Contraception, Catholic-Muslim marriage highlighted by synod couples

  • Written by Catholic News Service
  • Published in International
New spouses exchange rings as Pope Francis, pictured in the background, celebrates the marriage rite for 20 couples during a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Sept. 14. Photo: CNS/Paul Haring New spouses exchange rings as Pope Francis, pictured in the background, celebrates the marriage rite for 20 couples during a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Sept. 14. Photo: CNS/Paul Haring

Speakers ask pope, synod to clear up 'confusion' on contraception

By Francis X. Rocca, Catholic News Service 

VATICAN CITY - A married couple from Brazil told Pope Francis and the Synod of Bishops that the church should stop giving "contradictory advice" on birth control and help Catholics obey church teaching against contraception.

On the same morning, one of the synod's leaders spoke forcefully against a widespread "contraceptive mentality" that has led many Catholics to think the use of artificial birth control is not a sin.

Arturo and Hermelinda As Zamberline, married for 41 years with three children, addressed the synod during the morning session Oct. 9. The designated subject for the session was the "pastoral challenges concerning an openness to life."

"We must admit without fear that many Catholic couples, even those who seek to live their marriage seriously, do not feel obligated to use only the natural methods" of birth control condoned by the church, said the Zamberlines, leaders in their country of an international Catholic movement, Teams of Our Lady. "We must add that generally they are not questioned by their confessors" on the subject.

The Zamberlines, who are participating in the synod as non-voting auditors, said the "rhythm of life" today makes it difficult to find time to learn natural methods of family planning, which they said have acquired an "unjust reputation of being unreliable," because they are badly explained and thus badly practiced.

"The great majority of couples do not reject the use of contraceptive methods. In general, they do not consider them a moral problem," the Zamberlines said.

The Brazilian couple concluded with an appeal to the pope and the synod to help Catholics understand and obey "Humanae Vitae," the 1968 encyclical by Pope Paul VI that affirmed church teaching against contraception.

"If couples, as well as clergy, could at least find illumination and support, that would already be a great encouragement! Often, contradictory advice only aggravates their confusion. We ask, may the magisterium hasten to give priests and faithful the major lines of a pastoral teaching program to help people adopt and observe the principles laid out in 'Humanae Vitae,'" the Zamberlines said.

In remarks introducing the couple to the assembly, Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois of Paris, one of three synod presidents appointed by the pope, said Catholic couples "often do not believe that the use of contraceptive methods is a sin and therefore they tend not to speak of them in confession and so they receive Communion untroubled."

"It is necessary to encourage a mentality of openness to life to thwart the contraceptive mentality and the spread of an individualist anthropological model that in certain countries has led to a strong demographic drop whose social and human consequences are not sufficiently considered today," the cardinal said.

Synod hears of positive, negative aspects of Catholic-Muslim marriages

By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY - When a Catholic and a Muslim marry, each brings a strong commitment to family life and their union can be a seedbed for teaching respect for other religions, but fundamentalist currents often create serious challenges for the Catholic spouse, said members of the Synod of Bishops.

Jeannette Toure, a Catholic woman from the Ivory Coast, opened the synod's session Oct. 8, which focused on "external pressures" facing families in the modern world; one of those challenges is situations where a Catholic marries someone of another Christian community or another religion.

Toure said she and her husband, a Muslim, have the experience of "52 years of living together in tolerance and mutual respect for our beliefs, in support of one another in the Christian education of our children -- who are all baptized in the Catholic Church with the agreement of my husband -- in welcoming the joys received from the Lord and keeping a lot of hope amid difficulties."

"From this union," she said, "were born five children and six grandchildren to whom we have taught our values of respect for others in their differences and to whom we have passed on faith."

A Vatican summary of the session's discussion said it focused heavily on the church in the Middle East and in North Africa where Christians often are a minority and where "political, economic and religious situations" have serious repercussions on families. The discussion came a day after Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, announced to the synod that Pope Francis had convoked a special meeting of the cardinals for Oct. 20 to discuss the challenges facing Christians in the Middle East.

On the synod's discussion, the summary said, "Where there is religious fundamentalism and Christians do not enjoy equal rights with Muslim citizens, there are often difficult problems for families in mixed marriages."

Nevertheless, synod members reported an increasing number of mixed marriages and they said the church is challenged to find ways to help the Catholic partner continue to practice his or her faith and educate the children in Christianity.

Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai, patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church, told reporters Oct. 7 that in Lebanon there is no such thing as civil marriage or civil divorce; marriage is considered a religious question and each faith group has its own regulations and procedures for handling religious questions, including marriage and the dissolution of marriages.

"In that way," he said, "the law protects marriage and the family. There are no laws contrary to natural or divine law. The state does not legislate anything having to do with marriage."

"Our problems are different," he said. One effect of each faith or denomination dealing with marriage matters is that if a Catholic couple wants to divorce, they can join another denomination like one of the Orthodox churches, which recognize divorce and permit a second marriage.

Another problem, he said, is that if a Christian marries a Muslim and remains Christian, he or she cannot inherit the property of the Muslim spouse.