Divorce Referendum – Children – and the Irish Bishops.

Where are the saints and scholars?
First abortion, now family-smashing. Given that more than four-fifths of the Irish voters have demanded a further amendment to the Constitution to make divorce even easier, it is self-evident that the Church has had far too little influence on the debate. Where are the saints and scholars?

In the Irish Times’ front-page story on the result of the divorce referendum, not a single Bishop was quoted as having said anything about the result of the referendum. And that is no surprise, for the voice of the Bishops had not been anything like as loud or clear as it should have been during the public debate before the referendums either on abortion or on divorce.

In 1983, when Ireland voted for a constitutional prohibition of abortion, the Pro-Life Amendment Campaign was a coalition of Catholic organisations led and supported by the Pope and the bishops. Result: a two-thirds majority against the killing of innocent unborn children. Where are they now? The majority of pro-life groups that argued against abortion in the recent referendum were generally careful to put themselves across as non-denominational this time.

Protecting children from the selfishness of adults.
On the eve of the referendum, Bishop Denis Nulty of Kildare and Leighlin made some sensible points about the need for the Irish Government to do more to support marriage, rather than making it easier to split families apart: “The common good would be better served by supporting and resourcing couples and families in preparation for and during marriage.”

Worthy stuff, but at no point in the remarkably few published statements by the Irish bishops before the divorce referendum was one of the central reasons for the Church’s implacable opposition to divorce properly and trenchantly explained.

The main reason why divorce is gravely wrong is that children, the most precious, the most innocent and the most vulnerable members of our race, need to be reassured at every stage of their development that their parents are and will remain unswervingly, cheerfully devoted to each other and, therefore, also to them. The Church’s prohibitions against abortion and against divorce spring from the same source: the obligation – and, unfortunately, the necessity – to protect children from the selfishness of adults.

One of the most striking opportunities handed on a plate to the Church by science is the development of epidemiological (i.e., population) statistics. Now, for the first time, it can be scientifically demonstrated – and has been amply demonstrated, time and time again here and all over the world – that children of parents who are not married or who have split apart do less well and are more prone to drugs, crime, unemployment and failure than those brought up in traditional families whose parents stay together.

Children fare better when parents work at maintaining the marriage.
Here is the abstract, or summary, of a paper entitled The impact of family structure on the health of children: effects of divorce, published five years ago in the Linacre Quarterly, a learned medico-scientific journal, by Jane Anderson of the American College of Paediatricians:

“Nearly three decades of research evaluating the impact of family structure on the health and well-being of children demonstrates that children living with their married, biological parents consistently have better physical, emotional and academic well-being. Paediatricians and society should promote the family structure that has the best chance of producing healthy children. The best scientific literature to date suggests that, with the exception of parents faced with unresolvable marital violence, children fare better when parents work at maintaining the marriage. Consequently, society should make every effort to support healthy marriages and to discourage married couples from divorcing.”

That, with respect, is what the Irish Bishops should have said, and should have gone on saying. Time and time again, they should have drawn a clear distinction between the fortunately small minority of marriages that descend into violence and the vast majority in which statistical evidence from all around the world makes it absolutely clear that to give a child the best chance in life is to give that child a secure, traditional, two-parent family with one man and one woman.

Monsignor Alfred Gilbey, in his bestselling catechism We Believe, arguably the best and most intelligent presentation of the Catholic faith in the English language, writes that no child should ever be exposed, even for a moment, to the fear of abandonment by one or other of his or her parents. No child should even be aware that there is such a thing as divorce.

At https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4240051/, read Janet Anderson’s paper online. The statistics are horrifying. The rate of marriage among women has halved in 50 years. Seven in ten children of cohabiting couples will experience parental separation. Less than 30% of African-American children live with their married biological parents.

The most prominent factor preventing many children from upward mobility is not poverty or social class: it is living with a single parent. Yet in the United States the number of cohabiting couples – far more likely to split apart than those who make the solemn commitment of marriage – has increased tenfold in just 40 years.

Most divorces afflict younger children, since almost three-quarters of divorces occur during the first 14 years of marriage. Yet less than half of all children reach the age of 17 while still living with their biological parents. Worse, because a high percentage of divorced adults remarry and two in five of those remarriages also end in divorce, some children are subjected to multiple family breakups.

Divorce is wrong because it is cruel to children and is more likely to cause them permanent disadvantage and harm than any other socio-economic factor.

Contrast these incisive statistics with the desperately well-meaning article by Bishop Nulty in the Irish Times on 21 May, followed by the dismal referendum result. His article would be convincing enough to faithful Catholics, but not to lapsed or non-Catholics. The Bishops need to raise their game, and to make sure that everyone, not just church-going Catholics, is aware of the hard science that demonstrates, time and again and beyond all doubt, just how much terrible damage divorce and cohabitation cause to our children.