'Yes' Vote On Divorce Heralds A Secularized Ireland

Author: David Manly

"Yes" Vote On Divorce Heralds A Secularized Ireland

by David Manly

A mere 9,000 votes-less than 1 per cent of the 1.5 million votes cast-was all that separated victory from defeat in Ireland's 24 November divorce referendum. The divorce issue has manifested the deep divide in Ireland between the modernizers who want Ireland to join the liberal consensus of the West, and those who still value the Faith and traditions of their ancestors.

The present coalition government of Ireland is made up of three parties. The major party, Fine Gael, is liberal left-of-center. Once firmly Catholic, it is now just opportunistic for office. The two junior parties-a smaller Labor (Socialist) Party and a still smaller exCommunist party, oddly named Democratic Left-are both strongly ideological. It is not surprising that the policies in social and family policies of such a government have been decidedly to the Left, and that one of its declared aims in 1994 was to introduce divorce.

Unfortunately, this "little change" could not be nodded through the legislature without reference to the people. A referendum was necessary, since the Irish Constitution explicitly excluded the passing of any law "providing for the dissolution of marriage." Irish politicians hate referenda, especially on social issues, and with good reason. The memory of the 1986 referendum on divorce was never far from the Pro-Divorce campaign, when an apparently invincible majority of popular support was reversed in a two-to-one majority against in a mere six weeks.

In 1995 it struck fear into the Government's pro-divorce campaigners, involving them in a series of about-turns and foolish decisions that nearly lost them the referendum. On the other side, the memory of this political debacle inspired those working to defeat the divorce proposal, since they were once again faced with an apparent rock-solid majority for divorce. They would come within a hair's breadth of accomplishing this.

In August of this year the Government, after much procrastinating, announced the date of the referendum and decided that a quiet, low-key lead-up to the voting day would suffice. The ministers believed that the measure would be passed by default, without a bruising campaign.

Their expectations were not fulfilled. An innovative and highly effective initiative launched by the No-Divorce Campaign made public support for divorce fall from almost 70 percent to below 50 percent. Two weeks before voting day, it seemed to many observers that public sentiment was reversing, and the referendum would be lost. A panic-stricken Government changed tactics and launched a campaign of personal invective against the leading members of the "No" campaign.

The rest is history. What does the result mean for those that should not have existed on such a basic matter.

Two weeks before the vote, the bishops' official spokesman, Bishop Thomas Flynn of Achonry, reminded that country that no divorced and remarried person could receive Holy Communion. This remark was greeted with horror by many and produced acres of newsprint expressing the "hurt and pain of faithful Catholics." After a generation of poor catechetics and poor preaching, such a reaction demonstrates how quickly fallen human beings instinctively fashion Christianity to suit themselves. It is apparent that the culture of "feel-good" relativism has replaced the firm absolutes of the past.

In contrast to the relative unity of the bishops, a number of theologians opined that a Catholic could legitimately vote for divorce, and that civil divorce was desirable in the name of pluralism, tolerance and freedom of conscience. It should come as no surprise that these theologians have a history of dissent and are frequently given publicity by the media for that very reason.

Not the least of these interventions of the "alternative magisterium" as that of the chairman of the Council of the Religious of Ireland (CORI), who expressed surprise about Bishop Flynn's ruling on refusing Communion to remarried divorcees, citing a particular case in a mission territory. The overall effect was to make the bishop look excessively conservative and cast doubt on his statement.

The divorce debate is part of a much larger agenda of change willed upon the country by an elite who are guided by such dated concepts as utopian progress and modernism, and who regard the pre-1960s as a dark age of ignorance and oppression in Ireland. Among their number are those who are openly hostile to Catholicism, but many want the Church to be part of the New Ireland of their dreams.

For them, Christianity is an important element of their "identity' and heritage, even if its teachings have little influence on their lives. They are happy to go along with the current "deconstruction" of the priesthood and the Church, as well as the accepted revisionism of the history of Irish Catholicism.

Vote overturned?

One week before the vote, the Supreme Court of Ireland ruled that the Government had acted illegally in using public money to influence the outcome of the referendum. In view of the tiny majority in favor of divorce, a number of anti-divorce groups appealing to the High Court to declare the referendum invalid. The case will be heard in either January or February and will certainly by appealed to the Supreme Court. It is therefore possible that another referendum on divorce could be held in 1996.

David Manly is a writer and editor for HLI Ireland,

Taken from the January 1996 issue of "HLI Reports." To subscribe contact: HLI Reports 7845 Airpark Road, Suite E Gaithersburg, MD 20879

Copyright (c) 1996 EWTN