Being judgemental on divorce would be 'unhelpful', says bishop

Published 17 January 2014  |  
PA

Bishop of Wakefield has dismissed an MP's assertion that bishops should spend less time criticising the Government's welfare reforms and more time on criticising divorce.

The comments were made by Gerald Howarth, who said that as a society Britain should be more "judgemental" of couples who get divorced.

Speaking in Parliament, he asserted that bishops should be "more vocal of their condemnation" of marital breakdown, and spend less time criticising the Government's welfare reforms.

In response, the Right Reverend Stephen Platten defended the Church of England's track record, saying it was important that the Church of England speak out on more than just one issue.

"We should be focusing on all these things. We should be focusing on marriage, I've no quarrel with him at all on that," he said.

"But what he is saying about welfare reforms is another version of what we have heard ever since I was first even thinking about ordination, and that is, the Church ought to keep out of politics.

"Actually, the gospel is ineluctably political. It may not be party-political, but it will have political implications … If we believe that people will suffer seriously because of the way the welfare system is operating, then we must say it.

"It may seem to be that the Church is interfering in politics, but it seems to me that it is just stating what the gospel message is about."

He suggested it was unrealistic to expect that the Church of England could sway society on divorce single-handed.

"The Church of England on its own cannot reverse the trend towards more divorces, sadly," the bishop said.

"What we can do is to make sure that whenever our clergy are preparing people for marriage they do so with the utmost care, and that people hear the teaching of the Church about marriage.

"Our clergy are already engaged a great deal with the support of families and married couples, both with their own skills and commitment and working with other agencies … wherever possible a marriage that might be in danger can be supported and assisted rather than allowing it to collapse.

"Sadly, there will be marriages that for one reason or another have died."

Bishop Platten rejected the idea of being more "judgemental" on divorce, saying such an attitude was "unhelpful" and "implies somehow that whoever is making the judgement is better or knows better than the person about whom they are talking".

However he added: "That doesn't mean we don't believe there are crucial guidelines and standards and teachings."

He pointed out that the Church's role in this matter has been solidified for almost four and a half centuries through the Book of Common Prayer, forming the basis of the marriage ceremony for all couples marrying in the Church of England.

"Our role should be setting out from the beginning what marriage is about… and secondly trying to support them wherever possible… so that they can keep their marriage vows," he said.

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