Divorce and Catholicism

Printer Paper Cut With Orange ScissorI’ve been toying with drafts of a post about divorce for a while now, but I didn’t feel like I had the material to really back up the opinion I was trying to express. Then the other day I saw this video from Adam Ruins Everything about why divorce is actually not a terrible thing. I definitely recommend checking this video out. It gets to the heart of why it’s important to have legal divorce be accessible. One fact from the video that I’d never heard before is that by some estimates, the availability of divorce reduced the female suicide rate by 20%. Considering the fact that domestic violence didn’t used to be considered grounds for divorce in many places, and that marital rape wasn’t even legally considered rape until more recently than you’d think depending on the state, the availability of divorce was definitely a source of hope for many people, especially women.

In Catholicism, however, there is simply no such thing as divorce. Marriage, in Catholicism, is permanent. This means if a Catholic couple gets a legal divorce, they are still considered married in the eyes of the church. That can be OK at first. As this Catholic website explains, legally divorced Catholics are still considered full members of the church as long as they’re in good standing (basically if they go to mass and participate in the sacraments, especially communion and confession, and generally follow church rules). They don’t begin to run into trouble until they meet someone else, and decide they’d like to get married again.

Keep in mind that to the Catholic church, a divorced person is still in their first marriage. So to the church, this is a married person asking to also marry someone else. That’s definitely not allowed! The horror! But there is an option to proceed, and it’s called annulment.

Annulment is a process by which Catholics who are legally divorced (or who would like to be) can appeal to a church tribunal (basically a church court) to get a declaration of nullity, stating that one of the major requirements for  valid marriage wasn’t present on the day of the ceremony. These are the requirements for a valid Catholic marriage that would be examined for an annulment:

For a Catholic marriage to be valid, it is required that: (1) the spouses are free to marry; (2) they are capable of giving their consent to marry; (3) they freely exchange their consent; (4) in consenting to marry, they have the intention to marry for life, to be faithful to one another and be open to children; (5) they intend the good of each other; and (6) their consent is given in the presence of two witnesses and before a properly authorized Church minister. Exceptions to the last requirement must be approved by Church authority.

This list comes from an FAQ page on this website about annulments. Feel free to check it out for more information.

The thing that strikes me the most about this list is that if these are the criteria that the tribunal looks at to determine if the marriage can be annulled, why don’t they include any details from the actual marriage itself? The relationship after the wedding. A wedding is just a big party with some vows and a contract. That’s not the meat of the relationship. What if it’s an abusive marriage? What if even though both partners genuinely mean to be faithful when they say their vows, there is cheating down the road? What if they just grow apart? Find themselves coming to incompatible conclusions about life and the world around them that put a painful strain on their relationship? It can and does happen. I think those are all valid reasons for couple to consider divorce. But according to the church, only the events of the wedding itself and the intentions of the couple on that date are supposed to be examined.

I have been assured by my Catholic parents that of course the church would never force a couple to stay in an abusive marriage, and would gladly grant an annulment. I would like to believe them, and I imagine that in most cases the tribunal would take that into account. But if that is the case, why doesn’t this site say the tribunal will look into anything about the relationship after the wedding day? In that vein, one particular frequently asked question on the same web page about annulment makes me uneasy:

How can a couple married for many years present a case?

The tribunal process examines the events leading up to, and at the time of, the wedding ceremony, in an effort to determine whether what was required for a valid marriage was ever brought about. The length of common life is not proof of validity but a long marriage does provide evidence that a couple had some capacity for a life-long commitment. It does not prove or disprove the existence of a valid marriage bond. [Italics mine]

I’m concerned about how they will define a long marriage. Is two years long? Twenty?  Long isn’t a very specific word. Also, it’s not uncommon for people to stay in abusive relationships for a pretty long time, even though they know it’s dangerous. The psychology of abuse is complicated, and abusers are often very sweet and loving in between spurts of hurtful language or violence, making victims question whether their abusers are really that bad, only for the cycle to occur again.

I’d like to see the church change its position on divorce. I’d like to see the long annulment process completely eliminated. If the church wants to do a divorce ceremony that’s up to them, but the current legality of divorce is an important right that may be saving the lives of some women. The antiquated view the church has on divorce only creates social stigma, which can erode the support system a struggling person might need to get back on their feet after such  split. The Catholic church is very good at creating stigma, at making certain things taboo. I’d like to see that change.

What are your thoughts on divorce, annulment, and Catholicism? Do you have any experience with the Catholic annulment process? I’d love to hear your story. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

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Missionaries of Charity Stop Adoptions in India Over Inclusive Legislation

The religious order founded by Mother Theresa, the Missionaries of Charity, has decided they will no longer attempt to find homes for the children in their 13 orphanages in India. Their reason for this? Apparently India has made new legislation that allows single people to adopt, and the Sisters of Charity think it’s better for children to remain parentless than to be raised in single-parent homes. You can read more about this here.

The article explains that the sisters have two primary concerns:

“First, [Missionaries of Charity] will not allow adoption by single parents; second, they also have issues with couples, one or both of whom has had a divorce earlier.”

While Catholicism does not technically have a teaching forbidding single parents from raising children, it does prohibit divorce, and many Catholics are also against adoption by LGBT people. Catholic teaching on divorce is very harsh. It literally preaches that once a marriage exists, it cannot be undone. The only situation in which a married couple can separate in Catholicism is through something called “annulment,” which is a process by which the marriage is reviewed by a variety of church leaders and declared to have never happened in the first place. In other words, if a marriage doesn’t work out, the only situation in which that can be admitted is to claim that the marriage never took place, or was not valid in some way. The idea that someone could make a mistake, marry the wrong person, divorce, remarry, then want to have children, is clearly too much for some Catholics, and in this instance we see this attitude affecting orphans in India. Orphans who, as the article explains, are very unlikely to be adopted in the first place because of red tape and stigma. If that’s the case, why make the process any harder? The silver lining in this story is that this is happening because India passed legislation that allows more people to adopt. That, at least, is something to be happy about.

How does Catholic teaching on homosexuality come into play here? Well, you can take it straight from the sister’s mouth:

Speaking about the decision not to offer adoptions, Sister Amala told local media: “The new guidelines hurt our conscience. They are certainly not for religious people like us. … What if the single parent who we give our baby [to] turns out to be gay or lesbian? What security or moral upbringing will these children get? Our rules only allow married couples to adopt.”

I’ve heard my own parents argue that being raised by two dads or two mothers will “confuse” children. Despite the fact that homosexuality is not a choice, they seem to fear that children raised in a situation that does not prohibit other sexualities will lead to more gay children.

There is also a common argument that there are things only a father can do for a child, and things that only a mother can do, with the idea being that children need not only two parents, but that those parents need to be opposite genders in order to properly raise children. This idea is detrimental because it may be keeping some children with ZERO parents from having ANY. Furthermore, it’s based in gender norms. I can’t think of a single thing that a man can do that a woman cannot, and vice versa, when it comes to parenting. A good parent is a good parent. Any argument I can think of for something one gender can do that the other can’t has more to do with the typical roles assigned to each gender by society, and to stereotypes of the genders, not to anything that can be stated definitively that applies to all men or all women.

Ultimately, I’m frustrated to see a Catholic charity organization stop participating in a charitable action over the thought of someone they disagree with doing a good deed like adopting a child, especially in a country that has trouble adopting out its 20 million orphans (according to the NPR article).

If you have any thoughts pertaining to this, especially with regards to gender and parenting, feel free to leave a comment. I’d be happy to hear other opinions. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy