Cardinal Basil Hume, leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England, is to support opponents of Lord Mackay's controversial divorce Bill by suggesting that a year is too short a time to wait before dissolving a marriage.
His intervention midway through debates on a multitude of highly critical amendments in the House of Lords will come as a blow to the Lord Chancellor, who had believed that the Catholic bishops of England and Wales were solidly on his side. The Bill would put an end to "quickie" divorces; end the concept of fault; and introduce mediation where possible to replace lawyers. Opponents in the Lords want a minimum period of 18 months or two years.
In an article in today's Tablet, the Catholic news magazine, the Cardinal says: "I do myself wonder whether a period as short as a year is sufficient to establish that a marriage has irretrievably broken down."
He adds that marriage counselling is an "essential" element which needs to be added to the Bill as it stands.
Lengthening the year's waiting period is the one area where the Lord Chancellor might make a concession to the Bill's opponents in a bid to persuade them to tone down their objections to other provisions. The mainstream churches in this country had all given their support to the Bill as the least worst way of dealing with the issue. The growing campaign mounted by political and religious conservatives has, however, put the Cardinal under pressure in recent months.
Today's article is an attempt to accommodate critics of the compromise, without threatening the essence of the Bill. One source in the Catholic churh described it as "walking a tightrope".
In his article, the Cardinal carefully does not take issue with the abolition of the concept of fault, which has been the central issue for many opponents of the Bill.
He quotes the measured statement of the Catholic Bishops' Conference in November: "We are not persuaded that excluding 'fault' in the proposed legislation effectively alters the reality that divorce has become available on demand.
"In civil law, marriage is already a temporary contract which can be broken by the unilateral decision of one partner sustained over a period of time.
"The Church's teaching is that a valid marrriage contract cannot be broken.
"From a legal point of view, it is difficult to see what more objective proof of marital breakdown there could be than the sustained determination of one or both partners to end it."Reuse content