I also wrote that we act as though so long as a child has a couple of parents around, it doesn't really matter whether or not these are his actual parents or step-parents or whatever. The truth, I believe, is that it does matter very much to the child.
But when I wrote that, I knew that some readers would ignore the subject of IVF and donor-conceived children to focus on the divorce issue, and to assure me (in comments if not elsewhere) that in their own situations or that of their parents or grandparents or aunts or uncles or family friends etc., divorce was the only sane, reasonable, responsible, child-friendly decision imaginable. I knew this would happen, because every time I ever used to get involved in conversations about divorce at places like Rod Dreher's old blog, people would fill the comments sections with pro-divorce statements. I was often left with the impression that in America today, most people don't think of marriage as even a theoretically permanent committment; that most people expect most marriages to fail, and that most people stand at the altar making promises of permanence and fidelity with their fingers crossed behind their backs--because, you know, people change, and relationships falter, and why should human beings with eighty-year lifespans be stuck with one person (of whom they have long since grown tired) all those weary years?
In a nation that still likes to pretend to itself on convenient occasions that it adheres to the Christian principles on which it was founded, it's absolutely amazing to consider how cynical most Americans--even most Christian Americans--are about marriage. In the years since America's founding divorce has gone from a social liability to a necessary evil to a mere rite-of-passage for so many; remarriage after divorce has become so widely acceptable that only a handful of people are ever so churlish as to refuse to attend a second wedding or to join the new bride-to-be or husband-to-be in the new pre-wedding pastime known as "bashing the ex."
How different is this cavalier attitude toward divorce from the Church's position? The Catechism discusses divorce in this way:
2384 Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death. Divorce does injury to the covenant of salvation, of which sacramental marriage is the sign. Contracting a new union, even if it is recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture: the remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery:
- If a husband, separated from his wife, approaches another woman, he is an adulterer because he makes that woman commit adultery, and the woman who lives with him is an adulteress, because she has drawn another's husband to herself.178
2385 Divorce is immoral also because it introduces disorder into the family and into society. This disorder brings grave harm to the deserted spouse, to children traumatized by the separation of their parents and often torn between them, and because of its contagious effect which makes it truly a plague on society.
2386 It can happen that one of the spouses is the innocent victim of a divorce decreed by civil law; this spouse therefore has not contravened the moral law. There is a considerable difference between a spouse who has sincerely tried to be faithful to the sacrament of marriage and is unjustly abandoned, and one who through his own grave fault destroys a canonically valid marriage.179
When I speak of divorce as Christian America's golden calf, I do not by any means exclude those of my fellow Catholics who accept divorce, or who think of decrees of nullity as merely the Catholic version of divorce. It is, alas, a scandal that so many decrees of nullity--that is, statements that a marriage was invalid from the outset and never really took place at all--are issued in America; whether it is a scandal that owes its existence to the deplorable lack of proper catechesis regarding marriage in the Church in America today, or whether it is a scandal shaped by America's cultural acceptance, reliance on, and even celebration of divorce and remarriage is hard to say.
But those Catholics referred to in CCC 2386 are the ones who really suffer from our culture's easy acceptance of divorce. They, the innocent parties to a divorce, remain faithful to a husband or wife who has not only abandoned them, but, in many cases, contracted an adulterous second marriage--all while insisting on fully sharing custody of any children and other privileges which, frankly, their evil conduct ought to make impossible. Note that, of course, I am referring to marriages (as the CCC is) which are canonically valid; a Catholic spouse who willfully and knowingly seeks a civil divorce from a valid marriage commits a grave sin, and compounds that sin with adultery should he or she attempt a second and invalid marriage outside of the Church.
Is the Church right to insist so strongly on the sanctity of marriage, on its necessary character as ordered toward permanence and fidelity as well as the creation of new life? In a word, yes. The evils of divorce are apparent in our culture to anyone with eyes to see; children raised in shattered homes and broken families are known to have worse outcomes than children raised in intact families, and women who have been abandoned by divorce struggle to escape from poverty. Men, too, suffer the impact of divorce when they are the innocent party--as happens more often than is politically correct to say. And even the adult children of divorce must deal every day with the pain of betrayal and anger and sorrow, the bitter legacy divorce leaves to all its children.
Yet Christian America dances and makes false sacrifices in front of the idol of divorce. Denouncing all the other evils produced by the sexual revolution, such as abortion, casual attitudes about sex, and similar social ills, many Christians unquestioningly accept divorce as a kind of "insurance policy" that protects them against unhappy or unsatisfactory marriages. Although this really means, in the truest sense, that many Christians stand up at the altar and promise to love and honor each other--until they get bored or tired or meet someone else, certainly not until death parts them--few Christians understand the implied insult in a so-called promise or vow made in those terms.
If we Christians really want to reform our diseased culture, we will start by unhesitatingly rejecting the evil of divorce--an evil which hurts men and women, damages children, and tears away at the fabric of society.