Catholic Church

CBCP on divorce: Church cannot ‘dictate,’ but Filipinos need discernment

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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CBCP on divorce: Church cannot ‘dictate,’ but Filipinos need discernment

CBCP HEAD. Bishop Pablo Virgilio David (center), president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, speaks at the end of the bishops' 128th plenary assembly in Cagayan de Oro City, July 8, 2024.


‘As spiritual and moral leaders of the Church, we can only propose but never impose,’ says the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines

MANILA, Philippines – The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) urged Filipinos to “discern together” if the Philippines needs a divorce law, even as the body maintained that the Catholic Church cannot impose its beliefs on the state.

“Despite what religionists might think, we do have religious freedom in this country, and we uphold the principle of separation of Church and state. The Church is in no position to dictate on the state what is best for Filipino families,” said the CBCP in a statement approved during its 128th plenary assembly and signed by its president, Bishop Pablo Virgilio David.

Other religions do not necessarily share the Catholic Church’s stance “that a genuine marriage cannot be dissolved,” added David, “and we respect that.”

“But before we join the bandwagon, shouldn’t we ask ourselves on the basis of research and statistics if the legalization of divorce all over the world has indeed helped in protecting the common good and the welfare of the family?” David asked.

The Philippines is the only country, aside from the Vatican, without a divorce law.

The CBCP’s statement on divorce is a departure from its more combative stance when the reproductive health (RH) bill, which widens access to contraception, was being debated more than a decade ago. One of the strongest statements of the CBCP, at that time, declared that “contraception is corruption!”

The change in tone comes as more Filipinos criticize the Catholic Church for meddling in government affairs. However, the religion’s political clout – a carryover from 300 years of Spanish colonialism – has decreased through the years, especially after the death of Cardinal Jaime Sin in 2005 and a number of defeats, including the signing of the RH law in 2012.

Respecting Congress

In the CBCP pastoral statement, David used the Filipino expression “maghunos-dili muna tayo at mag-isip-isip,” which means “Let us take it slow and think harder about it.”

“Think about the many times your parents had gotten into each other’s nerves and were almost tempted to call it quits. Think about the number of times your father slept ‘outside the kulambo’ (outside the mosquito net) or your mother packed up her things and brought you with her to her parents’ home, because of a misunderstanding between the two of them,” David said.

He continued: “Think about what could have long happened to your own family if civil divorce had already been available when you were much younger, and your parents were going through some serious problems in their relationship? Think of the sufferings that you would have had to endure if civil divorce had already been available as a remedy for what your own parents may have thought back then were ‘irreconcilable differences’ between them?”

CBCP on divorce: Church cannot ‘dictate,’ but Filipinos need discernment

David, a 65-year-old prelate who received his priestly training from the Jesuits, said that bishops “don’t intend to set the rules on civil marriage.” Bishops, he said, “respect the legislative bodies of our country and the duty of our honorable legislators to come up with just laws that truly serve the common good.”

“As spiritual and moral leaders of the Church, we can only propose but never impose. We can only motivate our faithful to actively participate in reasoned public discourse as citizens,” said David.

“And so before we jump into the divorce bandwagon, before we end up regretting it and hearing those who dared to swim against the current, ‘But we told you so!’ can we just take a little more time and ask – could there be a reason why we are practically the last remaining country in the world that still has not opted to legalize civil divorce?” he added.

David refuted the claim that no legal remedies current exist for marriages in crisis. “Should not both institutions of Church and state explore more effective ways of maximizing these remedies without ‘throwing away the baby along with the bath water?’”

David ended the pastoral statement by quoting Pope Francis, who said in his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia: “Divorce is evil and the increasing number of divorces is very troubling. Hence, our most important pastoral task with regard to families is to strengthen their love, helping to heal wounds, and working to prevent the spread of this drama of our times.” –

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior multimedia reporter covering religion for Rappler. He also teaches journalism at the University of Santo Tomas. For story ideas or feedback, email