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Is Allowing Divorce a Redefinition of Marriage?

A Xt3 Member asked at 2:12pm on September 9th 2017
Hello Father,

I have been watching Catholic talks on marriage. One speaker gives examples of important pillars within marriage that are under attack. One example is that the life-long union aspect of marriage was removed through no-fault divorce.

The speaker says that marriage before no-fault divorce would probably be best as the statistics in everything were much better. He does say that during this time people needed serious reasons for divorce (abuse, abandonment or adultery) which meant the divorce rate was so low.

My question would be, if marriage was reverted back to the way it was, wouldn't it still be a redefinition of marriage since it allowed for divorce? Would we then campaign for no legal divorce at all? If so, wouldn't this be the opposite of separation of Church and state?

I 100% agree with Catholic teaching on marriage and the talks were really good but I was trying to think of questions an opponent might bring up so I thought of this but couldn't really give a good answer.

Thank you

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Hi again, Miguel, I think the basic point here is the clear distinction between Church and State, as Jesus put it, 'Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's' (Mt 22:21). So whatever laws about marriage the state makes, they don't touch the nature of Christian marriage, which is always a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman, which is open to the generation of children.

It's true, as you say, that legalized divorce, and especially no-fault divorce, very deeply affects how people perceive marriage as no longer a lifelong commitment. The reality is that the society surrounding us can either support marriage - as it did in most Western countries until divorce became easier and more acceptable to many. Or it can undermine marriage, by offering divorce as an easy way out of difficult relationships.

The Church has never said that a couple can't separate - which may be necessary due to seriously abusive behaviour or infidelity by one of the spouses. But, following Jesus' words against divorce, 'what God has joined together let no man put asunder' (Mk 10:9), the Church can never approve remarriage, once the first commitment is understood to have been a valid one.

In Ireland many Christians campaigned against the introduction of divorce, which was explicitly forbidden by our 1937 Constitution. But the grounds of that 1986 campaign had to be put forward in terms than anyone, Christian or non-believer could accept - especially the huge impact on children of divorced couples. Now, while Ireland's divorce rates are not as high as neighbouring countries, they're currently around 4,000 a year. Since divorce is allowed in almost every country in the world except the Philippines, I don't think you'll be coming across that many opponents in this matter.

Of course the Christian answer to a divorce culture is the witness of happily married couples and families - I've heard of couples with young families volunteering to live in some African countries where polygamy is practiced, since it's less by preaching than by the example of their lives that people are won over to the Christian vision of marriage in the light of the Trinity. As St John Paul II notes in his 1994 Letter to Families:

'In the light of the New Testament it is possible to discern how the primordial model of the family is to be sought in God himself, in the Trinitarian mystery of his life. The divine "We" is the eternal pattern of the human "we", especially of that "we" formed by the man and the woman created in the divine image and likeness' (S6).

Very best, Fr Brendan
Xt3's Ask a Priest answered at 11:11pm on September 17th 2017 reply
 

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