Joint statement by Catholics, Anglicans and Free Churches WARNING OF DOUBLE DANGER
Catholic Herald Reporter
CATHOLIC, Anglican and Free Church leaders this week joined in expressing their "great concern" about some of the clauses in the new Matrimonial Causes and Reconciliation Bill now before Parliament. They said that it "would help to undermine the basic understanding of marriage as a lifelong union if the principle were introduced that a marriage could be terminated by the desire of the partners to terminate it".
The Bill was introduced by Mr. Leo Abse, Labour M.P. for Pontypool, and passed the committee stage last week. The Church leaders' statement, issued simultaneously from Archbishop's House, Westminster, and the Church
Information Office, was signed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the Archbishop of Wales; the Archbishop of Birmingham, Mgr. Grimshaw. on behalf of the Catholic Hierarchy of England and Wales; and the Moderator and the General Secretary of the Free Church Federal Council.
This is the first time since immediately after the last war that leaders of the different Christian denominations have joined to make a statement of this kind.
(See Editorial comment p. 4)
The statement reads:
"In the Matrimonial Causes and Reconciliation Bill introduced by Mr. Leo Abse, which has just completed the Committee stage in the House of Commons, there are a number of proposals designed to promote reconciliation and these will, we believe, have considerable welcome
"There is, however, great concern about one clause which would add a new ground for divorce of such a kind as to introduce a dangerous principle into our marriage laws. It is the clause which would allow divorce after seven years' separation, whether or no a matrimonial offence has been committed against the petitioner.
"Until now the State laws of marriage in this country have been framed on the assumption that marriage is a lifelong covenant not to be terminated solely by the wish of the partners.
"The clause in Mr. Abse's Bill would alter this in two ways. First. after seven years' separation either partner (offended or offending) could. subject to safeguards, obtain a divorce. It is not surprising that during the Committee stage additional safeguards have been added so as to try to remove injustice to the partners who might really be innocent. It is also not surprising that there is doubt as to whether the proposed safeguards would be workable by the Courts. Hence there are calls to omit the attempted safeguards, thus restoring the certainty of injustice.
"The second way in which the law would be altered is to allow, after seven years' separation, divorce by the consent of both partners. It is this which even more plainly introduces a new principle into our laws.
"We think it is important to understand the feelings behind the desire for this change. Many marriages run into difficulties through faults on both sides. The terms "innocent" and "guilty" party are often misleading. It is said that at present when marriages have broken down there is often recourse to a fictitious planning of matrimonial offences in order that a divorce may be ob tained. But we believe none the less that it would help to undermine the basic understanding of marriage as a lifelong union if the principle were introduced that a marriage could be terminated by the desire of the partners to terminate it.
"In the fulfilment of our duty to uphold the Christian meaning of marriage we are concerned for the welfare of the State and the people. At present both a church marriage and even a register office marriage are at one in affirming that the two partners enter upon a lifelong covenant. We think that there would be an increasing tendency to enter upon this covenant less seriously if the law allowed it to be ended on the principle of the partners' own desire to end it. Furthermore if once the principle of divorce by consent after separation were admitted by the law, the pressure would arise (as the Committee stage of the Bill shows) to make the period shorter.
"We must have great sympathy with those whose marriages have come to grief, and with the children of people living together outside wedlock. We must also care for both the partners and the children of a marriage. We would therefore support to the utmost legal provision which would facilitate. the work of reconciliation, and we are anxious to examine any measures for relieving hardships which would not sap the foundation of marriage."
Continued on Page 7, Col. 3