BY A STAFF REPORTER
FrHE Divorce Reform Bill's success in the House of Commons last week -IL has provoked fresh Catholic opposition. Spokesmen have told me this week of their fears that the Bill, as it now stands, will weaken the institition of marriage, reduce incentives to overcome marriage problems, and underplay the married person's sense of moral responsibility. Most Catholic comments accept that, in a mixed society, divorce is here to stay. But all Christians, they add, should be concerned for legal reforms aimed at minimising hardship and injustice arising from broken marriages. To this end, it is felt, the Bill does not help. The crux of the Bill is its provision for A divorce to be granted to either partner of a marriage, with the consent of the other, after two years' separation, and without the other's consent after five years. Divorce would be based on "irretrievable breakdown", not, as at present, on the "matri monial offence".
The Bill passed its Third Reading in the Commons on June 12 with a majority of 109-55. Seven Catholic MPs present in the House at this stage voted against the Bill. They were Walter Aldritt, Hugh Delargy. Maurice Foley, Peter Mahon and Simon Mahon and Mrs. Shirley Williams (all Labour), and the Hon. Hugh Fraser (Conservative). The House of Lords will debate the Bill on June 30, and it is expected to become law this session. notwithstanding the opposition, led by Lady Summerskill, over the financial clauses.
Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas, Conservative M.P. for Chelmsford, was in Paris when the final vote was taken.
In any event, the Bill will not come into effect before the Government's Bill on married women's financial and property rights is introduced, and the Lord Chancellor has certified by special order that sufficient financial safeguards have been established for divorced wives and the children of divorced parents. Implementation of the Divorce Bill would thus, it seems, be delayed until January. 1970.
The Church of England can be regarded as being in favour of the Bill, which includes the provisions recommended by the Archbishop of Canterbury's Commission on Divorce. The Commission was not concerned to favour divorce as such. but to help to ensure that the law should be as just and humane as possible. Fr. Maurice O'Leary, of the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council, this week reaffirmed his previous welcome for the clauses in the Bill which encourage procedures for reconciling estranged couples. He granted, too, that irretrievable breakdown is a more logical basis for divorce than a single act of adultery or an incident of cruelty. "It is, however," he added, "contrary to justice that a guilty party should have a right to divorce against the will of a faithful partner. It also seems extraordinary that the law should establish benefits for those whose conduct has been detrimental to society."
Fr. O'Leary thought that the Bill would increase divorce by creating a new bias towards it. "If marriage as an institution continues to lose its permanent character, there will be less incentive for couples with matrimonial problems to try to resolve them, especially in the more difficult phases of marriage." A further problem foreseen by Fr. O'Leary is that, if the Bill gives rise to increased ,community divorce, a greater social security burden will fall on the community, as "few people can afford to support two wives, two homes and two sets of children." The Government is expected to introduce a system of social security payments for divorced wives. There could be a temptation, Fr. O'Leary warned, for officials to urge divorce on estranged wives as a way to qualify for benefit. As for illegitimate children, reforms in the law to ease their position were long overdue, but these could be achieved without loosening the ties of marriage.
"CIVIL CONTRACT Speaking against the Bill in the Commons last week, Mr. Dela rgy (Labour M .P. for Thurrock) pointed out that most people in the country regarded marriage as a purely civil contract. But "it is a contract which, over the years, has grown less and less binding, and if this Bill becomes law, it will be less binding than ever. . . .
"Until now a contract has been held to be binding when both parties to it fulfilled the conditions and observed the terms of it. Only when one party refused to fulfil his or her obligations had the other party the right to seek to terminate the contract. Under this Bill all that would be changed."
DISTINCTION A number of critics argue that the Bill assails the concept of personal responsibility, and blurs the distinction between innocence and guilt. This was of special concern to Bishop Cleary, who serves on the Catholic commission for social welfare, and Mrs. Graham Page, public services officer for the Union of Catholic Mothers. They also rejected the misleading tendency of the Press to exaggerate the incidence of irretrievably broken marriages.
The Bishop said that the Bill seemed to undermine the whole concept of morality and pointed out that many marriage problems which were seemingly insuperable at first, especially in the early stages of marriage, rapidly yielded to guidance by trained counsellors, like those of the C.M.A.C.
Mrs. Graham Page fully accepted the need for law reform on divorce, but thought it unlikely that adequate evidence of a final breakdown could be established after so short a period as.two years.
"The Bill seems to take all the sanctity out of marriage," she added. "Coupled with recent moves on abortion and euthanasia, it seems to be pandering to the permissive society." U.C.M. members had been working on Members of Parliament consistently, but without response.
Mill Hill deacons ordained priest
FOURTEEN deacons who have completed their training at St. Joseph's College, Mill Hill, have been ordained in their own parishes. Fr. Gerald Mahon, the Superior General, gave them their first appointments on Sunday.
Eleven of them will be leaving for missions in West Cameroon, Congo, Kenya, Pakistan, Sabah, Sarawak and Uganda. The remainder arc appointed for higher studies in Dublin, Louvain and Munster before going to the missions.