(Keynote Speech delivered by Rep. Edcel C. Lagman before the Catholic Business Forum sponsored by the Filii Sancti Dominici Philippinensis, Inc. at Café Inggo, Sto. Domingo Church Compound on 07 February 2020)
I am always inspired to speak on controversial issues before broadminded and forward-thinking Catholics whose faith and religious convictions are not threatened by ideas or concepts that may seem to go against Catholic dogma.
Sadly, the knee-jerk reaction of some is to immediately denounce measures like the divorce bill or like the then-reproductive health bill, now Republic Act No. 10354, and condemn their proponents and supporters, even if admittedly, they have not read the proposed legislative measures.
Not many of you may know that on many other issues the Catholic Church and I are enduring partners like the abolition of the death penalty and the opposition to its reinstitution; ensuring genuine agrarian reform; criticizing our gargantuan foreign debt and correspondingly enormous debt service; advocating the prevention of child marriage; denouncing this administration’s flawed and bloody war on drugs; upholding the protection and promotion of human rights, and crusading for press freedom.
On an advocacy that the Church hierarchy and I disagree, I am very thankful that the Catholic Business Forum took time to organize this discussion on the divorce bill or “An Act Reinstituting Absolute Divorce as an Alternative Mode for the Dissolution of Marriage”. This is appropriate since March is International Women’s Month and tomorrow, March 8, is International Women’s Day.
WOMEN AND THE DIVORCE BILL
It is only appropriate that we are now discussing the issue of divorce, which is primarily a women’s concern and a pro-women piece of legislation since it is almost always the wife who suffers the damage and indignity of being cheated on; is at the receiving end of physical and psychological violence; undergoes the economic hardship of abandonment; and bears the brunt of endeavoring to make the marriage work and overcome the extreme difficulties of being married to men who squander their income and salaries on gambling, drinking and philandering.
The scenarios I just mentioned are only some examples of what women have to go through in irreparably damaged unions. To describe the divorce bill as pro-women is an accurate and truthful portrayal.
A 2015 study conducted by the American Sociological Association reveals that almost 70% of divorces in the United States are initiated by women. This shows that in a marriage, the “innocent spouse” is the wife in most cases. The same figure is true in Japan where again, 70% of all divorces were initiated by beleaguered wives. In England and Wales, 62% of divorces were sought by the offended wives.
Here in the Philippines, the women-led coalition Divorce Pilipinas is a nationwide alliance of different and unique women’s organizations which are demanding the right to divorce as an option for liberation from long-dead marriages. All these Filipino women and so many others similarly situated will be the direct beneficiaries of the divorce bill.
These advocates are frequently asked if they are pro-divorce simply because they have new boyfriends and want to marry again. They find this insulting and impertinent because most of them are not considering remarriage at all. But they want to legally end their marriages so that they can be free from exploitation and maltreatment, move on with their lives, purchase properties without being conjugal in nature, revert to their maiden names, and receive a court-approved alimony, among others.
They do not consider divorce an easy way out of a bad marriage. For them, it is the only way. As is characteristic of women, especially Filipino women, they have tried their best to overlook the abuse and unkindness from their husbands, grudgingly accept that men are not monogamous creatures or live with drug, alcohol or gambling addicted spouses. They wanted their marriages to work and succeed.
But women have breaking points. And these women have reached the zenith of their patience and tolerance. They have decided not to settle for less than what they deserve. Divorce, for them, is the last and final step of their endurance so they can take charge of their lives once more.
LIMITED GROUNDS FOR ABSOLUTE DIVORCE UNDER JUDICIAL SCRUTINY
As bases for absolute divorce, the bill has adopted the ground for nullification of marriage due to psychological incapacity under Art. 36 of the Family Code of the Philippine which has a Canon Law origin; grounds for annulment of marriage under Art. 45 of the Family Code, and grounds for legal separation under Art. 55 of the Family Code.
It has to be underscored that legal separation and annulment of marriage as provided for in the Family Code do not give full relief because legal separation does not allow the spouses to remarry and annulment of marriage relates to causes contemporaneous with the celebration of the marriage, just like Art. 36 where the psychological incapacity of one of the spouses must obtain at the time of the celebration of the marriage although subsequently manifested.
However, most causes for absolute divorce occur or supervene after the marriage is solemnized. Thus, the imperative of affording full relief through absolute divorce.
The bill has provided for the following additional grounds:
De facto separation of the spouses for at least five (5) years.
Judicially declared legal separation for at least two (2) years.
Gender reassignment or sex transition by one of the spouses.
Other forms of domestic or marital abuse to include physical violence, psychological and emotional violence, sexual violence, and economic abuse.
Irreconcilable differences under stringent conditions of (a) substantial incompatibility of the spouses due to their intransigence or fault by holding on to divergent and divisive behavior; (b) total breakdown of the marriage; and (c) the broken marriage is beyond repair despite efforts to reconcile.
Valid foreign divorce obtained either by the alien or Filipino spouse.
Religious nullification of marriage.
The civil recognition of a foreign divorce and canonical dissolution of marriage is by administrative process only. There is no need for a judicial proceeding.
HISTORY OF DIVORCE IN THE PHILIPPINES
I am sure some of you today thought you misheard me a while ago when I said that the title of the divorce bill is an “Act Reinstituting Absolute Divorce”. Let me explain.
The Philippines has often been cited as the only country besides the Vatican city-state where divorce has not been legalized. That may be true today in 2020 but it was not the truth 500 years ago before the Spanish colonization.
The availability of absolute divorce in the Philippines dates back to the pre-Spanish times. Divorce was then institutionalized for several reasons such as infertility, infidelity, failure to fulfill familial obligations, among others.
Divorce has also been an accepted custom of indigenous Filipinos. In pre-colonial times, a number of Philippine tribes practiced absolute divorce. Among them were the Gaddang of Nueva Vizcaya, the Igorot and Sagada of the Cordilleras, the Manobos, Bila-ans and the Tagbanwas of Palawan.
Throughout the Spanish colonial times, Spanish rulers in the Philippines adopted the Siete Partidas of the Spanish Civil Code first compiled during the reign of Alfonso X of Castile in the mid-1200s and implemented by Spain in its colonies. This law only allowed legal separation. Relative divorce or mere legal separation, was granted if one of the spouses wished to join a religious order with the permission of the other spouse; adultery by either the husband or wife; and if one of the spouses became a heretic.
During the American occupation, the Americans introduced a law legalizing absolute divorce which was enacted by the Philippine Legislature in 1917 under Act No. 2710 that allowed divorce on the grounds of adultery on the part of the wife and concubinage on the part of the husband, upon proof of prior conviction.
During the Japanese Occupation, Executive Order No. 141 dated 23 March 1943 provided for a new divorce law and expanded the grounds for divorce to include the following: (1) adultery on the part of the wife and concubinage on the part of the husband committed under any of the forms described in the Revised Penal Code; (2) attempt of one spouse against the life of the other; (3) a second or subsequent marriage contracted by either spouse before the former marriage has been legally dissolved; (4) loathsome contagious diseases contracted by either spouse; (5) incurable insanity which has reached such a stage that the intellectual community between the spouses has ceased; (6) impotency on the part of either spouse; (7) criminal conviction of either spouse of a crime in which the minimum penalty imposed is not less than six (6) years imprisonment; (8) repeated bodily violence by one against the other to such an extent that the spouses cannot continue living together without endangering the lives of both or of either of them; (9) intentional or unjustified desertion continuously for at least one year prior to the filing of the action; (10) unexplained absence from the last conjugal abode continuously for three consecutive years prior to the filing of the action; and (11) slander by deed or gross insult by one spouse against the other to such an extent as to make further living together impracticable.
In 1950, the Civil Code of the Philippines took effect and repealed all laws pertaining to absolute divorce. It provides only for legal separation or relative divorce, with the exception of Muslims who are allowed to avail of absolute divorce.
DIVORCE IS INDIGENOUS TO PHILIPPINE CULTURE
Critics of the divorce bill are quick to label divorce as a foreign concept and condemn supporters of divorce as blindly following western culture. But clearly, divorce is not a concept alien to our ancestors. Up to the 1940s, Filipinos had the legal option to divorce. This means that women 80 years ago unmistakably enjoyed more protection and alternatives under the law than the current young millennial women.
This is why the authors of the bill decided to use the word “reinstitute” because divorce has long been a part of our culture.
Moreover, if those opposed to the bill still insist that divorce is primarily a western concept and should be rejected by Filipinos, then I have to ask them: How about the concept of free public-school education, social security for pensioners, universal health care, mass media, fair trade among nations, basic human rights, inoculation against diseases, democracy and free elections? Even Catholicism? Are not all these also western in origin?
WHAT THE DIVORCE BILL IS NOT
I remember more than 10 years ago when I spoke on the Reproductive Health Bill before women, students, professionals, religious groups, workers and other sectors, I observed that there was so much unintended misinformation as well as deliberate vile propaganda against the legislative proposal. To make people truly appreciate and understand the salient features of the bill, I began by laying out what the RH bill was not about.
Allow me to use the same approach in discussing the divorce bill.
1. The divorce bill is not for happy and harmonious marriages which is the norm in Philippine society. Although we hear more about troubled and violent unions than peaceful and happy ones, the fact is, failed marriages are more the exception rather than the rule.
I am always aghast when oppositors of divorce claim that the bill is a direct attack on their own marriages. This bill is not a personal affront on any marriage. It merely gives couples, most especially wives, the option to avail themselves of divorce when the marriage is irredeemably fractured, violent, abusive or loveless.
Moreover, many supporters of the measure, are happily married and have no intension of divorcing their spouses. But they want those who are not in the same blissful circumstance to have at least the alternative to resort to divorce if they resolutely have to.
If you are one of the so many fortunate ones to have a warm, harmonious, vibrant, loving relationship with your spouse, then the enactment of a divorce law should not affect your marriage and will not harm or tarnish your love and respect for your spouse.
A divorce law will not diminish happy marriages. It will be an option for spouses in ill-fated ones and afford them the chance to be free from a calamitous union.
2. The divorce bill will not destroy marriage and the family as social institutions. A divorce law cannot undo centuries of dearly-held Filipino values, customs and traditions honoring and celebrating marriage and the family. Marriage and the family are, and will still be, at the heart of the Filipino way of life even with a divorce law in place.
Human beings are predisposed to look for love and companionship. But it is wrong for oppositors to assert that people will rush into a marriage since anyway a divorce can later untie the matrimonial bond because when a couple gets married, divorce is farthest from their minds.
People will not stop falling in love and getting married because there is a divorce law. The same way that people will not stop wanting to start a family and have children simply because contraceptives are available.
Divorce will not destroy marriages because there is no more marriage or happy union to speak of when couples reach the difficult decision to seek divorce. Verily, in proceedings for absolute divorce, there is no more marriage to protect or destroy because the union has long perished. Paraphrasing the Supreme Court in Te vs. Te, the severance of the marriage bond is a decent interment of a long-dead marriage.
3. A divorce law does not mean that the State shall cease from protecting the family and upholding the sanctity of marriage as mandated by the Constitution. The institution of absolute divorce and dissolution of marriage does not dilute the steadfast commitment of the State to protect and preserve marriage as a social institution and as the foundation of the family. For this reason, the bill provides for clear and categorical safeguards for the preservation and protection of marriage.
In its Declaration of Policy, the divorce bill unequivocally states that:
“While the State continues to protect and preserve marriage as a social institution and as the foundation of the family, it shall also give the opportunity to spouses in irremediably failed marriages to secure an absolute divorce decree under limited grounds and well-defined judicial procedures to terminate a continuing dysfunction of a long broken marriage; save the children from the pain, stress, and agony consequent to their parents’ constant marital clashes and irreconcilable separation; and grant the divorced spouses the right to marry again for another chance to achieve marital bliss.”
4. The divorce bill is not being introduced because we want to follow in the steps of all the other nations of the world. It must be underscored that divorce advocates are not pushing for the reinstitution of divorce because we are the sole sovereign nation and the only predominantly Catholic country in the world without a divorce law.
We must not console ourselves that we are in good company because the Vatican is an ecclesiastical city-state which has a population of only 799, and of which 40 are women and majority of whom are nuns. Moreover, the Philippines is a secular Republic with 108 million citizens, almost half of whom are women.
Being the odd man out in the community of nations is not what drives advocates. This is not a matter of nakiki-uso lang ang Pilipinas or that we want to simply fit in with the rest of the world. The authors of the divorce bills could not care less about being the exception if such is correct.
However, I could not imagine that 193 countries with their respective divorce laws could be collectively mistaken, while the Philippines is singularly correct.
But we do care that spouses, most especially wives, are being unjustly shackled to cold and dead marriages because divorce is not an option in the country. We care that women are trapped in cruel and violent relationships and do not have the chance to re-marry because divorce here is outlawed. We care that children in hostile unions are being taught the wrong lessons about love and family when constant fighting, abuse, violence and neglect all contribute to an unbearable, and sometimes dangerous, home environment.
The absence of an absolute divorce law is antediluvian, repressive, and detrimental to women. This is why we are pushing for a divorce law.
5. The divorce law will not encourage infidelity. Critics of divorce have gone as far to say that the passage of a divorce law will embolden philanderers and encourage cheating. We have to place this flawed argument in the proper context – in any culture, in any country in the world, infidelity predates any law on divorce.
Divorce does not breed infidelity. It is marital infidelity which causes divorce. Divorce legitimizes subsequent new-found relationships which legal separation does not because legal separation does not allow remarriage by judicially separated spouses who presently tend to cohabit with others without the benefit of marriage.
In fact, even in ancient societies, infidelity was invariably one of the reasons for a spouse to obtain a divorce. From the ancient Greeks and Romans to the bygone dynasties of China and Japan, American Indian societies and indigenous tribes of the Amazon, infidelity was one of the grounds for divorce. In the Code of Hammurabi, the compilation of laws governing the lives of ancient Babylonians, Law Nos. 129, 130, 131, 138, 141, 142, and ironically, 143, all pertain to divorce and infidelity, and are literally written in stone. Clearly, cheaters and philanderers came before there were divorces and divorcées.
To reiterate, divorce will not breed infidelity. In fact, it is the other way around. Another manner of looking at it is this – the availability of PhilHealth benefits and medical insurance does not encourage people to make detrimental choices that would endanger their health or engage in dangerous and high-risk behaviors that could land them in the hospital even if they are aware that their hospitalization will be covered by insurance. No one in his right mind would rationalize bad eating habits and hazardous lifestyle choices because anyway they have health coverage.
In the same way that the new 105-day maternity leave law will not encourage working women to have more children than what they originally planned for. Having more children than they can afford or are prepared to care, educate, house, and provide for far outweighs any benefit they may derive from over a hundred days of paid maternity leave.
The availability of divorce as an option to end an irreversibly broken marriage is not a brief for adultery and betrayal.
6. The divorce bill will not lead to so-called drive-thru or quickie divorces. Drive-thru or quickie divorces are prohibited under the bill because “No decree of absolute divorce shall be based upon a stipulation of facts or a confession of judgment.” The following provisions militate against instant noodle divorce:
One of the bill’s guiding principles is that “Absolute divorce shall be judicially decreed after the fact of an irremediably broken marital union.”
Another guiding principle is that “the State has the role of strengthening marriage and family life by undertaking relevant pre-nuptial and post-matrimonial programs and activities adequately funded by the government.”
“Except for grounds under summary judicial proceedings, the proper court shall not start the trial of a petition for absolute divorce before the expiration of a mandatory six-month cooling-off periodafter the filing of the petition during which the court shall exercise all effects to reunite and reconcile the parties.”
Despite the pendency of a petition for absolute divorce or the issuance of a decree of absolute divorce, reconciliation of the spouses shall be effectuatedby either terminating the divorce proceedings or recalling the decree of divorce.
The Office of the Public Prosecutor is authorized and obliged to conduct investigations to find out whether or not there is collusion between the spousesin a petition for absolute divorce and shall report its findings to the proper court within six (6) months from the filing of the petition.
Stiff penalties are imposable on colluding spouses and on a spouse who coerces or compels the other to file a petition for absolute divorce. The penalties are an indivisible imprisonment of five (5) years and a fine of P200,000.00
7. The divorce bill is not unconstitutional. The enactment of a law on absolute divorce and dissolution of marriage is not prohibited by the constitutional tenets on marriage as a social institution and as the foundation of the family.
Notwithstanding the adoption in the 1987 Constitution of the precepts that marriage is a social institution, that it is the foundation of the family and that it is inviolable, the Commissioners of the 1986 Constitutional Commission were unanimous that the Congress is not prohibited or precluded from instituting absolute divorce and dissolution of marriage under the current Charter. Fr. Joaquin Bernas was the leading Commissioner who advocated that the Congress is not barred from legislating an absolute divorce law.
In fact, there is no provision in the 1987 Constitution which prohibits divorce.
Moreover, similar or identical provisions on the inviolability and protection of marriage and family life are found in the constitutions of Ireland, Columbia, Bolivia, Peru, Chile, El Salvador, Portugal, Brazil, Poland, France, Saudi Arabia, the Russian Federation and Cuba, among others, but all of them have legalized absolute divorce.
8. The divorce bill is not anti-women and anti-children. This bill is clearly pro-women because while husbands may get away from a manifestly broken marriage which they may have caused in the first place, the wife excruciatingly suffers the collapse of the marriage.
While marriages are supposed to be solemnized in heaven, some unfortunately plummet into hell because of human frailty and mortal weakness resulting to irremediably shattered marriages. Divorce gives ill-starred partners a second chance at matrimonial happiness. An absolute divorce is the merciful liberation of a hapless wife from a marriage that has reached its terminus.
This bill is pro-children because it also liberates children from a broken home where their physical and psychological well-being are compromised and constant ordeals not of their making are inflicted on them.
Studies conducted by the American Psychological Association and Scientific American both conclude that although children do not come out of divorce completely unscathed, “majority of children of divorce fall within the normal range of adjustment on standardized measures” (American Psychological Association, 2004) and researchers have found that “only a relatively small percentage of children experience serious problems in the wake of divorce or, later, as adults.” (Scientific American, 2013).
Vancouver-based clinical psychologist Lisa Ferrari enumerates five clearly positive effects divorce may have on children: (1) they become resilient and adaptable; (2) they become more self-sufficient; (3) they develop an increased sense of empathy toward others; (4) the idea of marriage isn't taken for granted; and (5) they learn more through quality time spent with each parent, albeit separately.
THE CHURCH AND THE INCLUSION OF “PSYCHOLOGICAL INCAPACITY” IN THE FAMILY CODE
We all know by now that apart from the Vatican, the Philippines is the only self-governing nation without a divorce law. But this is not entirely accurate. Because in reality, for many Catholic couples in the country who wish to end their marriages and are well-off, there is a way out of their shattered unions – nullification of their marriage by the Catholic Church. For Catholic couples, there is actually de facto divorce in the Philippines through “canonical divorce”.
It was, in fact, Catholic Canon Law that was the source of the term “psychological incapacity” included in Art. 36 the Family Code which states that: “[A] marriage contracted by any party who, at the time of the celebration, was psychologically incapacitated to comply with the essential marital obligations of marriage, shall likewise be void even if such incapacity becomes manifest only after its solemnization.”
The inclusion of “psychological incapacity” in the Family Code has a fascinating origin. Justice Flerida Ruth Romero, a member of both the Civil Code Revision Committee and the Family Law Revision Committee tasked to review and improve the Civil Code and Family Code in the mid-1980s, explains that in the beginning, the Family Law Revision Committee “thought of including a chapter on absolute divorce in the draft new Family Code … In fact, some members of the Committee were in favor of no-fault divorce between spouses after a number of years of separation, legal or de facto.” This was, let me remind you, almost three and a half decades ago in 1986.
But after considering the expected strong opposition from the Catholic Church, Justice Romero recalls that “the two Committees in their joint meetings did not pursue the idea of absolute divorce and, instead, opted for an action for judicial declaration of invalidity of marriage based on grounds available in the Canon Law. It was thought that such an action … would also solve the nagging problem of church annulments of marriages on grounds not recognized by the civil law of the State.”
She expounds that in a conference with Fr. Gerald Healy of the Ateneo and during another meeting with Archbishop Oscar Cruz, the two Committees were informed that, “since Vatican II, the Catholic Church has been declaring marriages null and void on the ground of lack of due discretion for causes that, in other jurisdictions, would be clear grounds for divorce, like teen-age or premature marriages; marriage to a man who, because of some personality disorder or disturbance, cannot support a family; the foolish or ridiculous choice of a spouse by an otherwise perfectly normal person; marriage to a woman who refuses to cohabit with her husband or who refuses to have children.”
Justice Romero continues: “Bishop Cruz also informed the Committee that they have found out in tribunal work that a lot of machismo among husbands are manifestations of their sociopathic personality anomaly, like inflicting physical violence upon their wives, constitutional indolence or laziness, drug dependence or addiction, and psychosexual anomaly.”
Similar to the inclusion of “psychological incapacity” in the Family Code wherein the Revision Committee took its cue from Catholic Church doctrine, the same is now also included as a ground for absolute divorce in the consolidated divorce bill even if “psychological incapacity” supervenes or comes after the solemnization of the marriage.
The end result of the Church-endorsed annulment and civil law-decreed absolute divorce are one and the same – the nullification or dissolution of a marriage and the right of the spouses to re-marry.
THE BIBLE AND DIVORCE
With your Dominican background, most of you know that the Bible talks about divorce and remarriage. In the Old Testament, Moses permitted a man to obtain a divorce on just about any grounds. Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is explicit and says a man can divorce his wife “who becomes displeasing to him” and if he finds “something indecent about her”. This is such a general and all-encompassing ground that it can cover even the flimsiest of reasons. This is akin to a “quickie” or “no contest” divorce.
However, in the New Testament Jesus emphasizes that marriage is a lifelong commitment. In Matthew 19:6 He described the relationship between husband and wife this way: “They are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” But this is not an inflexible dogma. It is a figurative admonition which is not cast in stone. It must not be literally construed.
In fact, Jesus did not absolutely forbid divorce. In Matthew 19:9, Jesus declares: “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery.”
It is therefore clear that in the Bible, when adultery has taken place, a divorce can be obtained. Because adultery has already severed the marriage relationship and divorce is a formal acknowledgment of what has already taken place. Severance of the marriage is a fait accompli. It has been put asunder for a meritorious and exceptional cause.
The apostle Paul added to the teachings of Jesus what is called the "Pauline Privilege." According to this concept, St. Paul taught that if an unbelieving spouse leaves a believer, the bonds of marriage are severed and the believer is free to remarry (1 Corinthians Chapter 7 Verse 15). In other words, according to Cathy Caridi, an American canon lawyer, “the Pauline Privilege permits a ratum et consummatum (ratified and consummated) marriage to be dissolved in favor of the faith.”
But some equate this with "constructive desertion" or when one spouse makes a marriage so intolerable because of acts of brutality and violence or inexcusable behavior that it would be impossible for the other spouse to stay in the marriage without being damaged physically, mentally or economically.
Verily, divorce based on valid grounds has biblical recognition.
POPE FRANCIS ON DIVORCE
In Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), a post-synodal apostolic exhortation by Pope Francis addressing the pastoral care of families, the Pontiff reaffirms and emphasizes the Catholic teachings on the primacy of conscience and that divorced Catholics who remarry might not be guilty of the mortal sin of adultery. Amoris Laetitia even opens up the possibility of access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist for divorced Catholics.
A Washington Post article describes Amoris Laetitia as the “church’s warmest welcome in modern times to divorced and remarried couples” because it says that “they should not be judged, discriminated against or excluded from church life.” The magisterial document encourages priests to be merciful in considering whether such Catholics can receive the highest form of sacrament – Holy Communion.
Although it is true that Amoris Laetitia stops short of changing church laws, it clearly does not denounce divorced couples and urges priests to show compassion and forgiveness so that Catholics in this situation will not feel driven off or ostracized by the very pillars of their faith.
In considering giving the Sacrament of Communion to divorced and remarried Catholics, the exact words of Pope Francis are beautiful: “the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”
In September 2015, the New York Times ran an article that Pope Francis announced new procedures to make it easier for Catholics to obtain marriage annulments, possibly in response to complaints that obtaining a decree of nullity from the Catholic Church is too complicated and expensive.
The news report disclosed that the “new rules are expected to speed up cases in which neither spouse is contesting the annulment. These fast-track cases may be heard as soon as 30 days after a couple files an application, and at most within 45 days.” This approximates a “no contest” divorce which the present divorce bill does not even endorse.
It also announced that “Vatican experts say the new system was expected to be free, not counting legitimate fees to maintain the tribunal process.”
Undoubtedly, Pope Francis does not use a broad brush but emphasizes discernment and compassion. Neither does he wield the Church’s moral laws like a weapon of war.
So now, the question that begs to be asked is: How can we be more popish than the Pope?
THE STATE HAS A VITAL RESPONSIBILTY TO PROTECT THE VULNERABLE
Pope Francis is a leader that obviously takes into consideration the welfare of his entire flock – especially those in most need of compassion and mercy.
In the same vein, while the State should not renege on its obligation to protect marriage and the family, it should also not abandon couples and their children in a house on fire – because this is what a household burdened by extreme marital woes is like – a burning house where love and respect are scorched to ember, hostility and resentment explode, and violence and vehemence are ablaze. Everyone, especially wives and children, will suffer third degree burns if the State will not intercede via a divorce law that will offer a clean break from the failed marriage.
When a marriage totally breaks down and reconciliation is nil, it is the duty of the State to afford relief to the spouses in irreconcilable marital relationships and save them and their children from the tempest of incessant discord. The State cannot and should not turn its back on the already marginalized and vulnerable – women and children.
The State must come to the succor of these ill-fated women. They should be given the option to obtain a divorce and the chance to rebuild their lives and regain their self-respect.
But we must remember that love, trust, and respect, which are the veritable foundations of marriage and family, are voluntary, mutual and earned. And when they are lost, no amount of compulsion by custom or religion can restore their value.
THE DIVORCE LAW IS LONG OVERDUE
We need a divorce law. And we need it now. It is not some dangerous specter that we must fight against. It is a last-ditch option for couples who have long worked to resolve their differences but failed. It is the long-sought after liberation, especially of wives, from violence and ill-treatment or from an unhappy, disastrous and loveless union. The recourse to divorce and to have the prospect of falling in love again and marrying once more is a right we cannot deprive anyone.
Again, the grounds for divorce are specific, limited, strict and stringent. Moreover, they must be proven in court.
We need a divorce law because divorce is not a social ill that breaks apart families. The societal cancer is the collapse and heartbreaking end of a marriage because of abuse, financial discord, mental aberrations, cheating, violence, lack of intimacy, broken lines of communication, and abandoned marital vows, among others.
We need a divorce law because for so many women the dream of a blissful marriage has morphed into a waking nightmare where there is currently no escape, because our legal system in this regard has failed to protect them.
We need a divorce law now because our people have been deprived of the right to decide for themselves if they want the option to divorce. Every marriage has its own particular and unique set of problems and trials, and individual couples must be accorded the right to be able to judge for themselves if there is the slightest chance that their marriage can be repaired or if it is so doomed that a union with their partners has become untenable.
We often admire people who stand their ground and do not give up. We see this as a positive attribute, a sign of strength. When our friends and family members are burdened with troubles, we automatically tell them to stay strong and not give up.
But sometimes it takes more courage and strength to realize and say, “I’ve had enough.” Because when it comes to a completely destroyed union, staying and not letting go is even more damaging and injurious because you are holding tight to the jagged and shattered pieces of an irredeemably lost marriage.
Allow me to repeat: Divorce is not for everybody. It is for those who have just and valid causes to be adjudicated by the proper court. It is only an alternative remedy. It is not mandatory. It is an option, a choice.