Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Love is for Life: Pastoral Letter of the Irish Bishops

by Irish Hierarchy


Pastoral letter issued on behalf of the Irish Hierarchy in Lent 1985.

Publisher & Date

Veritas Publications, Dublin, Ireland, 1985


Part I: God's Plan for Love
1. Love Between Men and Women: The Promise and the Reality
2. Sex is a Language of Love
3. Love Comes from God
4. God Made Man for Love
5. The Greatest Commandment: Love
6. Married Love in the Bible
7. The Covenant and Marriage
8. Marriage Restored in Christ

Part II: Putting Love Into Love
9. The Sexual Revolution
10. Truthfulness in Sexual Love
11. Sex and Marriage
12. Sex and Parenthood
13. Loveless Sex
14. Solitary Sex
15. Homosexuality
16. The Challenge of Chastity

Part III: Marriage: Its Stresses and Its Graces
17. Marriage in Contemporary Society
18. Incidence of Marital Breakdown in Ireland
19. Marriage and Fidelity in Christian Revelation
20. The Divorce Debate

Part IV: Marriage and the Family in Society and in the Church
21. The State and the Family
22. Marriage in the Christian Community




God's Plan for Love


1. There are few things in life more beautiful and more exalting than the experience of love between man and woman. When a young man and woman are attracted to each other, their love arouses the deepest emotions, the highest expectations, they have ever known. For them, nothing seems to matter but their love. Nothing seems impossible to their love. For each of them, the other is "the only you there is".

2. Just to see a man and woman in love evokes happiness in others. Others share in some sense the happiness of a boy and girl in the bliss of their young love, when their whole world is irradiated by its glow and each of them finds a new purpose and a new joy in living because of the other. Weddings are among life's happiest experiences for all who are present. Even in an age when marriage is the scene of much unhappiness and instability, people never tire of looking at a bridal couple, bright with the promise of lifelong happiness. Happiness is evoked in all by seeing a husband and wife in the mature and settled happiness of the evening of their marriage, when they have "grown into" one another's personalities to a point where, as has been said, each one singly would be "much less than half of what the two of them have become together".

3. Love in marriage and in a home and family is one of the most important conditions for the initiation of young people into the knowledge of God. It is one of the best assurances for children of attaining personal maturity and growing into an adult faith. The circle of love which unites parents with one another and with their children is as necessary for the health and stability of children's personality as food and clothing are for their bodily health. To be deprived of love is a form of malnutrition. Because God Himself is Love, a lack of love in marriage and in the home can make it difficult for children to form a deep relationship with God, our loving Father.

4. In real life, alas, our need for love can bring disillusionment and heartbreak. Even within marriage, love can turn sour and make life a misery. The danger of this is all the greater because of romantic ideas about love and unrealistic expectations held about it. Children who grow up in a loveless home and a violent neighbourhood have difficulty in forming deep and stable love relationships in their own lives. The conditions in which the poor are forced to live are not favourable either to married love or to the love of parents for children. Yet the poor can be rich in the things of the spirit and their homes can be rich in love. There can be more spiritual poverty and more starvation from want of love in homes where there is too much wealth than in those where there is too little. The promises which love makes, therefore, are often contradicted by reality. Love needs protection against human weakness if it is to be true to its best self and realise its full potential.

5. It is necessary to examine the nature of love between men and women more deeply in order to try and understand both its light and its shadow. Especially we must turn to God's revelation and see what it teaches us about the true nature of love. Above all, we must see how a Christian community can help its members to discover the true grandeur of love as it comes from God, and to realise that grandeur in their own relationships.

6. Christians are called today to fix their minds and hearts on the ideal which God laid down for married love as it was "in the beginning". The Church invites them to seek to identify the forces and pressures, the allurements and deceptions, that masquerade as purveyors of the "good life", and to see them for what they really are harbingers of disillusionment and degradation of the person. Married happiness is so great a blessing for humanity that it is worth all the effort needed to attain it. This Pastoral Letter is an attempt by the Bishops of Ireland to reflect with their people on the mystery and the grandeur and the beauty of human love and sexuality and marriage. We invite our people to read it carefully and prayerfully and to try to translate its ideals into practice in daily life and in society. We begin this reflection in the name of God our Father, who "has let us know the mystery of His purpose, the hidden plan He so kindly laid in Christ from the beginning". (Ephesians 1:9)


7. A valuable insight into the meaning of sexual love comes from looking at sex as a means of communication, as a kind of language. We all know the importance of communication. We communicate with words; but we communicate also with our bodies. We say things without words, by our gestures; and sometimes gestures speak louder than words and say things better than words can say them. There are many ways of expressing love by bodily language: a warm handshake, an embrace, holding hands, a mother nursing her child, a father putting his body in danger to protect his child - all these are ways of saying, "I love you", by bodily language. All forms and expressions of love between husband and wife are forms of sexual love; but sexual union or genital love is a particularly intense manifestation of sexual love.

8. In many languages terms used for sexual relations are identical with the terms used for knowing and communicating. The usual term in the Bible for sexual union is the verb "to know". We speak of "conceiving" an idea, and we also speak of "conceiving" a baby. An older term for sexual union was the term "conversation". We still speak of sexual "intercourse".

9. Sexual union says, "I love you", in a very profound way. By sexual union, a man and woman say to each other: "I love you. There is nobody else in all the world I love in the way I love you. I love you just for being you. I want you to become even more wonderful than you are. I want to share my life and my world with you. I want you to share your life and your world with me. I want us to build a new life together, a future together, which will be our future. I need you. I can't live without you. I need you to love me, and to love me not just now but always. I will be faithful to you not just now but always. I will never let you down or walk out on you. I will never put anyone else in place of you. I will stay with you through thick and through thin. I will be responsible for you and I want you to be responsible for me, for us, no matter what happens".

10. Sexual union of its own deep nature is a way of saying all of these things, and it is felt to be true only if it says all of these things and means what it is saying. If one of the partners does not really mean what his sexual action is saying, then he or she is speaking an untruth and is deceiving the other. The body is "saying" one thing, while the mind is meaning another. There is deception when one partner does not intend to be faithful or is not in fact faithful to the other; for these words cannot be honestly and truthfully spoken to more partners than one. There is untruth when one or both partners intend the relationship to be casual or to be temporary; for the sexual union in itself speaks a love which is exclusive and forever. If either or both of the partners knows that the other is not meaning what the sexual action is saying, the sexual union in itself is experienced as superficial and deceitful. It does not give what it promises. It does not mean what it says. It unites bodies but leaves minds and lives separate, divided and alone.

11. We have not yet spelled out all that sexual union says. Sexual union speaks of a man's willingness or readiness to "give" a child to a woman as hers, and of a woman's readiness to bear or "have" a child "with him". It speaks of a man and a woman's readiness to openness to share their being in a child which will be "their child", the expression of their love, the bond of their shared life. It speaks of a man's and a woman's desire to "begin a new life together", both in the form of their child and in the form of their shared life around that child. It is not just the structure of the male and female bodies which says this; but also the deep feelings of the male and female personalities. Many psychologists today agree that teenage pregnancies often reflect the yearnings of young people to give meaning to their lives by an enduring love. Pregnancy can reflect a deep need for love, love of a partner, love of a baby. At one level, a girl may believe she never intended or wanted to become pregnant; while, at a deeper level, she did want to "hold on" to her partner and make sure of his love and lay claim to an enduring share in his life by having his child.

12. The two meanings of sexual union blend into each other. An act of sexual union which truly and honestly expresses total and life- long and exclusive union between a man and woman is also an act which is open to new life in a child. If the act is deliberately prevented from being open to new life, this can only be by the introduction of some barrier or separation into the life-giving act. But deliberately to introduce separation into an act which intends and says total union is a failure in truth.

13. There are other dimensions of meaning in the language of sexual union which are related to these basic meanings. Sexual union can express forgiveness, reconciliation, sorrow for selfishness, healing of hurts; it can convey consolation and reassurance; it speaks of a couple's thankfulness for each other, their peaceful contentment with each other; it gives renewed assurance of being wanted and offers the security of being loved. It carries the promise of seeing life through together with each other.

14. Sexual union is only one part of the total language of sexuality. Man and woman are sexual beings through and through. Their masculinity or femininity affects all of their modes of being and the whole of their relationships with one another. Sexual union should be a special moment in a whole conversation of love between husband and wife. This conversation is carried on by words, by letters, by signs and by silences. It is also carried on by acts of thoughtfulness, attentiveness, remembrance and concern. It includes gestures of tenderness and affection. Above all, it includes real commitment to sharing life together "for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health". In the context of such continuing loving conversation, sexual union is a deep and powerful expression of the two-in-oneness of two lives, and itself develops and deepens that two-in-oneness. Sexual union without this context is flawed by doubt and uncertainty. It carries a lie at its heart.


15. It is a striking characteristic of human love that it spontaneously uses a religious kind of language. In all cultures, the language of human love and the language of prayer and of mysticism have been closely related. Even in a culture so secular as modern Western culture, the language of love, in literature, in poetry and in popular song, is still the language of worship, adoration, divinity, ecstasy, everlastingness, eternity. A further characteristic of love is that it is instinctively experienced as pure and as purifying, as ennobling those united by it. People in love feel that they are being brought close to God by their love. This remains true even when the love is objectively sinful and shameful. In some confused way even then the love is often experienced as uplifting. Wrongfulness in sexual relationships often, to quote the words of a modern writer, "starts from an innocence". This is a sign that love in its original nature, as it came from the loving heart of the Creator, was created good and pure and lovely; and that it still retains some trace of this holy origin even when it is spoiled by human sin. This is important to remember; because people sometimes say that their love must be holy because it feels holy. Instead, the truth is that we have a duty to keep love true to its original holiness by respecting God's law of love.

16. The greatest light on human love that history has ever known comes from God's revelation in Christ. Jesus shows us that human love has its source in God. It comes from the love of God the Father for His beloved Son in the communion of the Holy Spirit. Not only does love come from God; God himself is love. It is St. John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, who tells us: "God is love". These words sum up all that God reveals to us about Himself. Creation is God's love made visible to us. It was from love that He made the world. It is out of love that He continues to care for it. It is in love that God looks on all that he has made. The creation of man is a special act of God's love. God created man out of love. He created man for love. Everything that is in the world is there because God loves us and wants our love.

17. The story of salvation is a story of God's love for men. St. Paul calls it "the mystery of God's purpose", God's "hidden plan" (Ephesians 1:9). St. Paul marvels at "the breadth and length and height and depth" of God's love (Ephesians 3:18). The unimaginable love of God takes on a human body and a human face in Jesus Christ. Jesus is God's love made flesh and dwelling amongst us. He is God's infinite love "given up" for us in the foolishness of the Cross. If we ask, with Mother Julian of Norwich, what was God's meaning in creating and in redeeming the world, we can only answer with her: "Love was His meaning" .

18. Love is God's inner life in the mystery of the Three Persons of the Most Blessed Trinity. Love is God's power and activity, His plan and purpose in creating and redeeming the world. Because God is infinite He can keep pouring out love and compassion, mercy and forgiveness, without end and without limit, for ever and ever. No matter what we do, we cannot stop God loving us. There is no end to God's love for us. The truest picture we can have of it is Christ crucified: God's indomitable love for us spoken between agonising gasps and burning thirst on a cross.


19. The human person is made in God's image. We resemble God in our capacity to love. We humans differ from the animal creation in our capacity for love and our need to be loved. We exist because God is loving us into existence from moment to moment. We are made by God to be loved and to love. The human being needs love in order to be human. Our need for love is endless; and it can be satisfied only in God. It has been said that woman promises man and man promises woman what only God can give. The human heart can know no rest until it rests in God.

20. The human body is the expression of the human spirit: it too is made for the communication of love. Our bodies express loving reverence and adoration before God. Our hands express prayer, offering, worship, sorrow, entreaty, hunger and need before God. Our speech expresses praise, thanksgiving, love for God. The human body also expresses love for others and asks for the love of others. Our speech communicates love to others. Our hands are shaped for giving, for sharing, for helping and supporting, for healing, forgiving, for offering tenderness and affection; in other words, for showing love to others. It is true that our bodies, our speech, our hands, can also impart hurt and harm and hate; but deep down we know we are not made for that. Instinctively we recognise that such behaviour is inhumane, inhuman.We are not being truly human when we hate and hurt: instead we are "acting the brute".


21. God made man and woman in order that they might love. God's first and greatest commandment is: "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind". The second commandment, inseparable from the first, is: "You must love your neighbour as yourself" (Matthew 22: 37-39). This is the whole of our purpose in the world. It is the reason why we exist.

22. The Bible is through and through the story of God's unending love for men and women and of our vocation to love God and to love our fellow-men. Every page of the New Testament is the record of divine love in search of answering human love. The saints repeated it in every age: "Love is all"; "It is enough to love"; "In the evening of life we shall be judged on love"; "Oh, I do not regret, not for one moment do I regret, having given my life to love". Our judgement will be totally concerned with whether we have loved and how we have loved. Our whole vocation is to be true to the two- fold commandment of God, to love Him and to love others. The two commandments are never to be separated. We must love God in Himself. We must love God in others. We must love others in God. "On these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets also" (Matthew 22:40).

23. Sexual morality is not different in kind from morality in general. It is only a particular application of general moral principles to the sexual domain. Sins against chastity are invariably accompanied by sins against other virtues also, especially fidelity, truthfulness and justice. Especially, they are sins against charity. The virtue of chastity is the carrying out in one's sexual life and sexual relationships of God's greatest commandment of charity. St. Paul says:

All the commandments: You shall not commit adultery, you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not covet, and so on, are summed up in this single command: You must love your neighbour as yourself. (Romans 13:9)

Churchmen have unfortunately at times concentrated on sexual sins more than on other forms of immorality, such as injustice and oppression, avarice and cruelty. Yet sexual morality is an inseparable part of the Church's proclamation of justice and charity and of the dignity and sacredness and rights of the human person.

24. The Church's whole moral teaching about sex is above all the application to sexuality of God's greatest commandment of charity. Pope John Paul II has called it a programme for "putting love into love". The mystery of sexuality is a particular instance of the mystery of God's eternal love. The wonder and the beauty of sexuality come from its origin in God's creative love and from its destiny to fulfil God's plan of love. The Christian teaching about love between the sexes has for its constant aim and purpose to protect the original beauty and holiness of sexual love and to prevent it from becoming spoiled by sin. This requires a constant effort of self-knowledge and of self control. If Christ's teaching about love came easily to flawed human nature, Christ would not have termed it a precept or command. Yet, to love as Christ taught us is true freedom and fulfilment for the human person. God is the loving Father who made our hearts for love, and who knows the kind of love which alone will satisfy our hearts.


25. The Bible's teaching about love reinforces all that human experience reveals about it. The first book of the Bible, Genesis, gives a profound revelation about the nature of human love in its two accounts of the creation of the first man and woman. In the first account, we read

God said, "let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves...".

God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.

God blessed them, saying to them, "Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and conquer it..." God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good. (Genesis 1:26-31)

We note that the creation of male and female is described in verse. We could call this mankind's first love-song.

26. The other biblical account of the creation of man and woman describes how God made the man "out of the earth". In spite of all the splendour of the earth's vegetation and all the variety of its animal species, the man was without companionship, having no "helpmate suitable" for himself. So, out of his rib as he slept, God fashioned the woman; and God himself "brought her to the man". On seeing her, the man breaks into song:

This at last is bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh (Genesis 2:23)

This, the Bible goes on, is "why a man leaves his father and mother and joins himself to his wife and they become one body" (Genesis 2:24). The narrative continues: "Both of them were naked, the man and his wife, but they felt no shame in front of each other" (Genesis 2:25).

27. These colourful accounts of creation may seem naive to modern ears, and suitable only to the mentality of a pastoral people; but these simple word-pictures convey profound theological truths. Indeed, until the coming of Christ, nothing more profound had ever been said about the relationships of man and woman to God and to one another. Both of the accounts found in Genesis stress the equality of man and woman. Only when woman is created does man find "a helpmate suitable" for himself; and it is the finding of an equal partner that evokes man's song of joy. Both man and woman are made in God's image in their whole being, not just in their soul, but also in their body. The male and the female body are, each in their characteristic way, made in the likeness of God. Man and woman are made for togetherness in married love. It is together, in the communion of marriage and the family, that they are given by God the task of dominating the universe. In communion with one another, they are given by God the blessing of fertility. The mission to bring children into life and to dominate the earth are a sharing by mankind in God's own work of creating and minding the earth.

28. The Bible teaches that sexuality is good; it comes from God; it reflects the image of God. It fills the world with song: in each of the two biblical accounts, the prose becomes song as soon as man and woman are introduced to each other; and it is by God Himself that they are introduced. God looks upon man and woman, and sees His image also in their sexuality; and it is then that the Bible says: "God saw all that He had made, and it was very good" (Genesis 1:31).

29. The human person, male or female, is made for companionship, for communion. We are made for companionship with others. A special form of companionship is marriage, which both gives companionship between equal partners, and gives the special delight of bodily union. According to the Bible, man and woman are each offered by God as a gift to the other. Man and woman are each offered by self as a gift to the other; and the mutual gifting is in view of union in the one flesh which is marriage. The union of marriage is designed and made and blessed by God. It is a union of one man with one woman, and is unbreakable. It forms a bond even closer than that between a man and his own parents. In this union, the man and his wife belong to each other in such close bodily and spiritual intimacy, and they share the rights of intimacy so totally, that there can be between them in their intimacy none of the sense of shame which would affect either of them in the presence of any stranger.

30. The Bible's account of the Fall describes how, through the sin of the first man and woman, the relationship of the sexes with one another is wounded in all of its dimensions. It is wounded in the dimension of equal and reciprocal communion by the introduction of male domination and of sexual discord. It is wounded in the dimension of intimacy by the introduction of shame and guilt. Nevertheless, even in this first book of the Bible, there is anticipation of the Good News of the Gospel. There seems already to be the indication that it is the woman who will be the instrument of restoration, and will be that instrument precisely through a woman's childbearing and the final victory of that woman's Offspring over the Serpent. (Genesis 3:1-16) Thus the story of the Fall and original sin can be called also the first Gospel, the promise of the Son of Mary who was to reverse the Fall by the Redemption.

31. Already, therefore, in the first book of the Bible, in the story of the first creation, we have the essential outline of the true relationship between men and women and of the nature of marriage. Indeed here we already have a biblical basis for genuine feminism. There is no foundation in the Bible for male domination of women or for female aggressiveness towards men.


32. The rest of the Bible is, in a sense, the story of that great restoration of mankind which is its redemption by Christ. First that restoration is promise and expectation. Then it is fulfilment of the promise and accomplishment of the restoration by Christ, in whom "God wanted all perfection to be found. .. and all things to be reconciled through him and for him" (Colossians 1:18-19).

33. All through the Bible, God's relationship with mankind is expressed in terms of a covenant, a solemn treaty of love and fidelity which God makes with His people. By this covenant, God pledges Himself irrevocably to love His people and never to desert them. They in turn are asked to pledge themselves to a covenant with Him; but no matter how they behave towards God, He will never change His love for them. Furthermore, this language of the covenant and the language of marriage are very closely related all through the Bible. It is as though God could find no language better than the human language of married love in order to tell human beings about how He loves them. He loves them with a love which has all the characteristics of married love, but immeasurably surpasses the most devoted married love. God loves mankind with a love which is faithful, dependable, unconditional, irrevocable; a love which is patient and full of pity; a love which is tender yet strong, passionate but constant; a love which forgives to the point of foolishness and never ceases to welcome home the unfaithful partner. The prophets, when they speak of God's covenant-marriage with His people, stress above all God's fidelity in love in spite of the repeated ingratitude and infidelity of Israel, His spouse.

34. The Prophet Hosea depicts God's people Israel as an unfaithful, adulterous, and indeed promiscuous wife. But God, so far from rejecting her, thinks only of stratagems for enticing her to come back to His love. He pledges to restore her one day to the blissful delights of Paradise as it was at the dawn of creation. He promises once more to make Israel's marriage with God as radiant and joyful as Adam's marriage with Eve before the Fall.

I am going to lure her and lead her out into the wilderness and speak to her heart... There she will respond to me as she did when she was young... (Hosea 2:16-17).

I will betroth you to myself in faithfulness and you will come to know the Lord (Hosea 2:21-2).

35. Jeremiah too describes God's love for His people in terms of married love. This begins with the beauty and joy of young first love.

I remember the affection of your youth, the love of your bridal days. You followed me through the wilderness, through a land unsown. (Jeremiah 2:2)

But soon this idyll becomes a broken dream. The story of Israel becomes an unending tale of infidelities and of the disasters resulting from them. But God's only thought is to win back Israel's love and to rebuild the marriage with His people.

I have loved you with an everlasting love, so I am constant in my affection for you. I build you once more, you shall be rebuilt, virgin of Israel. (Jeremiah 31:3)

36. Ezekiel describes Israel's infidelity to God in terms of marriage betrayed and defiled by adultery and debauchery. But God's only response is to shame Israel into repentance by His forgiveness and tenderness and by the renewal of the marriage covenant with her. (Ezekiel 16)

37. Isaiah in his turn describes the tender pity of God for His fickle and deceiving bride.

Do not be afraid, you will not be put to shame; do not be dismayed, you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth...

For now your creator will be your husband...

Does a man cast off the wife of his youth? says your God.

I did forsake you for a brief moment, but with great love will I take you back...

With everlasting love I have taken pity on you, says the Lord, your redeemer...

For the mountains may depart, the hills be shaken, but my love for you will never leave you, and my covenant of peace with you will never be shaken, says the Lord, who takes pity on you. (Isaiah 54:4-10)

38. Through the Prophets, then, God reveals to us the nature of His covenant-love for men, by describing it in terms of human married love. At the same time, the revelation of God's covenant with His people ennobled the understanding of human marriage. The lesson of the prophets is that the divine covenant-marriage, on which human marriage is based, is irrevocable, no matter what human fickleness and infidelity it encounters. God promises to make a new covenant with men in the future, in which all the tragedies of the broken covenant will be abolished, and the blessed peace of the original covenant, the joyful innocence of the original creation, will be restored.

39. The Old Testament has many beautiful stories of marriage, all of them stressing that blend of steadfastness and tenderness which should characterise married love, as it characterises God's love for His people. Such are the espousals and marriage of Abraham and Sarah, of Isaac and Rebekah, of Jacob and Rachel. The Book of Ruth describes, with touching simplicity, the marriage of Boaz and Ruth. The Book of Tobit has the charming story of "love at first sight" between Tobias and Sarah, and of their prayerful preparation for marriage and their married bliss. Tobias, we are told, "fell so deeply in love with Sarah that he could no longer call his heart his own" (Tobit 6:18). Tobias prays to God:

Be kind enough to have pity on (Sara) and on me and bring us to old age together (Tobit 8:9).

40. The Song of Songs is one of the most celebrated love songs of all literature. It is a long Iyrical celebration of the joy of the mutual love between a young man and a young woman; and yet it is simply an elaboration of the earliest love song which we find in Genesis, the song sung by Adam when he was first introduced to Eve. The stress laid in Genesis on the unbreakable union of the first man and woman in marriage is re-echoed in the Song of Songs:

My beloved is mine and I am his. (Song of Songs 2:15) Set me like a seal on your heart, like a seal on your arm. For love is strong as Death, jealously relentless as Sheol. The flash of it is a flash of fire, a flame of the Lord himself. Love no flood can quench, no torrents drown. Were a man to offer all the wealth of his house to buy love, contempt is all he would purchase. (Song of Songs 8:6-7)


41. The Old Testament's promise of a new and everlasting covenant and of a restoration of humanity to the glory and perfection of its first beginning is fulfilled in Christ. As St. Paul says: "However many of the promises God made, the Yes to them all is in Christ" (2 Corinthians 1:20).

42. Our Lord himself, in his teaching about marriage, appeals explicitly to the situation as it was "in the beginning", before the Fall. Christ restores marriage to that glorious condition from which it had miserably fallen through human "hardness of heart". We read in St. Matthew's Gospel:

Some pharisees approached him, and to test him they said, "Is it against the Law for a man to divorce his wife on any pretext whatever?" He answered, "Have you not read that the Creator from the beginning made them male and female and that he said: This is why a man must leave father and mother, and cling to his wife, and the two become one body? They are no longer two, therefore, but one body. So then, what God has united, man must not divide".

They said to him, "Then why did Moses command that a writ of dismissal should be given in cases of divorce?". "It was because you were so unteachable", he said, "that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but it was not like this from the beginning" (Matthew 19:3-9)

43. This restoration of the original order which God laid down for marriage "in the beginning", is a constant element in the whole Christian tradition. Christ restores all things, bringing about a "new creation". We enter into that new creation by baptism. Indeed, baptism makes us members of the very body of Christ, which is the Church. It makes us sharers in Christ's very nature as Son of the Father; and Christ is, in his own person, the New Creation. He is "the first-born of all creation" (Colossians 1:15), the one who "makes the whole of creation new" (Apocalypse 21:5). As St. Paul says:

For anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here. It is all God's work. (2 Corinthians 5:17-18)

44. It is by baptism that we begin to live "in Christ" and in the Church, and therefore within the New Creation. The Church is the beginning of the making new of the whole creation. The sacrament of matrimony is part of the restoration of all things in Christ. The marriages of baptised persons were referred to by St. Paul as marriages "in the Lord" (cf. I Corinthians 7:39). Christian marriage was seen as marriage restored to its original condition, before the first sin. What the prophets promised about marriage is, for Christians, no longer a promise for a far-away future. In Christ, the promise is fulfilled. The Prophets presented the covenant in terms of marriage, and thus related marriage to the covenant, God being the Bridegroom, Israel the Bride. In the New Testament Christ is shown to be Himself the Bridegroom of whom the Prophets spoke. His Bride is the Church and all humanity, called to membership of his Church. Marriage is the sacrament which signifies Christ's love for mankind. The sacrament of matrimony reflects Christ's love to the world through the love of husband and wife.

45. The sacrament of marriage in the New Testament era has its prototype in the covenant-marriage between Christ and the Church. Christian marriages share in the reality of that covenant-marriage between Christ and his Church. It is St. Paul who develops this doctrine most fully and most beautifully. In his Letter to the Ephesians, he writes:

Husbands should love their wives just as Christ loved the Church and sacrificed himself for her sake to make her holy. He made her clean by washing her in water with a form of words, so that when he took her to himself she would be glorious, with no speck or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and faultless. In the same way, husbands must love their wives as they love their own bodies; for a man to love his wife is for him to love himself. A man never hates his own body, but he feeds it and looks after it; and that is the way Christ treats the Church, because it is his body and we are its living parts. For this reason, a man must leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one body (Genesis 2:24). This mystery has many implications; but I am saying it applies to Christ and the Church. (Ephesians 5:25-32).

46. Christian marriage is called by St. Paul a "great mystery"; and we remember that the word "mystery" is the earliest name for a sacrament. The sacrament of matrimony signifies the love of Christ for His Church, that is, the love whereby the Church exists, the love which the Church is. Matrimony contains within itself the love of Christ for the Church; indeed it contains within itself in miniature the Church itself. One of the early names for the Church was "the love". The Church exists to witness to Christ's love for humanity and to communicate Christ's love to men and women. The special vocation of married people, in virtue of their sacrament of matrimony, is to reveal to others the love which the Church is and to share with others the love which Christ gives them for one another. Marriage, the Vatican Council says, is "a community of love". Married love says to others: "this is how Christ loves his friends". In a special way, matrimony enables a couple and their family to be the Church. Early Christians called the home "the domestic Church", "the Church in the home".

47. Matrimony is a sacrament; Christ is at work in it, as in all the sacraments, operating the great works of his redemption through signs which both signify and effect his redeeming work. These signs point to the paschal mystery of Christ's Death and Resurrection, and each sacrament makes that paschal mystery present and powerful at a particular point in our lives. In the sacrament of marriage, the sign is the love between husband and wife, solemnly pledged and plighted in the exchange of marriage vows. The partners are themselves the ministers of the sacrament of matrimony. Their vowed love is the efficacious sign whereby they become ministers of Christ's grace for one another. The greatest gift they ever give to one another is the gift of Christ's grace. Husband and wife are only human beings, whose pledge is no stronger than their own weak humanity. Yet, through the sign of their love, Christ is there; and "power goes out" from him (cf. Mark 5:30) to the couple, as it went out to those he touched during his earthly life. Christ is ever present with them as they struggle, day by day, to stay faithful, to surmount crises together, to overcome temptations, to resist discouragements, to forgive one another as God has forgiven us, to love one another as Christ himself loved the Church. Christ loved supremely on the Cross. As Blessed Angela of Foligno said: "It was not in fun that Christ loved us". Christian marriage is marriage under the sign of the Cross. That means readiness for suffering; but it also means promise of the Resurrection. It means assurance of the ultimate triumph of love.

48. Married people have a special experience of the Cross in their lives. They experience its pain; for married people can and do inflict misunderstanding, hurt and wrong upon each other. They also experience the power and victory of the Cross; for they learn that love can grow through pain and suffering, and that married love can be deeper and more mature after forgiveness and reconciliation than it would have been if the forgiveness had never been necessary. It is because Christ's own death-conquering love dwells in their human love that a bridegroom and bride can have the courage to say to each other:

I take you as my wife (husband) and I give myself to you as your husband (wife) to love each other truly for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health till death do us part.

49. It is through the power of Christ's love, dwelling in theirs, that married people can have for each other that love of which St. Paul so beautifully speaks:

Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous, love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offence, and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people's sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes. Love does not come to an end... In short, there are three things that last: faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7,13)

50. It is significant that in this passage St. Paul, who is writing in Greek, uses a term for "love" which is different from the term used for human love by the Greeks of his time. The Old Testament had only one verb and noun for both human love and divine or religious love. But the New Testament writers found that the Greek word for love had become so debased and corrupted in the contemporary culture of their time that they could no longer use it as a term for Christian love. To name God's love for men and men's love for God and the love which Christ calls us to have for one another, the New Testament writers used the Greek word "agape", or love-charity. The question has been asked whether the term "love" is not once more becoming so debased in our own day that it almost needs some explanation or addition when we use it to name Christian love. So often nowadays, in popular song and speech, the word "love" means only physical sexual love, or even sexual lust. This is why Pope John Paul can say that the Church's moral teaching about sex is a programme for "putting love into love". It is a call to make human love between man and woman, and specifically to make sexual love, an expression of love-charity. It is indeed none other than the New Commandment given us by Christ:

Love one another; just as I have loved you, you also must love one another. (John 13:34)

51. The fundamental vocation of Christian married partners is to love one another as Christ has loved them. In the words of Lacordaire, they must each aim to be the other's "particular Christ". Their love, sealed by the sign of the Cross, looks to Christ on the Cross. Not only do they find here the model of the love they are called to have for one another; they are also made capable, by the crucified Christ himself, of having that love for each other, and of persevering in it through all difficulties and renewing it in spite of all failures. Their vocation is at the same time a wider one. Christ's love reaches out to all, and so the love of husband and wife reaches out to their children and beyond their children to their children's children and to the community. They become channels of Christ's love. The special vocation of married people is to show how the world can be made new by Christ's new commandment: "love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12).

Putting Love into Love


52. The phrase "sexual revolution" has often been used in respect of the radical and rapid change of attitudes towards sexuality and sexual morality which has taken place in recent decades, particularly in Western countries. Beginning with the urban populations, and widely diffused through literature, the stage, the screen, music and song and the media, these changed attitudes now affect in greater or lesser degree every sector of society.

53. Some aspects of this modern "sexual revolution" are good and are to be welcomed. There is a new openness in discussion about sexuality, and an absence of unhealthy feelings of guilt or shame about our sexual nature. There is a more general acceptance of the need for education of the young in an understanding of their sexuality, even though the call for "sex education" does not always sufficiently stress the human and the spiritual dimensions of sexuality. It would be better to speak of "education for love", since the whole aim of a Christian and healthy sexuality is to put love, in its full and genuine meaning, into sexual relationships. Properly imparted, this knowledge can greatly help young people towards a mature and balanced and Christian understanding of sex.

54. In the Church itself, instead of exaggerated preoccupation with sex as a source of temptation or sin, there is a timely emphasis on the goodness and sacredness of sex in marriage and on marriage as a means to holiness. Harm was done in the past by some sermons, statements and attitudes which associated sex with fear and shame and guilt, instead of seeing it as a beautiful gift from God. There is also in modern times a timely movement towards equality between the sexes, and a greater and overdue recognition of the rights of women within marriage and the home, and also in society. There is a better understanding of marriage as a partnership between equal persons, in which each looks to the other for personal fulfilment, rather than for financial security. All this is positive and welcome progress.

55. Nevertheless it can hardly be denied that our contemporary Western society has seen a serious breakdown of hitherto universally accepted Christian moral standards in the sphere of sexuality. Some of the great non-Christian ethical traditions in non-Western countries would judge much of Western society as decadent in this respect. A great modern thinker said that "our whole civilisation is aphrodisiac". Modern culture in the Western world would in some respects seem to be reverting to a cult of sexuality not entirely dissimilar to the old cults of the "goddesses of love", Venus and Aphrodite, in the pagan culture in which Christianity was born. The challenge facing the Christian in today's world is quite similar to the one which confronted the very first Christians in New Testament times, the challenge to save sexuality from debasement and ennoble it by the standards of the Gospel.

56. St. Paul warned Christians that they could abuse the freedom Christ brought to them and allow themselves to become enslaved once more to sinful self-indulgence. He said:

You were called, as you know, to liberty; but be careful, or this liberty will provide an opening for self-indulgence. (Galatians 5:13).

In spite of the super-abundant grace brought into the world by Christ, sin continued to abound. Men by their sins continued to disfigure the beauty of the works of God's New Creation. Human love, even Christian married love, continued to be debased. In our own day many factors combine to make it difficult for sexual love to retain its full human and spiritual perfection. No statement on the Christian understanding of this area of human life can neglect to point out how and why certain forms of sexual behaviour violate the plan of God when He made human beings male and female and blessed their sexuality. All these forms of immorality are instances of disruption of the intrinsic unity and wholeness of sexuality. They are forms of untruthfulness in sexual relationships.

57. In each instance of sexual immorality, there is a failure to make sexual union a genuine act of love; that is to say, a bodily expression of a lifelong togetherness in love, open to shared life giving. In other words, there is a failure to make human love what God designed it to be, for the mutual fulfilment and happiness of men and women. In all sexual immorality there is a lie: the sexual body is saying one thing; the mind and will and intention are saying something else. In Pope John Paul's words, there is a failure to "put love into love".

58. Some people will say that, so far as a sexual relationship is concerned, all that matters is that two people be in love. The trouble is, however, that what seems like love often falls very far short of the true meaning of love. Everything that the Church has to say about sex is that it should be an expression of genuine love. Love is what the Bible is all about and what the Church is all about. Unless people understand what true love means, they cannot understand what sex means. They cannot use it as God planned it; for God meant sexuality to help people to grow in love and to show God's love to the world.

59. Sexual morality is education in real loving. The purpose of sexual morality is not to condemn or prohibit, but to point the way to love, which is the heart of the Gospel of Christ. Sexual morality protects people from the hurt and the pain that loveless sex can bring to them. Sexual morality is a programme for helping people to distinguish true love from its counterfeits. It keeps love from being wasted. An old Irish phrase for sexual sin described it as 'making a spoiling of love'. In this respect sexual morality is not different from the rest of Christian morality. Moral laws are all of them statements of what is, in this or that situation, the truly loving thing to do, for others and for oneself. Christian teaching says no only to what is unloving. It says yes to love provided the love is truthful and honest. Wrong uses of sex are wrong because they are never the truly loving thing to do.


60. Speaking of marriage, Our Lord said: "What God has united, man must not divide". Something similar could be said about the other unities which God has sealed into sexual love: the unity between sex and faithful lifelong love; the unity between sex and life- giving; the unity between sex, life-giving and marriage. God has united these also, and man must not divide them. The great sins against God's plan for sexuality are each of them sins of separation. They separate sexual enjoyment from the wholeness of its meaning and the integrity of its God-given design. Sex is a language of love; but sexual sin suppresses one part or another of the truth of love. The tragedy of sexual sin is that it separates a part of loving from the rest and pretends that it is the whole of loving. It is a falsehood.

61. Love is a constant theme in modern culture. Modern song and music ceaselessly drum out the message of love. Theatre and cinema portray it. Newspapers, radio and television stories and features constantly have love for their theme. But invariably they deal with love in a mutilated sense. A selection is made from among the values of love. The values of fidelity, exclusiveness, dependability, stability, childbearing, founding of a family, love of children, are downgraded; while the values of sexual compatibility, erotic passion, emotional ecstasy, are given high rating. It is easy to pass to a notion of sexuality as merely an imperious, over-mastering physical urge, which it is natural to indulge and which it is perhaps dangerous to repress. Control of sexual inclination is made to seem unnecessary or impossible, or perhaps even harmful. The popular term, "sexually active", is a good illustration of this crude idea of sex.

62. It is worth noting that "making love" in modern speech has come to mean having sexual intercourse. Its value is measured in terms of erotic intensity and sexual climax. The very term leaves out of account all that is most important in the meaning of love. It ignores the task of the "making" of a love which is faithful unto death. The modern term "lovemaking" shows no concern to make sexual intercourse an expression of genuine giving of self and sharing of life. The term pays no attention to the building of a caring, faithful and lifelong relationship. Love is not understood in terms of unselfish self-giving, sincerity and fidelity. In short, love is not given its true meaning. The language of love is misused. In such cases, sex is divided from love. The sin of separation is manifest; the untruth about love is plain.

63. Sexual relations are sometimes engaged in thoughtlessly and on the mood and impulse of the moment. Not infrequently, they occur on occasions when people have taken too much drink. Indeed, sometimes girls are encouraged to drink in order that their resistance may be lowered. It would take only a little reflection to realise that casual sex excludes nearly everything that love means and denies what sex, as a language of true love, is intended to say. It is deplorable that the supreme expression of communion of body and spirit and life between a man and woman should be made into something casual and trivial. Sexual communion should be treasured as the climax to a gradual growing together in affection, in understanding of each other, in acceptance and forgiveness of each other, in sharing interests and secrets with each other, in praying with each other. Sexual intercourse should come only when the love has become so sure of itself that it can be solemnly pledged and sacramentally sealed in marriage Then and only then is the sexual expression of love honest and truthful, responsible, good and pure. Then and only then does sexual language truly say "I love you", and mean it, without qualification or reservation.


64. Until recently, Western culture, and indeed most of the great human cultures, almost universally recognised the natural and the moral link between sexuality and marriage. Popular fiction, speech and song, as well as literature and law, all recognised this link. Romance longed for and prepared for and culminated in marriage, and sexual union outside of marriage was recognised as wrong. We saw already that sexual union, in its deep nature, is a way whereby a couple say to each other: "I want to be one with you and I want you to be one with me for ever. I want our union to be for ever and ever. I want to share my life with you and only you always". In other words, sexual union speaks a love whose name is marriage.

65. Contemporary culture has witnessed a radical change of attitudes. Even the most casual attraction, even the most instant passion, would, in the eyes of some, seem to justify and almost require sexual relations as their normal and natural expression. Intercourse is seen in some circles, not so much as the giving of oneself exclusively and forever to another, but rather as the satisfaction of a feeling or impulse of the moment. The novel and the romantic fiction of today have to do much more with love- passion than with love-charity; and, when they treat of marriage, they usually treat much more of its problems than of its positive values. Sex is treated almost as a harmless pleasure, or else as an irresistible physical urge, instead of being the expression of a serious commitment to another person.

66. It is part of the nobility of human nature that we are capable of self-control where sexual expression is concerned. Apart from cases where freedom is excluded by assault or is diminished by involuntary causes, it is men and women who decide whether to have sexual relations or whether to place themselves in situations where the urge to sexual expression will become uncontrollable. In the modern world, Christians have the calling and the privilege of witnessing to chastity; and self-control in sexual matters is the basis of chastity. By the exercise of chastity. Christians are witnessing to the truth and beauty of love.

67. In much of modern culture, sexual relationships become temporary, experimental and disposable. If sex is trivialised, then love is trivialised; and there is nothing more damaging to persons than to make light of the love they desperately need. Only in marriage can sexual love be true to its own deepest meaning and need. The separation of sex from marriage is a violation of God's plan for human love. It marks a cheapening of love and a debasing of sexuality. There is no more appalling desecration and degradation of sex than the crime of incest. It is distressing that this repulsive transgression of the most sacred family relationship would seem to be on the increase.

11.1 Extra-marital sex

68. God designed love between man and woman to be a permanent and exclusive partnership in tenderness and faithfulness, excluding any alien partner, making unfaithfulness to one's only loved one unthinkable, binding the couple by bonds of love to one another until death. God designed this love to be a pledged and life- lasting love, a married love. He designed it to be open to child bearing.

69. A baby, which is the fruit of married love, needs nourishment for its health and physical development; this it receives in the womb through its mother's bloodstream, and after birth from its mother's breast. The child needs nourishment no less for the development of a healthy personality; and the nourishment it needs for this is love. The love which surrounds a baby in infancy and childhood is as vital for its healthy psychological and spiritual development as the amniotic fluid by which it is surrounded in the womb is for its physical life- and is as vital for its healthy survival as are the clothes which protect it from the cold in infancy. Security in being loved by both its parents is vital for a child's growth to personal maturity. Children born outside of marriage carry added risks of emotional handicap in later life. Psychologists and sociologists agree that many of the psychological and social casualties among young people today can be traced back to the lack of love and security in childhood, and to insecurity in their parents' marriages. God's plan for love is both a protection for the couple themselves of the genuineness of their love, and a prescription for the mature development of their children. Any separation of physical sexual union from the fullness of its meaning which is found only in marriage, is a disruption of God's plan. It is a betrayal of love.

70. Sexuality touches the sources of human life. It concerns the family, the basic cell of the human community and the foundation of a stable society. Sex is not just a personal and private matter. It has a social and community aspect too. Sexual relationships have implications going far beyond the individuals concerned. There are consequences for families, for children, for the future of society. If broken marriages and homes result, society is burdened with the social casualties. There is the damage to health caused by sexually transmitted diseases, sometimes affecting innocent spouses of infected partners. The incidence of sexually transmitted diseases places added burdens on the health services. No society can be unconcerned about standards of sexual behaviour. No society has ever regarded sex as a merely private sphere. No state is without laws regulating marriage. In our age particularly, when claims are made for a universal and unqualified right to sexual activity, men and women have to remember their responsibilities to society in the use of sex.

71. The name which the whole of Christian tradition, following the Bible, has always given to acts of sexual infidelity against one's married partner is the term adultery. God's commandment, "Thou shalt not commit adultery", is as true and as binding today as ever it was. Christ reinforced it by forbidding also adultery of thought or desire. Adultery is a multiple sin; for it adds to the sin of unchastity the further sin of injustice inflicted on a married partner and on children.

72. When the male partner in a sexual relationship is a married man, possibly masquerading as single, a detestable note of betrayal and deceit is added to the other elements of untruth in the relationship. The girl is often tricked, deceived, exploited; and then abandoned. The man may go off to make new "conquests". For the girl, the experience can be deeply and lastingly wounding to her self-esteem and to her trust in men. She can even be affected in her relations with a future husband. The fault, however, does not by any means always lie with men. The guilt of adultery is shared. It is not infrequently women who invite and who initiate immoral relationships. The harm they thereby do to their husband, their home and their children is immense.

73. God's mercy, however, always awaits those caught up in adulterous relationships. We thank God for the wonders of repentance and forgiveness granted by God to many who turn to Him to be pardoned and to change their lives. We thank God for the marvellous graces of reconciliation and forgiveness which He gives to so many injured partners in such relationships, enabling them to rebuild their marriage in forgiving love.

11.2 Pre-marital sex

74. There has undeniably been an increase in sexual relationships before marriage, as well as in casual sexual relationships and in pregnancies out of wedlock. All of these relationships, which separate sex from marriage, are against God's law of love. Acts of sexual intercourse before marriage are acts of fornication; and these, when freely and deliberately committed are in themselves always gravely sinful. Our Lord also clearly taught that fornication, even in thought and intention, is evil. This is still the clear and certain teaching of the Catholic Church today. The Church cannot change this teaching, because it is based on the word of God, which does not pass away. In her ministry of preaching and teaching, the Church must witness to the truth of Christ- but this is a truth that sets us free with the truest of all freedoms, freedom from sin.

75. At the same time, in her ministry of reconciliation in the sacrament of penance, the Church witnesses to the compassion of Christ, who always showed himself full of mercy and patience towards the sinner, while also gently but firmly asking them to turn away from sin. Where sexual sin is concerned, the Church fully realises the difficulties facing people, and particularly the young, in striving to remain chaste in today's world. She seeks to do everything possible to support them, while also reminding them constantly of the mercy and forgiveness of Christ. Like her Lord, the Church will always say to those who have sinned sexually: "Go in peace, your sins are forgiven". But, like her Lord, she must also add: "Go and sin no more". The daily struggle against sin and temptation is the test of our love of God and of our trust in him. It is the stuff of holiness. In the field of sexual love, the Church is not maintaining a "hard line". She is not showing insensitivity or hostility towards sex. On the contrary, she is saving love from trivialisation. She is protecting man's most precious resource and greatest need, which is love. She is thereby trying to save persons from pain and loss through the spoiling or wasting of love.

76. People nowadays are constantly surrounded by sexual stimuli. A whole "sex industry" has been set up, whose large profits depend on the arousal of sexual desire. Human nature is weak and passion is strong. Those who fall into sexual sin or into sinful sexual relationships should not be discouraged. Great saints have fallen into sins of the flesh. We need only recall St. Mary Magdalen and St. Augustine. Magdalen, a notorious public sinner, became one of the first to meet the risen Lord and was chosen as one of the first heralds of the resurrection. "Many sins (were) forgiven her", the Lord said, "because she loved much" (cf. Luke 7:36-50). The young Augustine had a mistress who bore him a child; yet he became one of the greatest saints and doctors of the Church. Charles de Foucauld, nearer our own time, led a profligate life before his conversion. There are countless instances in the Church 's past and present of prodigal sons and daughters whom the Father runs to welcome back, embracing them in his joy at their return and inviting them to celebrate their homecoming with him in the Eucharist.

11.3 Cohabitation without marriage

77. In many countries today there is a growing acceptance of the practice of cohabitation without marriage. This means that a couple in a so-called "stable relationship" live together without marriage, usually with the idea of getting married eventually if it "works out" for them. It may be argued that they need to be "sexually experienced" or to have tested their "sexual compatibility" before they commit themselves finally to marriage. The argument is plausible, but it is fundamentally mistaken. A couple will not be "sexually compatible" unless they are compatible at deeper levels of personality, temperament, interests and values, life styles and spirituality. Premature sexual intercourse will deflect the relationship into one single dimension, the sexual one, long before the couple have had the time or the opportunity or the freedom of spirit to test the other dimensions of their relationship. But these other dimensions are even more important for their compatibility and for the durability of the relationship, and specifically for their sexual fulfilment in marriage, than is the physical dimension. Sexual intercourse in a courtship makes a couple sexual partners before they have come to trust one another enough to commit themselves totally and finally to each other. Successful marriage and successful sexual harmony in marriage depend on mature and faithful friendship more than on "sexual success". Sexual harmony in marriage is important, but it is by no means sufficient. If it is pursued as an end in itself, no matter by what techniques it is perfected, it will not make a marriage or save a marriage unless there is deep sharing of lives. One can be "sexually experienced", but be very far indeed from being experienced in love.

78. So-called "stable sexual relationships" outside marriage are in fact "let's pretend" situations. The couple live as if they were finally committed to one another; but they are not. They live as if they loved one another for life; yet each retains the freedom to "walk out" on the other. Their living together and their sexual "language" speak of pledged faithfulness; but yet they keep putting off the pledge and leave their options open on the faithfulness. Their relationship is hedged with reservations. They are in effect saying to each other: "I give my sexual body to you but not myself"; or "I want your body but I'm not sure if I want your self"; or "I will give myself to you, but not just yet, maybe later"; or "I give myself to you now but I may want to give myself to someone else after a while". A stable relationship cannot be built on or even prepared by such hedging and hesitation.

79. Once sexual intercourse becomes part of a relationship, the couple come to regard one another as if they were already a married couple; while all the time knowing that they are not. They are living a make-believe. They are acting out a pretence. Young people who embark on the experiment of "living together" before marriage do not realise how profoundly a sexual relationship affects one's life and what deep emotions and expectations it arouses. They do not know how traumatic the effects on them can be when the relationship is terminated. Sex is too profound and mysterious to be treated casually. In particular, a person's first experience of sex can be decisive for future attitudes to sexuality within marriage.

80. The truth of genuine marriage cannot be honestly prepared for by the make believe of a "trial" marriage. "Trial marriages", instead of being a preparation for successful marriage, are instead a psychological and moral preparation for instability in a future marriage. Having each experienced the other's readiness for one tentative "affair", a couple will find it more difficult to trust each other totally in a true marriage. They may even find it harder themselves to resist temptation to marital infidelity. There is no better foundation for trusting and trustworthy married love than for each partner to know that the other has had sexual relationships only with him or with her. Pre-marital chastity means being determined to keep the gift of oneself for the person one loves alone. It is a manifestation of true love.

81. Couples who have sincerely tried to see their love in the light of God's plan and to have a real sense of the beauty and grace of the sacrament of marriage, know that "sex before marriage" is gravely in conflict with God's plan for making human love a source of grace and holiness. They know that their love was designed to be such that God, looking on it, would bless it and would see that it was "very good". A sexual relationship outside of marriage is sinful; and in God's presence the couple cannot avoid feeling shame, rather than the peace of God's blessing and of a good conscience. This is itself a source of tension and prevents the tranquility of mind which married sexual union should confer. What is wrong in a moral and religious sense cannot lead to happiness on the human level.

82. The possibility of pregnancy is inseparable from an unmarried sexual relationship. This is not in itself a good reason for avoiding a wrong sexual relationship. The use of contraceptives in no way lessens the moral wrongness. Nevertheless, the possibility of pregnancy is always there. The ever-present risk introduces an element of fear and insecurity which flaws the relationship. The couple run the risk of getting married under the strain and the duress of a pregnancy; and can be prone afterwards to the suspicion that they should not have married and would not have married but for the pregnancy. Sexual intercourse and pregnancy sometimes occur at an early stage in the couple's relationship. If, as a result, the couple marry, they are faced with the problem of fitting the arrival of a child into their relationship before they have even consolidated their own relationship with one another. The resultant strains can be so great that the couple cannot cope with them.

83. The danger is particularly great in the case of teenage marriages. This is why all Irish dioceses now ask for adequate prior notice of an intended marriage; and this requirement is even stricter in the case of teenage couples. The purpose of this is not to create delays and difficulties. The purpose instead is to provide a caring service for couples intending marriage, by allowing sufficient time for serious preparation, through a pre- marriage course and through discussions with the priest and with marriage counsellors. When the bride-to-be is pregnant, it is often advisable to try to persuade the couple to have the marriage postponed at least until after the baby is born. This is because of the real danger that the existence of pregnancy may cause pressure to be put on the couple, either by their families or by one another; so that the decision to marry may not be entirely free and mature. It is also because of the Church's experience of the numbers of teenage marriages which run into difficulties or which even break up. Catholic marriage tribunals provide undeniable evidence of this sad fact. In cases where, from early in the courtship, the relationship has been based primarily on sex, it is notable how easily and how quickly the relationship can turn into resentment and estrangement.

11.4 Unmarried pregnancy

84. When pregnancy does occur, it can come as a great shock and can cause panic, even though in all honesty the couple must admit that this was a possible consequence of the way in which they were freely acting. Yet now above all is the time for them to remember that there is no limit to God's mercy for those who admit their sin and ask His pardon. Sexual sin has elements of powerful passion, which cannot always be fully foreseen. There can be circumstances which lessen guilt. Priests will always be particularly compassionate towards people, especially young people, who have sinned sexually. Priests are ministers of God's forgiving love, not of human judgement or condemnation. Our Lord's gentle treatment of the adulterous woman will be their model. Parents also should show special love and compassion to their teenage daughter or son in such circumstances. Never do young people so much need parental love as in moments of shame and panic like this. To insist on marriage at once in order to save family reputation or to avoid scandal can be disastrous, especially in the case of teenage couples. Instead, both the young mother and the child should be accepted and should be lovingly helped through the pregnancy and the birth, so that a mature decision regarding marriage may then be made in calm and peace.

85. A pregnant unmarried girl can be put under strong pressure to have an abortion. The pressure can come from her partner or from relatives or companions. It is scarcely credible, and yet it is true, that the pressure sometimes comes even from parents. Pressure can come also from the unkind and condemnatory attitudes of neighbours and friends. We have set out the Church's teaching on abortion fully in our Pastoral, Human Life Is Sacred, in 1975; and we call this teaching to mind again now. As well as stressing the abhorrent evil of abortion, we called then for the development of all the services caring for the worried pregnant mother and her child. We set up the confidential telephone service, Cura, for this purpose. These services have developed admirably since then. There is no reason for anyone to say "I had no alternative to abortion".

86. Over and above these services, there is great need for a genuinely caring attitude on the part of the whole community. While recognising sin for what it truly is, we have no right to condemn the sinner. Our Lord himself has shown us how rejection of sin must be accompanied by love and understanding and compassion and practical help for the person who has strayed. Tragic happenings have brought home to us how desperate is the loneliness and the panic of some girlhood pregnancies. Such happenings must weigh on the consciences of us all. How have we failed these friendless and frightened young people? If a pregnancy ends tragically, it is not enough to give vent to moral outrage or to look for scapegoats. All sectors of society and all formers of opinion must engage in honest self-examination in order to see whether we are allowing our young people to be bombarded by sexual stimuli and influences and attitudes and example which virtually pressurise them into sexual relationships while they are still children.

87. Over recent years, there has been excessive publicity given to the unwed mother. Familiarity must not be allowed to lessen our sense of the great sadness of unmarried pregnancy. There is too little thought for the wrong that has been done to the child by its being deprived of its right to the faithful love of two parents and to the stable environment of a loving home. There is an unconscious sexual discrimination involved in focusing attention on the unwed mother. Rarely indeed is the public spotlight turned on the unwed father. He has usually walked anonymously away from his responsibilities, leaving a girl deeply emotionally hurt and leaving a child in danger of being emotionally scarred by lack of a father's love. There is a body of research which indicates that children's psychological development can be impaired by the absence of a father in their home. The great increase in the number of lone-mother families is, therefore, a grave problem for society.


12.1 Children, the precious gift of marriage

88. The document, Familiaris Consortio, says:

According to the plan of God, marriage is the foundation of the wider community of the family, since the very institution of marriage and conjugal love are ordained to the procreation and education of children, in whom they find their crowning. In its most profound reality, love is essentially a gift; and conjugal love. . . does not end with the couple, because it makes them capable of the greatest possible gift, the gift by which they become cooperators with God for giving life to a new human person. Thus the couple, while giving themselves to one another, give not just themselves but also the reality of children, who are a living reflection of their love, a permanent sign of conjugal unity and a living and inseparable synthesis of their being a father and mother.

When they become parents, spouses receive from God the gift of a new responsibility. Their parental love is called to become for the children the visible sign of the very love of God, "from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named" (Ephesians 3:15) (no.14).

12.2 Responsible Parenthood

89. The Vatican Council stressed the fact that married love must of its nature be open to the giving of new life. It then went on to describe the qualities of responsible parenthood, emphasising that this requires the "harmonizing (of) conjugal love with the responsible transmission of life". (See Appendix I.) In the encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI clarified the concept of "responsible parenthood", which, he said, "today is rightly much insisted upon, and which also must be exactly understood" (H. V. 10). It involves knowledge of and respect for "the biological laws which are part of the human person". It involves control by reason and will of innate drives and emotions. It involves, in the light of physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, a prudent and generous decision to have a large family; or, on the other hand, a decision, "made for serious reasons and with due respect for the moral law" to avoid for the time being, or even for an indeterminate period, a new birth" (H. V. 10).

90. "Due respect for the moral law" means that decisions regarding family size must be based on genuine reasons and not on mere selfishness. It also means that the methods used to carry out the decision should, in the words of the Vatican Council, respect, reveal and protect "the integral meaning of conjugal love", and "preserve the full sense of mutual self-giving and human procreation". There are various forms of natural family planning and these respect these criteria. These methods are based upon insight into the Creator's design of the cycle of fertility. In sexual union, the partners, in giving themselves to each other, should at the same time become more aware of their masculine or feminine identity and become more fulfilled as male or as female. At the same time, each partner should accept the other fully as woman or fully as man. The more completely each partner understands the other and accepts the other in the partner's sexual otherness, the more deep and true their union will be. Everything that enables the man to understand and to accept the female nature, and vice versa, serves to make the union more complete. When the couple are aware of the complementarity and partnership of husband and wife in the procreation of life, when both of them have insight into the mysterious and marvellous feminine cycle of life-bearing, they can enter more profoundly into the wonder of their sexuality and their union with each other. Knowledge of the cycle of life enables the man to understand more fully the bodily and the emotional and the spiritual nature of the woman, and enables him to accept and to respect her in the trueness of her femininity.

91. The cycle of life-bearing itself provides times when nature 'rests' in its rhythmic task of setting up the conditions for new life. These times of 'rest' are themselves part of God's plan for human fertility. When married partners avail themselves of these times to express their love in sexual union, provided this is done with "a generous human and Christian sense of responsibility", they are loving one another in full peace with God, because they are respecting the divine plan "for human procreation in the context of true love".

92. Natural family planning frees couples in the planning of their families from medication and from technology, with their known harmful side effects. It has the great merit of making responsible parenthood a joint responsibility of husband and wife together. Contraceptives, on the contrary, nearly always place the responsibility solely on the woman. It is deplorable that women who wish to use natural family planning are sometimes unable to do so because their husbands refuse to cooperate. Husbands and wives have equal duties in respect of responsible parenthood. This requires that husbands cooperate with their wives in making responsible parenthood possible through morally acceptable means. As Pope John Paul II put it in the document, "The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World", Familiaris Consortio:

The choice of the natural rhythms involves accepting the cycle of the person, that is the woman, and thereby accepting dialogue, reciprocal respect, shared responsibility and self control. To accept the cycle and to enter into dialogue means to recognise both the spiritual and corporal character of conjugal communion and to live personal love with its requirement of fidelity. In this context, the couple comes to experience how conjugal communion is enriched with those values of tenderness and affection which constitute the inner soul of human sexuality, in its physical dimensions also. (No. 32)

93. Women who cannot practice natural family planning and couples who, in spite of their sincere efforts, find it is not effective for them, can feel driven to the use of contraceptives. Married couples in modern society are under many pressures to practise artificial contraception. There are housing problems, financial difficulties, unemployment, and many other factors causing severe strain in marriage and family life. There is lack of love and of communication and of mutual consideration in some marriages, and specifically in the sexual area of marriage. There is the fear of losing one another's affection by any avoidance of sexual relations. There is pressure from modern culture to accept contraception as a normal part of married life. There is also genuine confusion among some Catholics about the morality of artificial contraception. Such circumstances as these can diminish freedom and lessen guilt, and can at times remove them entirely. To quote Familiaris Consortio:

As Mother, the Church is close to the many married couples who find themselves in difficulty over this important point of the moral life: she knows well their situation, which is often very arduous and at times truly tormented by difficulties of every kind, not only individual difficulties but social ones as well; she knows that many couples encounter difficulties not only in the concrete fulfilment of the moral norm but even in understanding its inherent values. (No. 33)

The only way really to fail in this respect is to stop trying. It should be remembered that, as has been said, "the saint is only the sinner who wouldn't stop trying".

94. Nevertheless we have to say that the Catholic Church clearly teaches that artificial contraception is in itself always objectively wrong. Couples must, therefore, do all that is in their power to avoid or to give up this practice, relying on God's help to make possible what may sometimes seem humanly impossible. They must also have great trust in God's grace, ever present to them in the sacrament of marriage. What seems to them impossible can become possible by God's power and by the grace of the sacrament, and by their own persevering efforts. If they fail in their efforts, they must remember that God never fails in His mercy. His compassion and forgiveness are always available to them in the sacrament of penance or reconciliation. Here, no matter what has gone wrong, men and women can always find that peace of conscience without which there cannot be happiness in marriage.

95. Priests, when this problem is brought to them in the confessional, must indeed present the authentic teaching of the Church. As Pope Paul VI said:

To diminish in no way the saving teaching of Christ constitutes an eminent form of charity for souls (H. V. 29 cited in F. C. 33).

Priests must also have a compassionate pastoral understanding of the real difficulties facing many married people. They must do everything possible to make the experience of the sacrament of reconciliation an experience of Christ's compassion and healing and peace, an encounter with Christ's patient, understanding love. Priests will remember St. Paul's injunction to Timothy:

Proclaim the message and, welcome or unwelcome, insist on it. . . But do all with patience and with the intention of teaching (2 Timothy 4:12).

The Church's teaching about the wrongness of contraception is a prescription for happiness, not for tension. It is a programme for peace of conscience, not for anxiety and guilt. It is sad that some have given up the practice of confession because of what they experienced in the past as insensitivity on the part of some confessors in this domain. It has been truly said that many people throughout history have left the Church because they found in her too little compassion; but few have left her because they found her too forgiving.

12.3 The Contraceptive Mentality

96. One great factor in the contemporary revolution in sexual behaviour is the introduction of contraceptives and their constantly wider and freer availability. It is more than half a century now since Bertrand Russell declared that contraceptives call for a completely new ethic of sex. It has become clearer in recent times how radically "new" that ethic is, and how deeply it is in conflict with Christian tradition.

97. Contraceptives are in essence divisive of what God has united. Primarily and directly contraceptives separate sexual intercourse from its intrinsic openness to life-giving. Contraceptives also increase the propensity and the temptation to separate sex from fidelity, permanence and exclusive relationship. They facilitate the separation of sex from love. They make it easier to separate sex from marriage. Much of what nowadays is called "family planning" has no relevance either to marriage or the family.

98. It is by no means an accident that the spreading wave of contraceptives has everywhere been associated with an increase in pre-marital and extra-marital sex and of venereal disease. One undeniable effect of the wider and wider availability of contraceptives in other countries has been to encourage sexual permissiveness. In turn, the spread of sexual permissiveness calls for more and more contraception and sterilisation, with abortion as a "back-up" remedy for "contraceptive failure". Some widely used contraceptive pills and devices are in fact abortifacients under another name. Intra-uterine devices are admittedly abortifacient in their operation. The borderline between contraception and abortion tends to become blurred in these situations. Modern society, from this point of view, might well be said to be organised on the basis of sex without self-control.

99. It is a sad fact that sexual relationships between young people, even at school-going age, is becoming more common in Ireland. This is a cause of grave concern and great sadness to parents and to all who care about young people and about the quality of life in our society. We cannot be complacent about the problem or pretend that it does not exist. Some will argue that the obvious remedy is to make contraceptives more widely available, especially to young unmarried people. This view may be sincerely held, but it is nevertheless dangerously mistaken. In countries where contraceptives are universally available and free, and where large sums of public money are spent in officially promoting their use, the incidence of teenage pregnancy and the rate of births out of wedlock have remained at very high levels. The widespread use of abortion has obviously reduced the overall number of births, but it has not significantly affected the percentage of births out of wedlock. Thus in England and Wales, children born out of wedlock constituted 8.4 per cent of total births in 1971. The percentage increased to 14.99 per cent in 1983, in spite of the fact that 140,000 abortions were performed in that year. In Northern Ireland the figures were 3.8 per cent in 1971 and 8.7 per cent in 1983. In the Republic of Ireland, the corresponding figures were 2.7 per cent in 1971 and 6.8 per cent in 1983. The truth is that, the more contraceptives there are, and the more they are made available to young people, the more sexual indulgence there will be, and the more will irresponsible attitudes towards sex be encouraged. The more also will teenagers, and particularly teenage girls, be put under pressure to engage in sexual intercourse.

100. Much modern advice invites young people to believe, from their early teens, that intercourse with a boyfriend or girlfriend is quite normal and right so long as intercourse is not "unprotected". In the name of sexual freedom, young people in modern society are almost being denied the freedom to say no to sexual intercourse. A truly caring society would not allow its young people to be emotionally harassed in this way at an age when they are still only in the process of maturing emotionally and are vulnerable. Contraceptives are a false and facile solution to a problem which is fundamentally moral and spiritual in nature. The remedy must be sought at deeper levels of moral living and moral and spiritual formation of the young. There can be no way to sexual responsibility except through self-control and a truly Christian vision of sexuality in the community. The wide availability of contraceptives positively discourages self-control and trivialises sexual love. It leaves young people open to sad deception and leaves their innocence and their idealism open to heartless exploitation. It should also be remembered that young people sometimes turn to a sexual partner to find from him or her the love which they have not found at home, and to find escape from that loneliness into which a loveless society can relegate them.

101. The insight of Bertrand Russell was acute. His logic was accurate. The contraceptive mentality has fostered the wide acceptance of a new sexual ethic. But let it be stated clearly that it has not made that "new morality" right or true. What we have in modern society is not a new morality of sex but rather a radical rejection of the morality of the entire Christian tradition. The new patterns of sexual behaviour face all of us in the Church today with a formidable task, the task of bringing together again what God made one but man persists in dividing. Pope Paul called it a "great work of education, of progress and of love". Pope John Paul has recently spoken of "an education for love rooted in faith".

102. The intrinsic connection of sexual union with marriage, and its intrinsic connection with fertility, are clearly laid down in God's plan "in the beginning", as we find it in the Book of Genesis. Man and woman are called to "cleave" to one another "in one flesh", and thereby to "be fruitful and multiply". This plan of God is written also into the being of man and woman. It is imprinted in them, in body and in spirit, in instinct and emotion, in conscious thought and in unconscious need. Sexual love impels man and woman to give themselves completely to each other, to belong wholly to each other; to share life together; to be no longer two but one, and to be two-in-one not just in body but also in spirit, mind and will. The perfect embodiment of a man's and a woman's two-in-oneness is their child. The greatest expression of their shared life is when man and woman share together in creating new life, which is "flesh of the flesh and bone of the bone" of them both. A child is a man's and a woman's love for one another smiling back at both of them, in a face which unites the very features of them both.

12.4 Sterilisation

103. When surgical sterilisation was practised in Nazi Germany some fifty years ago, it aroused general disgust and revulsion. It is surely a sign of moral decline that now the same operation is widely regarded as morally acceptable and even socially "progressive". It was of course predictable that the propaganda for contraceptives, and especially for the contraceptive pill, should lead to acceptance of sterilisation. A major effect of most contraceptive pills is to bring about temporary sterilisation. From this to surgical sterilisation is a short and logical path.

104. No Catholic should be in any doubt about the teaching of the Church in this matter. There is no uncertainty or ambiguity about the teaching. We stated it in our Pastoral Letter Human Life Is Sacred, in 1975. The same teaching of the Church was reaffirmed, in that same year, by the Holy See, in specific reference to the responsibilities of Catholic hospitals and Catholic medical and paramedical personnel. This teaching declares that any form of sterilisation, whose direct and immediate and intended effect is to render the sexual faculty incapable of procreation, is direct sterilisation, and as such is absolutely forbidden according to the doctrine of the Church. Catholic hospitals may not provide facilities for such operations. Catholic medical personnel may not cooperate with them. As the document from the Holy See declares, such cooperation would be totally incompatible with the duty of Catholics to defend and to witness to the primacy of the moral order. There should be recognition in the Health Services of the right of doctors or nurses to refuse, on grounds of conscience, to participate in such operations. It is deplorable that in some countries sterilisation is offered after childbirth, as a routine procedure, to women who have already had one or two children. At a time when mothers may be emotionally very vulnerable and open to suggestion, they can be led to consent to an operation with which their conscience and their instincts will later reproach them bitterly.

105. Sterilisation creates serious risks for the psychological well-being of husband and wife. The sterilised wife can come to feel herself a "sexual object" for the use of her husband. The sterilised husband can come to feel himself as less than fully a man. Each can feel damaged in his or her personhood by permanent loss of the power of parenthood. A person who has sought sterilisation may at a later date have an intense longing to have a child. A sterilised spouse may become widowed and may contract a second marriage in which there is a strong desire for children. Often the regret and remorse following sterilisation are bitter and destructive.

106. In some modern societies there is widespread acceptance of the view that mentally handicapped persons and those likely to transmit hereditary handicap should be sterilised. Jean Vanier, who understands the emotional needs of the mentally handicapped as few men have ever done, totally rejects this view. He declares that sterilisation damages the handicapped in their self esteem, making them seem to themselves to be sexual objects, easily available for sex, but starved of the self-esteem and affection and love and security which are their deepest need Sterilisation leaves them ready for sexual exploitation by others, while at the same time reinforcing their own sense of being rejected and unwanted.

107. Sterilisation, however, can be an unavoidable side-effect of an operation or medical treatment for illness or disease. Then its moral character is completely different. We have been talking here of direct sterilisation, that is to say, sterilisation which is directly and intentionally brought about in order to prevent pregnancy. In such a case, the procedure deliberately sets out to make it impossible for the act of sex to be open to the gift of life. It separates what God has made one.

108. Women or men who have sought this operation, must not, however, feel excluded from God's love and forgiveness. There are circumstances in which people can feel driven to such expedients, almost in spite of themselves. There are stresses and difficulties which can diminish responsibility and guilt. St. John has the wonderfully consoling words:

Whatever accusations (our conscience) may raise against us, . . . God is greater than our conscience, and he knows everything (1 John 3:20-21).

The only way we can fail to receive God 's forgiveness is to fail to ask for it, above all in the sacrament of reconciliation, which he gave to his Church as an ever-present source of pardon and peace.


13.1 Pornography

109 Human love is the theme which has inspired the world's greatest literature, painting and sculpture, music, drama and dance. Some of the best productions of the newer art forms, cinema and television, have also been devoted to this endlessly creative theme. Love has brought great beauty into human experience. Humanity is impoverished when this beauty is brutalised. Pornography is a form of brutalising of sex, portraying it as separated from love, from tenderness, from human nobility and dignity. When we compare the great artists' portrayal of sexuality with the pornographers', we realise how squalid and dehumanising pornography is.

110. Pornography has grown into a mammoth industry. Its huge profits are amassed out of the desecration of sexuality and the degradation of persons, notably the degradation of women. It is sadly the case that, when the greed for money can be allied with another powerful human passion, such as sex, the combination generates a mighty destructive force. Such also is the power and the prestige of money in modern society, that powerful, if not always public, pressure groups can be mobilised for the diffusion of propaganda protecting the interests and maximising the profits of the various divisions of the "sex industry". The godfathers of pornography have succeeded in presenting it as harmless, playful, perhaps even therapeutic, liberating and progressive. Innocent shorthand names for it have been popularised. Critics of pornography have been made objects of ridicule, called prudes and puritans. Attempts to prevent it are attacked as "censorship".

111. A loathsome department of the pornography industry is the production of specialised pornography for teenagers. The market researchers whose business it is to keep enlarging the market for this vile trade, are working successfully to build up a younger and younger readership for pornographic "comics" and videos. The various branches of the sex industry support each other, and are often directly linked. The publishers of pornography give much space in their productions to advertising or promotional features advocating contraceptives and abortion. The commercial motivation here is obviously strong. The more people there are who can be made "sexually active", and the younger they are, the more profits will return to the "sex industry" as a whole.

112 The context in which young people first encounter or experience sexuality is crucial for their future development. The ideas and associations formed in youth can have long-lasting effects. To think of sex as dissociated from love and from marriage, from fidelity, exclusiveness and permanence, can be the means of starting a young person on a career of casual and loveless sex. Pornography assists the trend towards a loveless and violent society. Not even children are spared by the pornographic industry. There are few more glaring signs of moral evil than the use of children in the preparation of pornographic photographs and films. In pornography generally, and specifically in pornography for children, violence occupies a growing place. So-called "video nasties" are among the ugliest blots upon our time.

113. Many European Bishops' Conferences have, in recent years, issued statements denouncing pornography as one of the great plagues of modern society. The Belgian Bishops spoke of it as a "black tide" of moral pollution on the shores of their country. Ireland is already seen by the merchants of pornography as a market with particularly tempting prospects for expansion.

114. It is depressing when ordinary newspapers and magazines compete with one another in the race for increased sales and profits by trying out how they can gradually venture closer and closer to the borderline of pornography. This trend professes to be "adult" and "mature". In fact, such displays are a form of "voyeurism" and encourage adults into becoming "peeping Toms". The use of obscene words has for some become almost a compulsive reflex. Sexual suggestiveness pervades much of the entertainment scene and has become a commonplace of everyday conversation. Some perfectly ordinary words have become loaded with sexual innuendo. These are signs of decadence in a culture. They are well-known phases of immature moral and psychological development.

115. A new type of explicitly pornographic product with almost unlimited possibilities for growth is the pornographic video-cassette. We believe that it is a matter of urgency in Ireland that this new form of commerce be brought under some appropriate form of legal control. We earnestly appeal to Christians who work in the fields of publication and printing, book and periodical marketing, audio-visual equipment, entertainment and media, to see pornography for the unqualified evil which it is Christians must not sell pornographic material They must regard resistance to pornography as their Christian duty. We ask parents to exercise care regarding the reading or the viewing material permitted in their homes. They should not only endeavour to forbid wrongful material to their children, but should try to show them why it is wrong. Above all, they should try to encourage good reading and viewing material.

116. Critics of pornography are often challenged by the question: "But what harm does it do?". Sociological and statistical evidence is brought forward to suggest that pornography has no demonstrable evil consequences. The response must be that pornography is wrong in itself. It tends to deprave and corrupt because it is itself corrupt It constitutes an assault on the dignity of the human person, on the respect due to the human body and the reverence due to sexuality. Pornography constitutes an assault on the dignity of the human person, on the respect personhood of women to the level of sexual objects for men's physical enjoyment. Never in pornographic material, and all too rarely in modern advertising, are women represented as persons to whom men might look for intelligent conversation or interesting ideas or equal companionship. For the pornographer, and too often for the advertiser, women are assumed to be of interest to males only as desirable sexual bodies, to be seized and possessed for male sexual pleasure. Women are used as bodies for selling products. They are treated as being ultimately themselves products for taking, just like any saleable object. Pornography turns sex into a consumer product and a perpetual occasion for the creation of new product needs. Pornography thus uses persons as means- it treats persons as things. This could stand as a definition of immorality. Pornography does harm because it is wrong in itself. It places sex in a context of lovelessness, of exploitation, of taking without giving, of pleasure without commitment. It associates sex with violence, cruelty, male domination of women,

117. The struggle against pornography requires that young people be provided with an appropriate programme of education in human love and relationships, to enable them to see sexuality in its true nobility and dignity and beauty, in its human and spiritual wholeness. It also requires that young people be introduced to an appreciation of what is noble and great in mankind's literary and artistic tradition, so that they can distinguish pornography from good literature and art. We must not be content to condemn bad reading and viewing. We must positively encourage good reading and viewing. Our country has obstacles to overcome in this regard. Abuse of censorship laws in the past banned as pornography works of serious literature. Injustice was thereby done to some of our best writers and artists. Harm was done to the community's aesthetic appreciation. We can only look back on these aberrations with embarrassment. But they must not be made an excuse now for capitulating before pornography. This would be still more certain to do injustice to serious writers and artists and to harm the community, not only morally and spiritually but aesthetically as well.

13.2 Rape

118 The sinfulness of separating sex from love is most clearly seen in the case of rape. The wrongfulness of rape is recognised universally; and virtually all are agreed about the reasons for its wrongfulness. Rape is infamous and is seen to be infamous, precisely because it is a brutal assault on the dignity of women and because it totally separates sex from love. Sex is a language which of its nature speaks of love. If instead it speaks of violence and humiliation, as it does in the case of rape, it becomes perverse. Rape is wrong also because sex is a loving exchange of self-giving. This implies partners who respect each other as equal in dignity and who freely consent to give and to be given to each other, to possess and to be possessed lovingly by each other. It is characteristic of rape that is expresses no,,love but sheer physical lust combined with hatred and violence; it expresses, not respect for the other's feelings, but contempt; not the desire to give but the will to overpower and to humiliate and to dominate.

119. Rape is the most glaring example of the desecration of the mystery of sexuality. The increase of rape in modern society can be seen as a signal which warns of the special vulnerability of women in a society where Christian standards of sexual morality are breaking down. Meanwhile, a Christian society must examine itself honestly about the trends in that society which induce a lowering of reverence for sexuality. A Christian society must ask whether the frequent association of sex with violence in some media programmes, as well as in the cinema and the video cassette, may be correlated with the incidence of rape. Christians must ask whether tolerance of pornography and of near-pornographic advertising is not a constant invitation to that male attitude towards women which the rapist expresses in its grossest form. It has been said, with reason: "Pornography is the theory; rape is the practice". Christians must be vigilant against the double standards sometimes applied to the man and to the woman in cases of rape. We must expunge from our legal conventions and our social attitudes the surviving traces of male superiority and of the idea that sexual domination is a manifestation of true masculinity, or that women who are raped must be presumed to be secretly consenting. All this is only to recall in different words the basic precept of Christian sexual morality: "put love into sexuality", "put love-charity into love sexuality"; or, as Pope John Paul has put it: "put love into love".

120. The format for taking evidence from women who have been raped needs to be as little hurtful as possible to victims and should be extremely sensitive to the shock and suffering they have endured. There seems no reason why rape and sexual assault cases should be held in camera. A corps of police personnel should be specially trained to deal with cases of rape, and their training should include some familiarity with the psychological counselling of rape victims. Women police should be available for the questioning of women who have been assaulted. A panel of women doctors should be available for the medical examination for forensic evidence. There should be women on all rape trial juries. The complainant should have the right to be accompanied at the questioning and in court by a counseller. Because of the special stress and suspense of women in such situations, court hearings should take place as soon as possible after the incident. The present' legal definition of rape technically limits it to sexual intercourse, thereby excluding other forms of perverse sexual violation. This should be reviewed. should not be regarded as an extenuating factor in the case of rape, any more than in the case of traffic offences. Steps should be taken to secure more consistency in sentencing. The adversarial procedures for court hearings of rape cases need also to be reformed, so that rape victims are not made to re-live in public court the trauma of the rape itself and are not subjected to insensitive interrogation or hurtful insinuation of consent. Furthermore, in court hearings in general, ways could surely be found of protecting women from the prurient public exposure of the most intimate details of their lives. Recent examples of this have not enhanced public respect either for the judicial process or for the media. Rape is a most distressing experience for its victims. The psychological effects are traumatic and can be lasting. Those who provide counselling and support for rape victims are to be highly commended.

121. Following rape, immediate interventions to remove semen and prevent fertilisation are morally right. They are part of a woman's legitimate resistance to the rapist's attack. If, however, fertilisation were nevertheless to occur and pregnancy result following rape, there is a new and innocent human life present, whose right to life must be respected. Pills designed to prevent the implantation of a fertilised ovum and thus effect its expulsion would really be abortifacient; that is to say, their effect would be the early termination of a human life, which is in fact early abortion.


122. Sexual actions are actions which of their nature reach out to another and speak love of another and readiness to give and to share; but masturbation uses these actions instead to withdraw into self and to seek solitary satisfaction. There is aptness in the term, "self-abuse". Such actions, when they are consciously and deliberately and freely performed, are in themselves gravely sinful. Sometimes it is suggested that this kind of action is just a normal stage of development and that it need not, or perhaps even cannot, be resisted. This is not true. It is correct to say that force of habit may make resistance difficult and also that the physical urges can at times be almost overpoweringly strong. The freedom of the action may be much reduced. The subjective seriousness of fault may, consequently, be greatly lessened, and indeed sometimes removed. Morbid feelings of guilt about this practice can be damaging. It should be remembered that guilt feeling is not identical with Christian sorrow for sin Genuine sorrow is accompanied by trust in God's mercy and confidence in his desire to forgive. There must also be full conviction that, when one does one's best, God's grace is never lacking and his mercy never fails. Good habits can be acquired as well as bad ones. Good habits are acquired by continuous prayer and by repeated acts of self-control. Self-control in sexuality is a necessary preparation for self-giving in lawful sexual union.


123. The truth of the language of sexuality is also missing in homosexual acts and sexual relationships between people of the same sex. It is vital, of course, to distinguish between a homosexual orientation and homosexual acts. A person with a homosexual orientation is not thereby a sinner. Homosexual tendencies, as distinct from homosexual actions, can be innate and can be irreversible.

124. Up to very recently, the whole of Christian tradition, and the unanimous consensus of all Christian Churches, following the clear teaching of both Old Testament and New Testament, affirmed the sinfulness of homosexual acts. Some confusion regarding this teaching may have crept in recently. The teaching of the Catholic Church stands clear; and it firmly declares that deliberate homosexual acts are objectively and gravely immoral. Between persons of the same sex, there cannot be sexual intercourse as God designed it. There cannot be complementarity of two sexually differentiated personalities in communion of body and spirit, with openness to the procreation of new life. There cannot be that truth and fullness and wholeness of sexual communion which constitute marriage as God designed it and blessed it.

125. There has been a vigorous campaign in recent years to vindicate the rights of homosexual persons. This campaign, if it limited itself to outlawing social discrimination against people of homosexual orientation, would be good and necessary. Unfortunately, however, the campaign in question often claims for homosexual acts complete social, legal and moral parity with heterosexual acts. Sometimes it even claims for homosexual relationships parity with lawful marriage. Such claims damage homosexual persons themselves, and can have the sad effect of encouraging people to accept definitive public classification of themselves as homosexuals. This undermines their motivation and their effort to control the expression of their sexuality. It can also encourage others, whose sexuality is not exclusively or irreversibly homosexual, to indulge in homosexual acts and habits, thereby reinforcing their homosexual orientation. There are young people whose sexual orientation may not as yet be finally determined; but they can be led by homosexual propaganda into paths destructive of their personality and of their moral integrity. The initiation of young people into homosexual activity is particularly detestable. Homosexual prostitution of children is one of the ugliest crimes of our age.

126. Persons with homosexual tendencies or habits need and deserve sympathetic, compassionate and patient pastoral care. Their personal suffering can be bitter, their struggle agonising, their sense of loneliness and exclusion intense. They need understanding. They need respect. It is unChristian to look on homosexuals with disgust or disdain, merely because they are of this personality type. Above all, there can be no condonation of violence against such persons. It is not a moral fault to have dispositions and tendencies. Each person has to observe the moral law and achieve his or her moral destiny within the personality structure and the sexual orientation which he or she has. Heterosexual persons too have to control sexual urges; and for some the struggle can be very much harder than for others. When the struggle is abnormally and over poweringly intense, the person's moral responsibility can be lessened, and in some cases, even removed. This applies to both heterosexuals and homosexuals. The contrast frequently drawn between them in this regard is not justified Both are equally called to chastity. Both have to struggle against temptation in order to be chaste. Homosexual men and women who maintain chastity through moral mastery of their sexuality can attain high moral virtue, just as heterosexuals can. Their struggle deserves admiration and support. Such homosexual persons can, no less than others, acquire real holiness of life. They should be supported by the Christian community, and especially by compassionate and enlightened guidance from priests, in their efforts to do so.


16.1 The Christian Vision

127. Pre-marital and extra-marital chastity is a demanding challenge for the Christian, especially the young Christian, in today's world. Yet our situation in the closing quarter of the twentieth century is not very different, in this respect, from the situation of the Greek and Roman world of the second half of the first century, in which the Gospel of Christ was first preached. Our contemporaries who advocate "free love" and "sex without guilt" would have felt completely at home in the Graeco-Roman culture of the time of St. Paul. Sex was then regarded as a divine power, personified in deities such as the goddesses Venus and Aphrodite. In these cults, sex was an object of religious worship; but popular attitudes to them were quite comparable with the modern cult of the body as a sex object. The art devoted to these deities quickly degenerated into the equivalent of modern pornography. Some of our terms for sexual excess come from the names of these two pagan deities.

128. In the permissive pagan culture of Greece, one city stood out as notorious for sexual licentiousness. This was the city of Corinth. The word "to Corinthise" had come to mean, "to live a life of debauchery". A loose-living girl was called a "Corinthian girl". It was every bit as difficult for young men and girls, for adult men and women, to be chaste in Corinth then as it has become in our world today. Yet it is to the young men and girls, the men and women of Corinth that St. Paul stated the firm demands of chastity in the body for the Lord, at the same time depicting the beauty and the glory of sexuality transfigured by the Lord.

129. It is in his first Letter to the Corinthians that St. Paul deals most fully with the matter of chastity. We can detect in this chapter traces of the arguments and objections which some Christians in Corinth at the time brought up against St. Paul's teaching. The arguments which they put up are remarkably like those which are used today by defenders of the so-called "new morality". Some Corinthians argued "For me, there are no forbidden things" (I Corinthians 6:12). By this they meant that for them morality was not a matter of law. They would have called law mere "legalism", and would have held that it was opposed to the spirit of the Gospel. They would profess to live by the Spirit, not by the "letter of the law". They would presumably have said they were "following their conscience", not "mechanically obeying a law". The whole of their language would be very familiar to us from contemporary discussion and modern "liberal" arguments. The next of these slogans which St. Paul quotes is: "Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food" (1 Corinthians 6:13). The argument is that sex is just as natural as eating and should be just as free. It is an argument that is often used today by defenders of "sexual freedom". Bertrand Russell, one of the great pioneers of this "new morality", used this argument fifty years ago in a famous book, Marriage and Morals. "Sex", he wrote, "is a natural need, like food and drink".

130. St. Paul's reply goes immediately to the Christian point. Sex would be just a physical need, he grants, if man was only like the animals, a body that dies and then is no more. But no! Man's body is destined for the resurrection. It is redeemed, sanctified, consecrated by the Lord and for the Lord. "The body", he declares, "is not meant for fornication; it is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body" (1 Corinthians 6:13-14). This body, with the sexuality which so profoundly marks it as male or female, is to rise from the dead and be always with the Lord:

God, who raised the Lord from the dead, will by his power raise us up too (1 Corinthians 6:14).

131. The fundamental truth about man is that in Christ he has become a totally new being. Through baptism, the Christian's body now, mysteriously but really, has been made one with the Body of Christ. To sin with one's body, to sin sexually, is, therefore, to desecrate the body of Christ. St. Paul says this quite clearly:

You know, surely, that your bodies are members making up the body of Christ; do you think that I can take parts of Christ's body and join them to the body of a prostitute? Never! (1 Corinthians 6:15).

St. Paul is recalling here the words of the Book of Genesis, repeated by Our Lord: "A man must cling to his wife and the two become one body". Fornication for a Christian would, therefore, be a matter of forcing the body of Christ into a sinful union.

132. By baptism, the Christian's whole body is anointed with the Holy Spirit, consecrated and sealed by the oil of chrism. Thereby, the whole being of the Christian is marked as sharing in the being of Christ. Chrismed, Christened, the Christian shares, body and soul, in the holiness of Christ. The use of his or her sexuality becomes a source and means of holiness. The only proper use of sexuality for the Christian is within the holy state of marriage; for only within marriage "in the Lord" are the body and the sex of the Christian used "for the Lord". The marriage of baptised persons is a reflection of Christ's love for the Church, his Bride. Only within marriage can sexual love share in the beauty and holiness of Christ's love and communicate that love of Christ to the world. As well as being a sin against God, sexual sin is a sin against the Church; for it prevents sexual union from being what Christ willed it to be, a sign of his love for the Church and for the world.

133. St. Paul says that to fornicate is unlike other sins because it is "to sin against your own body". We can never forget that our bodies are precisely not our own.

Keep away from fornication. All the other sins are committed outside the body; but to fornicate is to sin against your own body. Your body, you know, is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you since you received him from God. You are not your own property; you have been bought and paid for. That is why you should use your body for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 6:18-20).

134. We know the reverence that is due to sacred places and to sacred things. Violation of this sacredness is sacrilege or profanation. Our body is sacred, the temple of God, the place where God dwells. Any degrading treatment of the human body is the profanation of a sacred thing. For Christians, unchastity too has about it something of the character of the sacrilegious.

135. God created our sexual being in His own image, created it for goodness and for loveliness. Christ redeemed it for grace and for gracefulness. The presence of grace in sexual love makes it, quite literally, "graceful". The absence of grace from sexual love makes it, quite literally, "disgraceful". Marriage is ordained by God to make sexual love graceful.

136. This is the meaning of chastity as St. Paul spelled it out for the Corinthians. That is how he would spell it out for Irish men and women were he speaking today: "Give glory to the Lord Jesus Christ in your body". That is what chastity does. It does not deny or downgrade sex. It is not ashamed of the body. On the contrary, chastity uplifts sex to its true nobility and dignity. It gives sex its true beauty and glory. Chastity enables us, through our sexuality, to give glory to Christ in our body. Chastity is a sharing by us in the mystery of Christ's Transfiguration. Chastity is already Christ's risen glory shining through our bodies in a real transfiguration of our sexuality. In the words of St. Paul, chastity (whether it be chastity before marriage, or chastity within marriage, chastity lived in the world by the unmarried, or chastity in those who have consecrated their chastity to Christ in religious life) is "Christ in us, our hope of glory". Our efforts to be chaste take their assurance from the promise of St. Paul:

When Christ is revealed and he is your life you too will be revealed in all your glory with him. (Colossians 3:14).

16.2 Keeping faith with love

137. The virtue of chastity is much misunderstood in the modern world. In many circles it is no longer fashionable even to talk about it. Chastity is thought by some to be negative, telling us only what we must not do. It is thought to be connected with the idea that sexuality is in itself something impure or shameful. Undoubtedly, some preaching in the past did help to give that impression and did create wrongful guilt feelings about sexuality. The impression still remains with some that the Church's teaching associates sex only with fear, sin and guilt, or that sexual immorality is the only kind of immorality with which the Church is concerned. This present Pastoral Letter may be attacked on that very ground. This cannot be a reason for our failing now to present the Church's teaching in its challenging wholeness. We would fail our people if we did not do so. Now that the goodness and loveliness of sexuality can be better appreciated, we bishops and priests have all the greater obligation to present a positive and inspiring doctrine of sexuality to our people. Even the defective preaching sometimes found in the past usually came from a high appreciation of the sacredness of sex and of the grace- filled state of marriage. Essentially, the Church's teaching was always aimed at motivating men and women to preserve God's wonderful gift of sexuality for the sacramental state of marriage, because this alone expresses love in its fullest and deepest truth.

138. Chastity is the virtue by which we exercise self-control over our sexual life, so that it will not be wasted on make-believe loving but will be preserved for real pledged love. In the words of the poet, unchaste behaviour is the "expense of spirit in a waste of shame". Chastity is sexual self-control for the sake of true self-giving to the one true love of one's life. It is the way of "putting love into love". Through chastity, we accept sexuality from God with thankfulness, and use it as God intends for spreading His love in the world. Sexuality is a very strong passion; but it is not a blind instinct. It is under human control. Self-control is the very essence of freedom. So-called "free love" gives up the effort at sexual self control and makes sex the slave of passion. It is the opposite of freedom.

139. Chastity is a virtue to be practised by everyone, whatever their state in life. Sexual self control is necessary for priests and religious, for those preparing for marriage, for married people and for the single. All these categories are equally called to chastity, although it takes different forms for each. In every case, chastity is a way of preserving sex for love .

140. Chastity for the young is a challenge to their faith and also to the maturity of their understanding of love and of relationships. It is a difficult virtue at all ages; but it is especially so for the young, who are discovering their sexual nature for the first time and are anxious to explore it. But youth is also the time for idealism, for courage, for strength, for sacrifice, for generosity. Young followers of Christ know that he alone can teach them what love means; and that he will give them the strength to walk in his way of love. It is a beautiful thing throughout life to know that one has kept the precious gift of sex safe for the one person with whom one shares one's life.

141. Much modern "liberal" thinking seems to take it for granted that young people today are incapable of chastity, incapable of exercising self-control over their sexual urges. What an insult this is to young people. The Church believes in young people. The Church believes that they can observe chastity. The Christian community, by its example and support, must help them to do so.

142. During courtship, chastity offers a special challenge and also a special opportunity. Courtship is a time of great delight for a couple. Their lives are transformed by their new-found love. While thanking God for this gift, they must be clear that romance will not last always and that marriage must be based on a love that is more permanent and realistic. Courtship and engagement are a time for learning how to pass from the ecstasy of falling in love into the constancy of loving. Happiness in love means much more than sexual fulfilment. Courtship is above all a time for consolidating deep affectionate friendship, in which each partner grows in understanding the personal qualities of the other and in adjusting to the temperament and ideas of the other. Courtship should last long enough to make this understanding and this adjustment possible. If the relationship becomes sexual in the days of courtship, attention is distracted away from the effort to grow together as persons, and settles for the easier search for sexual pleasure. Sexual relations in courtship can turn attention away from the partner as person to the partner as sexual object. It has been found that marriages are more prone to break down when the couple are very young, when the courtship has been short, and when it has taken the form of a sexual relationship. Drinking on the part of one or other partner or both is often an occasion for sexual indulgence during courtship. It is another bad augury for their future marriage.

143. During courtship, a couple should remember that they are preparing for a great sacrament. Preparation for marriage, like preparation for the other sacraments, should include prayer. A great safeguard for a happy courtship and a successful marriage is for the couple to pray together. While exploring one another's interests and values, they should discuss together also their attitudes to God, to faith and to prayer; for it is at this deep level of relationship with God that human relationships find a solid basis.

144. For the married, chastity means reserving sexual love for one's married partner alone. It means using sex lovingly for deepening the marriage relationship and for making one's partner feel loved and wanted and secure in love. It means respecting the openness to life-giving with which God endowed the sexual act. Married chastity ensures that love is for life; both in the sense that it retains its openness to new life, which is the fruitfulness and fulfilment of love; and in the sense that it enriches the life of the partners and fosters their love, which is the life-support of their children. In marriage, as always, chastity "puts love into love".

16.3 Consecrated Chastity

145. The consecrated chastity or celibacy of priests and religious is no disdaining of sexuality or of marriage. A supposed religious vocation which would be based on rejection or fear of sexuality would not be a genuine vocation. Priests and religious men and women are sexual beings, and their sexuality affects their way of loving God and of relating to others. They know the difficulties of sexual self-control; but they also know that, by God's grace, it is possible, and they know that it enhances love.

146. Priests and religious do not give up sexual relationships because they think of them as shameful or wrong. Instead, they give up the sexual expression of love, which reserves love for one loved partner in order to concentrate all their energies for loving into a more undivided love for God and a more universal love for all God's people. Celibacy and marriage support one another. In both cases, we speak of vows Celibate men and women religious are inspired by the fidelity to their vows of married men and women and are helped by their example to be faithful to their own religious vows. Similarly, married people are strengthened in their own fidelity by the example of consecrated celibates. In an eroticised age, the witness of celibacy given by priests and by religious men and women is more and more needed and valued by lay people. It gives them support in their own struggle to be chaste. The Church also encourages lay women living in the world, who feel so called, to consecrate their virginity to God by a public act; and she has designed a beautiful liturgy for this consecration to a life of virginity.

147. One of the great joys of priests and religious is to give pastoral support to marriages and to be supported in their vocation by married couples. One of the great blessings for which Catholic married people pray is to have a son or daughter called to priesthood or to religious life. Priestly and religious vocations come from truly Christian marriages and homes. The number and the quality of religious vocations depend on the quality of marriages in the Christian community. Marriage and celibacy complement each other while witnessing to one and the same Kingdom. Christian marriage witnesses directly to the Kingdom as lived in and through the human situation. Christian celibacy witnesses directly to the Kingdom as transcending the human situation and looking forward to completion in heaven. As Pope John Paul has said:

Virginity or celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of God not only does not contradict the dignity of marriage but presupposes it and confirms it. Marriage and virginity or celibacy are two ways of expressing and living the one mystery of the covenant of God with his people. When marriage is not esteemed, neither can consecrated virginity or celibacy exist; when human sexuality is not regarded as a great value given by the Creator, the renunciation of it for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven loses its meaning (Familiaris Consortio, 16).

16.4 Mary Ever Virgin

148. For all of us, in following the arduous but rewarding way of chastity, the grace of Jesus Christ and the prayers and example of Mary ever Virgin are there to help us. There is one human being in whom Christ in all his glory has already been revealed. It is Mary, Mother of the Lord. There is one body already assumed into heaven, already transfigured by the glory of the risen body of Christ. It is the body of the Second Eve, Mary ever Virgin. She and she alone of our race is already bodily in the glory of her Son. In her we see the beauty of chastity and its reward. If we, Christians of the 1980s, are to witness to chastity; if we are, in the words of Pope Paul VI to "create an atmosphere favourable to chastity", as the twentieth century closes and the twenty-first dawns, we must renew our devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. We must return to the time honoured practice of begging her each day to obtain for us from her Son grace for that day's struggle. The once-familiar words must be often on our lips again:

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

Marriage: Its Graces and Its Stresses


149. Marriage and the family are of fundamental importance for the Church and for society. They are put under unprecedented pressures at the present time. For most of 2,000 years, Western society accepted that marriage was to one person forever. Even the very understanding of marriage is being threatened today in many countries by the growing occurrence of breakdown in marriage and by the spread of divorce, which most countries have adopted as a response to marriage breakdown.

150. The causes of stress and breakdown in marriage are many and complex. Rapid social change always brings with it some weakening of traditional values and of moral and religious convictions. Social change has been occurring in Ireland in recent decades with a speed never before experienced. When people's style of life has been stable and sheltered, they have difficulty in adjusting to radical and rapid change. One aspect of change has been increased industrialisation, accompanied by movement of population away from rural areas into cities and towns. Here people lack the support of a closely-knit community with shared values. City life is more private and individual and often lacks a true sense of community. In the city itself, the dispersal of long established inner-city communities has broken up the extended family. Young couples in the suburban estates or newly arrived from the country, are separated from their parents and grandparents and can experience isolation and loneliness. Grandparents in the past had an important role in handing on faith and prayer and moral values to their grandchildren. Today's children have less opportunity than formerly to benefit from the influence of grandparents. Industrial mobility causes people to change jobs or addresses more easily, moving from country to town or city in search of jobs, or even having to go overseas to find work. New environments and new scales of values and new life-styles are encountered. Values can become destabilised. The sense of permanence is weakened. Lifelong commitment in every sphere of life is weakened. This influences attitudes to lifelong marriage as well.

151. Modern Western culture lays emphasis on the individual rather than on community or institution. The stress is on individual fulfilment and on everyone's personal right to freedom and to happiness. The rights of children and even the institution of marriage can come to be seen as restrictions on the individual's freedom and fulfilment. People nowadays have higher expectations from life and especially from marriage. They expect more from marriage than formerly, both in terms of personal and emotional and sexual satisfaction and in terms of material well-being. High expectations can often cause deep disappointment and frustration. New styles of relationship between the sexes have developed. Women have much more social freedom and more job openings and career opportunities than formerly. The equality of women and men is recognised to a greater extent. Many married women are nowadays more economically independent of their husbands than formerly, whether through personal earnings or through social security. All this calls, however, for adjustment in the traditional roles of husband and wife. When this adjustment does not take place, tension and conflict can result.

152. The feminist movement is having an important impact on the context in which contemporary marriage has to be lived. This is one of the most significant movements in our time. In the phrase used by the Vatican Council, it must be seen as one of the "signs of the times" which the Church must read in our age. Indeed, the equality of the sexes is basic Christian teaching. Feminism can be said to have received its first charter from St. Paul when he said:

There are no more distinctions between . . . male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:27-28).

St. Paul rejected the double standard in marriage by the words:

The wife has no right over her own body; it is the husband who has them. In the same way, the husband has no right over his body; the wife has them. (1 Corinthians 7:5).

One of the important challenges facing the Church today is to develop a truly Christian contemporary feminism; and in the Church this task must fall primarily on women themselves, filled with love of Christ and anxious to play their full part in the life of the Church. They will find inspiration from the figure of Mary, Mother of the Lord, blessed among women. As Pope Paul VI said, in Marialis Cultus in 1974:

The picture of the Blessed Virgin presented in a certain type of devotional literature cannot easily be reconciled with today's life style, especially with the way women live today. In the home, woman's equality and co-responsibility with man in the running of the family are being justly recognized by laws and the evolution of customs. In the sphere of politics women have in many countries gained a position in public life equal to that of men. In the social field women are at work in a whole range of different employments, getting further away every day from the restricted surroundings of the home. In the cultural field new possibilities are opening up for women in scientific research and intellectual activities. (no. 34)

The figure of Mary, however, has lost none of its relevance in today's world. As Pope John Paul went on to say:

The modern woman will note with pleasant surprise that Mary of Nazareth, while completely devoted to the will of God, was far from being a timidly submissive woman or one whose piety was repellent to others; on the contrary, she as a woman who did not hesitate to proclaim that God vindicates the humble and the oppressed, and removes the powerful people of this world from their privileged positions (cf. Lk 1:51-53). The modern woman will recognize in Mary, who "stands out among the poor and humble of the Lord", a woman of strength, who experienced poverty and suffering, flight and exile. (cf. Mt 2:13-23)

153. A Christian feminism will share many of the values and the struggles of the world-wide feminist movement. But it will judge them by the standards of the Gospel and reject what is contrary to the Gospel. The feminist movement in general is a challenge for the Church, and also an opportunity. It has important implications for women's experience in marriage. Happy and successful marriages will in future have to take increasing cognisance of the new feminine consciousness which has developed, and will have to adjust to its rights and needs. Husbands must be prepared to take their full share of household duties and of the care of children. Above all, the couple will have to relate to each other as equal partners, sharing a satisfying relationship with one another. The aspect of satisfactory interpersonal relationship in marriage becomes increasingly important; and each partner must take responsibility for building this relationship. It must be remembered, however that there can be no authentic or enduring love without constant effort and readiness for sacrifice by both partners.

154. Rapid social change affects the attitude of the generations to each other. The older generation and the younger have had very different life experiences. A generation gap can develop, even between parents and children. When a very large proportion of the population is young, as in Ireland, a strong youth culture develops, which defines itself in distinction from the values of its parents' generation. Also, people in Ireland marry much younger than formerly, indeed, many marry in their teens. Statistics from almost every country show that the risk of marriage breakdown is greater the younger the age at marriage of the couple. When one or both partners are under twenty, the risk increases. It is greater in cases where marriage is entered into following a very short courtship or in the presence of a pregnancy. In the teenage years, emotional development is still going on. This is a transitional stage in life, when a young person is still struggling to find who he or she is. Until they feel more secure about their own identity, young people can have added difficulty in forming stable and permanent relationships. There is a consequent danger that some who marry very young can, after some time together, each have the experience of being a different person and finding the partner a different person than at the time of marriage.

155. The pressures on marriage are particularly potent in the earliest years of marriage, and these earliest years are the critical years for the future of a marriage. By far the greatest number of marriage breakdowns occur either in the first five years, or as a delayed result of difficulties arising in those years. While, in the general population of Britain, one in four marriages breaks down, in the younger age group the figure is one in three. The first and the second years of marriage are statistically, in fact, the years when the marriage is most vulnerable. It is unfortunate that young couples sometimes do not seek aid with their marriage difficulties in time, before the tensions become too intractable.

156. Crises in marriage are not, of course, inevitable in the early years of marriage. Neither are they confined to those years. People on average live longer nowadays. Modern married couples will generally be facing a longer period of life together. Nowadays, children tend to be born in the earlier years of marriage, and will frequently have left home while the parents are still quite young. People retire from work at an earlier age than formerly. For these reasons, the couple can expect to be spending many of their married years in one another's company, without the presence of children. These factors create a new challenge for marriage, at a time when the "crisis of middle age" may already have brought about strains in the relationship.

157. Economic and social conditions also create stresses for marriage. The supply of housing for newly-weds never meets the demand. Newly married couples are sometimes obliged to live with their in-laws; and this increases the strain for couples, who need privacy and peace to adjust to each other. In deprived areas there is still a scandalous amount of sub-standard accommodation. There is exploitation by some landlords in the area of flat-letting. For those who secure accommodation, the payment of rents or mortgages is a recurrent burden and problem. Inflation, high prices and the heavy burden of taxation combine to create constant financial worry. Unemployment is a demoralising experience, for men and also for women. Its impact on domestic peace and on marriage can be extremely severe. Indeed, unemployment is among the greatest sources of marital stress at the present time. All forms of social deprivation create strains for marriage. Marriages suffer also when couples are unable to manage the family budget or are lacking in basic housekeeping skills.

158. A particular cause of marriage difficulties in Ireland has been the sad necessity which drove men, often young married men, out of Ireland to find work. This social misfortune is beginning to plague our country once more, both North and South. The stresses and the temptations of prolonged separation have disastrous consequences for many marriages. The prolonged imprisonment of many young men as a result of violence, especially in Northern Ireland, also puts marriages under grave strain.

159. A feature common to many problems in marriage is lack of communication between the partners. The transition from the joy and affection and mutual concern of courtship to the realities of marriage can sometimes be traumatic. Some men and women come to feel that marriage is a "trap", into which they were led by the romantic expectations of the courtship, but from which afterwards they long to "escape". After marriage, some men seem to see no further need for showing signs of affection or tenderness, no need for conversation or sharing. In some homes, words are rarely exchanged except in anger, in nagging or in demand. Sometimes the main, if not the sole communication between married couples is through their children. When the children leave home, the couple live in chilly, or perhaps frosty, silence. Some wives are made to feel as though the husband's only interest in them is for sexual satisfaction. They can feel taken for granted, unappreciated and neglected. Even within marriage, sex can be separated from love, in the sense that sexual intercourse can be demanded and performed without sensitivity to the feelings of the other partner.

160. Men can be heedless of the emotional needs of their wives, and wives similarly insensitive to the emotional needs of their husbands. Husbands and wives often do not try hard enough to understand one another's psychology and to make their marriage a truly loving relationship of persons, where sex is an expression of and a climax to a continuing exchange of sharing in communication, in attitudes and in interests. Some married people revert to the habits of single life, spending most of their time with their friends outside the home. This applies to women as well as to men; for women too can neglect their husbands and their home for the sake of their "social life". Work, for either husband or wife, can also be made an escape from marriage responsibilities and from home life. It can be made a substitute for love. Husbands can think they are good husbands because they work hard and make good financial provision for their wives and children. Yet they may be depriving them of something they need even more than money, namely, love, affection and time. Women, equally, can feel that working, whether outside the home or within it, is a complete discharge of their duties to their families and their home. The phenomenon of "latch-key" children is a sad reality of our time.

161. Abuse of alcohol is a cause of much strain in marriage and much misery in homes. Excessive drinking wastes housekeeping money; it keeps spouses away from home; it is often associated with quarrelling between husband and wife and with wife-beating or child-battering. Violence in the home, often associated with drinking, is an all too common scourge. When sexual relations are sought or demanded by one partner in a state of intoxication, this makes the experience distasteful and degrading for the other partner. Excess in gambling is another source of marital stress. So is extravagance or bad budgeting or bad household management on the part of one partner or the other.

162. Infidelity on the part of husband or wife is the gravest blow to the happiness of a marriage. It should be not too readily assumed that it is an unhappy marriage which drives a person to seek sexual love elsewhere. Temptations and opportunities abound in modern society. The secular culture around us can make an adulterous relationship seem glamorous and even fashionable. Sex in that culture is often seen as a means of escape from boredom and routine. Sex outside marriage can come to be seen as a source of excitement or simply as 'a new experience'. It can even be seen as being 'modern', 'emancipated', 'liberal', a proof of male conquest or of feminine attractiveness.

163. Some of these reasons, together with their experience of unhappy or broken marriages among their friends or in their parents' generation, may help to explain why some young people now choose to "live together" without marriage. This is also a result of the trend towards secularism in society. Modern culture is self-centred rather than God-centred. More than ever, the Christian has to make a deliberate resolution to follow Christ, and has to work hard at his or her faith and prayer and Christian life-style. Specifically, he or she has to have greater determination and make greater effort to hold on to Christ's understanding of marriage, and not just drift with the secular current. The Christian community today must be more concerned than ever to help its members to grow in their faith; for only an adult, mature and prayerful faith is adequate to meet the challenges of the modern secular world.

164. This is the negative side of marriage and family life in Ireland today. It is a worrying picture. Nevertheless, it must not lead us to forget that the great majority of Irish marriages and families are happy, stable and loving, true schools of love for the next generation. Each of the problems and stresses of modern marriage can be seen as opportunity, and not just as difficulty. If the couple realistically face the challenges, determined to work harder at their marriage and their relationship, and relying on the grace of the sacrament, their marriage can be more beautiful and satisfying and Christ-filled than ever. There are very many Irish couples now who work hard at living their marriage in its Christian and human fullness. The number of good and happy marriages in Ireland today far outweighs the number of problem marriages. A happy Christian marriage is a powerful witness to Christ in our world. We praise God for the very many Irish couples who give that witness and we thank those couples themselves for enriching the Church and society by their love.


165. For one or other of such reasons as those suggested above, a growing number of marriages are breaking down in Ireland today. The breakdown is sometimes translated into legal or de facto separation and desertion of spouse, whether or not it is followed by cohabitation with another partner. It is evident that there has been a notable increase in single-parent families, due either to extramarital pregnancy or to marital breakdown. The great majority of single-parent families are headed by mothers left alone to care for children.

166. Estimates of the extent of marriage breakdown in Ireland are difficult to verify. There are no accurate statistics, and estimates have to be very conjectural. Some of the figures which are being bandied about are exaggerated for polemical purposes. Nevertheless, many indicators leave no doubt but that breakdown in Irish Catholic marriages, both North and South, is considerable and would seem to be increasing. The Republic's census returns should make provision for fuller information about marital status, for we cannot as a society properly face up to the problem of marriage breakdown until we have accurate information about its extent. We deceive ourselves if we try to minimise the extent of the problem and its growing seriousness. Unless the factors making for tension in marriage are carefully studied and stronger support given to marriage, by the State as well as by the Church, the extent of marital breakdown will certainly not decrease.

167. It is, however, false to assume that all or even most of the partners involved in broken marriages either desire divorce or would approve of its introduction. Many deserted spouses are themselves determined to remain faithful to their marriage vows and are totally opposed to divorce. Many are still ready to forgive the erring partner and continue to hope for reconciliation. Contrary to what is often claimed statistics of broken marriages cannot be identified with statistics of demand for divorce. We express our admiration and our gratitude to the many deserted spouses who have remained faithful to their marriage vows even when their love has been betrayed and they are deserted by their partners. They give shining witness by their lives to the sanctity of the marriage bond.

168. On the other hand, many separated spouses have entered into another relationship which they would wish to have regularised. Many who have separated have had a long experience of unhappiness and suffering or even cruelty in their marriage, and had come eventually to the point when they could not endure any more. It is compassion for hard cases which leads considerable numbers of people to feel that divorce is the only solution and is a right solution in these hard cases. The question of divorce must, therefore, be examined. The examination must take account of both religious convictions and social considerations .


169. Religious considerations naturally take first place. In Part I of this Pastoral Letter, we saw that monogamy and indissolubility are essential attributes of marriage, in virtue of its very nature, as created by God in the beginning. Furthermore, God taught his people in the Old Testament that marriage is a sign of the covenant which God made with his people. For the people of Israel, marriage reflected God's covenanted love, as well as giving birth to 'children of Abraham', children of the covenant. The prophets particularly taught that marriage must be faithful and permanent, as God's covenant with His people is everlasting and irrevocable. The prophet Malachi puts it clearly and strongly:

Do not break faith with the wife of your youth; for I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel. (Malachi 2:14-16)

170. It is true that polygamy and divorce were practised in biblical times. Jesus makes it plain that this was only "tolerated" by God, as a concession to people who were "unteachable":

It was because you were so unteachable that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but it was not like this from the beginning. Now I say this to you: the man who divorces his wife (I am not speaking of fornication) and marries another, is guilty of adultery. (Matthew 19:7-9)

171. In the New Creation which Jesus introduces, the order of God's first creation is restored; and divine grace is given to make possible what had hitherto been impossible for many. Jesus said:

Have you not read that the creator from the beginning made them male and female and that he said: This is why a man must leave father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two become one body? They are no longer two, therefore, but one body. So then, what God has united, man must not divide. (Matthew 19:4-6).

172. Jesus does add the phrase "I am not speaking of fornication". The meaning of this phrase has been much disputed. Some have argued that Jesus is forbidding divorce except in the case of adultery by one of the partners. It is certain that this is not the meaning; because this was precisely the "concession" made by Moses, which Jesus is withdrawing. Furthermore, the disciples were shocked at Our Lord's words. They seemed incapable of believing that he could be excluding divorce in all circumstances. Jesus made it clear in his reply that this was precisely what he did mean. This was the condition of the discipleship which he asked of his followers.

173. The language is the same as that which Our Lord always uses when inviting people to come and follow him. To follow him is a choice which we must freely make, and it will involve sacrifice and struggle. But this sacrifice and struggle are the condition for being truly his followers and for having his blessing in this world and sharing his glory in the next. The entire Bible shows that the choice we make for God or against God is a choice between life and death. The whole of the New Testament teaches that our true happiness in this life and our eternal destiny in the next, depend on our choice to listen to Christ's voice and follow his way. The whole of divine revelation declares equally that the health of society or its sickness depend upon men and women's obedience to God's law, or their disobedience.

174. The teaching of St. Paul about marriage repeats this prohibition of divorce:

For the married I have something to say, and this is not from me but from the Lord: a wife must not leave her husband, or if she does leave him, she must either remain unmarried or else make it up with her husband, nor must a husband send his wife away. (1 Corinthians 7:10-11)

We saw already that St. Paul places Christian marriage in the context of Christ's love for his Church. The Church in the past spoke of marriage as a "contract". The term in ordinary use has a legalistic or even commercial ring. The Church, however, was thinking not of a cold legal transaction, but of the covenant- contract between God and his people, between Christ and his Church, warm with the love of the Heart of God .

175. This covenant between God and Israel, as we have seen already, is described in the Old Testament in terms of a marriage, with all the tenderness of married love-life, with all the expectation of fidelity and constancy in loving which marriage brings. The two elements highlighted in this marriage analogy are love and fidelity, or love considered particularly under the aspect of fidelity. Absolute and irrevocable fidelity is guaranteed on the side of God. This absolute faithfulness of God creates in turn an obligation of faithfulness on the part of Sion, the bride. The striking fact, however, is that, even if the bride is unfaithful, this in no way alters or affects the fidelity of God. All through the Bible, Israel goes on being again and again unfaithful to God. Her unfaithfulness takes many forms, the worst of them being the worship of false Gods. Israel is therefore shown as being fickle, flirtatious, inconstant, immature, even adulterous and promiscuous. But God is faithful to her, through all and in spite of all. All the Prophets, particularly Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, described the incorrigible and shameful infidelity of the bride; but they set against it the inexhaustible patience, forgiveness and faithfulness of God. To quote only one, Ezekiel, after a long description of Israel's disgraceful behaviour towards God, concludes by saying:

For the Lord God says this... You have despised your oath even to the extent of breaking a covenant, but I will remember the covenant that I made with you when you were a girl, and I will conclude a covenant with you that shall last forever. . .I am going to renew my covenant; and you will learn that I am the Lord . . . when I have pardoned you for all that you have done. (Ezekiel 16:59-62)

176. This teaching is reinforced and given a whole new dimension in the New Testament. All the holiness which marriage already had in its relationship to the Old Covenant is raised to new heights by the superabounding grace of the New Covenant. The call to faithfulness which marriage had already in the Old Testament is given a new absoluteness by the unconditional love of Christ for us, in the new Covenant which he sealed in his blood. The most total love the world has ever known was the love unto death of Christ on Calvary. That love is made present for us again on the altar of the Holy Eucharist. It is before the altar of the world's greatest love that marriage in the Church is blessed. Man and woman receive the motive and the power to love one another unto death from this sacrificial, crucified love of Christ. It is Christ on the Cross who definitely reveals the meaning and the depth and the seriousness of married love. The only love which can look without shame into the eyes of the dying Christ is a love "till death do us part".

177. This is where St. Paul learned the wonderful doctrine of marriage which he gives us in his letter to the Ephesians (see 45 above). In every marriage between two of her members, the Church always sees an embodiment of the union between herself and Christ. The Church can no more admit of divorce and re-marriage for her members than she could herself think of deserting God or of being deserted by Him. For the Church, to recognise divorce and re- marriage for her members would be equivalent to denying her whole experience of her own relationship with Christ her Lord. It would be not only to renege her fidelity, it would be to deny her faith. The indissolubility of marriage is not just part of the Church's tradition and rules. It is part of her faith and this, not only in the sense that the Church has solemnly taught this as her doctrine, but also because it is part of how she has been taught by God to know herself and to understand herself as irrevocably married to God. If the Church does not permit divorce and remarriage, it is not because she is lacking in compassion and unwilling to do so. It is because she cannot do so. She cannot change the teaching entrusted to her by her Lord. She cannot act in a manner contrary to the clear command of her Lord.

178. Jesus himself obviously knew the enormous difficulties which some people might have in living up to his teaching. Even the disciples thought him to be lacking in compassion and to be imposing intolerable burdens. Yet Jesus was the very model of compassion. He was incarnate compassion, compassion itself in the flesh. The compassion of Jesus cannot be invoked as a reason for departing from his teaching on divorce.

179. God's law is never something arbitrary and indifferent to human happiness. God made the hearts of men and women for happiness; He made them for love; but He alone knows the happiness that we need and the love for which we long. He has shaped the hearts of men and women themselves for this happiness. He has even shaped the bodies of married partners for the sharing of mutual love. But this love is not just something which happens; it has to be cared for, fostered, tended and attended to, wanted and willed. It is a slow growth. It has stages for every phase and mood and season of maturing experience and changing life-style. It takes time to grow. It needs a lifetime for its full growth. Christ's teaching on marriage ensures that married love is given all of life's time to mature. When man and woman have "lived through love in God's presence" until death do them part, then they will have attained the only kind of maturity which ultimately counts, maturity in Christ. St. Paul says:

If we live by the truth and in love, we shall grow in all ways into Christ, who is the head by whom the whole body is fitted and joined together. . . so the body grows until it has built itself up, in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16)

180. This is a maturity which men and women cannot achieve for themselves. But they are not alone. Christ is working with them through the sacrament of marriage. This is what the sacrament of marriage means. Husband and wife do not only give one another their bodies, their lives and their love. They give one another Christ, with all his will and power to love. The love they share with one another is Christ's love, and this is grace. The greatest wedding present or anniversary gift which husband and wife give to one another is the grace of Christ, of which they become ministers one to the other in the sacrament. Marriage will not lead to personal fulfilment, unless it leads each partner to fulfilment in Christ. When the Church blesses a bride and groom on their wedding day, she is praying over them the prayer of St. Paul:

Out of His infinite glory, may He give you the power through His Spirit for your hidden self to grow strong, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith; and then, planted in love and built on love, you will have strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth; until, knowing the love of Christ which is beyond all knowledge, you are filled with the utter fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19)

181. For those, therefore, who accept the teaching of the Catholic Church, divorce with the right to remarry is not merely not permitted, it is impossible. Divorce is a claim by the State to be able, through the civil courts, to dissolve a valid marriage, leaving the couples free to contract a new marriage. But there is, as we have shown above, an inherent permanency involved in marital union itself, in virtue of its own very nature, as it derived from the plan of the Creator in the beginning. What God has put together in marriage, no man can put asunder. The truth of the 'body language' of sexual union implies fidelity and permanence in the giving of self by one partner to the other. Christ's revelation gives a much deeper foundation to this natural indissolubility of marriage. For Catholics, marriage is a sacrament. The bond uniting married couples is a sacramental bond, coming from God alone. No man or woman, no human authority, no State or civil court, can put this bond asunder. No legislative enactment can dissolve a valid marriage and leave the partners free to marry again. Remarriage of a civilly divorced person is not a real marriage in the eyes of God. God's law continues to bind, no matter what the civil law says.


182. Sadly, however, married unions do break down. Public opinion in Ireland has been increasingly preoccupied over recent years by the problems of marriage breakdown. It was in response to this public concern that the Oireachtas set up the Joint Committee on Marriage Matters. Simultaneously with the deliberations of this Committee, there are, as everyone knows, strong lobbies campaigning for the reform of the Irish Constitution, so as to strike out the constitutional prohibition on the introduction of any law providing for the dissolution of marriage and thus clear the way for divorce legislation. A vigorous national debate is currently in progress about these matters. This debate reflects, on the one hand, the deep commitment to the family and to the sanctity of marriage which are characteristic of Irish society; and, on the other, the widespread public concern about the growth in marriage breakdown. Despite the deep divisions of opinion which the debate reveals, there would seem to be a general desire among most participants to the debate to find solutions to the problem of marriage breakdown which would not undermine the principle that marriage is a lifelong union and will not lead to still further increases in marriage breakdown.

183. In a public debate like this, especially if it is conducted in a campaigning atmosphere, promotion of one's cause and victory over one's opponents can be held to justify any tactic; verbal abuse of the opposing side can replace calm assessment of their arguments; emotion can prevail over charity and reason. In a debate so fraught with consequences for our whole society as this one, it is essential that opposing views be fairly stated and be honestly listened to and appraised. Contempt, scorn and abuse of one's opponents are unworthy. Abusive phrases have become regrettably common in such debates; they should be excluded. Name- calling and emotive labelling have no place in adult debate. There should be a presumption of good faith in one's opponents, even when one strongly disagrees with their views. Verbal violence or threats from the mouth or pen of Christians are detestable.

184. It is particularly important that both sides of the debate be reported by the media with strict objectivity and impartiality. Regrettably, there are already some signs that our print and our electronic media are leaning heavily towards one side of the debate, the side which favours divorce. This is ground for real anxiety. We would be rightly disturbed if all our media were to be heavily biased in favour of one political party, because this would damage the freedom of opinion and debate which is essential to the democratic process. We should be even more vigilant that genuine plurality of editorial opinion and complete fair- mindedness in reporting should be found in media when matters so grave as marriage and divorce are being discussed. Responsible editors owe it to the public to take conscious and deliberate care to ensure this impartiality.

20.1 Law and morality

185. The divorce debate raises again the question of the relationship between law and morality, and indeed the question of Church influence upon legislation. The Catholic Church teaches that remarriage following divorce is impossible; but it does not follow from this alone that the laws of the State must embody this principle. Legislators have many considerations to keep in mind when they are drafting or enacting legislation. They have to consider the convictions of those who are not Catholics and those who do not accept the Catholic Church's teaching. They have to try to give citizens the maximum of freedom that is consistent with the rights of others and with the common good of society. They have to aim at creating a body of laws which, as far as possible, favours reconciliation between citizens and communities Their first concern as legislators, however, is for the well-being and the common good of society as a whole. Few will deny that the stability of the social fabric and the well-being of society are closely linked with the stability of marriage and the family.

186. The divorce debate, therefore, raises questions of the public welfare and the common good. It raises questions of public, and not just private, morality. The Catholic Church's stand in matters concerning law and morality has been frequently stated. It has been consistent throughout repeated debates over recent decades. We cite some of the relevant documents in Appendix II.

187. In any debate concerning divorce legislation the position of the Catholic Church would be unchanged. We do not ask that Catholic doctrine as such be enshrined in law. We recognise that morality and civil law do not necessarily coincide. Nevertheless, moral issues affecting the whole of society are raised by the question of divorce; and we as pastors have a responsibility to offer moral guidance to Catholics to help them to form their consciences in respect of their moral responsibilities as legislators or as voters. Where questions of public morality and the moral well being of society are concerned, we have a duty and a right to call attention to the moral implications of proposed legislation and to its consequences for the moral well-being of the community. No Catholic hierarchy anywhere in the world has failed to record its moral objection to the introduction of divorce or to its extension.

188. It is true that morality cannot be legally enforced. One cannot impose virtue by law. Yet one can by law create conditions unfavourable to virtue. Certain kinds of law can make virtue more difficult and non-virtue more likely. Law and morality are interlinked. Law rests upon a foundation of moral conviction. For example, laws designed to safeguard the rights of the person or the rights of property would be quite inoperable unless there is a shared conviction in society that what these laws command is morally right and what they forbid is morally wrong. On the other hand, moral convictions, in matters affecting the rights and the well-being of others, need support from law. Conscience should ideally be enough by itself to deter people from wrongdoing. Yet no one would feel that the consciences of employers are a sufficient safeguard of the rights of workers, or that the consciences of workers alone guarantee the rights of employers. No one would hold that, for example, the consciences of contractors or tradesmen or shopkeepers are a sufficient safeguard against dishonesty; or that the consciences of customers are enough to protect shopkeepers against stealing. The protection of the rights of others obviously demands that legal sanctions should support the promptings of conscience in matters where personal behaviour touches the rights of others and the common good.

189. Conversely, law has an influence upon moral attitudes and moral behaviour. Law is, among many other things, a statement of what society regards as socially and morally acceptable. In theory, people know the distinction between morals and law. Yet they have a strong tendency in practice to regard what is legally permissible as being also morally right; and this tendency becomes reinforced by time and custom. For example, since abortion became legalised in British law, it has virtually ceased to be regarded as a moral problem for large numbers of people in Britain. Yet, before the Abortion Law Reform Association began its campaign for a change in the law, only a minority of Britons would have thought abortion to be morally right. The history of the Association in question and of its campaign is a textbook illustration of how lobbies operate and of how they can bend public opinion. The tactics used in that campaign have served as a model for many lobbies for 'law reform' in other countries.

20.2 Divorce and the definition of marriage

190. The experience of other countries shows that the legalisation of civil divorce leads rapidly to acceptance of divorce and remarriage as morally right and socially normal. It is sometimes argued that a divorce law in a country like Ireland would be minimal in its effects. Religious conviction would, it is said, be so strong that only a small minority would avail of divorce. This expectation does not seem to be justified in the light of experience elsewhere. In the USA and in other countries, there would seem to be little if any significant statistical difference between the incidence of divorce and remarriage among Catholics and their average incidence in the population at large. Catholics in England are only marginally less represented in divorce statistics than the general population. Estimates suggest that there may be as many as eight million divorced Catholics in the United States, the majority of them remarried outside the Church. It is as though the legal availability of divorce builds up a social pressure which, for large numbers of people, becomes stronger than moral or religious resistance.

191. This is not accidental. It is a result of the fact that, when it introduces divorce, society is in fact redefining its legal understanding of marriage. It is simply not true that a divorce law would affect only the small minority of marriages which break down irretrievably, leaving the happy and successful marriages untouched. Divorce introduces a quite radical change into society's legal understanding of marriage. The classic legal definition of marriage in England was that set out in 1866 by Lord Penzance, when he stated:

I conceive that marriage, as understood in Christendom, may be defined as the voluntary union, for life, of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others.

Divorce legislation immediately upturns that whole legal tradition and introduces a completely new legal definition of marriage. Indeed, at one stroke, the legal concept of indissoluble marriage is abolished. From being defined in law as indissoluble, marriages, all marriages, become immediately defined as dissoluble. Marriage becomes, in legal principle, a temporary union. Marriage as a life-long union becomes legally obsolete. A commitment for life is replaced by a legal commitment to stay with one's spouse unless and until one decides otherwise. The very notion of commitment is weakened. A couple's attitude to an intended marriage is influenced by the change. It is not just broken marriages which are affected. All existing marriages are in principle implicated. The 'multiplier effect' of divorce as a factor making for instability in marriage is unavoidable and it is irreversible. The mounting statistics of divorce which have been experienced worldwide follow inevitably from this logic.

20.3 "Irretrievable breakdown"

192. The concept of "irretrievable breakdown" seems a perfectly rational and almost self-justifying basis for the legal dissolution of marriage. It is presented as the obvious starting point for the introduction of divorce in the Republic. The truth is, that far from being a moderate and restrictive basis for divorce, the concept of "irretrievable breakdown" is the basis for the most advanced and unrestrictive form of divorce in the world today. So far from being an obvious starting point for moderate legal reform, the concept of "irretrievable breakdown" is the end product of a long evolution whereby, in country after country, legal restrictions on divorce proved themselves to be unworkable and were progressively abandoned. Divorce was, in most countries, at first based on "fault" (for example on adultery, cruelty or desertion). This was, however, so open to collusion, to contrived situations, to perjured or paid "evidence", that, in most countries in the world today, fault-based divorce has been abandoned and has been replaced by "no fault divorce", based simply on the fact of "irretrievable breakdown". This development occurred with bewildering speed within the space of the past fifteen years or so. This almost universal development must stand as warning that restrictions on divorce are in practice impossible to maintain, and that expectations of a moderate and limited divorce law are pious hope more than well-founded expectation.

193. The term "irretrievable breakdown" is often so used as to suggest a responsible mutual agreement by a couple to terminate their marriage. Instead, divorce by "irretrievable breakdown" can be sought and obtained by the mere fact that one partner decides unilaterally to break up the marriage and separate from his or her partner. It can be imposed on an innocent and unwilling partner by an unfaithful spouse; and, in actual practice, there is nothing the innocent partner can do to prevent it. It is tantamount to divorce by unilateral repudiation. "Irretrievable breakdown" is established in law by the mere fact of separation. The English Divorce Reform Act 1969 required five years' separation for divorce against the wishes of one partner, and only two years with the consent of the partner. In country after country, however, in the past ten years, the required period of separation has been progressively shortened. In several European countries, divorce is obtained after one year's separation, with the consent of the partners, and after three years' separation without consent.

194. The contemporary legal trend is towards making divorce no longer a judicial but merely an administrative procedure. In England, when the 1969 Act was being enacted, Parliament insisted that divorce should remain judicial, in other words that it could be granted only by the Court. Nevertheless, in the years immediately following, by a series of court orders, a "special procedure" for undefended divorces was introduced. Through this procedure, a court hearing becomes unnecessary. The petitioner's evidence (which in most cases has to do merely with establishing the "facts of separation") is given only by means of an affidavit. If there are "relevant children" (that is to say children under the age of 16 or minors who are undergoing education), the petitioner is asked to see the judge in chambers, so that the judge may be satisfied regarding the arrangements proposed for the welfare of the children. This hearing normally lasts only a few minutes. Otherwise the Court Registrar simply examines the affidavits. In practice, he needs only to be satisfied about the "facts of separation". If, on the basis of the Registrar's Certificate, the petitions are listed for decrees nisi, then on the day of the court a clerk reads out a list of names of cases and the Judge says something like: "In all these cases I pronounce a decree nisi". The whole operation takes a couple of minutes. The parties are rarely present to witness the dissolution of their marriages. The intervention of the Judge is clearly a formality and a further step may be to dispense with his function altogether and simply make the Registrar's certificate the decree nisi. Thus divorce is in reality becoming an administrative procedure. This is, in effect, "divorce on demand". The divorce is recognised to be "divorce by post". The notion of "postal divorce", or, in the popular phrase "quickie divorce", is not just a future fear, it is a present fact; and it is inseparable from the notion of divorce based on "irretrievable breakdown".

195. This progressive dilution of legal restrictions on divorce is not due to any special libertinism on the part of other peoples, from which the Irish could claim to be immune. It is a logical and necessary result of the changed legal understanding of marriage. It has come about because generations of experience in other countries have proved that restrictive conditions simply cannot be sustained. Once divorce is introduced, it does not seem possible to restrict it. Once the legal concept of the indissolubility of marriage is abolished, ever-rising statistics of divorce follow with inexorable logic.

20.4 Divorce statistics

196. Statistics show that increase in divorce is directly correlated with changes in divorce laws. Since divorce was first introduced in England and Wales in 1857, there have been repeated changes in the law, each making the grounds for divorce more 'liberal' and the procedures more simple. Each change has been immediately followed by an upsurge in the number of divorces. In the years following 1857, when adultery was the sole ground, divorces went up to about 300 annually. The annual increase was slow until 1937, when the law recognised cruelty and desertion as further grounds for divorce. In 1952, when legal aid was introduced, a new rise in the graph was recorded; but the numbers receded again until the 1960s. In 1961, there were 23,868 divorce decrees. In the decade from 1960 to 1970, a new series of "liberalising" provisions was followed by a steady increase, until in 1971 the number of divorces had reached 74,400. The year 1971 saw the entry into operation of the most radical change so far in divorce law, when the notion of "matrimonial offence" was virtually replaced by the new concept of "no fault" divorce, or divorce based on "irretrievable breakdown". The next year, 1972, saw 117,481 divorces, an increase of more than 43,000 over the previous year's figure. Some of this increase was claimed to be the clearing of a "backlog" of divorces, now made possible by new legislation. But the increase continues. The figure for 1983 was 29,000 higher than that for 1972.

197. In the later 1970s, the operation of the "special procedure" for undefended divorces in England and Wales led to further significant annual increases in the number of divorces, culminating in 1983 in the figure 146,669. This represents almost 43 per cent of the total of marriages for that year, in other words, two out of every five marriages. Britain has the highest incidence of marriage breakdown in Western Europe. In the United States, approximately one in every two marriages now ends in divorce. Even divorce statistics however, no longer reveal the full extent of the effects which the divorce mentality exerts on the understanding of marriage. There is a growing trend in the Western world towards cohabitation without marriage. Divorce is obviously not the only cause of this; but it is manifest that it has massively contributed to the trend by attacking the very concept of marriage as a lifelong institution.

20.5 Divorce in Northern Ireland

198. The experience in Northern Ireland is particularly instructive. In 1970, there were 300 divorces. There was a slow gradual increase until 1978, when the number was 600. In 1979, under the Matrimonial Causes (Northern Ireland) Order, the legislation in Northern Ireland was brought into line with the English legislation of 1971. In the following year, 1980, divorces in the North rose to 900. In 1981, the number was 1429; in 1982, it was 1471; in 1983, it was 1655. Divorce decrees in Northern Ireland are now, in 70 per cent of cases, based on the mere fact of separation. In ten years, therefore, the number of divorces in the North has increased four-fold. This has occurred in spite of the strength of Christian moral conviction and of religious practice among all sections of the Northern population. Churchmen of all denominations have expressed their grave concern about the trend. So have politicians of opposing political persuasions.

199. Writing in 1977 in relation to a private Bill proposing to introduce into Northern Ireland the provisions of the English divorce law, Lord MacDermott firmly opposed the Bill. He pointed to the effects that the English legislation has had in terms of escalating divorce statistics. He declared:

In such matters as these, one has to look beyond individual cases to the long-term effect on society. We may expect that, with statutory encouragement for an "easy come, easy go" attitude to marriage, respect for it as an institution will diminish, and what is linked so closely to it--our most vital social unit, the family--will sustain yet another heavy blow.

Lord MacDermott held that the Bill would have gravely injurious effects for children. Children, he wrote, suffer, not just when their parents' marriage breaks down, but specifically when divorce follows the breakdown. The fact of their parents' divorce itself, he held, brings about "even in quite young children, a sense of shame and insecurity and resentment". Regarding the proposed legislation in general, he said:

I do not think many Protestants really want this here.

200. There are proposals at present to introduce the "Special Procedure" in Northern Ireland. This was deliberately excluded from the Northern Ireland legislation in 1979, when the law was otherwise being brought into line with the English law. The Minister concerned at the time said in the House of Commons:

The majority of those who gave us the benefit of their opinions made strong representations against the introduction of the special procedure for Northern Ireland. These strong objections to the special procedure indicated a general view that such a procedure would reduce the dissolution of marriage to an unacceptable mere formality--as though it were of little consequence--and in honesty that is not the view of marriage still commonly held in Northern Ireland.

If the special procedure were to be introduced into Northern Ireland, there is no doubt but that a still further increase in the annual divorce rate would follow there. Divorce, there as elsewhere, would become more and more a mere administrative formality. It would still further weaken marriage and the family, both of which have been under unprecedented strain over the past decade and a half.

201. It is sad to note that one of the arguments now being advanced in favour of introducing the "special procedure" for divorce in Northern Ireland is the cost factor. It is conceded that "hearings have become shorter; most last less than ten minutes". Yet, in the official Government Consultation Paper accompanying this proposal, it is argued that:

Divorce hearings account collectively for a disproportionate amount of judicial and courtroom time.... (and) the general requirement of an oral hearing is seen as a time consuming and expensive formality.

It is further argued that, whereas in Northern Ireland the average cost of obtaining a decree of divorce is about £300, in England and Wales the cost is approximately £40. In actual fact, the court time now required in Northern Ireland for undefended divorce cases is normally three or four minutes. It is hard to see how this could be called "disproportionate" to the extreme personal and family and social seriousness of divorce. It is surely astonishing to see the policy of "financial cutbacks" being applied in an area so laden with human tragedy for spouses and for children, and so fraught with consequences for society, as is divorce.

20.6 Divorce and children

202. The main motivation behind the campaign for divorce is compassion for persons locked in intolerable marriage situations, suffering mental, emotional or even physical cruelty from their spouses, or deserted by their spouses, who have set up house with another partner. The motive is praiseworthy, and victims of such situations deserve sincere compassion. There are, however, other persons than marriage partners affected by divorce; and compassion must be felt for these as well. None are more deeply affected by divorce than children. Whatever law may say about marriage, parenthood at least is lifelong. Parents are forever. Even when marriage ceases in law to be a lifelong and indissoluble union, it continues to have lifelong implications and responsibilities, of which parenthood is the chief. None suffer more than children do from the divorce of their parents. Children are the chief casualties and victims of divorce. There is strong evidence from the United States and other countries that children of divorced parents are prey to a cluster of psychological and emotional problems and personality disorders. Even the danger of the divorce of their parents produces a host of disturbed behaviour patterns among children. Divorce is a markedly spouse-centred, and definitely not a child-centred development. Children are in fact sacrificed to the interests or whims of their parents. Divorce is experienced by children as a rejection of them by their parents. The remarriage of a divorced parent intensifies this feeling of rejection. No divorce system anywhere has ever succeeded in satisfactorily assuring the welfare and happiness of children in divorce. Indeed, as "no fault" ideas of divorce become accepted, and as divorce becomes an administrative rather than a judicial procedure, less and less attention is paid to the rights of children.

203. It is argued, of course, that the real damage suffered by children is due, not to divorce, but to marriage breakdown. It is said that children suffer more from an unhappy home than they suffer from a divorce. Children certainly do suffer grievously in unhappy marriage situations, or from parental separation without divorce. Nevertheless, divorce adds its own specific dimension of damage to children over and above home tension or even parental separation. There are studies which suggest that children prefer even an unhappy marriage relationship between their parents to the divorce and remarriage of their parents. To the shock caused to children by the break-up of the parents' marriage, divorce and remarriage add the further stress of the appearance of a new "father" or "mother" in their lives. The child is torn by a conflict of loyalties. The wound is constantly reopened by visits to or by the "real" father or mother. A crisis of identity can develop. There have also been many studies of post-divorce step- parental relationships and their effects on children. They reveal a sad history of conflict and tension. The child is emotionally torn inside between the step-parent and the real parent. The child becomes the victim of a tug-of-love struggle between his or her own conflicting emotions, superadded to the competition between ex-wives and ex-husbands for their affection. Children are sometimes rejected by a post-divorce "step-parent". The sexual maturation of children of divorced parents is often affected. American research indicates that the offspring of divorced parents are themselves more divorce-prone than others.

204. An Ecumenical Working Party on the Effects of Divorce on Children, set up in 1980 by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, reported in 1983. The Report is entitled Children and Divorce. It concludes:

1. The divorce process upsets and disturbs all children in the short term.

2. Divorce may affect children detrimentally in the long-term, and probably does so to a much greater extent than is commonly realised.

3. The degree of distress caused to a child arising from conflicting loyalties may lead to a severe loss of integrity, self-esteem and capacity for responsible judgement, which can affect his or her spiritual, mental, physical, moral and emotional development.

4. Divorce involves spiritual dilemmas for children, as well as for adults.

In an Appendix to this Report, one contributor writes:

Divorce is always a disaster for children. This is true even if their parents' marriage was stormy, unhappy or violent, or any combination of these. It is true also of civilised divorces. . . Divorce must be seen as one of the hazards of childhood.

The extent of the price paid by children for the divorce of their parents is shown by the fact that about one million children in Great Britain at present have divorced parents. It is estimated that 1,600,000 children will have divorced parents by the end of the century. The figures vividly illustrate the built-in "escalator effect" of divorce. It is all too sadly true that today's remedy becomes tomorrow's disease. It was with good reason that the Vatican Council spoke of divorce as a plague (Gaudium et Spes, no. 47).

20.7 Divorce and women

205. After children, it is undoubtedly women who are the chief sufferers from divorce. There are many indications that divorce favours men rather than women. One California study found in 1981 that men experienced a 42 per cent improvement in their standard of living following divorce, while women experienced a 73 per cent loss. A man finds it easier to meet a new and younger partner and begin a new life, than does a woman who has borne children and still wishes to care for them. Divorce obviously increases the number of one-parent families and it is interesting to note that in England some 70 per cent of these are now lone-mother households. The proportion of families headed by a divorced mother more than doubled in Great Britain between 1972 and 1979. The proportion of lone-mother households in Northern Ireland in 1984 was 85 per cent of the total of single-parent households. Maintenance orders are in practice difficult to enforce. Many divorced women and their children are forced to depend on social welfare and supplementary benefits. It is reckoned that there are 392,000 divorced women in Britain now living on supplementary benefit.

206. The Divorce Reform Act of 1969 in England required the courts so to exercise their power as to place the parties, so far as is practicable and, having regard to their conduct, just to do so, in the financial position in which they would have been if the marriage had not broken down and each had properly discharged his or her financial obligations and responsibilities towards the other. The English Law Commission, however, in 1980, in a discussion paper, concluded that this provision had, in practice, served "little useful purpose". Legal opinion moved quickly towards the concept of the "clean break" divorce. The Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act, which became law in October 1984, does in fact give statutory recognition to the principle of the "clean break", qualified however by the Court 's obligation to give priority consideration to the welfare of the children. The Act enshrines the concept of effecting a smooth transition from the status of marriage to the status of independence. Several commentators seriously question, however, whether the principle of the welfare of the children will prove to be meaningful and effective in practice, or whether it will adequately protect the interests of divorced women. More and more the law in England is moving towards the notion of "clean break divorce", with its underlying assumption that husband and wife should be financially independent, both within marriage and after divorce.

207. Increasingly, court practice in other countries expects the wife to be working and to be financially independent during the marriage, and to remain financially independent after divorce. The philosophy of "no-fault" divorce, or divorce based on "irretrievable breakdown", is that, once a marriage is "dead" the obligations attached thereto should be pronounced dead also, including the obligation to support the former wife who, legally is now a stranger. In many countries, divorce is coming now to be widely regarded as a "clean break" with the previous marriage. When "no-fault" divorce was being introduced, provisions were invariably included for protection of the divorced wife against hardship, financial or other. In practice, the provision has not worked. In principle, it is actually opposed to the concept of divorce based on "irretrievable breakdown', that is to say, based merely on "the facts of separation". Divorce has become literally "divorce on demand", regardless of financial hardship. In Northern Ireland, the Court has never been known to refuse divorce on grounds of hardship. In many countries, the attitude is growing that women who contest divorce suits, on grounds of hardship or otherwise, are being "vindictive", "insisting on their pound of flesh', "abusing the law to harass the spouse", demanding a "meal- ticket for life". In fact, no divorce law has ever been devised which effectively solves the problem of financial injustice following upon divorce.

208. It is true that a majority of divorces are sought by women. The same is the case for a majority of separation orders. It must be remembered, however, that, where legal divorce exists, the divorce court becomes the normal method for obtaining legal recognition of separation and for seeking maintenance. Consequently, even for wives who oppose the divorce in principle, it is the normal legal mechanism for a wife seeking maintenance for herself and her children or seeking protection for her property rights.

209. It would, of course, be wrong to identify divorce as the cause of all the problems of broken marriages. Undeniably, however, the existence of divorce increases the rate of marriage breakdown. Divorce is first introduced as a measure of compassion for the hardship of couples whose marriage has broken down beyond hope of reconciliation and who are not deterred by religious or moral conviction from contracting another relationship. The remedy for a minority of marriages which fail becomes, however, itself a factor causing more marriages to fail. Experience of divorce in every other country shows indisputably that divorce cannot be restricted in law and that its growth cannot be limited in fact. A divorce mentality spreads through the community. Divorce becomes socially acceptable, even fashionable. It comes to be regarded as one of the signs of a "civilised ", "tolerant" and "liberal' society. A country lacking divorce is castigated as morally backward.

210. In a society with divorce, married people have less motivation to work hard to make their marriage successful, to overcome crises together and be reconciled after quarrels. Marriage itself becomes regarded less as a lifelong commitment and more as an arrangement which can be terminated if it does not "work out". As a result, people enter marriage with less sense of seriousness. Couples seek divorce who, if this option had not existed, would have surmounted the crisis and gone on to a second phase of their marriage, which could have been even more satisfactory than the first. In this second phase, the couple could well have been happier together than either of them has been following divorce. Two researchers in the University of Bristol in 1984 surveyed a sample of divorced persons. They found that 40 per cent of the sample now wish that they had not been divorced. Many of the remarried spouses expressed regret that they had changed partners. An impression is often given nowadays that divorce is followed by a "happy ever after" relationship in a new marriage. Instead, partners often bring into the new marriage the very same problems which led to the breakup of the first. Second marriages following divorce have themselves been found to show a high rate of breakdown.

211. It is claimed that many of these dangers could be eliminated by building conciliation procedures into divorce legislation. This hope is not supported by the evidence. The 1983 Ecumenical Report, Children and Divorce, to which we have already referred, deplored "the virtual disregard of the reconciliation provision" included in the Divorce Reform Act, 1969. Most observers now admit that these provisions are now a dead letter. Experience worldwide has shown that, however well intended, provisions for conciliation and reconciliation quickly become obsolete once divorce becomes available. The motivation for saving the marriage seems no longer to exist or to be sufficiently strong. One of the Bristol University researchers to whom we referred said that:

There are disturbing indications that the divorce process once started, has a juggernaut-like momentum of its own, which can leave the parties apparently powerless to apply the brakes. There are cases in which the solicitors appear to have been blind to the possibility of reconciliation, and where people felt they had been pushed into a divorce.

212. There is a strange similarity between these words and those written by the man chiefly responsible for introducing the very first divorce act in England in 1857, Lord Campbell. Only a few years after the passing of the Act, seeing the annual increase in divorces even then, he wrote:

I have been sitting two days in the Divorce Court, and like Frankenstein, I am afraid of the monster I have called into existence. . . There seems some reason to dread that the prophecies of those who opposed the change may be fulfilled by a lamentable multiplication of divorces and by the corruption of public morals.

Marriage and the Family in Society and in the Church


21.1 The Rights of the Family

213. The Holy See's Charter of the Rights of the Family, published in 1983, declares:

Those who wish to marry and establish a family have the right to expect from society moral, educational, social and economic conditions which enable them to exercise their right to marry in all maturity and responsibility.

The Christian call to Government in our country, both in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland, is to elaborate, in the legal, economic and social fields, policies which will protect marriage and support the family. Marriage and the family are the foundations of a strong, stable and responsible society.

21.2 The Irish Constitution and the Family

214. The Constitution of the Republic of Ireland commits the State to the protection of marriage and the family. In Article 41, Bunreacht na h-Eireann declares:

1.1 The State recognises the Family as the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law.

1.2 The State, therefore, guarantees to protect the Family and its constitution and authority, as the necessary basis of social order and as indispensable to the welfare of the Nation and the State.

1.3 The State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of Marriage, on which the Family is founded, and to protect it against attack.

The sincerity of one's commitment to these ideals will be determined by action, by legislative provision, by social policy, by personal practice. Government and people in Northern Ireland have the same duty, for the good of society itself, to witness in word and in deed to the fundamental value of marriage and family life.

21.3 Public Policies of Support for Marriage

215. It is hard to see how the overall interests of marriage and the family can be properly safeguarded without a unified department or interdepartmental group at government level which would monitor all programmes and policies, existing or proposed, in the light of their impact on marital stability and family welfare, and which would elaborate positive policies for strengthening and supporting marriage and the family and for safeguarding the welfare of children. Society neglects the family at its own peril. The Charter of the Rights of the Family states:

Society, and in a particular manner the State and International Organisations, must protect the family through measures of a political, economic, social and juridical character, which aim at consolidating the unity and stability of the family, so that it can exercise its specific function.

The rights, the fundamental needs, the well-being and the values of the family, even though they are progressively safeguarded in some cases, are often ignored and not rarely undermined by laws, institutions, and socio-economic programmes (Preamble, I and J).

216. Economic and social deprivation creates intolerable difficulties for many families. There is a degree and extent of poverty in Ireland today, both North and South, which is totally unacceptable in a Christian society. There are families in Irish society today, both North and South, whose income does not provide them with sufficient food or clothes or fuel, who suffer from malnutrition and inadequate hygiene, who live in sub-standard accommodation or in decayed and squalid environmental conditions, who do not have proper educational opportunity to equip them for living in modern society. There are many families and social groups whose living conditions are inadequate for elementary human well-being and minimum human dignity. There are many families for whom "ends don't meet". There are levels of inequality which violate justice and which make some citizens feel excluded from and rejected by the society in which they live. This is particularly true of the young employed, especially among the semiskilled or unskilled. There is still unacceptable inequality of educational opportunity. God's "preference for the poor", as revealed in the Bible and in the Gospels, is not sufficiently reflected in our society's attitudes towards the poor and in our public policies. The settled community's attitudes towards the Travelling People are too often a sad reminder of this.

217. Housing policies should be carefully scrutinised in terms of their effect on the family. It is essential that there be adequate housing to give each newly-wed couple their own home. Some housing programmes are based on the concept that a married couple should change house and move elsewhere as more children are born and the family grows in size. This has the great disadvantage that neighbourhood communities are disrupted and extended family ties are broken. These are factors making for further instability. It is important also that there be a "mix" of owner occupied and publicly owned housing in all new developments, so as to reduce the segregation of the social classes. Mortgage repayments are a heavy burden on married couples, and public policy must aim at keeping these at reasonable levels.

218. There is no doubting but that unemployment is one of the greatest social factors damaging family life and contributing to marriage breakdown. The creation of jobs should be the State's social priority at this time. This is the social reform worthy of the name. The State, however, must not be expected alone to solve the unemployment problem. Local community enterprise and parish based job creating programmes must be vigorously promoted.

219. Much of our social and social welfare policy has developed piecemeal; so also has our taxation system. These have now become vast and complicated systems, difficult to understand, difficult to operate, and especially difficult to change. Nevertheless it is time to take a comprehensive look at social and social welfare policy and taxation; with a view particularly to identifying their impact on marriage and the family, which should be a central concern for society. In curious and unintended ways, some social welfare and housing allocation policies and some taxation codes can be abused to the detriment of marriage and the family and to the benefit of marital separation or of cohabitation. Familiaris Consortio says that families themselves must become "protagonists of family politics".

The social role of families is called upon to find expression also in the form of political intervention: families should be the first to take steps to see that the laws and institutions of the State not only do not offend but support and positively defend the rights and duties of the family (no. 44).

220. It is of particular relevance in Ireland, both North and South, at the present time, to note that the Charter of the Rights of the Family also states:

The rights and necessities of the family, and especially the value of family unity, must be taken into consideration in penal legislation and policy, in such a way that a detainee remains in contact with his or her family and that the family is adequately sustained during the period of detention.

In this light, there should be scrutiny of prison regimes which would systematically impose "closed visits" on certain categories of prisoners, that is to say, visits during which no physical contact is allowed between a prisoner and his wife and children. Because of past experience of security risks, however, one has the right to expect cooperation from prisoners in the provision of open visits. There should also be examination of policies regarding the imprisonment of persons in conditions which make visits by spouses or children unnecessarily difficult or prohibitively expensive. There are many long-sentence prisoners in the North whose offences were committed when they were still minors; their situation should be re-examined in this light. Indeed the authorities must pay much more attention than heretofore to the impact on conjugal and family life of the interminable absence from home of long sentence and especially life-sentence prisoners. Prisoners with indeterminate sentences should have their cases reviewed regularly, with a view to having a date fixed for their release.

21.4 Reform of Family Law

221. Just as the country's social policies should support the family, so also should its system of law. There have been notable advances in family law reform in recent years. Yet there are areas which still need revision. The adversarial procedures of the ordinary legal system are often unsuitable in the personal, intimate and sensitive area of marital and parental relationships. These require a stress on reconciliation and conciliation procedures, rather than on adversarial ones. They require that a counselling element become part of a family judicial system. There would seem to be need for a new kind of Family Court or Tribunal, to which marital and family problems requiring legal intervention would be referred. The Family Court could also provide a reconciliation and counselling service for marriages in trouble. It would furthermore provide a conciliation or mediation service, through which couples who have irrevocably decided to separate might do so with as little recrimination among themselves and as little damage to children as possible, and with just legal and financial arrangements for spouses and children. Judges and others working in the family courts, as well as being specialists in family law, should also be familiar with the special psychological and other aspects of marital tension and breakdown. In jurisdictions permitting divorce, it is found that reconciliation provisions are largely inoperative, to the point of being called "a dead letter". There are much better prospects of success for reconciliation services in a non divorce jurisdiction. Opportunities should be available for attendance at a reconciliation hearing before other court proceedings go forward. All proceedings of the Family Court should be held in camera.

222. Some aspects of the present procedures for resolving the legal problems arising from marital separation are unsatisfactory. Indeed some at least of the present pressures for divorce in the Republic of Ireland come from these deficiencies in existing law. Updated legal instruments are needed whereby the Court can move expeditiously to decide the exact status that is to obtain between husband and wife following their separation, and under which the Court could deal with all issues arising from the separation, including maintenance, property and custody of children, access to children and to the family home, etc. The Family Court should be given competence in these areas.

223. The notion of dependency of domicile for wives should be abolished. At present a married woman's domicile is legally presumed to be the domicile of her husband. This has humiliating, as well as potentially damaging, implications for the wife. If her husband were to become domiciled outside the country, a wife would also be deemed to share his domicile, even though she may never have left the country. This implies a lack of reciprocity between wife and husband, and does not reflect equality of persons in the marriage partnership. The new Code of Canon Law specifies that spouses have a common domicile, but in the case of lawful separation or for some other just reason, each spouse may have his or her own domicile (Can. 104). The law on matrimonial property also needs revision. Under present law, each spouse owns his or her own property separately. The Succession Act 1965 in the Republic of Ireland conferred on either partner important rights in the estate of the other partner in the event of death. But in life a partner has no rights in respect of property owned by the other unless he or she contributed financially to its purchase. This applies even to the family home. It is true that an Act of 1976, the Family Home Protection Act, prohibited the sale, mortgage or other disposition of the home by one spouse without the prior consent of the other. This measure provides important protection in practice, but it leaves the unsatisfactory underlying principle unchanged. It is good that local authority tenancies are now in the joint names of husband and wife. A right of residence should be declared in favour of a spouse who is deserted. The law should move towards the concept of community of property. Increased legal provision for community of property should help to bind the couple together more firmly and to provide a stronger basis for family life. It would also be a clearer recognition in law of the true nature of the marriage partnership.

224. The Holy See's Charter of the Rights of the Family declares:

The institutional value of marriage should be upheld by the public authorities; the situation of non-married couples must not be placed on the same level as marriage duly contracted (Article 1c).

It also declares:

All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, enjoy the same right to social protection, with a view to their integral personal development (Article 4e).

Law should not give equal status to marriage and cohabitation, but should give unambiguous legal and social support to marriage. In general, all legal and social provision for children and all child care services need to be brought into a more unified and coherent system. Children are not objects of law, but should be treated as subjects of rights. Children do not choose to be born out of wedlock. Children so born should not be stigmatised because of the circumstances of their birth. They need legal protection of their rights. The legal reforms which will take account of the rights of illegitimate children must not undermine the principle that monogamous and indissoluble marriage is the legal basis of the family.

225. In the Republic of Ireland, the law relating to maintenance of spouses and children was amended in 1976. The new Act represented very important progress as compared with previous legislation. It provided that orders for maintenance can be made even when the spouses are living together. A wife thus has redress against a husband who fails to provide adequate money for household expenses and for children. The Act provided also for attachment of earnings for enforcing maintenance orders. There is room for further improvements in the law. The present statutory machinery for the attachment of earnings should be supplemented by more effective, humane procedures to enforce maintenance orders, where a spouse who fails to support the family has assets and income other than wages or salary.

21.5 Averting Marital Breakdown

226. We outlined in Part III some of the main factors contributing to marital breakdown. The broad range of measures, social, economic and legal, which we have outlined in the previous paragraphs, are needed both to support marriage and the family and to meet the new challenges facing marriage and the family today. We noted previously that marriage breakdown has increased over recent years in Ireland and is now a serious national problem. This is not a cause for panic: the incidence of breakdown in Irish marriages is still much less than it is in other countries. It can scarcely be denied that the absence of divorce has been an important element in fostering stability in marriage in the Republic of Ireland. The availability of divorce can create a feeling that something positive has been done about the problems of marriage breakdown. It can lessen the impetus and the sense of urgency for positive measures to support marriage and the family, and for genuinely preventive interventions to avert marriage breakdown. But saying no to divorce also imposes on society a greater obligation to provide these measures. The community's general understanding of marriage as a lifelong institution provides a strong basis for positive public policies of support for marriage both in the Republic and in Northern Ireland.

227. Marital breakdown in many countries has become a massive social and national problem. The increase in marital breakdown in England has been described as "alarming" and as a "national disaster". Even the financial cost to the State can give some indication of the scale of the problem. Between 1971 and 1976 the number of one-parent families in Britain rose from 570,000 to 750,000, an increase of 32 per cent. A recognised authority on population trends, Richard Leete, has no hesitation in saying that this increase was "due largely to the big increase in the number of divorced lone mothers". The rapid increase in one-parent families during these five years can scarcely be unconnected with the introduction in 1971 of divorce based on "irretrievable breakdown". We have already pointed to the sharp increase in divorce statistics during those same years. In Britain, there are now well over 800,000 one-parent families, with 1,500,000 dependent children. The cost to the Exchequer of benefit for these families in 1983 was considerably more than £500,000,000. Certainly by no means all of these are the result of divorce, yet a significant number of them are. The great majority of children in care come from broken homes. These children are now costing the British Exchequer more than £180,000,000. A directly divorce derived burden on the State is free legal aid for persons seeking divorce. Since 1977, legal aid is no longer made available for undefended divorce cases, in which, of course, legal representation is no longer necessary. Still, however, two-thirds of all civil legal aid certificates go towards matrimonial proceedings. In 1979/80, the cost of civil legal aid in Britain was nearly £50 million. Dr.. Jack Dominian estimated in 1981 that marriage breakdown, directly or indirectly, was costing Britain something "of the order of one billion pounds" per annum.

228. The financial cost of marital breakdown is, of course, far outweighed by its human cost. A great body of professional literature testifies to the fact that marital breakdown is a causal factor in a wide range of personality problems and social ills. It is indeed becoming one of the major sources of social and individual psycho-pathology in modern society. Positive policies for averting marital breakdown are among the most urgent needs facing our society. Marriage and the family are truly the bedrock of our civilisation. They are a school of deeper humanity, where society's values and standards are fostered and transmitted across the generations. It is here that faith and love and hope, human as well as divine, are learned, shared and communicated. Government must be constantly reminded by the electorate of its responsibilities towards marriage and the family. New legislation and new social policies and measures of taxation reform should be carefully scrutinised in the light of their impact on marriage and the family.

21.6 Preparation for Marriage

229. It is paradoxical that marriage is one of the easiest contracts to enter into, though one of the most serious in terms of its consequences and responsibilities for the whole lifetime of the partners. International statistics show that marriages contracted under the age of 18 have a higher risk of breakdown. It would seem therefore, that the minimum legal age for marriage should not be less than 18. It would be useful to have a legal requirement for adequate prior notice of intended marriage.

230. There is urgent need for more systematic provision of preparation for marriage, both in terms of general education in human and sexual relationships, and in terms of direct pre- marriage preparation. "Sex education" is often understood in a narrow sense which sees sexuality as a merely physical phenomenon, which could be adequately taught in biology classes, in isolation from its true context in loving human relationships. "Sex education" classes in other countries have sometimes presented sex in a clinical and so-called "value-free" manner. Such a presentation lessens reverence for sexuality and could even encourage sexual experimentation by children. Sometimes indeed "sex education" programmes have been strongly weighted towards instruction about various forms of contraception. This is perceived by children as an invitation to engage in sexual intercourse. Sexuality must not be isolated from its emotional, moral, spiritual and religious dimensions. Education of children in human sexuality and in relationships is primarily the right and duty of parents. It is imparted, not only in formal instruction or discussion between parents and children, but, even more importantly, through the influence on children of the relationships between the parents themselves. The atmosphere of love and forgiveness which pervades a marriage and which prevails between parents and children is the best preparation which children can receive for their own future marriage and parenting. More formal education in male/female relationships is however also necessary. Ideally, parents should provide this themselves. Sometimes however they feel inadequate to do so or are deterred from doing so by a false sense of modesty.

231. Parents must, therefore, be helped by schools in providing the necessary instruction. It is not sufficiently appreciated that excellent programmes of education in relationships already exist in the majority of Catholic schools. Catholic school heads and teachers deserve public recognition and gratitude for the excellent work they do in this domain. The need is not for the State to introduce programmes as if none existed, but for the State to support and facilitate what is already being done. The need is for cooperation between State, school and parents. Education in relationships is one of the most important of the tasks of the school in preparing young people for life. It must be given an important place in all school curricula. There are some indications that education for relationships for boys is not as well catered for as it is for girls. Instruction should be provided at different ages, in a manner corresponding to the psychological and physical development of the child. No young person should leave school without proper preparation for integrating his or her sexuality with Christian faith and morality, with love, with respect for others and a sense of responsibility for others' welfare. The effectiveness of school programmes will, however, be greatly diminished if parents are not also involved.

232. Education will not by itself ensure right behaviour. It is a fallacy to assume that knowledge will eliminate wrong sexual behaviour. Society educates even more than schools do; and what society teaches may be very much in conflict with what schools teach. There is a "hidden curriculum" provided for young people by the attitudes and behaviour of adults, by the media, by advertising, by commercial and social pressures, and by peer-group influences. The responsibility of preparing young people for marriage and family life is shared by the whole of society. Schools should not be expected to discharge society's responsibilities for it, or to solve problems which society creates.


22.1 Existing Services for Marriage and the Family

233. Marriage and the family have a special place in the community which is the Church. In the document, Familiaris Consortio, resulting from the discussions at the Synod of Bishops, Pope John Paul said:

The future of the world and the Church passes through the family (no. 75).

The future of humanity passes by way of the family (no. 86).

I feel that I must ask for a particular effort in this field from the sons and daughters of the Church. . . They must show the family special love. This is an injunction that calls for concrete action. Loving the family means identifying the dangers and the evils that menace it, in order to overcome them. Loving the family means endeavouring to create for it an environment favourable for its development. The modern Christian family is often tempted to be discouraged and is distressed at the growth of its difficulties; it is an eminent form of love to give it back its reasons for confidence in itself, in the riches that it possesses by nature and grace, and in the mission that God has entrusted to it (no. 86).

We must all of us in the Church in Ireland examine our consciences as to how we are facing up to this urgent call from the Pope and from the Synod.

234. It is true that much is already being done under the auspices of the Church in the family apostolate. The Catholic Marriage Advisory Council has seen a quite remarkable expansion in the last twenty years, in terms of centres and services, of personnel and of professionalism in all aspects of marriage counselling, pre- marriage preparation, education for relationships, natural family planning. The number of centres has doubled in ten years, from 30 in 1975 to over 60 now, dotted all over the thirty-two counties. The diverse services of CMAC are staffed by nearly 2000 personnel. These give their services completely voluntarily; but they pass through a thorough system of professional training in counselling and other relevant skills, a system which includes very careful selection, thorough initial training, in-service re-training, etc. Between 1975 and 1982, 416,150 persons availed of the various services provided by CMAC. It is reckoned that 40 per cent of couples intending marriage now avail of CMAC pre-marriage course. Premises and facilities for the centres are usually provided by the diocese in which they are located. More than 70 per cent of the funding for CMAC comes from Church sources, and ultimately from the generosity of the Catholic people, who are the sole source of Church revenues; 20 per cent comes from the State, both in the Republic and in Northern Ireland. A small proportion of the funding comes from clients. CMAC is by itself an impressive sign of the concern of the Church in Ireland for marriage and its problems.

235. CURA was set up by the Bishops in 1977 as a telephone information service and referral agency for girls distressed by an unintended pregnancy. CURA also has expanded rapidly since its establishment. There are now 10 confidential telephone centres across the country, North and South; and these deal with more than 6500 calls annually. The centres provide all relevant advice for callers, and put them in touch with counselling services, or with agencies caring for expectant mothers or providing accommodation for mothers following pregnancy. A pregnancy testing service is also offered. Many girls have thus been caringly helped through their difficult experience, and have been saved from the still more harrowing experience of abortion and post abortion guilt. CURA is wholly Church-funded.

236. There are many organisations working all over Ireland to promote the spirituality of marriage and the family. The enthusiasm and dedication of these various groups is beyond praise. Usually they are composed of couples who have themselves been so blessed with the joy they receive from living their marriage in Christ and in the Church that they cannot rest until they have shared this joy with others.

237. There is also a great network of Church-related services for families, for single parents, for unmarried mothers and their babies, for teenagers, for battered wives, and for families in all kinds of need, material and spiritual. There are so many of these services that it would be impossible and invidious to attempt a list. Indeed, such services are so ubiquitous and so familiar that sometimes they escape notice, and their devoted workers, nearly all of them voluntary, receive insufficient recognition and gratitude. Lay men and women constitute by far the greatest number of those involved in these various forms of family care. We wish to assure them of our admiration and our gratitude for their work. We do not forget either the large number of men and women who are working in the many excellent inter-denominational or secular associations or groups for the care of the family, the defence of unborn life, the welfare of single parents and their children, assistance to victims of rape, wife-battering, child-battering and child abuse, etc. We salute also the many persons who are working in the field of statutory health and social welfare services, bringing their Christian faith and love into their dedicated professional work. In a country like Ireland, with its tradition of voluntary caring service, there should be close cooperation between statutory and voluntary services. Pastorally, and even economically, the voluntary principle in caring services is of inestimable value.

238. Many services in the family care field were founded by religious communities of men and women, and continue to be maintained by them. Their activity is often hidden from the public eye, but their work and their prayer are a great enrichment of the whole community. A welcome new development is that of Parish Sisters, who are bringing the love of Christ and of the poor, which are the basic inspiration of all apostolic religious communities, out into the streets and into the homes of those in greatest need, spiritually or materially. Contemplative religious, through their prayer and their poverty and penance, are a powerful hidden source of strength to marriages and families. So also are the many unknown men and women living contemplative lives in the midst of the world, leavening society with the spirit of the Gospel.

22.2 New Services Needed

239. There are still wide gaps in family services. There are many needs to be met, many problems not yet thoroughly tackled. This Pastoral Letter is intended to give a new impetus to all members of the Church to intensify their efforts in all areas of pastoral care of marriage and the family. We Bishops must admit that some previous pastoral letters which we have issued have not received the sustained practical follow-up which was desired. This must not be so in the case of the present Pastoral Letter. Familiaris Consortio declared:

The pastoral intervention of the Church in support of the family is a matter of urgency (no. 65).

The same document urges Episcopal Conferences to prepare a national Directory for the Pastoral Care of the Family (no. 66). Pastoral action in support of marriage and the family is needed at the level of the Church nationally, at the level of the diocese, and at the level of the parish. There are examples already in existence of Diocesan Institutes for the Family. These can stimulate action at parish level, they can elaborate pastoral and educational programmes, exchange information, and offer training facilities. Many parishes already have Parish Family Welfare Centres which do excellent work, particularly with deprived or problem families. It is regrettable that we do not have in the Catholic Church an organisation similar to the Mothers' Union and corresponding organisations, which have a long and distinguished history in other Christian communions. There is need for courses in "parenting" and for meetings of parents to discuss together the problems which arise at different stages of children's development.

240. There must be more Church resources and more personnel, more research and more expertise assigned to the care of marriage and the family in its manifold aspects. The emphasis must be on helping families to help themselves and to help one another. Familiaris Consortio urges family-to-family mutual support, saying:

This assistance from family to family will constitute one of the simplest, most effective and most accessible means for transmitting from one to another those Christian values which are both a starting point and the goal of all pastoral care (no. 69).

In particular, the document calls for help to be given to young married couples from couples longer married, who should share with the newlyweds "their own experience of life, as well as the gifts of faith and grace" (no. 69).

22.3 Priests and the Pastoral Care of Marriage

241. Seminary formation for the priesthood, and ongoing theological and pastoral education for priests, must give an important place to preparing priests to deal understandingly and to cope effectively with the preparation of couples for marriage, with the problems of married couples and families, and the difficulties leading to marriage breakdown. Priestly visitation of homes has always been given a high place in Irish pastoral tradition. It is more important today than ever. There is a special need for pastoral visitation of newly married couples, particularly in the newer housing estates, and of couples with young families. These couples often have difficulties to contend with in the early days of marriage and parenthood. Early detection of warning signs of trouble in young marriages is a very important part of any pastoral programme for averting marital breakdown. Couples who find tensions developing must be urged to seek help at a very early stage. On the occasion of pastoral visits, the priest should pray with the couple and the children, and should encourage family prayer.

242. In pastoral practice, much attention must be paid to preparation for marriage, both in the form of longer-term education in relationships and in the form of pre-marriage courses. Familiaris Consortio speaks beautifully of the preparati on for marriage as a "journey of faith", and likens it to a "catechumenate". It urges that this preparation should begin in youth and should grow until the time of marriage, and indeed continue throughout married life. The document says:

The religious formation of young people should be integrated, at the right moment and in accordance with the various concrete requirements, with a preparation for life as a couple. This preparation will present marriage as an inter-personal relationship of a man and a woman that has to be continually developed. . . (no. 66).

243. It is essential that the sacramental and spiritual aspects of married life be highlighted in pre marriage courses. A pre- marriage course could be well adapted to prepare people for marriage as a secular reality, and yet offer little help to couples in seeing their marriage as a great sacrament, a source of divine life and grace, a means of sanctification for each of them and of mutual sanctification for the couple, a privileged call to a special place in the mystery of the Church and a special role in the Church's mission.

244. Referring to the immediate preparation for marriage, Familiaris Consortio says:

This preparation is not only necessary in every case, but is also more urgently needed for engaged couples that still manifest shortcomings or difficulties in Christian doctrine and practice (no. 66).

The fact that, according to estimates, 40 per cent of Catholic married couples now attend a pre marriage course is indeed an important achievement. However, we must be still more concerned about the 60 per cent who do not. Continued persuasion and concerted effort are needed until attendance at pre-marriage courses becomes virtually universal. There should be uniformity in pastoral practice between parishes and dioceses in respect of the requirement of pre-marriage courses. Couples will, however, respond better to persuasion in the context of friendly pastoral dialogue than to a legalistic approach. Blank refusal to attend a pre-marriage course will be rarely encountered; but if it happens it could be an indication of inadequate preparedness for marriage. Familiaris Consortio strongly stresses "the necessity and obligation" of immediate pre-marriage preparation, while saying that its omission is not absolutely an impediment to the celebration of marriage.

245. Canon Law requires that, before the celebration of a marriage, the priest must conduct a prenuptial inquiry, in order to establish the couple's freedom to marry, their maturity of consent, their adequate understanding of marriage as a human relationship and as a Christian sacrament. The Irish Bishops last year, following extensive consultation among diocesan Councils of Priests and the clergy in general, as well as among laity, issued a revised Pre-Nuptial Inquiry Form. This revised form brings the Inquiry more into line with the pastoral realities of marriage in today's world. The completion of this Inquiry is now a pastoral exercise, not just a legal requirement. It is for this reason that three months prior notice of marriage is now obligatory in every Irish diocese. This notice is necessary in order to provide the minimum time needed for the pre-marriage meetings between the priest and the couple which are required for the proper conducting of the pre-nuptial inquiry, and thereby for the spiritual and liturgical preparation demanded by the great sacrament of marriage. The prior notice is also intended to give time for the pre marriage course, which any responsible couple will themselves desire to have before undertaking the solemn and sacred lifelong obligations of marriage.

246. The immediate preparation for marriage includes careful preparation for the liturgical celebration of marriage, the choice of appropriate readings from the Word of God and help in assimilating the meaning of God's word for the couple, and the choice of suitable liturgical music. It will also include spiritual preparation of the couple, by prayer and by reception of the sacrament of reconciliation. The priest will remember that the celebration of the liturgy of marriage is also an education in faith for the couple and for all those present. It is a privileged occasion for this education in faith, all the more so as people may be present who are not practising their faith and who therefore are rarely put in contact with God's saving word and grace. The whole experience of preparation for marriage and participation in its celebration is often the occasion of a new discovery of Christ and his Church by the couple themselves and by others. There is need also for special liturgical celebrations for married couples, as for example on the occasion of wedding anniversaries, jubilees etc; and these should include the renewal of marriage vows. The Church's esteem for marriage and the family should be shown by the involvement of couples as couples and of families as families in parish liturgies.

247. The meetings between the couple and the priest on the occasion of the preparation for and the celebration of marriage are a privileged pastoral occasion. For some couples it may be one of their rare opportunities for a personal meeting with a priest. The impression they carry away can be decisive for their future attitudes to the Church. Indeed the experience is an experience of the Church for the couple. Among all their memories of the marriage, the couple's meetings with the priest should remain among the happiest. In this, as in so many other ways, the Church will be judged by men and women today by the "human face" she presents to the world, or rather by the way she reflects to the world the human face of Christ.

248. Special pastoral care and sensitivity are needed in the preparation of couples for mixed marriages. Familiaris Consortio calls attention to the "contribution which (mixed marriage) couples can make to the ecumenical movement". It urges "cordial cooperation between the Catholic and the non-Catholic ministers from the time that preparations begin for the marriage and the wedding ceremony" (no. 78). Our Directory on Mixed Marriages, issued in 1983, with the accompanying guide for a Catholic preparing for a mixed marriage, stresses the need for special pastoral care of couples before a mixed marriage and during their married life. It urges cooperation in this between the ministers of both the Churches involved. The Directory also suggests that there should be in each diocese a priest or priests designated to specialise in mixed marriage counselling. Many dioceses have already named priests for this purpose. They can establish contact with the clergy who have been specially named for the same purpose by the authorities of the other Churches. All this can help to make what has often been a source of inter-Church acrimony into a more positive factor of ecumenical understanding.

22.4 Church Annulments

249. Sometimes a marriage relationship proves unlivable, in spite of all efforts at reconciliation. In such situations, the Church is ready in charity to examine whether there could be circumstances which might have prevented the marriage from ever having been a valid marriage. The Church has always maintained Matrimonial Tribunals, which examine petitions for annulment; that is to say requests for consideration of certain circumstances, antecedent to the marriage itself, which point towards the conclusion that the marriage was null and void from the beginning. Annulment is never the dissolving of a marriage which was once valid. It is always and only a question of a declaration, following rigorous investigation, that a valid marriage never existed. This could arise because at the time of marriage one or other partner suffered from a condition of impotence, or was underage, or lacked the minimum of insight into the true nature of the marriage relationship, or lacked the minimum psychological maturity or discretion required for entering into a marriage relationship. It could arise if one or other partner was mentally unstable. It could arise if one or other partner was being put under pressure or fear, sufficiently strong to impair their freedom of decision. Marriage entered into in circumstances like these would obviously lack an essential element, without which there could not be a true marriage contract. It must be emphasised that the conditions in question must be proved to have been antecedent to the marriage. Events and experiences subsequent to the marriage are relevant only if they can be shown to point to defects which were already present at the time of marriage.

250. The Church has kept reviewing its jurisprudence and its procedures so as to keep them up to date with modern advances in knowledge, especially in the psychological and human sciences, and so as to enable it to cope with the new situations facing marriage in today's world. The Church in Ireland has put heavy commitments of resources and personnel into its Marriage Tribunals, which have been completely reorganised over recent years. These must be seen as part of the Church's ministry of compassion. Yet, in exercising this compassion, the Church is faithful also to her ministry of truth. Before declaring a purported marriage to be null, the Church must have proof that, at the time of its celebration, the conditions for its validity did not exist. Putting it more positively, the Church is concerned to safeguard the essential conditions for validity of marriage. Recognition of nullity is part of the defence of marriage. The exercise, therefore, can in no way be compared with divorce, whereby the State purports to dissolve a valid marriage.

251. The statistics of annulment indicate the scrupulous care with which Church Marriage Tribunals exercise their responsibility. In 1976, 79 annulments were granted in the thirty-two counties of Ireland; in 1977, 104 were granted; in 1978, 91; in 1979, 75; in 1980, 76; in 1981, 73; in 1982, 83; and in 1983, 94. In a majority of cases, a "vetitum" is imposed, that is, a prima facie prohibition on remarriage for one or other partner. This prohibition can be removed only if further rigorous investigation shows that the applicant is now truly capable of marriage. Annulments granted by Church Marriage Tribunals are not recognised by the civil law, although in some cases, of course, the vitiating element will also afford a basis for an annulment by the civil court. It is sometimes suggested by proponents of divorce that divorce would be the appropriate and obvious way to deal with this situation. But divorce is neither necessary nor desirable as an answer to these problems. One must not alter the legal definition of all marriages in order to cater for the problems arising from that very small number of marriages which are found not to have been valid marriages at all, but which do not, for some reason, fall within the grounds for nullity at civil law.

252 There is, of course, provision for nullity also through the civil courts. In most jurisdictions, however, the process of civil nullity was almost totally superseded by divorce. In general, in modern times, very little recourse was made to the civil process of nullity. As a consequence, civil jurisprudence, unlike ecclesiastical jurisprudence, had not the opportunity of developing in line with modern advances in psychology and psychiatry. More recently, the civil courts are beginning to refine the legal principles relating to such grounds for nullity as mental incapacity and duress. There seems to be substance in suggestions now being made for updating certain aspects of the civil law in respect of nullity and rendering it more humane. For example, it seems harsh that, under the present law, the courts have no power to award maintenance orders after a marriage has been declared void. What must be strongly resisted, however, would be any conception or practice of civil nullity as an alternative to divorce, as it were a form of divorce "by the back door". The concepts of nullity and of divorce are totally distinct, and there must be no blurring of the distinction.

253. There are exceptional cases in which the Catholic Church claims the power to dissolve a valid marriage. In the very rare case where a marriage has been validly entered into but was never consummated, the Catholic Church declares herself authorised by God to dissolve the bond of marriage in certain circumstances. This does not detract from the principle that "what God has united, no man can put asunder"- no human authority, no State, no civil law, no ecclesiastical law, can dissolve a valid, sacramental, consummated marriage. In the case of non- consummation, something is lacking of the fullness of union between the couple as "two in one flesh", as this is envisaged by Holy Scripture. The Catholic Church teaches that such unconsummated marriages can in certain conditions be dissolved by the Pope, with power received from God. In 1982, 15 such marriages were dissolved in Ireland.

254. In the early Church, St. Paul was confronted with situations of unbaptised couples, one of whom sought baptism and became a Christian. He permitted the Christian to remain in such a union provided there was no danger to his or her Christian faith. If, however, there were such danger, he permitted the Christian spouse to leave the non-Christian partner and to marry a Christian. (cf. I Corinthians 17:12-16). This later gave rise to the term "Pauline Privilege". The teaching of the Catholic Church is that such marriages of nonChristians can be dissolved by a new marriage of the convert with a Christian, that is to say, "in favour of the faith of the party who received baptism" (cf. Code of Canon Law, can 1143). Such marriages of non-Christians are obviously non- sacramental. When one partner in a marriage is baptised and the other is non Christian, the Catholic Church teaches that the Pope can, in certain conditions, by authority received from God, dispense from this non-sacramental marriage "in favour of the faith", or by "the privilege of the faith". In 1982 seven such marriage dispensations were granted in Ireland. In both the situations described above, the marriage in question is non- sacramental. The Church's teaching never deviates from the principle that no power on earth, ecclesiastical or civil, can dissolve a sacramental consummated marriage. As the Code of Canon Law states:

A marriage which is ratified and consummated cannot be dissolved by any human power or by any cause other than death (can. 1141).

255. All of these situations reflect the deep concern of the Church for the sanctity of marriage. They reflect also the Church's unswerving commitment to the principle that no State law and no Church law can dissolve a sacramental, consummated marriage. As the Vatican Council said:

The intimate partnership of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws. . . It is an institution confirmed by the divine law. . .; for the good of the partners, of the children, and of society this sacred bond no longer depends on human decision alone. For God himself is the author of marriage. . . (Gaudium et Spes, no. 48, in the Flannery translation).

22.5 The Church's Compassion in Difficult Cases

256. Married couples and families, even without fault on their part, and perhaps through circumstances beyond their control, can sometimes find themselves in intolerable suffering. Some alas are drawn into irregular situations. In these situations, the Church must, of course, firmly but gently maintain her doctrine and discipline, for these are entrusted to her by God, and they are in any case necessary protections of human love and human happiness. Nevertheless, the Church continues to extend her compassion to all persons and couples, whatever the difficulties or the wrongfulness of their situation. The example of Christ, the Good Shepherd, always ready to go by preference towards the erring and the rejected, must be the Church's model.

257. There are many pressures in modern society which lead to an increase in civil unions and in unions without any form of marriage. When Catholics unfortunately enter such irregular unions, they still remain in the Church's care and must not be allowed to feel rejected from her love. Pastoral care of such couples is difficult and delicate. Pastoral visits by priests may not be welcomed. The Christian community must pray for these couples and their families and take every opportunity of showing kindness towards them. Christian families who are themselves living their marriages joyfully in the Church can touch them by example and by love. Many such couples have never really experienced Christ and his Church as love. Love is our only way to win them back: a love which is like Christ's love, a love which is "always patient and kind, . . . takes no pleasure in other people's sins but delights in the truth; is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope. . . " (cf . 1 Corinthians 13:14-16).

258. Some whose marriages have broken down and who have deserted their married partners or become separated from them have subsequently contracted irregular unions. They too must not be abandoned. They too must be shown that the Church cares. Above all, the Church must show them that God cares. Familiaris Consortio says:

They should be encouraged to listen to the Word of God, to attend the Sacrifice of the Mass, to persevere in prayer, to contribute to works of charity and to community efforts in favour of justice, to bring up their children in the Christian faith, to cultivate the spirit and practice of penance and thus implore, day by day, God's grace. Let the Church pray for them, encourage them and show herself a merciful mother, and thus sustain them in faith and hope (no. 84).

259. These couples cannot share in the Eucharist; because their lives are objectively in contradiction with the mystery of Christ's communion in love with his Church, a communion which is expressed in the sacrament of the Eucharist and in the sacrament of marriage. A couple who are not by the sacrament of marriage one flesh in the Body of Christ which is the Church, cannot be one in the Body of Christ which is the Eucharist. Familiaris Consortio, however, declares:

With firm confidence (the Church) believes that those who have rejected the Lord's command and are still living in this state will be able to obtain from God the grace of conversion and salvation, provided that they have persevered in prayer, in penance and in charity (no. 84).

22.6 Marriage and the Family in the life of the Church

260. When people speak of getting married "in church", they often miss the full meaning of the phrase they are using. One might even fear that sometimes a couple decide to get married in church because it would please their parents, or because it is more impressive and solemn, or even because it is more fashionable. Marriage in church, however, is not just a ceremony taking place in a church building. It is rather a marriage which is part of the mystery of the Church itself; indeed it is marriage which reproduces in itself the mystery of the Church. The home which results from marriage is the Church itself "written small", the Church in miniature. The Vatican Council, in its great Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, said:

The family is, so to speak, the domestic Church (no. 29).

Pope Paul IV in his document on Evangelisation, said that this beautiful name of "domestic Church", means that:

There should be found in every Christian family the various aspects of the entire Church. Furthermore, the family, like the Church, ought to be a place where the Gospel is transmitted and from which the Gospel radiates.

In a family which is conscious of this mission, all the members evangelise and are evangelised. The parents not only communicate the Gospel to their children, but from their children they can themselves receive the same Gospel as deeply lived by them.

And such a family becomes the evangeliser of many other families, and of the neighbourhood of which it forms part (Evangelii Nuntiandi, no. 71).

261. Familiaris Consortio speaks of the role of parents as educators in faith as being "really and truly a 'ministry' of the Church at the service of the building up of her members". Following St. Thomas Aquinas, the document compares this "great and splendid educational ministry of Christian parents" with the ministry of priests; for parents too bring their children up "to worship God" (no. 38). In our Pastoral Letter, Handing on the Faith in the Home, published on St. Patrick's Day, 1980, we stressed that parents had the primary responsibility for bringing up their children in the faith. We said:

Parents remain and always will remain the first and the most important teachers of the faith to their children. No teacher, no religion programme, no priest even, will ever replace the parents in that task, or will ever make up fully for their neglect. No priest can dispense parents from their obligations; because the obligation comes from God (no. 6).

Sad experience the whole world over shows that Catholic schools on their own, just cannot and will not make children good young Catholics. Unless there is religion in the home, even the most perfect school religion programme will be a total failure (no. 7).

262. The family itself must keep growing in faith in order to hand on the faith to the next generation. The family itself must be evangelised in order to evangelise. There are few more urgent needs in the Church today than that of permanent religious education, so that individuals and couples and families and parishes may constantly keep growing in faith and in the assimilation into their lives of God's Word. Only a mature and adult faith can hope to confront the challenges posed to faith by the explosion of new secular knowledge and the ceaseless religious and moral questioning and debate of modern times. Family reading of the Bible is becoming more common, and it must be strongly encouraged. Groups of families are coming together for the reading of Scripture and for praying on God's Word, and reflecting together on how to live that Word in their daily family lives. The family rosary can be an excellent means of 'praying the Scripture', especially if short Gospel readings related to each mystery are read.

263. Nothing so unites a married couple and their children into a true family as prayer in the home. In the 1980 Pastoral Letter to which we referred above, we remarked:

Unless there is prayer in the home even the beautiful forms of school prayer will be dropped when school days are over (no. 7).

Parents, the most essential part of teaching religion to your children is to teach them to pray. You will teach them to pray not by telling them to pray, (but) by praying with them (no. 14).

264. It has been consistently noted by priests and lay persons working in the pastoral care of marriage that marriages where there is faith and prayer in the home are less prone to breakdown than others. Weakness of religious faith and neglect of prayer are often found in association with marital problems. It must not, however, be assumed that faith and prayer alone will ensure successful marriages and happy homes. There must also be genuine determination to work at the marriage relationship, in all its human and emotional dimensions. Indeed, the authenticity of faith and the genuineness of prayer will be tested by the degree to which it is translated into love, communication, sensitivity and forgiveness between the married partners themselves and between the parents and the children.

22.7 Sexuality and Holiness

265. Some married couples do not fully succeed in integrating their sexual life into their understanding of marriage as a sacrament. They may see the sexual side of marriage as something apart from, if not indeed somewhat foreign to, their prayer and their holiness. But sacramental marriage is precisely a sexual as well as a spiritual union. It is spiritual, not in spite of being sexual, but also in and through its sexual expression. Sexuality in marriage is "graceful", in the fullest meaning of that lovely word. God in the beginning gave man and woman to one another as His gift, a gift meant for love, for companionship, for joy, for song, indeed for sexual delight. He commands them to come together bodily, for a loving and fruitful union closer than that between parent and child. Fruitfulness in marriage is not only the birth of children; it is also the fruitfulness of the couple's growth in love and in holiness and grace. Sexual union in marriage is, to use a rich old English term, "godly". Sexual union fosters love, and love is from God; it creates life, and at the same time gives new life to the love of the couple, and God is the author of all life; it bestows healing, and healing is a sign of the Kingdom. Sexual union in marriage should express "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self- control"; and these qualities correspond with what St. Paul enumerates as gifts of the Spirit (cf. Galatians 5:22).

266. Each partner should be sensitive to the sexual feelings of the other and should seek through sexual union to give, rather than to receive. Each sexual act should be a true act of love. Pope Paul VI said in Humanae Vitae that

a conjugal act imposed upon one's partner without regard for his or her condition and lawful desires is not a true act of love (no. 13).

Sexual love is a joyful celebration by a couple of their union with one another; but it is also, at the same time, the celebration of their union in Christ and their union with Christ. Celebration and liturgy are closely linked. The celebration of the Sacrament of Marriage which took place on the couple's wedding day in church can in a real sense be said to continue in the whole sexual aspect of their married life. Consequently the author of the Letter to the Hebrews speaks of the nuptial bed as chaste and irreproachable (cf. Hebrews 14:4). Sexual union can be a call to prayer, to praise of God, to thanksgiving. Pope John Paul does not hesitate to say that "the language of the body becomes the language of the liturgy". The sexual parts of the body are sacred. They border on the mysteries of life and our first origin and our eternal destiny and on the mystery of love as our highest calling. This is why they need to be treated with respect and reverence. This is the reason for modesty. It is not because the sexual parts of the body are shameful that we protect them from indecent exposure, but precisely because they are sacred.

22.8 Being the Church

267. The vocation of married couples in the Church follows directly from the special sacrament they have received. Called by holy matrimony to love one another as Christ loves his Church, they are called to be a particular embodiment in their two-in- oneness of what the Church is as a family gathered into one from all the nations of the earth. They are called to be a church within the Church, to be 'a little church' within the universal Church. A married couple, by their way of loving, are saying silently to the world: "This is what God's love means: this is how Christ loves the world". The Christ-love which makes the Church be Church, the love which the Church herself is, is given a human face through Christian married people. Familiaris Consortio says:

Thanks to love within the family, the Church can and ought to take on a more homelike or family dimension, developing a more human and fraternal style of relationships.

This is why the Vatican Council called the family "a school of deeper humanity" (Gaudium et Spes. no. 52).

268. At every point of their lives, the married couple will look to Christ's love for the Church as the model for their own love, and will receive from Christ the power to love as he loves. They take to themselves as the very heart of their marriage the words of the Lord:

Love one another; just as I have loved you, you also must love one another (John 13:34).

The union of married people with one another in Christ and in the Church is at the same time their union with the Father in Christ and with Christ in the Father. Their union is the Father's response to Christ's prayer for them:

Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me ... With me in them and you in me, may they be so completely one that the world will realise that it was you who sent me and that I have loved them as much as you loved me. (John 17:21, 23).

Married people will hear St. Paul saying to them:

Husbands should love their wives just as Christ loved the Church and sacrificed himself for her to make her holy.... In the same way, husbands must love their wives as they love their own bodies; for a man to love his wife is for him to love himself (Ephesians 5:25-28).

A married couple will listen to St. John saying to them:

This is what taught us what love means, that he has given up his life for us; and we, too, ought to give up our lives for our brothers. (1 John 3: 16).

269. The married couple are the great teachers of love in a world where love has grown cold. They witness to the need for and to the possibility of reconciliation in the lives of men and women. They should love the Sacrament of Reconciliation and receive it often as a special element in their marriage spirituality. Their marriage gives them a special relationship to the Eucharist, that great primordial sacrament of Christ's oneness in love with his people. In the Eucharist, Christ offers himself to the Father for his people:

This is my body which will be given up for you. This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all men so that sins may be forgiven.

At the moment of holy communion, the priest or eucharistic minister holds the Body of Christ before the communicant and says: "The Body of Christ". The communicant answers: "Amen". This means "Yes" "Yes, I believe it. Yes, I accept it. Yes, I accept the gift of your love and I return it to you. I give you my body as you have given your Body to me". A married couple find in all this a very special added meaning. Each gives his or her body to the other in love. Each accepts the gift of the other's love and returns it to the married partner. Communion by the couple in the Eucharist is extended into every aspect of their communion of life together.

270. The married couple are called, to use words from St. Paul, to "grow in all ways into Christ" by living "by the truth and in love" (cf. Ephesians 4:15-16). Pope John Paul defines "the integral significance of the sacramental sign of marriage" in these words:

In that sign, through the "language of the body," man and woman encounter the great "mystery" in order to transfer the light of that mystery--the light of truth and beauty, expressed in liturgical language--to the "language of the body", that is, to the language of the practice of love, of fidelity, of conjugal honesty.... In this way, conjugal life becomes in a certain sense liturgical. In fact, the man and woman, living in the marriage "until death", repropose uninterruptedly, in a certain sense, that sign that they made through the liturgy of the sacrament on their wedding day.

Growth in holiness for the married couple as for everyone else, can only be through untiring effort, repeated failures, continued seeking for forgiveness from God and sharing of forgiveness with one another. Pope John Paul speaks of "a continual return (through the Sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist), a permanent conversion to the truth of conjugal love."

271. A married couple, by bringing children into the world and then bringing them to the Font for baptism and rearing them in the faith are leading new disciples to Christ and building up his Body on earth. By growing in love themselves, married couples are sharing in the redemption of the world. By their life-long growing together into unity, they contribute to the bringing of all things together under Christ as head, and are stamped with the seal of the Holy Spirit of the promise (cf. Ephesians 1:10, 13). Married people are building up "the total Christ" until he comes in glory. They respond in a special way to the call of St. Paul:

The saints together make a unity in the work of service, building up the Body of Christ. In this way, we are all to come to unity in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God, until we become the perfect Man, fully mature with the fullness of Christ himself (Ephesians 4:12-13).

272. Marriage is a time for growing, spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, culturally. We must grow more fully human, as we grow into Christ; for "the glory of God", as St. Irenaeus put it, "is the human being fully alive". Some have come to feel that marriage stunts personal growth. This must be shown not to be true. There must be all-round growth of each partner as a person, as well as of the couple. It was undoubtedly the wives who had less opportunity in the past for this growth, since women had less opportunities for cultural and intellectual self-improvement. They should now be encouraged and facilitated in availing of the many opportunities for this purpose which now exist. Couples also had too little opportunity for recreating or simply relaxing together. The availability of creches, pre-school play groups, "baby- sitting" services, is a great need of today and can be a real form of Christian service to the family.

22.9 Single Persons and Widows

273. Great though the vocation of married people in the Church is it must not be forgotten that each person has a special vocation from God, on the faithful living of which depends his or her holiness and salvation. Single persons can, as the Vatican Council puts it, "make a great contribution towards holiness and apostolic endeavour in the Church" (Lumen Gentium, no. 4). Unfortunately, the place and vocation of single persons in the Church are not always given sufficient recognition in preaching and in pastoral planning and practice. Persons who forego marriage to care for ageing parents or for a handicapped brother or sister present an example of generous and unselfish love which often borders upon the heroic. Widows need special care and support from pastors and from the Christian community. The Church encourages those associations which assist widows through their grief and loneliness. Widowhood "accepted courageously from God as a continuation of the marriage vocation", has an honoured place in the Church and should be esteemed by all (cf. Gaudium et Spes, no. 48; Lumen Gentium no. 40). Widows are uniquely placed to "offer others, in their sorrows, the consolation that they have themselves received from God" (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:4). They can, as St. Paul says, "give themselves up to God" and enrich the Church by their prayer and their charity. (cf. 1 Timothy 5:3-5)

22.10 Pope John Paul's call to Irish Families

274. We make our own, at the conclusion of this Pastoral Letter, the call which Pope John Paul addressed to Irish families in Limerick, on 1 October 1979:

To all I say, revere and protect your family and your family life, for the family is the primary field of Christian action for the Irish laity, the place where your "royal priesthood" is chiefly exercised. The Christian family has been in the past Ireland's greatest spiritual resource. Modern conditions and social changes have created new patterns and new difficulties for family life and for Christian marriage. I want to say to you: do not be discouraged, do not follow the trends where a close-knit family is seen as outdated; the Christian family is more important for the Church and for society today than ever before.

It is true that the stability and sanctity of marriage are being threatened by new ideas and by the aspirations of some. Divorce, for whatever reason it is introduced, inevitably becomes easier and easier to obtain and it gradually comes to be accepted as a normal part of life. The very possibility of divorce in the sphere of civil law makes stable and permanent marriages more difficult for everyone. May Ireland always continue to give witness before the modern world to her traditional commitment, corresponding to the true dignity of man, to the sanctity and the indissolubility of the marriage bond. May the Irish always support marriage through personal commitment and through positive social and legal action.

Above all, hold high the esteem for the wonderful dignity and grace of the sacrament of marriage.... Married people must believe in the power of the sacrament to make them holy; they must believe in their vocation to witness through their marriage to the power of Christ's love.

22.11 The Eternal Wedding Feast

275. It was at a wedding feast, at Cana in Galilee, at the prayer of his Mother, that Our Lord first "let his glory be seen" (cf. John 2:11). The final manifestation of God's glory, at the Second Coming of Christ, is also presented in the New Testament in terms of a wedding feast. This is the description we find in the Apocalypse:

The reign of the Lord our God Almighty has begun; let us be glad and joyful and give praise to God, because this is the time for the marriage of the lamb...."Happy are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb" (Apocalypse 19:7-9).

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; the first heaven and the first earth had disappeared now, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, and the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, as beautiful as a bride all dressed for her husband.... Then I heard a loud voice call from the throne: . . ."He will wipe away all tears from their eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness, the world of the past has gone" (Apocalypse 21:2-4).

276. Married couples who have been faithful "ministers of love" to one another and to their family in the Church and before the world will surely have a privileged place at that eternal wedding feast. They have witnessed to love; and, as the liturgy of marriage puts it:

Love is man's origin, love is his constant calling, love is his fulfilment in heaven.

Married couples have kept faith with love. They have given testimony to God's faithfulness. They have shown that "in a world of broken promises, God alone is faithful". By fidelity to the marriage covenant they celebrated in Christ and in the Church, they have witnessed before the world to the truth that God is the faithful God, who is true to His covenant and His graciousness for a thousand generations towards those who love Him and keep His commandments" (Deuteronomy 7:9).

To all married couples, therefore, we now extend our greeting and our blessing in the words of St. Paul:

We wish you happiness; try to grow perfect; help one another. Be united; live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you (Corinthians 13:11).

May the God of peace make you perfect and holy; and may you all be kept safe and blameless, spirit, soul and body, for the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ. God has called you and he will not fail you (1 Thessalonians 5:23).

Appendix I


The relevant passages from the Council are found in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World:

Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained towards the begetting and educating of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage.... The God Himself who said, "It is not good for man to be alone" (Genesis 2:18) and "who made man from the beginning male and female" (Matthew 19:4), wished to share with man a certain special participation in His own creative work. Thus He blessed male and female, saying: "Increase and multiply" (Genesis 1:28).

Hence, while not making the other purposes of matrimony of less account, the true practice of conjugal love, and the whole meaning of the family life which results from it, have the same end: that the couple be ready valiantly to cooperate with the love of the Creator and the Saviour, who through them will enlarge and enrich His own family day by day.

Parents should regard as their proper mission the task of transmitting human life and educating those to whom it has been transmitted. They should realise that they are thereby cooperators with the love of God the Creator, and are, so to speak, the interpreters of that love. Thus they will fulfil their task with human and Christian responsibility. With docile reverence towards God, they will come to the right decision by common counsel and effort....

The parents themselves should ultimately make this judgement, in the sight of God. But in their manner of acting, spouses should be aware that they cannot proceed arbitrarily. They must always be governed according to a conscience dutifully conformed to the divine law itself, and should be submissive towards the Church's teaching office, which authentically interprets that law in the light of the Gospel....

When there is question of harmonizing conjugal love with the responsible transmission of life, the moral aspect of any procedure does not depend solely on sincere intentions or on an evaluation of motives. It must be determined by objective standards. These, based on the nature of the human person and his acts, preserve the full sense of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love. Such a goal cannot be achieved unless the virtue of conjugal chastity is sincerely practised. Relying on these principles, sons of the Church may not undertake methods of regulating procreation which are found blameworthy by the teaching authority of the same Church in its unfolding of the divine law.

Everyone should be persuaded that human life and the task of transmitting it are not realities bound up with this world alone. Hence they cannot be measured or perceived only in terms of it, but always have a bearing on the eternal destiny of man (Gaudium et Spes 50-51.)

Appendix II

Statements by the Irish Bishops regarding Civil Law and Morality

A. In 1973, with reference to proposals for legislative change regarding the sale of contraceptives in the Republic of Ireland, the Catholic Bishops stated: (on 25 November, 1973):

The question at issue is not whether artificial contraception is morally right or wrong. The clear teaching of the Catholic Church is that it is morally wrong. No change in State law can make the use of contraceptives morally right since what is wrong in itself remains wrong, regardless of what State law says.

It does not follow, of course, that he State is bound to prohibit the importation and sale of contraceptives. There are many things which the Catholic Church holds to be morally wrong and no one has ever suggested, least of all the Church herself, that they should be prohibited by the State.

Those who insist on seeing the issue purely in terms of the State enforcing, or not enforcing Catholic moral teaching, are therefore missing the point.

The real question facing the legislators is: What effect would the increased availability of contraceptives have on the quality of life in the Republic of Ireland?

That is a question of public, not private, morality. What the legislators have to decide is whether a change in the law would, on balance, do more harm than good, by damaging the character of the society for which they are responsible.

We then pointed out the harmful consequences for the moral quality of life in society of the increased availability of contraceptives, and went on:

The factors outlined above are important and they have tended to be overlooked in public discussion. They should be put in the balance, along with such other factors as the actual degree of inconvenience which the present law and practice cause to people of other religious persuasions, and a realistic assessment as to whether a change in the law would have any significant effect at the present time on attitudes towards the reunification of Ireland....

The issue before the legislators and the people is therefore a grave one. People must try to weigh up all the issues fairly in their own minds, asking themselves what kind of society do they want, for themselves and their children.

B. In 1978, with reference to proposed legislation dealing with family planning and contraception, we stated (4 April, 1978):

There is a public and social aspect to this matter....

In the area of contraception, laws can affect the way people think about marriage, about the family, about fidelity. Laws can affect people's attitudes about relations between the sexes, both within marriage and outside it. Laws affect the moral environment in which we live. Laws can make decent living for the young more difficult or less difficult. The law-maker has to consider the effects which new legislation in this area is likely to have. He must weigh the good against the bad. The good which a law may do must be set against the harm which it can do.

It may be said that conscience is a sufficient safeguard of moral standards. But conscience itself can become confused and weakened by society's attitudes. A change in the law can deceive people into thinking that the morality has changed also.

If we point to some of the difficulties inherent in the framing of amending legislation in the area of contraception, this is because we feel that certain aspects of the problem may be ignored in public discussion. We do so also because we are convinced that certain kinds of legislation would almost certainly bring about consequences about which people might not otherwise be forewarned.

The matters to which we shall refer are, all of them, questions of public morality. They are concerned with the impact on society which certain changes in legislation would be likely to have. Law- makers have a moral obligation to take account of this moral and social dimension of new legislation.

Societies in which contraceptives have become generally accepted and widely used have experienced a lowering of standards in sexual morality. Marital infidelity has increased. The stability of the family has been weakened. A whole new attitude towards sexual relationships has developed. Promiscuity has tended to increase. Legalisation of abortion has usually followed.

Some of these evils, sad to say, are already amongst us. We must expect trends in this direction here to be increased if contraceptives were to become widely available in this country....

The goodwill and good intentions of the legislators should be recognised. Many of them are themselves parents and they share the concern of people generally to protect marriage and the family and to avoid creating new problems for young people trying to be good in a world which already makes things so difficult for them. In particular, legislators would presumably seek to do everything the law could do to limit and control the availability of contraceptives and to oppose their spread among young unmarried people.

Experience in other countries indicates, however, that where contraceptives have been made legally available, any controls embodied in the legislation have had only very limited effect.

The multi-national contraceptive industry sets aside large sums for advertising. This exerts a constant pressure on people to use contraceptives. Some advertising is beamed explicitly on the young, even from their earliest teens. Some is distributed widely through the post. The sales campaigns by contraceptive manufacturers in other countries have certainly contributed to the general decline in sexual morality. The advertising and the promotion of contraceptives are a question of public morality and require very careful attention from legislators....

The issues which we have been raising are issues of public morality, affecting the well-being of our whole society. No responsible person wishes to see multiplied in our country the social evils to which we have called attention....

In the Pro-Life Amendment debate, we stated (22 August, 1983):

There are people who are sincerely opposed to abortion and yet who feel that no referendum should take place at all or that a different form of words should have been used. We respect their point of view.

However, a concrete situation faces us now. A form of words has been decided upon by the Oireachtas. It is this form of words which is being put before the people. We recognise the right of each person to vote according to conscience. Each voter has the responsibility of weighing the moral consequences of his or her vote and of making a conscientious decision in the privacy of the polling booth.

In our oral submissions to the New Ireland Forum, we stated (9 February, 1984):

The Catholic Church in Ireland totally rejects the concept of a confessional state. We have not sought and we do not seek a Catholic State for a Catholic people. We believe that the alliance of Church and State is harmful for the Church and harmful for the State. We rejoiced when the ambiguous formula regarding the special position of the Catholic Church was struck out of the Constitution by the electorate of the Republic. The Catholic Church in Ireland has no power and seeks no power except the power of the Gospel it preaches and the consciences and the convictions of those who freely accept that teaching....


Par. 106 See Jean Vanier, Homme et femme il les fit, Fleurus/P,ellarlllall, Paris/Montreal, 1984, particularly pp. 109- 111: 145-153, 169-171.

Par. 154-155 See Dr. Jack Dominian, Marriage, Faith and Love, (Darton Longman and Todd, London, 1981), pp. 151-7.

Par. 191 Dicta, Lord Penzance, in Hyde v Hyde, 1867.

Par. 196-7

For statistics see:

Office of Population Censuses and Surveys (HMSO)

Social Trends (a publication of the Government Statistical Service) No. 11, 1981 and No. 12, 1982 (HMSO).

Who Divorces? by Barbara Thomas and Jean Colland (Routledge and Kegan Paul, London 1979).

The Family and Marriage in Britain, by Ronald Fletcher (Penguin Books).

Par. 198 For statistics see:

Office of Population Censuses and Surveys (HMSO)

Par. 202-204 See Children and Divorce, the Report of an Ecumenical Working Party on the Effects of Divorce on Children, jointly sponsored by Barnardo's National Children's Home, Catholic Child Welfare Council, and Church of England Children's Society, foreword by the Archbishop of Canterbury, published by the Church of England Children's Society, June 1983.

Cf. Dr. Jack Dominian, Marriage, Faith and Love, pp. 175-7.

Cf. Eileen Evason, Me and the Kids, (Child Poverty Action Group).

Par. 210 The Bristol University research was reported in THE SUNDAY TIMES, 20 January, 1985.

Par. 212 For quotation from Lord Campbell, see David E. Morris, in Marriage, For and Against, (Hart Publishing Co., Inc., New York, 1972), p. 118.

Par. 227

See Dr. Jack Dominian, Marriage, Faith and Love, pp. 172-5, 177-8.

See Dr. Jack Dominian, unpublished paper of March 1981, "Marriage, Divorce and the Family".

Cf. Dominian, Marriage, Faith and Love, pp. 177;9; also Marriage in Britain 1945-1980.

Par. 270

For quotations from Pope John Paul II, see The Pope Teaches(CTSE) 1983/10, p. 322; 1984/7, p. 202; 1984/8, p. 238.

Par. 270

Pope John Paul II, see The Pope Teaches(CTSE) 1983/10, p. 322; 1984/7, p. 202; 1984/8, p. 238.

+TOMÁS CARDINAL Ó FIAICH Archbishop of Armagh

+ KEVIN McNAMARA Archbishop of Dublin

+ JOSEPH CUNNANE Archbishop of Tuam

+ THOMAS MORRIS Archbishop of Cashel

LENT 1985

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