Divorce and Remarriage: Somebody has some Explaining to Do


In the old, much beloved, I Love Lucy TV show, whenever Lucy messed something up, or seemed to have messed something up, her husband Ricky would tell her, his voice rising with frustration: “Lucy, you’ve got some explaining to do!”

A lot of people today take this same attitude toward the Catholic Church, in relation to her moral teaching.  She has a lot of explaining to do.  It’s as if she’s not only messed up, like the lovable but disaster-prone Lucy, but is actually guilty of some misdeed or crime.  Where does the Church get off insisting on such a strict morality, anyway!

7 Consecration

Such complaints are made with special force with regard to the Church’s teaching on sexual morality–for example, her teaching on divorce and remarriage.  The Church does not permit divorce and remarriage.  Of course, she can’t stop people from doing it.  But she can, and does, insist that it is wrong.  Where does the Church get off insisting on such a strict and apparently unforgiving standard, anyway?  And why would she insist on such a teaching?  Isn’t this more of the work of the celibate old men who just don’t understand?

Well, if the world is going to say that the Church has some explaining to do, it will be only fair to let her explain herself.  And she has explained herself in (among other places)  the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Here is a key passage:

1650 Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions. In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ– “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery”– The Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists. For the same reason, they cannot exercise certain ecclesial responsibilities. Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence.

It turns out, then, that the Church’s rather rigorous teaching on marriage is based not on the words of some little known celibate old man, but on the words of one very well known and important celibate young man.  The teaching is based on the words of Jesus Christ, whom faithful Catholics believe to be God.  Perhaps, then, Christians at least, and even all those people who claim to respect Jesus as a moral teacher, could cut the Church some slack and acknowledge that it has good reason to think that it is not just imposing some man-made morality on human beings but in fact preserving what was delivered to her by her divine founder.

We can concede that from the standpoint of contemporary, easy-going morality, the Church has some explaining to do.  But from the standpoint of the words of Jesus, it is the world that has some explaining to do.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org


About Author

Carson Holloway is a political scientist and the author of The Way of Life: John Paul II and the Challenge of Liberal Modernity (Baylor University Press), The Right Darwin? Evolution, Religion, and the Future of Democracy (Spence Publishing), and All Shook Up: Music, Passion and Politics (Spence Publishing), and the editor of a collection of essays entitled Magnanimity and Statesmanship (Lexington Books). His articles have appeared in the Review of Politics, Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy, Perspectives on Political Science, and First Things. He is a regular contributor to the online journal The Public Discourse. Holloway was a 2005-06 William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University. He received his Ph.D. in political science from Northern Illinois University in 1998.

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