Unlike many other Christian denominations, the Catholic Church has very specific rules regarding marriage, divorce, annulment, and much more. In fact, the rules of Catholic marriage determine that couples cannot get married in the Catholic Church unless one or both parties are Catholic. If one party if not Catholic, certain requirements must be met or the partner must be approved of by a bishop.
The Catholic Church’s protections of the sanctity of marriage do not stop there. In the view of the Catholic Church, marriage is a holy sacrament. Known as the sacrament of matrimony, Catholic marriages involve a couple being unified in Christ forever, as sealed by the Holy Spirit. As a result, the concept of divorce is taken very seriously.
How the Catholic Church Views Divorce
Although there are many Catholics living as divorcees, the Catholic Church does not actually recognize divorce as existing in faith. Members of the Church may get a divorce in a civil sense, even legally. However, according to the Church, the seal of the Holy Spirit, and the holy covenant of marriage, that couple will forever be married.
The practice of the Catholic Church denying divorce is based on several teachings, including:
- Scripture teaching that the two have become one
- Scriptures like Mark 10:9 state that God has joined couples in marriage and man cannot separate them
- Marriage was instituted shortly after God created man, signifying its holiness
- Marriage was created to be permanent
In light of these teachings, it may seem that the Catholic Church is hostile towards those who divorce, regardless of the circumstances or grounds for divorce. This is not the case. The Catholic Church recognizes that divorce in a legal or civil setting may not be evil, particularly if the divorce does not attempt to sever the holy sacrament of marriage.
Catholics even believe that civil divorce is sometimes necessary, as in the case of domestic abuse. Such situations are seen by the Catholic Church as legal separation (though they may legally be called divorce) so long as the spiritual marriage remains intact.
Annulment in the Catholic Church
An alternative option to divorce in the Catholic Church is annulment. Although not an option in many circumstances, annulment is considered valid by the Church when it pertains to marriages that do not meet the requirements of the Catholic Church pertaining to the covenant of marriage. For instance, a marriage between non-Christians who later become Catholics might qualify for annulment if it ends in divorce.
Divorce and Remarriage
One of the most common questions many people have about the Catholic Church and divorce is whether or not remarriage is a viable option. A Catholic marriage, by the sacrament of matrimony, cannot be permitted between two people who have been in previous valid marriages.
A valid marriage is any marriage that is not eligible for annulment according to the Catholic Church doctrine. For instance, two Catholics previously united by the sacramental marriage, even after legally divorced, are not considered divorced by the Catholic Church. They are thus not eligible for remarriage unless one of the spouses has died.
People who have their previous marriage(s) annulled officially by the Catholic Church may be eligible for remarriage. This is because annulment indicates that the couple was never actually married before God in the first place. The couple must still meet the requirements of the Catholic Church pertaining to the sacrament of matrimony, though.
These policies are based on the Catholic teaching that, although Scripture is mistaken as referencing adultery as a reason for divorce, Jesus actually taught that there are no grounds for divorce as a means to remarriage. Remarriage, according to Catholic Church teachings, is not an option for anyone previously married and not widowed.
Consequences of Divorce in the Roman Catholic Church
A common misconception today is that divorced Catholics cannot participate in certain church activities, including the holy sacrament of communion. Official Catholic policy maintains that any Catholic not actively engaging in egregious sin is qualified and even encouraged to partake in communion. That means that legally divorced Catholics who maintain the holy covenant of marriage and are not living in active sin can and should take communion.
Examples of active sin that make a person ineligible to take communion include living with and/or having sexual relations with anyone outside of the covenant of marriage. People engaging in such activities are seen as consciously rebelling against the will of God. As a result, they are not in union with God and should not be united to Him through communion.
Catholics who are not choosing to engage in such sins and who remain as those married before God though legally divorced are actually encouraged to participate in communion in order to be more unified with God.
The Catholic Church also seeks to support those who are legally or civilly divorced. Reconciliation and counseling groups are offered for the divorced in many parishes. Support groups and special activities are hosted for those who are divorced in many parishes as well. Divorced Catholics are also encouraged to participate in general Church activities and gatherings including and outside of mass.
Speculation about Changes in the Church Policy
According to the Catholic Church, the official policy on marriage, divorce, annulment, and remarriage will not change. It has been determined by the Catholic Church based on the Holy Scriptures and has been upheld for centuries, even at great cost.
Still, some speculate that the Catholic Church may change its stance if a pope and the governing body of the Catholic Church were to review the Scriptures and the tradition of the Church. Further, many believe that certain aspects of the policy may change slightly.
For instance, some hope that the tight regulations regarding those who remarry (without annulments) and want to receive communion, might be relaxed. Currently, those in such a situation are considered as living in active sin and are not to participate in communion. Discussions are hoped for regarding these rules as people call on the Church to exemplify Christ’s mercy.