May 22, 2019

Bishops warn of ‘dissolution of marriage’ after divorce vote

'We believe that incidents of marriage breakdown and divorce could be reduced through the introduction of socio-economic policies supporting family'

The Irish bishops have warned that the objective of this week’s referendum on divorce is not to support marriage but to “expedite its dissolution”.

Voters are due to be asked on Friday if they wish to remove the Constitutional requirement for a four-year waiting time between the separation of a married couple and their eligibility for civil divorce.

Bishop Denis Nulty, chair of the Council for Marriage & Family of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, appealed to voters to reflect deeply on the implications of the referendum which “seeks to expedite the dissolution of marriage”.

Calling on the Government to commit resources to marriage preparation and marriage enrichment, he said the common good would be better served by supporting and resourcing couples and families in preparation for, and during marriage.

“We believe that incidents of marriage breakdown and divorce could be reduced through the introduction of socio-economic policies which support the family and through long-term education strategies which promote values such as fidelity and commitment,” he said.

Acknowledging that this would cost money, Bishop Nulty said the human and economic cost of breakdown and divorce, both for the couple and for their children, was a far greater cost.

Separately, Bishop Kevin Doran in a pastoral letter to the faithful of the Diocese of Elphin said Catholic voters, like everyone else, must now consider whether the proposed Constitutional change would further weaken the social commitment to marriage.

He said the original intention of the waiting time was to give couples space to seek a resolution to their difficulties rather than divorcing “at the first sign of trouble”.

The Church understands marriage to be a life-long commitment, which contributes very significantly to the stability of society, Bishop Doran said. But he acknowledged that: “Through human frailty, sometimes combined with difficult personal and economic circumstances, marriages sadly fail.”

He said an important question that needed to be asked was whether society was living up to its responsibility to prioritise the family and to provide the human supports to help couples resolve difficulties that arise in their relationship, before their differences become irreconcilable.

Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick has said that voters should consider the social context and challenges that marriages face. “Though cohabitation is today much more common than in the past, and though there are today many types of families, the fact is that many people still get married in Ireland. They value marriage,” he said. “Generally, people do not run into a divorce lightly. It is a very painful experience for many.”