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A lifetime of unhappiness

/ 12:09 AM April 09, 2015

Let me reflect on something very controversial but needs to be addressed: Divorce. It’s something I’d like you to think about with compassion in the Christian spirit that Pope Francis constantly invokes.

The title says it all: Why should you live a lifetime in misery? I’m divorced. Australia, like all the other countries in the world except two, accepts that people have the right to happiness in their lives and, hence, the right to divorce. (One “country” is the Vatican, but you can’t really count it as though it may well be listed as a country. It’s full of celibate priests and only around 800 people in all—that’s right, 800.) After our divorce, my first wife led a happy life with another man until she died a few years back. I’ve had 36 years of a happy second marriage with a wife I love. In a two-child family held together in love, not in suffering, anger and acrimony every day.

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Mexico, which is 85 percent Catholic, allows divorce, as does Ireland, 84 percent Catholic. Colombia, 75 percent Catholic, allows it. The list of all the other Catholic countries that allow divorce goes on. ONLY the Philippines doesn’t. The Philippines finally joined the rest of the world (Angola and Djibouti are now the only exceptions) when it implemented K-to-12, the 12-year basic education cycle. It is also joining the world in its openness to trade and investment. It’s only this one last holdout where it stands out against the rest of the world.

The Philippine Catholic Church is opposed to divorce on the ground that it is against the will of God. Mark 10:9 of the new international version of the Bible states: “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Which is fine, but there’s an important reason that divorce should be allowed: The 1987 Constitution, which very clearly makes a distinction: “The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable.” (Article II, Section 6)

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As in family planning, the Catholic Church can dictate to its flock in any way it chooses, but it has no right to interfere in the lives of others. And there are about 20 million Filipinos who are not Catholic. Plus, I’ve no doubt that very, very many unhappily married Catholics would welcome the chance for a new life with someone new.

Here we have the totally absurd situation where annulment is allowed but divorce isn’t. What’s the difference? The dictionary defines divorce as “the ending of a marriage by a legal process.” Annulment is defined as “a judicial or ecclesiastical pronouncement declaring a marriage invalid.” The same thing, except the second can also be by the Church. Over 10,000 cases (as of end-2012) have been filed for annulment, and presumably most have been granted.

Now if that isn’t divorce by another name, I don’t know what is. In other words, divorce is permitted in the Philippines already. So it seems that the Church is only opposing it for the poor, as the rich can afford the legal process of annulment.

Marriage is a legal process that is registered in government records. The Church may consecrate it (“dedicated to a sacred purpose”) for believers who want it, but that is not a legal requirement. And you don’t need the Church’s approval to get married, so why should you need it to cancel that marriage? For Muslims, divorce is allowed under Presidential Decree No. 1083 (otherwise known as a decree to ordain and promulgate a code recognizing the system of Filipino Muslim laws, codifying Muslim personal laws, and providing for its administration and for other purposes). However, Protestants or Buddhists or atheists aren’t allowed. They should have the right to divorce if they wish it.

It is the same argument I use in fighting for the right to use contraceptives: The Catholic Church has no right to dictate to others. I’d even suggest that it has no right to dictate at all. I’m sure Christ would not have, he would have persuaded, encouraged, even cajoled. But dictate? You only dictate when you know your cause is weak, that you won’t be able to justify your stand. So you dictate it.

I’ll be brutally frank about this: Those that will oppose divorce on their religious grounds are showing the same religious intolerance that Isis shows to non-Muslims.

The only problem, actually, is how to handle the children. If two adults want to split up, fine. That’s their decision to make, with the Church’s guidance (not mandate) if they wish it. But the children must be cared for. Is it better for a child to grow up in a household where the two parents hate each other and are continually fighting, or in one with a single, loving parent? And anyway, in Philippine culture the children would be guided through early life not by one, but by many: lolos and lolas, aunts and uncles, and older cousins. It seems to me that this is a very stabilizing environment in which to nurture a child. I’d be interested in a child psychologist’s view on this.

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I leave lawyers to decide asset splits, the other, possibly contentious issue.

The President has stood up to the Catholic Church once before, aggressively pushing for the enactment of the reproductive health bill and therefore defending the independence of the Constitution. I suggest he do so again to leave yet another legacy of change that will improve the life of the people. Non-Catholics have every constitutional right to divorce. And, I’d suggest, so do Catholics whose conscience allows them. After all, God did give each human being the ability to choose how he/she lives his/her life.

I believe that, at the very least, divorce should be, must be, under the article of the Constitution allowed for non-Catholics. It’s their right.

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TAGS: church, Constitution, divorce, Marriage
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