Volume > Issue > Why Are the U.S. Bishops Urging Catholic Couples to Divorce?

Why Are the U.S. Bishops Urging Catholic Couples to Divorce?


By Sheryl Temaat | May 2003
Sheryl Temaat is a teacher in Monument, Colorado. She has been married, to the same man, for 40 years.

Does the title of this article shock you? It should. The U.S. bishops issued a document at their November 2002 meeting called “When I Call for Help: A Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence Against Women.” The document states: “Domestic violence is any kind of behavior that a person uses to control an intimate partner through fear and intimidation. It includes physical, sexual, psychological, and economic abuse.” Elsewhere the document includes “verbal” abuse as being part of “domestic violence.” Then the document states: “We emphasize that no person is expected to stay in an abusive marriage. Some battered women [and battered is defined to include all the kinds of so-called domestic violence listed above] believe that church teaching on the permanence of marriage requires them to stay in an abusive relationship. They may hesitate to seek a divorce for fear of not being able to re-marry in the Church. Violence and abuse, not divorce, break up a marriage.” (The last sentence is of course false by definition.)

OK, physical abuse is one thing. Where severe, that may indeed require at least a temporary separation. A man who beats his wife should know that if he doesn’t repent there is a place in Hell with his name on it. However, the document lumps physical abuse in with psychological, economic, and verbal abuse. Can you find a man who is not guilty of what a woman would call psychological, economic, or verbal abuse? There aren’t many, I’m afraid. Such accusations could be made in almost every marriage at one time or another. And how many women have never resorted to psychological or verbal abuse? By these ridiculous standards, the Catholic divorce rate would be at least 95 percent.

In the section on advice for pastors and pastoral staffs, we read this: “Be careful not to say anything that will bolster her belief that it is her fault and that she must change her behavior.” Do the people who wrote this document live on Venus? Do they have no understanding of family life on Earth? Imagine the advice they’d give to a child who was spanked: It’s not your fault and you need not change your behavior. While there is no excuse for beating one’s wife, it’s totally unrealistic to assume that in every case of domestic violence — so expansively defined — the wife didn’t do something wrong or stupid that really ticked off the man. The people who write these documents for the bishops are known for wanting to get to the “root causes” of problems, but “domestic violence” is only a symptom, an effect of one or more underlying causes — be it infidelity, alcoholism, lack of communication skills, or even the stresses and strains of ordinary life. It could be that the woman might need to change her behavior, or that both the man and the woman need to change their behavior. You’ve heard of no-fault divorce. Now the bishops are giving us it’s-always-the-man’s-fault divorce. Of course they don’t have wives, so it’s no skin off their collective nose.

The document says that “the Church can help break this cycle” of domestic violence. Yes, it can, but not by advising women to divorce on the slightest pretext. Must we add “home wreckers” to all the things the bishops have been called over the past year-and-a-half?

Moreover, that women will find a better man hardly ever happens. And how does bringing a new man into the family help children? On the morning of October 2, 2002, Dr. Laura Schlessinger opened her radio show with references to a phone call which she said she frothed over all night. The day before a guy had called complaining that his kids are manipulative when they come over to visit him, his new wife, and her children. By manipulative, he meant they are disruptive, they lie, and they “blow him off.” He wanted to know what to do.

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