WHAT? How is the Catholic Church, with its centuries-old opposition to divorce, as well as abortion, contraception, and same-sex marriage, helping legalize the act—forbidden by Jesus Christ Himself in the Gospels of Matthew (5:31-32; 19:3-12), Mark (10:2-12), and Luke (16:18)—of putting asunder what God has put together?
Isn’t the Church the main reason the Philippines remains one of only two states on the planet outlawing divorce? (The other: Vatican City) So, how is the Philippine Catholic hierarchy, clergy, religious, and laity—more than four out of every five Filipinos—advancing the divorce bill, which has made unprecedented gains in Congress.
Last month, a week after Valentine’s Day, the House of Representatives committee on population and family relations approved the draft Absolute Divorce and Dissolution of Marriage Act, the first time such legislation was sent to the House plenary for debate.
This House committee approval of divorce legislation comes amid other developments seen by advocates of Catholic morals as contrary to Church teaching on the family.
In November, the Food and Drug Administration declared that 51 contraceptives to be distributed by the Department of Health did not cause or promote abortion. The FDA action may allow the DoH to fully implement the 2012 Reproductive Health and Responsible Parenthood Act opposed by the Church.
Last July, President Rodrigo Duterte said he wanted the RH Law to be fully implemented, and criticized the Supreme Court’s restraining order on the measure. Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno pointed out that the TRO only affected two contraceptive implants said to be abortifacient, and would be lifted if the FDA cleared the devices. It did so in November, though abortion opponents plan to question the agency’s decision.
One more: battle lines are also being drawn on same-sex marriage. A week ago, the Supreme Court set oral arguments on a petition to declare unconstitutional the Family Code provision stating that marriage is only for male-female couples. Last December, President Duterte again said he supported same-sex marriage, after backing away a year ago.
So, will the Philippines go the way of the world in divorce, contraceptives, and same-sex unions? Maybe, and with no little help from Catholicism.
How the faithful have advanced divorce
So, how exactly does the Church help the State legalize divorce? Three ways.
First, the Philippine Church has loosened marital and sexual mores. Many, if not most laypeople, hold no strong objections to premarital sex or to new partners for couples still married in the Church.
Just look at how the masa, especially the youth, show great delight and little disdain over unmarried celebrities living together, and married ones changing partners or having several.
Even prelates and priests say little publicly about sins of the flesh. When was the last time one heard a pastoral letter or even a homily condemning adultery and premarital sex? They certainly are not as frequent or prominent as those decrying corruption, poverty, election fraud, or extrajudicial killings, although most Catholics face more temptations in sex and marriage than in those social ills.
Hence, it’s no wonder that 53 percent of respondents in the recent survey of Social Weather Stations favored a divorce law, even if four-fifths of them were probably Catholics. (The other reason for the positive result was SWS’ skewed question, with an opening phrase that tended to elicit approval of divorce.)
Plainly, the Filipino faithful at different levels accept or even embrace 21st-century liberal sexual and marital attitudes. So, if the Church accepts Catholics who take up with new partners without annulling their marriages, why should the State not allow citizens to divorce and remarry? That’s one big reason many lawmakers, while wary about restoring the death penalty, have less qualms about contraception and divorce.
When right and wrong change
A second way that Catholics help promote laws allowing divorce, contraception, and same-sex marriage is the sexual explosion in today’s lifestyles and media, which are created and enjoyed by many millions of Filipino Catholics.
Besides sex outside marriage, Philippine society, like the rest of the modern world, revels in sex-charged entertainment, advertising, fashion, and leisure. And in many Catholic families, most especially those with one or both parents working abroad, there is little parental or moral guidance for children and adolescents, who then partake of lewd content and participate in sex-charged get-togethers.
Even young children are dolled up for parties in dress and makeup, which would have been considered indecent even for adults, in decades past. And parents and even grandparents delight in seeing kids gyrate in sexually suggestive ways, to music full of vulgar or indecent lyrics.
In the face of this sexual eruption, the Church has been largely silent, with hardly any priests railing against excessive sexual content and activity, even in mass homilies. Well, if the Church says little about immoral sex run loose, it must share the blame for the breakdown on family and sexuality morals, including divorce and contraceptive laws.
The third Catholic factor may well lead to full capitulation to divorce, same-sex marriage and contraception legislation and lifestyles: the Vatican’s loosening of moral strictures under Pope Francis. He famously declined to pronounce judgment on homosexuals, and spoke no admonition to homosexuals and unmarried heterosexuals living together.
And his Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) apostolic exhortation has opened the door for bishops and priests to give communion and absolution to Catholics who remain married to their estranged spouses, but take up with other partners.
Plainly, if the Supreme Pontiff allows divorced Catholics living with new spouses to partake of the Blessed Sacrament, and even teaches that such relationships may be what God Himself wishes, then that may legitimize divorce in the Church. The State will just follow.