The Italian Catholic hierarchy on Wednesday told priests they must attempt to convert non-Christian marriage partners to Christianity before allowing mixed marriages.
    Spokesman for the Italian Bishops' Conference Monsignor Ennio Antonelli explained that Muslim-Catholic marriages were "less than ideal" and applications for a special dispensation by mixed couples should be examined "more rigorously". He said that most mixed marriages involved Italian Catholic women marrying Muslim men from North Africa and Asia.
    There are an estimated 600,000 immigrants from Islamic countries in Italy, some of whom are legally registered, but some of whom entered Italy illegally and are known as clandestini.
    Although immigration laws have been made tougher, Italian attitudes towards immigrants are largely tolerant. Last year the Catholic Church granted 100 dispensations for Muslim-Catholic marriage ceremonies. It does not, however, control civil ceremonies. According to government statistics, there are 12,000 state-registered mixed marriages in Italy, double the number recorded ten years ago.
    Monsignor Antonelli said that Italian bishops were alarmed by the "negative traits" of Islam and the state authorities should also be "more aware of them" when granting marriage licences.
Times 12:22am 4/2/00

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