The chair of the Irish Catholic Bishops Council for Marriage & Family has said he hopes the public “reflect deeply on the implications” of Ireland’s divorce referendum, warning that its objective is not to support marriage, but to liberalise divorce.
At present, married couples must be living apart for four out of the last five years before divorce proceedings can be initiated.
A ‘yes’ vote in the referendum, which is being held today (Friday, 24th May) would see that condition removed from the Constitution and allow the Oireachtas to set a new limit. If passed, the Government plans to reduce the waiting time to two years.
However, the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, Denis Nulty, explained “the common good would be better served by supporting and resourcing couples and families in preparation for, and during marriage”.
Highlighting the importance of marriage “for the good of society worldwide”, Bishop Nulty said: “Stable marriages and relationships contribute significantly to a happy and stable society.” However, while acknowledging that sometimes marriages can reach a “crisis point” and end in divorce, Bishop Nulty pointed out that with courage and support from those around them, it is possible for couples to continue their married life and even “deepen their love”.
“Marriage is essential and fundamental for the good of society worldwide. It is imperative that we continue to work together to promote marriage and family. The objective of the proposed referendum is not to support marriage, rather to liberalise divorce,” he said.
“For this reason it is important to reflect deeply on the implications of this referendum, which seeks to expedite the dissolution of marriage. The common good would be better served by supporting and resourcing couples and families in preparation for, and during marriage.”
Bishop Nulty explained that the number of marriage breakdowns and divorces could be reduced through the introduction of socio-economic policies, which would support families through long-term education strategies promoting values such as fidelity and commitment.
“While this would cost money, the human and economic cost of breakdown and divorce, both for the couple and for their children, is a far greater cost,” he added.
Bishop Nulty pointed out that feedback from Accord, the pastoral agency of the Irish Catholic Church supporting marriage and family life, indicated that the experience of couples who had undertaken a marriage preparation course had been very positive and had benefitted their marriage and family life.
“The Government should recommit resources to marriage preparation and invest resources into marriage enrichment. Both initiatives will sustain marriages into the future and lead to great dividends for wider society,” he added.
Meanwhile the Bishop of Elphin, Kevin Doran, pointed out that the Church’s understanding is that marriage is a life-long commitment, which contributes very significantly to the stability of society.
Acknowledging that “human frailty, sometimes combined with difficult personal and economic circumstances” can cause marriages to fail, Bishop Doran explained that the original intention of the four-year waiting time between the separation of a married couple and their eligibility for civil divorce was to give couples space to seek a resolution to their difficulties rather than divorcing “at the first sign of trouble”.
“I think Catholic voters, like everyone else, must now consider whether the proposed Constitutional change might have the effect of further weakening the social commitment to marriage,” he said.
“The important parallel question that we need to ask is whether society is living up to its responsibility to prioritise the family and to provide the human supports that might help couples to resolve difficulties that arise in their relationship, before their differences become irreconcilable.”
In 1995 the Irish public voted to remove the constitutional prohibition on divorce with 50.28 per cent of voters opting in favour of the amendment, while 49.72 per cent voted against it.
Picture: Archive picture from 1995 showing a rally organised by the anti divorce lobby in Dublin. (Martin McCullough/PA).