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.


Categories:Culture Marriage

  • Mary Anne

    Yes, the Church very much cares about your safety. Whenever threatened, you and/or childen should leave for your safety. However, unless annulment, you are considered still married until death even if divorced. You are just not living with that person.

  • sjane

    My understanding is that divorce is permitted, remarriage isn’t (without an annulment). Therefore, the church doesn’t make anyone stay in an abusive marriage.

  • Sean Argir

    So, let me ask this.

    Is it wrong to divorce someone even if they are physically and/or emotionally abusing you?

    • scragsma

      In a nutshell, no, obtaining a civil divorce is not wrong in the case of physical or emotional abuse. But even then, if the marriage was valid, it is still valid and contracting a marriage to a new ‘spouse’ is to live a lie.

    • Alex

      “For better or for worse”

      I hope that answers your question. Marriage is a pretty crazy thing when you really think about it – pledging complete devotion to another individual, whom you have no control of. I would think twice about taking the vow if you aren’t prepared for the responsibility.

    • Jairocv

      No, divorce is not a sin in itself, especially with the reality you described. The wrong part or sim is if she remarry. Remember, one flesh. God bless.

      • Jairocv


    • M Haitz

      I have nothing but the deepest sympathy for those spouses (usually wives) who have been abused in marriage – those husbands who have done this are little short of monsters.

      That said, recall the words of the Catholic marriage vow (I can repeat them from memory): “….I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honour you all the days of my llife.” The emphasis must be placed on the words “and in bad” – anyone can be true to someone in the good times.

      The Church teaches that people who cannot live together peacably should not live together – but (and this is the key point), the relation remains intact. Let me give you an analogy. Let’s say that a teenage son is abusing his mother. They should not live together. Now living a separate life, this mother might wish that she did not have this particular son; however, the fact is that he is still her son and she is still his mother – the bond remains. Likewise, an abused wife should not live with her husband as long as this situation persists. She may wish that that man was not her husband – but he still is her husband and she still is his wife (until one of them dies that is – marriage ends with death, that’s why we say in the marriage-vow, “all the days of my life:)

      • M Haitz

        …sorry about the ending – I meant to end with “…all the days of my life”).

    • Rene

      Hi, it’s either legal separation or annulment. But the Catholic Church’s hands are tied about divorce and re-marry because our Founder/ Jewish carpenter boss says so. Being an ordinary catholic, I myself find it hard to follow , because there’s no gray area, but our Boss never said the path is easy and wide. With all humility and hope for God’s grace, I try to obey. Sincere peace to you!

    • Avis Cawley

      Matthew 9:19 clearly states that “whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.” Abuse is one form of unlawful marriage and the Church has pathways to declaring unlawful marriages null and void. It is the “no-fault’ divorce that is too common that is being referred to in the article. If you or your loved one has had the grief and misfortune of marital abuse, my heart goes out to you. Please investigate what healing is available through the annulment process.

      • Lidia

        I do believe you are mis-interpreting what “unless it was unlawful means”. Jesus is talking about the actual marriage contract, not what goes on between the couple after the marriage. For example, if a man marries a woman who is already married, that would be an unlawful marriage.

    • Mark Polo

      Civil divorce is equivalent to “separation” in Catholic parlance. You are still married to the person, but are protected by the civil laws from his abuse. Someone in this case could have a canon lawyer examine if there is a cause for nullity (if the abuse started at the beginning of the marriage, it could be argued that the other partner did not consent), which would allow a new marriage as well.

  • cindy herchenroder

    I was sued for divorce by my husband 2 yrs. ago. The ny state supreme court judge hates me because i contested. He repeatedly threatened me and treated me with unabashed contempt before all present.
    When it came time for trial he allowed my husbands friends to testify. My professional witness and family member witnesses waited all day for my turn.
    The judge saw lawyers in his chambers, off record, and told my husbands lawyer to dropthe charges and file again under the new no fault divorce law.
    My husband , later on that night, agreed. My kids went back to college, midterm week, and all others told not to come the next day.
    Next day the lawyer stood and announced jeff would drop charges.judge reponded”how do i know defendant wont contest under new law”? Interupting my lawyers attempt to say i wouldnt, i jumped up and said”i would most definitely contest”.
    Judge then announced “i never told you to drop this”! Then proceeded to tell me to call my first witness.
    Jeff was granted divorce on the grounds of cruel and inhumane treatment.
    He declared there’d be no distribution of assests. He no longer had to even pay child support.
    This judge lectured me often off the record that indeed it was not against my religion to divorce.
    He sure showed me!
    I am civilly divorced. Meanwhile, Jesus and I are still in this thing till death. I hope just my husbands death. Then me and Jesus can go marry His choice for me.
    Judge isnt only one who hates me for obeying God’s command.
    May God forgive them they know not. Pray i rise above bitter resentment and unforgiveness.

    • Ellen Collins

      Been there and I understand. I had a judge like the one you had and lost everything, as you did. But I contested, went through another trial and the judge was reprimanded for the first decision. I eventually got almost everything I wanted. Bitter? Not anymore. Worried about the church? Nope.

    • JC

      Praying for you and yours – please remember me and my family in your prayers too. If companies were allowed breach of contract in the way marriages are aggressively ended, there would be economic uproar. It is much more difficult to fire someone from a government job (even when they are clearly at fault), then it is to divorce your spouse who is merely not perfect or does not please you anymore. It as if our country were full of King Henry VIII’s. Certainly it is full of immature play-boys. If only someone would do a serious study of male mid-life crisis and what can steady those men and aid their families during that time. What most people don’t get is that the left behind wife is not merely a girlfriend or a jilted prom date, she is a woman who is still married. She is also a mother and she sees the devastation to her family. Most of these men eventually wake up and are horrified about the devastation they have caused. When will society stop them from doing what they will later regret? Pray every day for your children that the sins of their father will not be visited on them.

  • Damian P Fedoryka

    “…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. ”
    The Church does not permit divorce and remarriage. Where, excatly, is this indicated in the passage you quote from the Catechism?
    The secular media loves proclaiming from the rooftops that the Church forbids this and that: abortion, contraception, divorce and remairage. SInce the prohibition against eating meat has been lifted by the Church, the same media has given her its blessings.
    What you go on to say correctly in the next several sensence has been undone by the comment that the Church does not permit divorce and remarriage. The secular media won’t challenge that statement. It will simply add: “nor abortion, nor contraception, nor fornication, adultery, false witness…”
    Time for change?
    Yours in Christ,
    Damian P. Fedoryka

  • Tracy

    Sorry, but the church has turned a BLIND EYE to those spouses (especially women) who are verbally or physically abused in their marriage or those who have to put up with extremely terrible circumstances (excessive drinking, excessive adultery, incarceration). Why should a woman or a man have to stay married to a spouse like that? In the case of physical abuse it could cost them their LIFE.

    • cindy herchenroder

      I’d like to reply to tracy. Tracy , my husband was diagnosed as. patholigical narcissist. Google that but suffice it to say he’s text book. Short of incest, though he’d been attempting it for a year and a half, he was arrested for strangling me.
      I contested divorce and his threats of it for the 23 years of our marriage. That didnt mean it was ok for him to live in our home.
      There is no cure for pathological narcissism. Because of the many addictions , the 12 step programs are the only known help.
      So, like any addicted persons, wreaking havoc on the family, they should only be allowed to participate in family life until fully faithful to working the program and under careful supervision by appropriate medical professionals.
      Ask youself, would i sever ties forever if it were my son who was suffering from brain disease, mental illness, etc.?

    • JC

      The church has an obligation to let us know about behavior that will interfere with our relationship with God. Breaking a vow is always wrong. The church does not say that you must stay with a physically abusive spouse but always states that you must stay faithful to your spouse – you may not remarry – also, it would be better, always, to legally separate, rather than to divorce. It has been my experience that no-fault divorce is the UTLIMATE SPOUSAL ABUSE – – – it is usually the unfaithful, or abusive spouse who leaves and because of no-fault divorce, the left behind spouse has no bargaining power. Divorce always hurts children. There are ways to stop abuse without divorce. I have known many situations where spousal abuse happens after divorce. Divorce doesn’t stop abuse – sometimes it intensifies it.

    • scragsma

      The Church doesn’t forbid obtaining a civil divorce in those circumstances. What she does say is that unless the marriage can be shown to be invalid, it remains valid even after a civil divorce, and so the spouses are not free to contract a new marriage. That’s not at all the same as forcing them to stay with the abusive spouse, as you imply.

    • Mary

      Sean – If there is a situation of abuse, the abused spouse should move to somewhere safe, and petition the Church for an annulment. Since the abuser did not treat the abused as a married person should, it could be claimed that the abuser did not seem to understand the marriage vows, thus making the marriage invalid. Don’t forget, the couple will also need to get a civil divorce.
      Tracy – If you are in a situation like that – MOVE OUT! Then work on the rest, both civil and spiritual.



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