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Monday, October 16, 2017

Divorce: Three Questions, Three Answers

1) How do you answer spouses who claim they just want “to be happy” that’s why they are seeking a divorce?
Instituting divorce will, in the long run, cause more, not fewer, unhappy couples. It will doom many already-unhappy couples to even greater unhappiness. It will create a new temptation for marriages that are experiencing problems, but are not marked by abuse and incapacity. It will also represent an opportunity for men and women who do not have the maturity to be married, to more easily jump from one marriage to another, wreaking havoc as they go. We have a saying that goes, “two wrongs do not make a right”. Divorce, by extending false hope to some troubled marriages, will end up harming the entire institution of the family. Children too will suffer, for from divorce will inevitably come the phenomenon of fatherless families and children who are subjected to the instability of multiply family realignments.
“Happiness” represents a slippery slope. Who will define what “happiness” is for a couple? Happiness is too subjective and is too fickle a standard on which to dissolve marriages. Many of the happiest married couples are those that were willing to endure some unhappiness at one or another point in their marriage for the sake of a greater good.
If we truly care for the happiness of married couples, then let us aim at measures to strengthen marriage. This is one thing where Church and State can agree on, and cooperate. Let us focus on fostering happy marriages and preventing, or reconciling, broken ones. Let us focus on educating engaged couples on what marriage truly means: that the happiness to be sought in it is not only the fleeting kind. Rather it is the happiness that comes from the gradual but steady growth of a faithful marriage through the years.
Let us enforce the laws against infidelity; one reason so many marriages collapse is because we do not enforce these laws, and so some feel free to disregard their marriage vows. Parents should also be strongly deterred from running away from their responsibilities to their children. We sympathize with the innocent parties in broken marriages. We do not deny that many marriages are on the rocks because of the selfishness and irresponsibility of one or both parties in it. I personally know a number of such marriages. The question is: will divorce really make these couples happy? I think not.
We have separation and, for marriages that were invalid from the beginning, declaration of nullity. Many if not the majority of cases of truly problematic marriages that are very difficult to reconcile, the kind that involve violence, infidelity and other serious personality problems, usually involve some deficiency that rendered the marriage invalid from the beginning. Why not resolve such marriages in the right way, that is, with a declaration of nullity rather than divorce? This has the advantage of dealing with abusive spouses without harming the instutition of marriage and the importance of marriage vows.
Some will argue that we still need to find a way to dissolve valid marriages that have soured. The problem with this is that it will make marriage meaningless. A promise to love each other and be with each other for a lifetime is meaningless if it is not meant, and if it cannot be enforced.
Finally: the ban against divorce is not a man-made ban. Our opposition to divorce has strong secular or non-religious reasons to support it. However, our opposition is ultimately rooted in the fact that God, through Divine Revelation, has condemned divorce, and if there is anyone who holds the key to human happiness it is Him. To obey His will may often be difficult, heroic even, but we believe that He will always grant His grace to support us in obeying Him. In the end there can be no greater happiness than to be faithful to His will. On the other hand, to break His law may result in temporary, superficial “happiness”, but it will always be a “happiness” haunted by disobedience and infidelity to Him. This has consequences not just in this life but in the next.
2) What will be a major effect of divorce on Philippine society?
If passed and not repealed quickly, the effects of the divorce law will be far-reaching and, humanly-speaking, irrevocable. We only have to look at Western societies, especially the USA, to behold the effects of normalizing divorce. Like in other cultures, Filipinos tend to think that if it is legal then it is already morally acceptable. Once divorce becomes legal I predict that it will be seen as normal very quickly. Fatherlessness, the break-down of the family structure, the feminization of poverty and the reduction of relationships to sex: these effects have been well-documented in the USA. Given how much our culture mimics that of the US these problems – which are already present in our country – will significantly worsen.
A culture that is focused on entertainment and on satisfying the emotions has given us a situation where many couples jump into marriages with little real thought given to the meaning of the marriage vows. Right now, our system, with all its imperfections, makes it clear to people that there is no easy way out for a marriage. Couples entering into it know that they are embracing a daunting commitment. Once marriage acquires the backdoor exit of divorce, more and more immature and unready couples will tie the knot, knowing that if they “make a mistake” they can back out.
3) What is the prolife movement planning to do about the divorce bill?
The pro-life movement will be relentless in pushing back against this bill. During the annual meeting of the CBCP’s Episcopal Commission on Family and Life from February 21 to 24 this year, it was agreed that all family and life ministries and organizations in the country will strive to come out with their own statements against the divorce bill. Because divorce pertains to marriage, it is we laymen who must take the lead in speaking out. Bishops and priests will also speak out because it is their duty to give moral guidance to our people, to teach truth and to condemn error. However, it is we laymen who must take the lead in arguing against divorce and in favor of more pro-family solutions to the existing problems with marriages. We are already seeing on social media that many Catholic laymen are coming out against divorce. On Facebook and Twitter we can see many posts with the hashtag #NotoDivorce.
Over and above opposing the divorce bill, though, this is also pushing those of us who are involved in the Church to discuss what can be done to meet existing problems with marriage, to improve the application of existing solutions such as separation and annulment. We also need to combat misconceptions about the process of the Church for declarations of nullity. We should not be reactive only, unfortunately far too often we in the Church have been complacent. There are many charismatic communities and Church institutions doing excellent work with marriage and families, but so much more needs to be done. We acknowledge this and we hope that the specter of the divorce bill will spur on more Catholics to take up the task of teaching the truth regarding the family.
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