Should the Church Loosen the Rules On Divorce?


The Eucharist

Have you ever heard a person say the Catholic Church and her rules are antiquated and need to be updated or changed to meet the demands of a modern society? This is a very popular debate and one that is receiving renewed attention recently. Last October, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, appointed by the pope to draw up reform proposals strongly encouraged Archbishop Gerhard Mueller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), to “loosen up” the rules regarding Catholics who are divorced and remarried without an annulment. Archbishop Mueller firmly rejected the suggestion that divorced and remarried Catholics should be reinstated as full members of the Church.

This probably leaves many Catholics feeling confused, angry and left out. But it’s important to understand what is really going on here. Here are a few points I hope will bring clarification:

1.     What does the Church have against divorced Catholics who just want to get married again?

Although the current debate is about allowing those who are divorced and remarried outside the Church to receive the Eucharist, the Church doesn’t single out this group as unique when it comes to being properly disposed to receive the Eucharist. To receive the real presence of the body and blood of Jesus, a person must be in the state of grace. This applies to all members of the Church, and does not descriminate based upon one’s state in life; single, married, divorced, widowed or religious. So the married or single person who is not in the state of grace is equally subject to the same authority.

2.     Why do I have to have an annulment? Why can’t I just get remarried?

First, let’s use a different term for the word “annulment” because I believe this word is causing some of the confusion. Let’s use the more defining term, “decree of nullity.” A decree of nullity is just that – a decree, or piece of paper issued by a Catholic Tribunal declaring a petitioner who has gone through the annulment process is free to marry. That piece of paper is what people typically refer to as an “annulment.”

Second, the Church and the moral parameters she sets for us are there to protect us, keep us spiritually safe and help us live a happy life. The annulment process is a part of these moral parameters. The Church knows not every couple who approaches the altar will create a sacramental/valid (if a marriage takes place between a baptized man and a baptized woman, it is referred to as a “sacramental” bond, otherwise, it is referred to as a “valid” bond), but the Church assumes all marriages are valid until proven otherwise. So, the annulment process is the tool the Church uses to determine whether or not a valid/sacramental marriage took place on the day of the wedding.

If someone who is divorced and remarried hasn’t given the Church the opportunity to determine whether or not she has a sacramental/valid marriage bond with their ex-spouse, her previous marriage is assumed to be valid and she is not free to marry someone else. If she isn’t free to marry but does anyway, she must refrain from receiving the sacrament of the Eucharist.

3.      How does the Church have the authority to decide whether or not a marriage is valid?

The Catholic Church upholds all the teachings of Christ, from whom she gets her authority. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus teaches us about divorce and it’s consequences:

And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery (Mt 19: 9).

Jesus uses two important words in this passage; “unchastity” and “adultery.” The original Greek translation uses the words “pornea” (unchastity) and “moichea” (adultery). Why did He use these two words instead of just “adultery?” Because adultery is committed by spouses, and unchastity by people who are not married. So, how can a wife commit unchastity? If the marriage is unlawful, or invalid (having the appearance of being married but not having a valid bond). This is why a tribunal looks at the dating, engagement and marriage periods of the relationship and takes great care in getting as many details as possible so an informed and appropriate decision can be made.

Catholics who get divorced are urged to make use of the annulment process precisely with the intention of helping them avoid further heartache and problems down the road. If you find yourself in this position, I encourage you to at least speak to a priest about your situation and find a way to be reunited fully with the Church. As long as you’re alive and willing, there is a solution to the problem.

Feel free to send your comments and questions to asklisa@catholicmatch.com.






41 Comments

  1. Scott-1009726 January 30, 2014 Reply

    the annulment process is entirely too long. it demands witnesses that, for many, are no-longer there. it has been open to abuse, especially by those with influence. I would never want to be in a Church that had a cavalier attitude toward divorce or remarriage, but clearly (look at the process, look at the numbers) something has to change. The Orthodox process is much-simpler and much-more compassionate.

  2. Ann-69118 January 30, 2014 Reply

    I don’t a marriage should ever be taken lightly. I know many divorced people would say the process is too long and too difficult but I’d say it’s just full of safe guards and caution. Just because someone feels their marriage was invalid doesn’t mean it really was. The whole matter of determining weather a marriage was valid should take a while and shouldn’t just be determined on minimual evidence or grounds.

  3. Matthew-953295 January 30, 2014 Reply

    Going through an annulment myself, I wish the time frame was less than it is. My diocese says it takes about a year and while it’s not guaranteed I’ll receive a declaration of nullity, there is a very high rate of affirmative decisions. My advocate said somewhere in the 95-98% range, so I’m confident about an affirmative decision coming my way. I believe I make a good case based on the narrative I had to construct. December 2014 will be one year. There’s a chance it could happen sooner. It’s the law of the Church and I respect that. I do wish it didn’t take as long. I don’t believe it should take a year to review the narrative, receive testimony from witnesses, analyze it, then present a decision. All I can do it comply with the diocese and what they need from me and pray for the best. And if it’s not too much to ask, ask for you to pray for an affirmative decision as well.

  4. Sara-979131 January 30, 2014 Reply

    I am grateful that the annulment process is tedious and long. In some ways for some people, it should take even longer. While I was in the annulment process, I went through a period of great introspection and therapeutic crucible. The Church offers Her healing in different ways and this process is life-giving. Hard questions need hard answers when it comes to the sacrament of marriage. Anything less is cheap.

  5. JamesZurlo-1049121 January 30, 2014 Reply

    I have mixed emotions on divorce for Catholics. I have encountered some very good divorced people people, And many of them had nothing to do with the cause of there divorce. i.e., the husband or wife wanted the divorce not both partners. In this situation, These people are the victims not the guilty party. According to the Catholic church teachings these innocent people are are not permitted to re-marry and as such must live a lonely life style for no reason of their own. If they do remarry, without an annulment,they are committing a mortal sin, Adultery. These cases seem a little unfair to me. I also know very good Catholic that did divorce and re marry but are not permitted to receive communion. I guess it could be said that it is damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation.

    • Scott-1009726 January 31, 2014 Reply

      I agree with you 100%.

    • Terrence-337209 February 1, 2014 Reply

      As difficult as it may sound, it isn’t about what is “fair” in the eyes of man, it is about what is “truth’ in the eyes of the Creator. God wills no man (woman) to become divorced , not to say that He does not realize that it will happen. As for it being lonely, I have never been married and I could easily say that is a ‘lonely” life, but here again, it isn’t about myself. This is the life that was appointed for me, so I can have no grievance with that. Perhaps, in the case of some divorced individuals, it might be that God wants them to live a single existence for the rest of their life and if that be the case, any action contrary to that would be not to act in accordance with His will.

    • Mary-981059 February 11, 2014 Reply

      It is terribly important to be fully prepared for marriage, and that starts with having a strong conviction about the Mandates of the Catholic Church, instituted by Jesus Christ Himself. Most of the time, being a cafeteria “modern catholic” causes all of those pains and aches people accuse the Catholic Church being sort of insensitive about. The Mandates of the Lord are there to be observed 100% all of the time.
      We, so human, want to have our cake and eat it too.

  6. Kevin-975826 January 30, 2014 Reply

    I did the annulment process backin the 80′s, I think is took about two years, I was married in New Zealand and divorced in USA, my case went to Australia for a decision which was favorable. I due believe the process is too long and could be shortened. The one I noticed the most on the forms were the amount of questions dealing with sex. Over half of the paperwork dealt with these questions, which makes alot of people wonder if the church is only concerned about sex ands nothing else. i bet in some cases it probable makes for good reading. lol. Being married in todays world is very hard than it was in the 80′s, mainly because of high increase of technology and basically nobody’s marriage is their own. With facebook and other things, everybody knows everything about you whether you want them to know it or not. People today do not seem to take their vows seriously, therefore forces the church to do for them. Good bad or indifferent.

  7. Veronica G. January 31, 2014 Reply

    I submitted all the required documents to annulled my marriage a yr has gone by and I still have no word on weekdays my next step I keep calling the tribunal and they keep telling me that they have no record of my request. ..I just don’t know what to do or who to go to. ..priest never has time for me. ..I make an appointment then I get a call that my appt needs to be reschedule….it really disappoints me

    • Virginia-823454 February 11, 2014 Reply

      I am so sorry to hear you are having such difficulties. I started the process a little over a year ago and am now waiting for the final decision . I was so blessed to be assigned a wonderful advocate. Perhaps you can contact the tribunal and see if they advocates available to you. My advocate is a deacon from a neighboring parish and his help and support has been invaluable. After the annulment is complete I will continue to see him as my spiritual director. The annulment process for me has been very healing. I pray that you are able to find someone to help guide you through the process

  8. Sara-979131 January 31, 2014 Reply

    Cases in which divorce does not constitute a moral offense:
    “There are other situations in which a Catholic spouse might very well find that divorce is, unfortunately, the best way to resolve a difficult situation. To cite the Catechism again, “if civil divorce remains the only possible way of ensuring certain legal rights, the care of the children, or the protection of inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral offense” (2383). In circumstances involving abuse and violence, for example, the Church certainly understands that a divorce may be legally necessary. A battered wife, or a spouse seeking to protect children from an abusive situation by taking the means required under civil law to keep the abuser away, can hardly be considered morally culpable for obtaining a divorce for reasons of physical safety. Similarly, a divorce may be civilly necessary if one spouse is bankrupting the family with compulsive gambling. In such a case a Catholic might need to obtain a divorce in order to safeguard the financial wellbeing of the rest of the family.”
    http://catholicexchange.com/divorced-catholics-and-the-eucharist

  9. David-870960 January 31, 2014 Reply

    Interesting. Regarding the interpretation of Christ’s words:

    “Unchastity” is explained in the article as “outside of marriage”, yet Our Lord uses it, per the Gospel quote, in the context of Divorce suggesting an intentional meaning WITHIN marriage. So what would the implication be then?

    • Dominic-981542 February 5, 2014 Reply

      Your right David , Our Lord was referring to unchastity within marriage meaning your spouse being unfaithful playing up with some one else which is so common these days . . Unchasitity could also mean ” but i wont mention it here”
      Adultery is what the unchaste person would be committing so it would be adultery for who ever marries that state of person.
      Or I could make it more complicated if you like.

  10. Carol-1017436 January 31, 2014 Reply

    Have we all lost the gospel? I too used to think of the annulement process as daunting but so is cancer treatment. Either the Holy Spirit continues to guide the Church or are we saying that Jesus lied. With that said, the annulement process for me was incredibly healing. It combated the secular society version of “marriage” and helped me come to understand Christ’s intent for a truly Sacramental marriage. Are we too tempted by “the gotta have it now” attitude of our current corrupt society that we are unwilling to come to understand Agape (Greek for love) absolute and complete self donation and loving another for the sake of the other and want to follow Christ to the cross. If marriage is only for you to see or what someone can do for us then it is a civil contract exchange goods and services not a Sacramental marriage. We are all on the journey to learn and to become everything God intended us to be. But if we truly want what God wants and truly mean it when we say “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven” then bother to ask Him what His will is for us through “His Church” and the process of annulement. Are you all prepared to do as Mary did… “Let it be done unto me according to Your will…”? Please for your sake, for the sake of your future spouse if that is his will for you, and for all the future generations that depend on your fidelity to the Lord. Don’t be like King Saul and loose everything for disobedience. The Church is our Mother and knows better than we do what is best for us. Truly Sacramental marriage will give you rewards beyond measure as in the relationship of Christ with his Bride the Church. Sorry about the rambling.

    • Scott-1009726 January 31, 2014 Reply

      The Church IS the Church, and is guided by the Holy Spirit. I do not deny any of it’s doctrines/dogmas. Not one. But methods are another thing. The Church has made mistakes. Priests doing wicked things and the Church not paying attention. And the annulment process, while valid, I believe, also takes TOO long and sometimes asks too much. The question is, for the Church that Christ founded, is to what degree can she be criticized? Should we just accept that which we believe in our hearts and minds is wrong? I myself have waited 18 months for a decision, and have been told, because of “workload” it may take 2-3 MORE months! I would not argue for anything other than a sacramental marriage. But I would argue that the Church needs to change the process. The way it is now is not pastoral, at least for many. Second, at present, there is no ‘freedom to marry’ for someone who has been abandoned, betrayed, or abused in marriage. A procedure/process needs to be in place for that-not just going back to the beginning and seeing if their was a true marriage at the beginning, but seeing and acknowledging that someone destroyed a marriage.

      • Terrence-337209 February 1, 2014 Reply

        I have heard it saod that far too many annulments are granted. If that be the case, does that render it as if it is just a fancy term for Catholic ‘divorce”?

  11. Hope-1049882 January 31, 2014 Reply

    All I can say is, I’m so glad to have found this Institute and these thought-provoking articles and comment sections. There is such intelligence and thoughtfulness from most of us on here. These are questions I’ve BURNED about for years, and as a convert to this wonderful religion, I find myself just so happy to be in contact with others who take these all-important questions seriously. These are HUGE matters that will determine the fate of our culture, and directly impact the life satisfaction (not to mention the salvation) of the younger generations. I know I haven’t addressed the topic of divorce and annulment directly here, but I just wanted to jump into the conversation and thank everyone for their well-considered thoughts.

    • Joe-863487 February 8, 2014 Reply

      Hope,
      I absolutely agree with your assessment of these discussions. I’ve only recently discovered this site myself, but it is truly refreshing to see these sorts of topics discussed in so thoughtful and faith-filled ways. Not the usual stuff one finds on the Internet, that is certain!

  12. Joan-529855 January 31, 2014 Reply

    To answer the question with one word: “No”.

  13. Patrick-341178 January 31, 2014 Reply

    I guess I dont really understand the annulment process to begin with. I am sure that the vast majority of people who get married in the catholic church do it with the idea that they will be married until death do they part. However, I realize that things happen that can lead to a divorce. I still have a hard time understanding, as one post put it, that 95%+ of annulments are granted. So, that means there was never really a true marriage to being with in the first place? I dont really have a problem if divorced people get communion and are more welcomed back into the church. I do, think, however, annulements shouldnt be granted so generously in the church. Perhaps just remaining married, but separated would be a better path unless there was some really fraudulent marriage in the first place.

    • Terrence-337209 February 1, 2014 Reply

      I imagine, as it regards communion, is that it is not about what might be a “problem”, as you put it, for us, but rather what is a ‘problem” for God.

  14. Andrew-1040810 February 1, 2014 Reply

    No, I don’t think the Catholic Church should change its teachings on marriage and divorce because we will always have Genesis 3:1-24, Exodus 20:1-25, Malachi 2:13-17 and Matthew 19:1-12 to guide our thinking. From the very beginning, when God gave Adam a helpmate, God surely knew there would be children and families and the evolution of all kinds of laws, customs and traditions to enshrine and protect the family unit as the foundation of all societies of people. Down through the centuries, The Catholic Church has been a faithful beacon of our Lord’s merciful love into the dark corners of the hardened hearts of men and women who chose not to honor their marital vows. Today we find ourselves in a culture where even civil law, with all its statutes concerning domestic relations, totally ignores God’s contempt for divorce and husbands and wives come and go in one another’s lives like Autumn leaves before the winds of winter. All a woman has to do is stand up in a courtroom and tell a Judge she wants a divorce and her wish will be granted, sans a single corroborating witness, sans one iota of substantiating evidence, sans even the faintest attempt to make a factual determination of the woman’s allegations. The Church cannot do anything to introduce and pass redeeming laws in the various state legislatures, but it can continue to teach God’s Will for the will of mankind. It will be interesting to see what Pope Francis teaches us about domestic relations, for I don’t believe God will amend his Ten commandments nor delete the teachings of our Lord. Based on his experiences living among the men and women in South America, I believe he knows what time of day it is and wont need the Catholics in North America to build him a new clock. I wouldn’t be surprised if he started posting comments in some of our forums and dropping in on CM’s chat rooms, Now wouldn’t that be a welcomed surprise and breath of fresh air?

    malachi

  15. Liz-609023 February 1, 2014 Reply

    Oh goodness. I do believe some of you are sounding too orthodox. I’m glad that the Annulment exists because the problem with divorce is that once one makes love to their chosen you’re supposed to be ONE. It’s sacred. We are not supposed to be ever divided. But if it happens for terrible reasons, whatever they are, split then if you must. However God should see to it and the annulment is the best way to go about it. HOWEVER, I completely disagree with this choice that certain people such as divorced people can’t take communion. This is Jesus’ body. No human can take that choice in my opinion. I have the same opinion with excommunication. This is the Church, we are all one body together. A Church is not a building, we are people. I’ve seen people leave the Church because of the pain of feeling excluded because they had a child out of wedlock or divorced and so were not allowed Communion. That is not the way to treat people, especially when more are walking out of the Church.

  16. Lucy-1024806 February 1, 2014 Reply

    Yes. I have an annulment. But I think the whole process is ridiculous. If one party wants to end the marriage what is the other person going to do? Are you going to argue that a marriage was not valid after 20 years? Or because you married your second cousin like Rudolph Giuliani? Please.

    • Chelsea-743484 February 2, 2014 Reply

      Are you seriously going to ridicule a process of determining the validity of a sacrament merely because you do not understand what that process is for? It’s not about ending a marriage, it’s about checking whether the sacrament of Holy Matrimony ever happened. Obviously something is seriously wrong in a case where people share conjugal life for decades, but left diriment impediments in place to invalidate their attempt at marriage. This doesn’t make the annulment process ridiculous, it merely points out the hypocrisy of people who are supposedly in “love”.

  17. Lucy-1024806 February 2, 2014 Reply

    I am not ridiculing it. It already is. I went through that process and I studied theology in school for 3 years. Totally absurd.

  18. David-870960 February 2, 2014 Reply

    “Loosen the rules?” Perhaps not; but improve the process, and expand some considerations (grounds?) perhaps.

    My father, high-schooled in Seminary then a Theology and Philosophy Major at Marquette, explained and emphasized that Catholic Annulment was not a “Divorce”, but official recognition of a “Failed Attempt at Marriage”. For Catholics, therefore, there remains no such thing as divorce, except for its part in civil separation (giving Caesar what is Caesar’s).

    I don’t believe any major change in Doctrine is required, but perhaps there is room for an improvement in the execution thereof… not unlike the current recognition that greater respect and support by The Church for the “Vocation of Marriage” has been lacking.

  19. Mary-1026538 February 2, 2014 Reply

    How the Orthodox do it makes much more sense. Women (and their children, the future of the Church) are fleeing the Church. I have encountered so many people who are no longer Catholic because of the annulment process. The system is broken. Find some other means.

    • Joan-529855 February 2, 2014 Reply

      Women (and their children) are not fleeing the Church because of the annulment system; they are fleeing the church because of the stigma of divorce in the Catholic Church. Members of the Catholic Church do not accept more than 50% of their own members because they have the scarlet letter “D” on their forehead. Members of the Catholic church also do not accept the children of divorce. Unwed mothers and their children are accepted more readily than children of divorce and their mothers. Until the Catholic Church recognizes and teaches that the influence of Satan is the cause of divorce (as well as every other sinful choice), divorced members of the Catholic Church will always be shunned. The modern day Catholic Church has strayed so far from its scriptural foundation that it will take generations to get it back on path. BTW, read the history of annulments in the Catholic Church and you will find that annulments were instituted so that King Henry the VIII could divorce and remarry, without being banned from receiving Holy Eucharist (true story). Should the Catholic Church loosen the rules on divorce? No, because the rules on divorce are clearly stated in scripture. Unfortunately the Catholic Church doesn’t abide by the rules on divorce found in scripture. IF it did, annulments (as they are carried out today in the Catholic Church) wouldn’t exist.

      • Chelsea-743484 February 3, 2014 Reply

        Joan, I see what you’re saying, but I’ve never seen those who are divorced treated any differently in all of the parishes at which I’ve resided personally. From what I’ve seen in my relatively short life that to use how one is treated after some specific action as an excuse or a good reason to abandon Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is extremely lame.

        Also, annulments are much older than King Henry VIII…and he never received one. He received a dispensation to marry his brother’s widow.

        Universally regulated annulments date back to decretal law from the pontificates of Popes Alexander III (1159-1181) and Innocent III (1198-1216), specifically IV Decretal., xix, 3, and II Decretal., xiii, 13. Before that, bishops held their own examinations of validity marriage based upon their best judgment in light of the universal laws and doctrines of the Church.

        • Allison M. February 5, 2014 Reply

          Then you aren’t paying attention because the scarlet “D” is a subtle, systematic, and very real thing.

          • Chelsea-743484 February 5, 2014 Reply

            To abandon Jesus Christ in the Eucharist (i.e., leave the Catholic Church) because other people don’t like one is extremely lame and faithless.

  20. Lorrie-735074 February 2, 2014 Reply

    I’m all for allowing divorce and remarriage if someone can demonstrate abuse. I don’t agree with marriage being a sacrament but since the Church says it is, they should at least look at this issue as many are being denied remarriage simply because no one can be found to back up what they said.

    • Chelsea-743484 February 3, 2014 Reply

      Lorrie, seriously? You’re for man dissolving the covenant contracted in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony in the face of God’s (i.e., Jesus Christ) strict prohibition that what God has joined together let no man put asunder?…and with God’s explanation that to take another after a divorce is adultery?…and with God’s revelation in the decalogue that adultery is gravely opposed to God’s will, and thus an act rewarded with hell?

      You’re seriously for sending people post-haste to the fires of hell?

      • Jennifer-1021395 February 18, 2014 Reply

        Hi I like how you think Chelsea. I v e never seen the church treat divorced catholics with children any different. What I do see, is an absence of forgiveness towards a spouse and a victimless blame attitude happening. What I know is if I date a person with an anullement I committed adultery. I have received several nasty remarks from men who w a nt to date me, but I have said no because it’s considered adultery. I want to write more, running short on time..

  21. Dominic-981542 February 5, 2014 Reply

    HI Lisa and all who posted & for Joan , let me trim it down for as to why annulment is important .
    Its because sex was & is original sin , There can only be one marriage for spiritual health to maintain it self. . . Some cases a person can be trick or lied to in marriage for what ever reason so its not a real marriage that can bond two to becoming one.
    Annulment is only for those who’s first marriage was not real , so when they remarry it will still be there first marriage.
    The quote by Christ to unchastity , he meant your spouse playing up behind your back while in a marriage not out side ,

    • Allison M. February 5, 2014 Reply

      Original Sin isn’t sex. Its pride, disobedience, the inclination to sin, the opposite of the good news and belief in Christ (Catechism 388). But +1 to everything else.

    • Lisa-727959 February 6, 2014 Reply

      Hi, Dominic,

      You are incorrect in what you wrote. You’re using the Protestant interpretation of this passage. Protestant bibles do not use the word “unchastity” they use the word “immorality” which is a broader term. This is how Protestant religions allow their members to get divorced and remarried without consequence or any type of annulment process. It is, however, not the true meaning of what Christ said. His use of the word “unchastity
      refers to a sexual relationship outside a valid marriage. The only way to know if there was a valid marriage or not is through the annulment process. I hope this helps!

      Sincerely – Lisa Duffy

  22. Jennifer-1021395 February 19, 2014 Reply

    A civil divorce claims to break the bonds of a valid marriage, bonds which the Catholic Church rigidly declares to be unbreakable. A decree of nullity does not break the bonds of a valid marriage at all. It declares that the marriage was never a true marriage and that there is no bond to break. In other words, a staged play or production, as I interpret it. It declares that the reputed marriage was null and void as a contract from the beginning. Had it been valid, the bond could not be broken save by the death of one of the parties. Now, what does that say about the two parties seeking an annulment when there exists no nullifying impediments?

  23. Michael-369664 March 3, 2014 Reply

    I’m 58. SWM, and never married. I recently joined CatholicMatch.com. The biggest single problem I found was how many women on the site have divorced, but they have not gotten an annulment. If you are 50 plus you don’t have much time left to find anyone. If you have not bothered to make yourself spiritually available for dating, why bother to join Catholicmatch.com? As far as I know, if you are divorced and have not obtained an annulment, you are NOT FREE to date or marry again. This is a serious matter that too many people do not address. If you find yourself in this place, and still want to date or marry again, please get your annulment.
    Until you do, you are making it impossible for anyone else to join you in a new relationship. Thanks!

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