"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
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.
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."
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