Page 6, 27th April 2001

27th April 2001
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Page 6, 27th April 2001 — Mixed faith marriages don't work
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Mixed faith marriages don't work

So the latest theory is that religion breaks up marriages. That is, it breaks up marriages where the spouses have, or embrace, different religions. Jane Fonda suddenly found Christian enlightenment and become a Baptist, and a week later she left her husband Ted Turner, the billionaire boss of CNN (who once described Christianity as "a religion for losers"). To his bewilderment, he is now the loser.

The dissolution of other celebrity marriages have been met with a similar analysis: the film star Richard Gere's marriage came to an end because his beautiful wife. the model Cindy Crawford, felt she "couldn't compete" with his Buddhism. In the case of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidrnan, he is a Scientologist while she is a Catholic. She could accept his being a Scientologist, but not raising the children as Scientologists. Which is not at all logical of her. If a person feels religious commitment, why shouldn't they want to raise the children in the same faith?

We should not place too much importance, perhaps, on the marriages of actors and film stars, which have never been durable. Show business is a nervy life which requires buckets-fulls of egotism and endless, needy reassurance, as well as frequent travelling and passionate scenes with other players. Hollywood has been a hotbed of divorce ever since the Fantasy Factory was launched: back in the 1930s, Bishops (both Catholic and Protestant) complained of the light-heartedness of the divorce theme in Hollywood comedies starring Myrna Loy and Dick Powell, and anathemised such titles as "The Gay Divorcee" (now regarded as hilarious for quite a different reason). So marriagebreaking among the stars is nothing new.

What is new is that God is being blamed; or at least, organised religion.

And there is a certain element of truth in this charge. Different religions can be a source of domestic conflict. A marriage has the best chance of succeeding where the fundamental values are shared.

For all that the Ne Temere decree has been so publicly trounced in recent years, this Papal ruling dating from 1908 had a lot of sensible points to make. One of its main aims was to put an end to a plethora of breach-of-promise litigation which at that time filled the courts — where a betrothed had promised to enter into a marriage and then changed his, or her, mind. Breach-of-promise litigation was a goldmine for lawyers and gold-diggers of both sexes at the time — much as any claim upon "stress" or alleged abuse is today — but Ne Temere ruled that no Catholic could be bound to such a promise unless it had been undertaken as a religious vow. No doubt there were genuine breach-of-promise instances where a real bounder had abandoned a fiancee dishonourably, but the Church's view was a version of "caveat emptor" — let the buyer beware. Let individuals take care not to be hoodwinked.

But Ne Temere also brought in new prohibitions about "mixed marriages", a phrase

now rather infused with Brendan Behan's drollery"All marriages are mixed if they are between men and women." (Never said a truer word!) Until 1908, when persons of two faiths married, the children were raised in the religion of the parent of the same sex — that is, the boys with the father, the girls with the mother. It is said that this often worked in a relaxed kind of way, but since separation or divorce were so stigmatised then, we do not really know whether it brought conflict into the union. I would say that it was bound to do so. Particularly if sons and daughters were not evenly distributed: a marriage which produced six boys and one girl, or eight girls and no boys, might leave one parent feeling isolated and aggrieved.

There are grounds for saying that Ne Temere was sometimes too harshly implemented. But its fundamentals were sound. It is better if a couple have the same religion. Although I would add that as between most Christians today, there is often a genuinely ecumenical spirit.

However, I would not counsel any Catholic young woman today to marry, say, a Muslim: not because Muslims are bad, but because there will be trouble. Young women from secular backgrounds, such as Jeminia Khan, wife of the Pakistani cricketer hnran Khan — her father was James Goldsmith, the financier, her mother Lad Annabel Vane-Temple-Stew art, daughter of the Marquess of Londonderry — are being practical in embracing Islam. Only by having the same religion can such marriages have a chance of survival.

I would say that Jane Fonda is also right to walk out on her anti-Christian husband if she has found faith. Saints have acted similarly: her namesake St Jane of Chantal abandoned her teenage children to follow her faith and found a convent. Sometimes a religious calling and a marriage are, literally, incompatible.

S1 am against violence against women, so when I saw a young man kicking a weeping young woman in the street, I stopped and remonstrated. "That is an assault," I told him, threatening to call the police. They both turned on me and told me, very rudely, to get lost. Small wonder people are loathe to interfere.




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