Monday, October 22, 2018
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Commentary

Divorce measure challenges Catholics

In our prolife stand in rallies, we denounce EJKs, the death penalty, and cruelty to our OFWs, and uphold family values. We are concerned about a future authoritarianism, federalism, Cha-cha, fake news, threats to freedom of the press, etc.

There have been reactions against divorce in the print media and on TV. If we Catholics are prolife, why are we so absolutely against divorce, which would free difficult, dysfunctional families from the misery of an unhappy marriage? Is such a marriage not a “death sentence” to the couple and their children? It is easy for celibates to theorize about marriage, but what do those who are in such irreparable marriages feel? Even with all the “care” made to assure a successful union, the influence of current moral standards soon come in: extramarital affairs, abortion, domestic violence, financial aspects, etc.

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Does comparing our country to the Vatican make sense?  While being a Christian implies being prolife, why is divorce put in the same basket?  We are proud that the Philippines and the Vatican are the only countries without divorce. How can we put our country and the Vatican on the same level, with our 100+ million population and varying cultures, origins, indigenous peoples, and belief systems? The Vatican has no EJKs, human trafficking, pornography, poverty, foreign debt, etc. How many married couples and families live in the Vatican? It is unthinkable to put the Pope and the President in the same league. Can’t we see this, ultimately, as a form of religious colonial mentality? I wonder what the Holy Father thinks when we use this argument to support our stand against divorce.

We have a “selective” way of being “propoor.” It is said that the poor suffer from the absence of divorce in the country. If that is true, basically because they cannot afford the exorbitant fees of the Church annulment process that usually takes years, then we should be among the first to help them, as we proclaim ourselves a Church of and for the Poor. We in the ministry know too well the reality of sad marriages, and we do offer support, programs, counseling and the like, which, in many cases are not enough, because we are dealing with millions of couples of heterogenous backgrounds and conditions.

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Where is the mercy and compassion we preach when we fail to see the unhappiness in dysfunctional marriages (and thereby condone the infidelities in marriage and extramarital affairs), and the children exposed to the infidelities and even violence of their parents?  Do we prefer this situation to dissolving such marriages for the sake of the couple—if not for the children, yes, after counseling and all that? Since we have long admitted our split-level Christianity and double-standard morality, should we not adjust our pastoral practices to the reality of our people, and not to an ideal that is desired, but not within the reach of so many, even as we affirm couples who are faithful?

What if, instead of being 80 percent of the population, we are the 20 percent?  And how can we Catholics justify our imposing on the other 20 percent of the population of different cultures and belief systems to prevent the passage of a divorce bill? What if, instead of being the 80 percent of the population, we are the 20 percent—how would we take the imposition of the 80 percent? Yes, let us take care of our 80 percent, explaining to them what Catholic marriage is and should be, in the context of the new evangelization.

Have we used dialogue with the 20 percent, as well as with Catholic couples, instead of just issuing statements and organizing rallies? Even if the Church annulment procedure has been modified, a referendum, as done in democratic societies, could support our stand. We do suspect many will want the bill passed, as recent studies and surveys have shown, even by Radio Veritas. Are we afraid that what happened in the 2016 elections will happen again? We, afraid?  Doesn’t the proclamation of the Good News start with “Fear not”?

There is a need for a holistic and comprehensive idea of the divorce bill. From the statements made about it, whether by Church people or by those in the government, the divorce bill is presented as an idea here and there. There has to be a forum where this can be properly presented, where those in favor and those against can present their arguments, for the basic purpose of understanding the other party. After a proper dialogue where both parties are on the same level—that is, no party assumes a stance of superiority in any way—and regardless of the outcome of the dialogue, the whole issue will be subjected to a national referendum. This debate has been going on for decades, and will go on. If a referendum is made, the issue will be settled. Our people shall have spoken.

The approval of the divorce bill is a sign that we have matured as a Church. If the Catholic vote wins, we will have a victory flag to wave in 2021, when we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the coming of Christianity.  If we lose, it is not the end of our Church, but, rather the beginning of the rebirth of a Church of true compassion, a real servant Church, not one lording it over the rest, but one that has learned to accept and respect differences (“Pacem in Terris,” nn 14, 15; “Dignitatis Humanae,” nn 2,4, “Laudato Si,” on dialogue)—a Church really close to the Heart of Jesus Christ, a Church that has finally come of age, with the challenge of a new evangelization.

May the Lord give us wisdom, compassion and peace.

Antonio Maria Rosales, OFM (thinktonymaros@gmail.com), 50 years in the priesthood, is a former parish priest of Forbes Park, Makati, and an author, artist, and missionary now based in Cebu City.

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