Claudine Cassar | Sunday, 19 July 2009
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The Church must get real about marriage and divorce

Last Sunday, Rev Joseph Mizzi, of the Cana Movement, wrote a letter about marriage in The Times. In it he quoted statistics which he had derived from the Lifestyle Survey 2007 published by NSO. According to the Reverend, “statistics offered by NSO show that the number of separated, divorced and annulled persons is 10,596 – 3.4 per cent of the Maltese population.” Therefore, followed his argument, one exaggerates when one says that families are breaking down in Malta.
Now the Lifestyle Survey is freely available on the web, so it only took me a couple of minutes to download the document and check out these so-called statistics for myself.
It immediately became clear what Rev Mizzi had done. Instead of comparing the number of separated, divorced and annulled people to the number of married people in order to work out a proper marriage failure rate, he compared it to the number of adults in general. This does not make sense – you cannot include the 81,123 people who are still single, and the 6,073 people who are co-habiting in an equation that calculates marital success on the island. Otherwise we would be implying that not marrying or co-habiting is a plus point for marriage!
The facts are as follows – according to NSO in 2007 the total number of people who were married, separated, divorced or annulled was 206,304. Of these – 195,708 were still married, and 10,596 were separated, divorced or annulled. In other words 5.1% of all marriages had ended in a separation, divorce or annulment – more than one in 20 marriages had failed.
It is important to keep in mind that the figures only showed those couples whose annulment or separation had been finalised – it did not include those whose cases were still pending. According to Martin Scicluna, one of the lead authors of the The Today Public Policy Institute think-tank report, ‘For Worse, For Better: Re-marriage After Legal Separation’, between 2005 and 2008, there were over 1,020 annulments (with 840 cases pending) and about 3,500 separation applications submitted (with over 1,000 cases pending). Discern, the Institute for Research on the Signs of the Times, has estimated that by 2015 the number of people in failed marriages will have increased to 35,000. If it does come to that, we will be talking of a marriage failure rate of 17%.
The way I see it is this: imagine a devastating disease hits the nation. 5.1% have already contracted it, and are suffering the consequences. The signs are that the disease will keep spreading and that in just six years’ time 17% of the population will get the bug. Would we sit back and do nothing about it?
I don’t think so.
However it is clear that the Church is sticking its head in the sand when it comes to marital breakdown. Maybe they think that if they ignore it long enough, it will go away.
Last month an interesting report was issued by the University Chaplaincy (at the University of Malta). A survey had found that 57% of University students believed divorce should be legalised in Malta.
Two weeks later, however, Kummissjoni Djocesana Zghazagh, better known as KDZ, came up with an announcement of its own. Apparently they had compiled a report about marriage and the family, based on the input of “a number of youth organisations”.
I downloaded the report – all 8 pages of it ( According to the last page the young people who were involved in the forum included representatives of the University Chaplaincy – but wonder of wonder, there was no mention of divorce, other than a denunciation against the nasty media who seem to perversely keep mentioning the subject!
So KDZ would have us believe that young people in Malta are firmly against divorce. The report was full of idealistic jibber-jabber – we need to strengthen the family, we need to stick together no matter what… It is good that youngsters are romantic and optimistic, but surely they should be aware of the facts of life, in order to be prepared for the trials and tribulations of living in the real world!
This whole charade brought to mind the obligatory Cana preparatory course that my husband and I had to attend 10 years ago in order to get married.
The sessions were on the whole interesting, led by a lovely couple who had several anecdotes to share about married life. They had a lot to say about getting to know each other, budgeting, and overcoming the petty arguments that can overshadow a relationship. However whenever the course participants tried to raise more serious issues, such as adultery, these guys really let us down.
Adultery, they told us, does not occur in a Christian marriage.
No point in discussing what to do if such a major problem hits our family in the future, because what is the point of discussing something that will never happen? The same would have applied, I guess, if we had brought up the subject of domestic violence, or child abuse – nope, does not happen in a Christian marriage.
Yes, that is the extent of preparation that young couples were given 10 years ago. We were told to be careful with our money, we were advised not to use condoms because they are not as safe as natural family planning, and we were told that adultery does not happen – because we are Christians!
The Reverend talks about strengthening families – surely, being honest with young couples about to embark on marriage would be a good place to start, don’t you think? Yes – people do commit adultery; Yes – your partner will let you down; Yes – there will be times when the going will get tough, and at that point you will have to roll with the punches, or else your marriage is doomed.
That, I am sure, would be a much more realistic way of preparing couples for what is to come.

Update on YMCA
Two weeks ago I wrote about Dar Niki Cassar, a homeless shelter run by the YMCA. Due to the financial difficulties encountered by the NGO, the odds are that the shelter will be shut down at the end of July.
The most upsetting thing about the whole sad story was that only 11 people had committed to sponsoring the shelter to the tune of €1 a day.
However I am delighted to announce that after the article was published, the number of people committed to help YMCA with a regular donation has risen to 23! In addition a number of small one-off donations were also received.
This is a great step in the right direction – however the YMCA needs a lot more help! They need to find 365 sponsors – 23 are simply not enough. Come on, thank your lucky stars that you have a roof over your head, and dip your hand in your pocket to help out those who don’t.
Go to for more information on how you can help this NGO continue doing its work. It’s just like Tesco says. Every little helps!


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