October 16, 2014
Why Doesn’t the Catholic Church Fight No Fault Divorce?
By Mike McManus
The world’s Catholic leaders gathering in Rome, published a
preliminary Synod report which states that “Divorced people who have not
remarried should be invited to find in the Eucharist nourishment they need to
What about the divorced who have remarried? They deserve “a careful discernment
and an accompaniment full of respect…Looking after them is not a weakening of
faith and its testimony to the indissolubility of marriage, but rather it
expresses precisely its charity in its caring.”
Huh? How does this stance testify to “the indissolubility of marriage?” It is
A man who divorced his wife and remarried should be viewed “full of respect,”
and looked after due to the church’s “charity in its caring?” What about his
abandoned wife and her children who are now poor and supported by “Uncle Sugar,”
as Gov. Mike Huckabee puts it?
Stephen Baskerville wrote an article in Crisis Magazine: “The Church appears
determined once again to avoid confronting the central evil of the Divorce
Revolution. This is involuntary divorce and the injustice committed against the
forcibly divorced or innocent spouse, along with his or her children.
He charged, “To treat the sinner and sinned against as if they are the same is
to deny the very concept of justice and the place the Church on the side of
At the heart of the problem is “No Fault Divorce,” first adopted by California
in 1969. Historically, divorces were only granted if one spouse proved their
partner was guilty of a major fault, such as adultery, abandonment or abuse. No
Fault allowed either spouse to simply declare there are “irreconcilable
That removed hundreds of years of protection for the innocent spouse and
children, and rewarded the evil destroyers of marriage. It was a willful neglect
of justice, as if state legislators passed a law saying that murder or robbery
would no longer be punished.
Yet neither the Catholic Church nor any other denomination opposed No Fault,
which amounted to the “abolition of marriage” as a legal contract as marriage
expert Maggie Gallagher puts it. Today it is not possible to form a binding
agreement to create a family.
The silence of religious leaders allowed feminists and divorce attorneys to pass
No Fault in almost all states by 1975. The impact of divorce without
consequences has been immense.
In 1969 there were 639,000 U.S. divorces – nearly double the 393,000 of 1960,
due to the Sexual Revolution. Only six years later No Fault pushed up divorces
by 63% to 1,036,000.
“No public debate preceded this ethical bombshell in the 1970s, and none has
taken place since,” Baskerville asserts.
It was probably unrealistic to expect that the extraordinary Synod of Bishops
would address No Fault. Instead it is considering more conciliatory language
toward gays and lesbians, divorced and remarried Catholics and couples who are
living together. While the words of “bombshell” and “earthquake” have been
dropped, it is unlikely that Catholic opposition to divorce or gay marriage will
change. More compassion will be called for.
However, churches should be taking the lead to reform a patently unjust No Fault
divorce law. In 1991 the U.S. Catholic Bishops did issue a paper, “Putting
Children and Families First,” that asserted that it “time for society to
reconsider the consequences of permissive divorce, particularly in the case of
couples with children. One million children see their parents divorce each year.
“Public policy must be designed to help families stay together.”
What policies should change? The bishops offered no specifics. Nor was the issue
even mentioned in their 2009 Pastoral Letter on Marriage.
Therefore, I’d like to propose two new laws that Protestant and Catholic leaders
could support with their state legislatures.
First, more time. The U.S. divorce rate of 23% after five years of marriage is
triple the 8% of Britain or France. Why? If a British wife wants a divorce, but
her husband is opposed, they have to wait five years to be divorced – and six
years in France. By contrast, 25 states have a ZERO waiting period. Their laws
push people to divorce.
However, Pennsylvania and Illinois allow up to two years delay if a divorce is
contested, and have two of the three lowest divorce rates in America. All states
should pass similar laws.
Second, Georgia, Minnesota and Texas are considering requiring divorcing parents
with children to take a course on the impact of divorce on kids – before divorce
papers are filed.
All states should do so. Children, the innocent victims, need protection.
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