By Sarah Mac Donald - 19 May, 2019
The bishops have warned that the objective of the upcoming referendum is to liberalise divorce not to support marriage.
In a statement issued on Saturday, they appealed to people to “reflect deeply” on the implications of their vote.
Bishop Denis Nulty, chair of the Council for Marriage & Family of the Irish Bishops’ Conference, stressed that the referendum proposal seeks to “expedite the dissolution of marriage”.
The referendum takes place on Friday, 24 May, when voters will also vote in the European and local elections.
Currently, under Article 41.3.2, a couple must live apart for four out of the previous five years in order to apply for a divorce.
The proposed change would see this provision removed from the Constitution, allowing the Oireachtas to determine the amount of time people will have to be living apart prior to applying for a divorce. The Government has said it will reduce the time frame to two of the previous three years.
Bishop Nulty said the common good would be better served by supporting and resourcing couples and families in preparation for, and during, marriage.
He highlighted that Article 41.3.1 of the Constitution of Ireland proclaims “the State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of marriage, on which the family is founded, and to protect it from attack”.
“Stable marriages and relationships contribute significantly to a happy and stable society,” Bishop Nulty said.
He stressed that 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.”
He said the bishops believe that the incidence 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.
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, Bishop Nulty warned.
He also recalled that following last August’s celebration of the World Meeting of the Families in Ireland and the visit of Pope Francis, the Council for Marriage and the Family published the document A Word of Truth and Hope.
It recognised, Bishop Nulty said, as Pope Francis does, that people are called to live their married lives in the reality of the world with all its opportunities and its challenges.
For a wide diversity of reasons, even with the best efforts of the husband and wife, marriage sometimes reaches a crisis point, as A Word of Truth and Hope acknowledges.
“There is possibly no greater loneliness than to share a home with a person with whom one can no longer share life or love. Sometimes with great courage and support from those around them, it is possible for a couple to continue their married life and even to deepen their love. Sometimes, however, marriage ends in divorce.”
He said the bishops’ experience suggested that many divorced people have no wish to remarry.
“Many, inspired by faith, seek to remain faithful to the promises which they made before God, while others, eventually, do remarry civilly or enter into new relationships.”
An understanding of the Church as a “loving mother” and the parish as a “family of families” endorses the pastoral approach of the Church accompanying people in the brokenness and pain of their situation.
The chair of the Council for Marriage & Family of the Irish Bishops’ Conference also highlighted the work done by Accord, the pastoral agency of the Catholic Church supporting marriage and family life, in offering courses to women and men who are preparing for the sacrament of marriage.
“Feedback from Accord indicates that the experience of couples who have undertaken a marriage preparation course has been very positive and this has benefits for their marriage and family life,” Bishop Nulty said.
He called on the Government to 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,” Bishop Nulty said.
Also under consideration is the issue of foreign divorces. Currently the Constitution prohibits a person who has obtained a foreign divorce that is not recognised under Irish law from remarrying.
The Government wishes to replace that by making provision for the recognition of a dissolution of marriage granted under the civil law of another state.
A No vote would keep things as they are.