Divorce

What does the Catholic Church have to say about divorce? As usual, the Church only has to say what God has to say on the matter, and, since God is against divorce, so is the Church!

What is divorce? Divorce takes place when two people who are validly married think they can decide that they are no longer married, for x, y or z reason. It is not the same thing as separation, where the couple decide to no longer live together, but remain married. Divorce is not allowed by the Catholic Church under any circumstances. Separation is discouraged, but in extreme circumstances it is tolerated.

Why are God and the Catholic Church against divorce? The reason is simple: God created marriage between one man and one woman as a stable institution. On the day of their marriage, the man and woman vow before God to remain married until death. In effect, they sign an unbreakable contract before God, the Church and society. It is easy to see why marriage has to be absolutely watertight, for the sake of the couple, the children and society as a whole.

The Church has no power to cancel this contract, nor does the State, nor does the couple. Only God has the power to do this. When Henry VIII wanted to divorce Catherine of Aragon, the Pope had to refuse, even though that meant losing England to the Church.

But doesn’t the Church grant annulments? Aren’t annulments divorces for Catholics? An annulment is not a divorce. First of all, it is more correct to call it a “declaration of nullity”. An “annulment”, then, is simply a declaration that the marriage was never valid in the first place. This could be for any number of reasons – for example, if it could be proved that one of the “spouses” had been forced to get married at gun-point. As a result, the man and woman who up until then were presumed married, were not in fact, and so are free. A marriage is not cancelled. It simply never existed in the first place.

Traditionally, it was very difficult to obtain a declaration of nullity. In the U.S. in 1968, for example, there were only 338 annulments. Since then, the number of annulments over there has increased exponentially. In 1992, for example, there were 59,030. That’s 75 times the 1968 number! That places a huge question-mark over modern annulments, at least in the U.S. (which accounts for 75% of the world’s annulments). Don’t forget that if your marriage was valid, an “annulment” will not change that. Before God, you are still married to your wife or husband and a new “marriage” is not one at all. You will only be living in sin.

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