On Divorce: An Introduction

So what does the Church really teach on divorce?

     Sadly an estimated 28% of Catholic marriages end in divorce and just over 15% of Catholic marriages end with a petition for an annulment.[1] Unfortunately in the past year, as the Synod on the Family is Rome was watched with great interest by people throughout the world, their was much confusion about what the Church teaches with regards to divorce. This short response seeks to clarify the Church’s teaching on divorce.

     Any discussion on divorce must first properly begin with a discussion of what the Church believes about marriage. Following the teaching of Jesus “what God has joined together, not human being must separate,”[2] the Catholic Church clearly teaches “the Lord Jesus intended on the original intention of the Creator who willed that marriage be indissolvable … Between the baptized a ratified and consummated marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power or for any reason other than death.”[3] In short, the Church, following the teaching of Jesus which was evangelized by St. Paul[4] teaches that anyone who was properly married cannot break the promise of faithfulness till death do they part.

     The Church, in Her wisdom, does recognize there are certain circumstances where spouses can live separately while maintaining the marriage promises and “if civil divorce remains the only possible way of ensuring certain legal rights, the case of the children or the protection of inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral offense.”[5] Anytime there is marital conflict the Church is interested in the spiritual, physical, and psychological well being of the spouses and children. While under perfect circumstances the husband and wife have a moral obligation to maintain a common life, if the well being of the spouses or children is at risk it is permissible for the spouses to separate.[6] Certain conditions like spousal abuse, a spouse who doesn’t act responsibly due to and addiction, mental illness, or personality disorder could be just cause, as could one of the spouses living a criminal lifestyle, a spouse committing adultery, or even if one of the spouses is not willing to promote a religious atmosphere in the house. While these may seem like cut and dry cases, separation is serious and anyone contemplating separating from their spouse should seek the counsel of their parish priest.

     Divorce is serious and can be gravely wrong, but the Church maintains genuine care concern and compassion for divorced Catholics. Those who are validly married, but divorced should not shy away from the Church. As long as one is remaining faithful to their marriage vows (they have not remarried and are not illicitly pursuing another exclusive relationship) they should frequently approach the sacrament of Penance and frequently present themselves for Holy Communion.

     If a divorced Catholic wishes to remarry he should consult with his parish priest and seek an annulment. Contrary to popular opinion an annulment is not a Catholic divorce, but rather a declaration from the Church that a marriage, which was thought to be valid, actually did not meet the requirements of one of the essential elements of marriage. The Church does not simply grant a divorce, but rather after due investigation comes to the conclusion that one of the five elements of a Catholic marriage, ( 1. the spouses were free to marry. 2. They freely exchanged consent. 3. They intended to remain married and faithful to each other for life and were open to the possibility of children. 4. They intended the good of each other. 5. Their consent was given in the presence of two witnesses and before a properly authorized Church minister.[7]) was not present. There are all kinds of reasons that a marriage, may have appeared to be a valid Catholic marriage but in actually was not. Anyone seeking an annulment should contact his parish priest to discuss his particular case.

     The Church has genuine car and concern for men and women who are struggling with their marriage and seeks to bring healing and forgiveness into the darkness. She extends to all people the pastoral care of her priests and fellow parishioners available at any parish and prays that those struggling with their marriage will find clarity and mercy from the Church through the ministry of Her parishes.

[1] Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) Nineteen Sixty-four Research Blog. http://nineteensixty-four.blogspot.ca/2013/09/divorce-still-less-likely-among.html

[2] Mt 19:6

[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 2382.

[4] 1 Cor 7:10-11 and Eph 5:31-32

[5] CCC 2383

[6] CCC 2385

[7] For Your Marriage: An initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Annulments. http://www.foryourmarriage.org/catholic-marriage/church-teachings/annulments/

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