Marriage would become ‘legally obsolete’ if divorce was introduced, bishops said

State papers 1986: Catholic Church leaders held five-hour meeting with taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald

Anti-divorce campaigner Úna Bean Mhic Mhathúna. Photograph: Frank Miller

Anti-divorce campaigner Úna Bean Mhic Mhathúna. Photograph: Frank Miller


Marriage as a life-long union would become “legally obsolete” if divorce was introduced, the Catholic bishops told taoiseach Garret FitzGerald two weeks before the government announced its intention to hold the referendum.

Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich, who led the church delegation at the five-hour meeting in Dublin on April 7th, said afterwards that the bishops were united in their belief that the introduction of even a limited form of divorce in the Republic would be harmful to society.

The high-level group at the meeting included Cardinal Ó Fiaich, archbishop of Dublin Kevin McNamara, bishop of Down & Conor Cahal Daly, auxiliary bishop of Dublin Donal Murray, coadjutor bishop of Kildare and Leighlin Laurence Ryan, Margaret Watchorn of the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council, and Tom Gillen of the Irish Commission for the Laity.

The Church leaders’ statement, covered widely in the media at the time, is contained in the files of the attorney general’s office.

In a lengthy statement drawing on the Catholic Church’s Love is for Life document, the bishops said divorce legislation introduced “a quite radical change” into society’s legal understanding of marriage.

‘Temporary union’

“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 files also include a copy of the affidavit sworn by anti-divorce campaigner Úna Bean Mhic Mhathúna and her husband Séamus in their failed injunction seeking to have the divorce referendum postponed.