The Pope weighs in on Catholic divorce

In our practice, we’ve experienced how deep the impact of religious beliefs and practices not only on individual and couples when it comes to divorce. All faiths, Judaism, Buddhism, Catholicism and others, are guided by historic doctrines, rules and books outlining how individuals not only practice their faith, but share it with others. These matters are immediately thrust to the forefront when a man and a woman choose to marry, as well as when (or if) they choose to divorce.

Catholicism, a religious faith affecting more than 1.2 billion people worldwide, underwent a small but monumental evolution in how it handles divorced couples when Pope Francis called for more grace and less dogma in matters of divorce. Through his efforts, Pope Francis conveyed a keen desire to reach out to the Church’s “most fragile sons and daughters, marked by wounded and lost love,” and “to bring justice and mercy on the truth of the bond to those who have experienced the failure of their marriage.”

Couples who marry in the Catholic Church are not just legally bound; they are bound by Church law. Therefore, should the marriage fail, and the couple opt to legally dissolve the marriage by way of divorce, they still remain bound in the eyes of the church unless they obtain an “annulment.” An annulment (formally known as a “declaration of nullity”) is a church ruling that a particular marriage was null from the beginning—that is, something was gravely wrong at the time the wedding vows were made and it prevented a valid marriage from coming into existence.

Examples include:

  • the brevity of married life (i.e., the couple divorced very quickly after being married)
  • procured abortion to prevent procreation (presumably during the marriage itself, prior to bearing other children and thus showing an unwillingness to procreate)
  • the stubborn persistence in an extramarital affair at the time of the wedding or at a time immediately following
  • the physical violence inflicted to extort the consent to marry

The process of annulment has, in the past, been arduous and lengthy, occasionally causing devout Catholics to abandon completely the Church and faith. Pope Francis this year offered relief by establishing parameters to make the process more efficient and expeditious. Through his proclamations, Pope Francis created a single judgement of nullity and has placed the responsibility and decision making squarely on the shoulders of the bishop, ultimately eliminating unnecessary procedural delays.

This evolution has benefits, but does not deliver any absolutes or a bee line to annulment for couples whose marriage is found to be valid. What the pontiff has done instead is give local clergy permission and space to try innovations that are more merciful, and pastoral, while giving bishops or dioceses flexibility to derive their own policies.

His ultimate goal, it seems, is to encourage clergy to extend an olive branch of mercy to divorced and remarried Catholics long barred from the highest sacrament of the church: Holy Communion, while also wooing back to the Church those couples that have endured marital upheaval.

If you are considering a divorce but aren’t sure how to proceed, contact The Law Offices of Russell I. Marnell, P.C. to arrange an initial consultation. We can walk you through optimal first steps.

*The information contained in this blog is presented as general information and is not to be construed as legal advice to apply to any person or particular situation. Please keep in mind that the law is constantly changing and therefore you should always consult an attorney for legal advice based on the individual circumstances of your situation.*