July 15, 2011


Catholics and divorce

It might not seem appropriate to write about divorce in our Spring Marriage Edition where we feature couples who are engaged or have been recently married.

However, we think it is important that those couples whose announcements are in this week's issue are aware of the possibility of divorce so they can take all the necessary steps to avoid it.

It is not, of course, that they are unaware of divorce. How could anyone in our society be unaware of it? It would be surprising if any of our readers’ families have not been affected by divorce.

The Catholic Church takes marriage extremely seriously, far more than any other institution. It tries to make sure that couples have successful marriages. That is why it has such marriage preparation programs as Pre Cana and Marriage Encounter, and Retrouvaille for couples who are drifting apart. It has sponsor couples and inventories to help brides and grooms know what to expect after the wedding ceremony.

Unfortunately, despite all the Church’s efforts, divorce happens. When it does, though, divorcees should not think that the Church has abandoned them. Too often, that is exactly what they think.

It is four years old now, but in 2007 the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) conducted a study about Catholic divorces. It found that about 23 percent of Catholic marriages end in divorce.

At any one time, about 13 percent of adult Catholics are divorced or separated, and 11 percent of adult Catholics have remarried. Nearly 10 percent of Catholics are divorced and remarried 10 years after their first marriage. It is nearly 18 percent after 20 years.

But don’t divorced Catholics cease being Catholics? Absolutely not, although many Catholics think that. Divorced Catholics who have not remarried in a civil ceremony are as free to receive Communion and participate in parish life as are married or single people. In fact, they are strongly encouraged to do so.

As for those who remarried in a civil ceremony after their divorces, they too remain Catholics, although they may not receive holy Communion when they attend Mass. The United States Catechism for Adults says, “In the case of those who have divorced civilly and remarried, even though the Church considers the second marriage invalid, she does not want these Catholics to be alienated from her” (p. 287).

It then quotes the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Toward Christians who live in this situation, and who often keep the faith and desire to bring up their children in a Christian manner, priests and the whole community must manifest an attentive solicitude, so that they do not consider themselves separated from the Church, in whose life they can and must participate as baptized persons” (#1651).

Catholics who divorce are encouraged to apply for an annulment, although the CARA study showed that only 15 percent of divorced Catholics have done so. A declaration of nullity doesn’t dissolve a marriage, but it declares that no sacramental bond took place because at the time of the wedding the standards for a valid marriage weren’t met.

The tribunal that determines a marriage’s validity particularly examines the consent the husband and wife gave, whether they lacked discretion or maturity of judgment, or if they were marrying due to force or fear, or if they didn’t intend to remain faithful and committed to a life-long union, or were placing unacceptable conditions on the marriage such as refusal to have children.

The Church’s rules concerning a couple’s consent are governed by canons 1095-1107 of the Code of Canon Law. Canon 1096.1, for example, states, “For matrimonial consent to exist, the contracting parties must be at least not ignorant that marriage is a permanent partnership between a man and a woman ordered to the procreation of offspring by means of some sexual cooperation.”

All that being said, the Church’s real challenge continues to be to help couples prevent divorce. That is why it presents marriage enrichment programs. However, it is tough when our society continues to tell them that the purpose of marriage is their personal happiness, and if their marriage isn’t happy they should get out of it.

We hope the couples in this issue will concentrate on making each other happy and grow in holiness. That’s the best way to avoid divorce.

—John F. Fink

Local site Links: