Catholic Church

Don’t stand in way of couples who need divorce, say Ateneo theologians

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Don’t stand in way of couples who need divorce, say Ateneo theologians
(1st UPDATE) The divorce bill ‘is a public policy issue, not a religious one,’ says the KUL-ADMU Center for Catholic Theology and Social Justice

MANILA, Philippines – A group of theologians from Ateneo de Manila University said the Catholic Church should open its eyes to struggles of married couples and not get in the way of “those who truly need” divorce in the Philippines.

In a statement published on Thursday afternoon, June 6, the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven-Ateneo de Manila University (KUL-ADMU) Center for Catholic Theology and Social Justice stressed that the divorce bill now pending in Congress “is a public policy issue, not a religious one.”

“Having no divorce law in our country does not mean that we are already upholding and promoting the sanctity of marriage. At the same time, supporting and having a divorce law does not necessarily mean we are endangering the institution of marriage,” the KUL-ADMU Center for Catholic Theology and Social Justice said.

“While not ideal, divorce as contemplated by the authors of the bill is only for irreparable marriages. Catholics who are in healthy marriages and are against it are not compelled to get one,” the theologians added.

The KUL-ADMU Center for Catholic Theology and Social Justice is a seven-month-old collaboration between the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University, one of the leading Catholic schools in the Philippines, and Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium, one of the oldest Catholic universities in the world.

The center aims to examine sociopolitical, ecological, and economic concerns from the perspective of Catholic theology and in the context of Filipino traditions.

Ruben Mendoza, head of the KUL-ADMU Center for Catholic Theology and Social Justice, clarified to Rappler that their statement does not represent the entire Ateneo de Manila University theology department, although it involves “several of us in the department.” The statement does not indicate their names.

The Ateneo theology department however shared the KUL-ADMU center’s statement on its Facebook page on Thursday. Mendoza was the department chair for seven years until May 31.

Their statement comes three weeks after the House of Representatives approved an absolute divorce bill on third and final reading, which means the battle now moves to the Philippine Senate. Catholic bishops in this predominantly Catholic country, a former Spanish colony, immediately voiced their opposition and hailed lawmakers who opposed the divorce bill.

Their statement shows the range of opinions about the divorce bill even within the Catholic Church in the Philippines. A decade ago, when a controversial law on contraceptives was being debated in Congress, bishops also staunchly opposed it but 14 Ateneo professors signed a statement stating that Catholics can support the reproductive health bill “in good conscience.”

Church teachings ‘ideal’ but…

In their position paper on the divorce bill, the KUL-ADMU theology center said Catholics “ought not speak of the sacramentality of marriage merely in the abstract but must seriously grapple with its lived reality.” Church teachings on marriage and family “present the ideal,” they added, but the experiences of many married couples and families “are different and from far from it.”

“Abusive marriages are not sacramental at all and they should make us question if it is truly God who has joined them together,” the theologians said.

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They added that many parishes have failed to help married couples with their concerns, and the divorce bill “ought to make the Church be more reflexive of our own shortcomings.”

“It is not enough that our pastors preach about the sanctity of marriage and resist the impending enactment of the bill into law. We also need to develop comprehensive programs that sufficiently prepare those who receive the sacrament and that provide them the necessary support to grow in their married and family life,” they said.

“Our role as a community for the success of any marriage is indispensable. When we do our part, marriage can truthfully be a commitment for better and for worse. Divorce ought to be only a last resort but we must not stand in the way of those who truly need it,” the theologians said. –

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email