatican’s top theologian, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, said earlier this week the West “no longer loves itself” and so was unable to respond to the challenge of Islam, which was growing because it expressed “greater spiritual energy.”

The migration document also discouraged churches from letting non-Christians use their places of worship.

This issue arose last month when Muslims in Spain asked to be able to pray in the Cordoba cathedral, which was once a mosque. A senior Vatican official said this would be “problematic.”

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