September 14, 2015

In the Aug. 31 WCR, Celia Paz poses an important question to moral theologians. Why does the Church insist on the permanence of all marriages, even those that give rise to regrettable evils like physical and emotional abuse? The question deserves an answer.

We naturally and rightly focus attention on the plight of individuals, but the Church must also consider the cultural, societal effects of any practice. Let's concentrate for the moment on pragmatic considerations.

Granted that a marriage can encounter major difficulties and in some cases give rise to serious evils, yet it is far from clear that the good results of allowing divorce outweigh its likely bad results. If they can get out of it if "things don't work out," partners may be less serious about careful preparation and discernment about a proposed marriage.

If divorce is allowed, it will, perhaps unconsciously, influence the quality of the consent given at the time of the exchange of vows. If marriage can be ended when things become difficult, people may be less willing to persevere and overcome the difficulties that inevitably arise in marital relationships.

The argument on pragmatic grounds may be inconclusive. There is another and more basic consideration. If a marriage can be dissolved under certain circumstances, then those circumstances become conditions placed on the marriage.

For example, if someone intends to be committed to their prospective partner as long as that partner remains sane, then the sanity of the partner is a condition of the consent. We are used to giving conditional consent in most of our business arrangements, but do we want the marital agreement to be conditional?

When we are asked to love our neighbours, the request is not conditional. It is not enough to love them when they fulfill my conditions.

Does it not make sense, then, that in that most solemn undertaking to love another in the special way that characterizes marriage, one should not make it conditional? If my commitment is conditioned, to what am I committed, the person or the condition?

Because of the need for brevity this response to Paz's legitimate question has omitted important considerations.

Fr. Jack Gallagher
St. Alphonsus' and St. Clare's Churches