Divorce is a painful topic for many, especially for those whose lives have been impacted by the reality of divorce. The Catholic Church has sincere compassion for those who have gone through a divorce, and very much wants them to remain fully active in their Faith. Unfortunately, many divorced Catholics can feel marginalized within the Church, and believe they cannot receive Holy Communion. In reality, a divorced Catholic is as welcome to receive Holy Communion as any other adult Catholic. It is only when a divorced Catholic contracts a civil second marriage (without having obtained a decree of nullity) that the Church asks him or her to ordinarily refrain from receiving Holy Communion.

Divorced persons who wish to marry in the Catholic Church are encouraged to seek counsel from the parish priest or pastoral administrator about the options to remedy their situation, including the suitability of a declaration of nullity (annulment) when there is no longer any hope of reconciliation of the spouses. The diocese also offers a Divorce Recovery Series. 

The Church’s Teaching on Divorce

What exactly does the Catholic Church have to say about divorce? In faithfulness to Jesus’ teaching, the Church holds that “between the baptized, ‘a ratified and consummated marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power or for any reason other than death’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2382). However, “the separation of spouses while maintaining the marriage bond can be legitimate in certain cases provided for by canon law. 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” (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] 2383).

Because the Catholic Church has such high esteem for the goodness and beauty of marriage, her teachings about divorce are very clear, as we see in the sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church quoted below. But the Church does acknowledge that there are times when a divorced spouse may, in fact, be just an innocent victim: “It can happen that one of the spouses is the innocent victim of a divorce decreed by civil law; this spouse therefore has not contravened the moral law. There is a considerable difference between a spouse who has sincerely tried to be faithful to the sacrament of marriage and is unjustly abandoned, and one who through his own grave fault destroys a canonically valid marriage” (CCC 2386).

2384 Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other until death. Divorce does injury to the covenant of salvation, of which sacramental marriage is the sign. Contracting a new union, even if it is recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture: the remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery. If a husband, separated from his wife, approaches another woman, he is an adulterer because he makes that woman commit adultery, and the woman who lives with him is an adulteress, because she has drawn another's husband to herself.

2385 Divorce is immoral also because it introduces disorder into the family and into society. This disorder brings grave harm to the deserted spouse, to children traumatized by the separation of their parents and often torn between them, and because of its contagious effect which makes it truly a plague on society.

Marriage Nullity (Annulments)

Finally, it is incorrect to view a declaration of nullity by the Catholic Church as being the equivalent of a so-called “Catholic divorce.” An annulment is a declaration by a Church tribunal (a Catholic Church court) that a marriage thought to be valid according to Church law, actually fell short of at least one of the essential elements required for a binding union. If you want to learn more about this topic, here is a list of frequently asked questions. http://www.foryourmarriage.org/catholic-marriage/church-teachings/annulments/

“…The Church, after an examination of the situation by the competent ecclesiastical tribunal, can declare the nullity of a marriage, i.e., that the marriage never existed. In this case the contracting parties are free to marry, provided the natural obligations of a previous union are discharged” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1629).

The Tribunal of the Diocese of Saginaw may be contacted at 989.797.6623. There is no fee charged by the Diocese of Saginaw for the annulment process.