Margaret MacCurtain is a nun preaching a strange message to the devout of Ireland: The Roman Catholic hierarchy is wrong, and divorce should be their right.
Her campaign has brought hostile mail and warnings from friends not to open bulky packages. With typical good cheer, she takes her journey into the firing line as “eavesdropping on the great troubled psyche of the Irish people.”
“Sister Benny” MacCurtain, 66, a Dominican nun and retired history lecturer, is the only church figure to openly back the government’s campaign to legalize divorce in a Nov. 24 referendum.
The church hierarchy, so far, has not censured her.
“Many people still believe that this is a Catholic society and therefore it should have a Catholic constitution. They could see a ‘yes’ vote as part of the gradual crumbling away of church values,” MacCurtain said in an interview in her home south of Dublin.
“But if one genuinely believes in the rights of minorities in a democracy, and in the separation of church and state, as I do, then ‘yes’ makes good sense.”
Alone among European states, Ireland’s 58-year-old constitution forbids divorce. The proposed amendment would permit divorce if the couple live apart for four out of five years, a category into which an estimated 75,000 estranged married couples fall.
More than 90 percent of Ireland’s people are Catholic, and their bishops hope to rally public opinion against the major political parties, all of which support legalizing divorce.
Opinion polls suggest a “yes” vote, just as they did in 1986 when voters last weighed in on the issue - and voted “no” by 2 to 1. A poll published Wednesday by The Irish Times showed support shrinking from 61 percent to 52 percent in just five weeks, while those opposed increased from 30 percent to 35 percent.
“The marriage promise means what it says,” Cardinal Cahal Daly said in the church’s recent policy statement. “If the law of the land suggests otherwise it will make it harder for couples to remain true to their marriage promise.”