LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Ireland should do more to support marriage, instead of making it easier to get a divorce, says Bishop Denis Nulty.
The bishop of Kildare and Leighlin was speaking ahead of a May 24 referendum in the Republic of Ireland to change the Irish constitution which requires couples to have lived apart for four of the past five years before being able to dissolve their marriage.
The referendum is supported by every major party in Ireland and is expected to pass easily.
For most of its history, divorce was prohibited in the Republic of Ireland. In 1995, the constitutional ban on marriage dissolution was repealed in a referendum with just 50.28 percent of the vote.
The new constitutional language required a waiting period before a divorce, and also regulated which foreign divorces would be recognized by the Irish state.
The new referendum would remove both provisions, although the present government has said it would legislate a two-year minimum for divorce if the Yes vote wins.
“The referendum is not really about reducing the waiting time from four years to two. It is about giving the Oireachtas [Irish parliament] full power to decide what the waiting time should be in the future. It could later reduce the waiting time further still,” said a statement from the Iona Institute, a pro-family think tank.
Nulty, the chair of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Council for Marriage and Family, said the objective of the proposed referendum is “not to support marriage, rather to liberalize divorce.”
“For this reason, it is important to reflect deeply on the implications of this referendum which seeks to expedite the dissolution of marriage,” the bishop said. “The common good would be better served by supporting and resourcing couples and families in preparation for, and during marriage.”
According to the latest available statistics, Ireland has a divorce rate of just over 0.8 percent, one of the lowest in the European Union. For comparison, the rate in Britain is 1.9 percent, and the United States is 3.2 percent.
However, Ireland has seen an increase from 2015, when it was 0.6 percent. Also, fewer people are getting married in Ireland, and the rate of cohabitation has increased five-fold since 1995. Currently, 37 percent of children in Ireland are born out of wedlock.
Nulty encouraged the government to fund policies which would help people stay married.
“We 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,” the bishop said.
Once the most Catholic country in Western Europe, decades of revelations about clerical sexual abuse and appalling conditions in Church-run care facilities have greatly damaged the image of the Church.
Over the past few years, a series of votes has chipped away at the Catholic foundations of Ireland.
Last year, the people of the Republic of Ireland voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to remove pro-life protections for the unborn from the country’s constitution. A few months later, they voted to remove the crime of blasphemy from the document. In 2015, another referendum legalized same-sex marriage.
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