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'A Second Guilt'

I hope that Jim Pauwels, Carlo Lancellotti, and others who have questions or objections after reading the short sample of our Cardinal Kasper interview below will read the whole interview here. And if they still have questions after that, they may want to look at Cardinal Kasper's speech before the consistory in February, which is now available in English translation here.

Kasper is clearly talking about cases where an annulment is either impossible or inappropriate. He is talking about people who have repented for the failure of their sacramental marriage (if they were responsible for its failure), cannot be reconciled to their spouse, and now, years later, are in a civil marriage with another partner. For them to quit this partnership could do tremendous damage—to their new partner and to their children if they have any. This is what the cardinal means when he says that a person in this situation could not walk away from this partnership without incurring new guilt. Some will say that's not a problem as long as the remarried person and his or her partner are willing to live "as brother and sister." But, as the cardinal recognizes, unless both partners are willing to do this, the decision by one of them to do so is likely to destroy the relationship. It would also require a kind of moral heroism that the church has been very hesitant to demand in most areas of life.

Imagine a woman with small children who was married in the church and has been abandoned by her husband. She did not want a divorce; she does not want an annulment. She doesn't believe that her marriage was invalid just because her husband failed to keep his vows. She spends months, maybe years waiting and praying for reconciliation with her spouse, who does not want reconciliation and has perhaps already started a new family with someone else. Finding it very difficult to support her children alone, and knowing that they would be better off with a father figure in the home, she meets a man who is decent and faithful and wants to help her raise her family. He is not a Catholic. Eventually they marry. Years later the woman starts going back to church. She attends Mass every week; she enrolls her children in CCD and makes sure they are confirmed. She participates in the life of the parish and wants to be able to receive communion again.

What can she do? Some would say that, given her circumstances, her only option requires moral heroism. She must refuse to have sex with her new partner, whatever the consequences for her him or her children. Some will say that if he really loves her, he will accept this decision and remain faithful to her and their children, even though he himself isn't Catholic and cannot fathom the burden she has been asked to take up. Some will say that if he doesn't accept this decision, then she is better off without him, whatever the practical difficulties involved, however much heartbreak, resentment, and loneliness this causes.

Others, including the cardinal, have pointed out that the ancient church had other ways of dealing with such situations and that the Eastern Orthodox still do. Those ways do not require the dissolution of the first marriage, but they do require that we let go of a kind of perfectionism that ends up alienating many people who are eager to receive the sacraments. As Kasper points out, Pope Benedict has already suggested that someone in the situation I've just described, having confessed her sins and done penance for them, can have spiritual communion with Christ. But the same sin that is considered so grave that it prevents somone from receiving communion would premumably also prevent full spiritual communion with Christ. To say otherwise is to drive a wedge between Christ and his church. The church's power to loose and to bind is a power Christ gave it, and no servant is better than its Master.



Commenting Guidelines

Ann - the covenant is forever - and yes, with the death of a spouse, it is permitted to remarry.  But, that first covenant is still forever.  Kaspar may be using this example (death of a spouse) as a parallel to the death of a first marriage (but in terms of a spouse who leaves or abandons or has significant inability to live their marriage e.g.may be a danger to the other spouse/family; etc.)

I agree with Ann;  To make Jesus' statements into an absolute hard line prohibition of divorce & remarriage seem to assume way more than what the text actually says.

God Bless

Carlo --

Where is it written that matrimony "marks one for life"?  Baptism does.  Holy Orders does.  At least that's the way I was taught it.  But matrimony is only for the life of the couple -- when one dies it's over.  Sad, but that's the way the Lord seems to want it to be.  Not that the love of the couple does not continue, I'm sure it most often does.  But according to your thinking a second marriage even after the death of a spouse would be adulterous.

""Your stance is that this one covenant marks you for life"

"If it is a sacrament, i.e. an act of God, how could it be otherwise?"

Carlo --

Matrimony doesn't "mark you for life".  When one spouse dies the marriage is over, and the surviving spouse is still unmarked.  If that weren't the case, then a second marriage would be adulterous.  

I was taught that Baptism and Holy Orders do "mark the soul" forever, but not Matrimony.   Where is your idea coming from?

"Ann - the covenant is forever - and yes, with the death of a spouse, it is permitted to remarry.  But, that first covenant is still forever."

Bill deH. --

Where did you get this teaching?  Who said so?  When?

And if this has been taught at some time (though I've never ever heard of it), then why is it relevant to this didscussion?  

Are you saying that a second marriages after the death of a spouse is tolerated, but not on a par with the matrimony of the first one?  That surely would be news to a lot of people who have married widows and widowers, and to the widows and widowers too.

"...the eucharist and the church are more like a hospital for sinners..."   What a truly wonderful remark!!!  It would seem common sense alone would suffice to convince us all God seldom felt the need to save the likes of Teresa or Romero.  Evidently, common sense ain't that common.

Ann - not trying to draw a line in the sand; merely reflecting some of the theology that has been expressed.

So, VII used the language of *covenant* to indicate that marriage emphasizes the relationship between Christ and his church (this relationship does not end with the death of the people of God).  Not disagreeing with your question, but marriage is more than just two physical bodies that will eventually pass away......marriage is a *meaning* and *interpersonal union* of people that are both physical and spiritual (we do believe that our journey does not end with death and that we will rise in a bodily sense).  You appear to tie marriage to *physical being* only.  One end of marriage is generativity - thus, a marriage may result in children, family, etc......this continues even when one or both spouses die.....or when the remaining spouse remarries.

Guess we need to make distinctions - marriages do end with the death of a spouse in one sense but, in a sacramental sense, that first marriage (its meaning, achievements, etc.) continues just like the covenant between Christ and his Church.  Yet, we are human and live in the physical world and we experience the end of marriages before the death of a spouse - thus, we need to expand our understanding of the *death of a marriage* and, IMO, Kaspar is also expanding our understanding and practice that this may result in a second marriage and that the church has the sacramental means (penance, eucharist, etc.) to heal and support this remarriage.

Here is a long but interesting article:

Also, recommend Jospeh Martos and his articles about the sacrament of marriage and even annulments (which he is not a big supporter of).


Give credit to Rita Ferrone who posted this on the PrayTell Blog - it is an excellent, well-written analysis and summary of the above discussion points:



"Not permissible or not possible? These are two different things. If we regard divorce as impermissible (as we do a host of other deeds) and someone does it anyway, perhaps with irreparable consequences, the possibility remains open to seek forgiveness through the Sacrament of Penance and be reconciled. If not possible, then the system of annulments is the way to respond because if it was ever a marriage, it is still binding: the definition determines this outcome.

The sacramental-legal synthesis which we have inherited from the Middle Ages is venerable, but is itself the result of development. Should it be considered simply the self-evident consequence of obedience to the command of Jesus? Or can this synthesis be revisited when pressing pastoral realities demand it–without putting the teaching of Jesus into the shade? Is an increase in annulments the only way forward for those who wish to readmit divorced and remarried Catholics to the sacraments, or are there other ways forward that have their own integrity?

I believe that most Catholics do NOT want marriage to be defined as a contract to be entered into and left at will. The sacramentality and permanence of marriage is important to them, as is fidelity to the teaching of Jesus. If that’s the case, then what are we really disagreeing about? I suspect it’s this synthesis of law and sacramental theology. It’s important that we distinguish, lest the false dichotomy of “mercy” vs. “faithfulness” close off a discussion that is timely and necessary."

Wow - the discussion as really taken off since I was last able to check in.  Just a few quick remarks for now:

Matthew - I agree that the patient-Griselda (or patient-to-a-point Griselda) cases are difficult.  Christianity can be very hard, and not just for the Griseldas of the world.  I don't know what the solution is, but I certainly wouldn't want to stop Cardinal Kasper from searching for a merciful solution.  It would be wonderful if one could be found.  

Also - very good point re: promise-making and promise-keeping.  I happen to think that the failure to take our promises seriously is endemic, the implications are far-reaching, and it is important that the church maintain its commitment to the binding nature of the spoken and written word.  And it seems we agree that the annulment process really can't be a back-door way to "Catholic divorce".  That means that, even if the annulment process is reformed in some way, some petitions will continue to be rejected.   That in turn means that some petitioners will be disappointed, crushed, broken-hearted, angry, and whatever other negative emotions accompany the dawning realization that previous life choices and even circumstances beyond one's control have placed real limits on one's future possibilities.  It is hard.  I am sorry for folks in that situation.  I would do what I can for them.  I would talk with them, spend time with them, pray with them, if those things are helpful.  But I can't make the past be other than it is, and neither can the church.   

Katherine - interesting point re: the woman at the well.  My initial thought is that John shaped that story and placed it where he did in his Gospel for theological reasons, and those reasons probably didn't include an intention to illustrate that Jesus  thought multiple civil divorces and remarriages were just fine.  I think it's more likely that (one of) the intention(s) was to teach that even sinners and even Samaritans could be included in his plan of salvation.  If we're going to search the Gospels for applicable passages - always a worthwhile task - an apposite episode might be that of the woman caught in adultery, whose life is preserved but who also is admonished to go and sin no more.

Todd - I saw your remark suggesting that the church authorities don't really trust their pastors.  I agree that there are limits to that trust, but they do trust pastors with quite a bit, including sacramental ministry and oversight.  And every pastor already is approached by couples who want help with a troubled marriage.  If pastors are to be entrusted with something like a judicial function that allows them to issue something like a decree of nullity, I would assume that there would need to be some additional formation given them, and that they would need something like faculties or a license to perform this function (the implication being that it could be yanked if they abuse it).  I don't think it's unworkable, and just based on the pastors I know, most of them would be equal to the task.


I wonder, when speaking about the "intentions" of Jesus, how we imagine him thinking about marriage during his public ministry, which was directed to Jews and only Jews. Do we really imagine that when he was teaching about Jewish marriage and Mosaic Law, he was thinking ahead to the Catholic Church, in which there would be the concepts of sacramental and natural marriages? Did Jesus really think about (and institute) sacraments? (If so, why did it take so long for marriage to be recognized as a sacrament? Were his intentions really not discovered for a thousand years?) Did he intend for priests to perform the sacrament of marriage? Did he foresee the Pauline Privilege, the Petrine Privilige, and the annulment process? How much of what Catholics believe about the indissolubility of marriage comes from Jesus, and how much comes from the Church? And is everything taught by the Church really implicit in the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament in general? 

I suppose one could ask similar questions about a great deal of what the Church teaches in the 21st century, which is why this is such a challenging debate. Is everything that the Catholic Church now is to be located in the teachings of Jesus and the writings of the New Testament (and "Tradition")? Did Jesus really imagine the papacy and the priesthood? Did he imagine confessionals, communion wafers, confirmation, cassocks and albs, and marriage tribunals? 

And is marriage, like the sabbath, made for man? Or is man made for marriage? 

All good questions, David. Especially the last one.

My gratitude to Matthew, Grant and others who have spoken eloquently, cogently and persuasively in favor of mercy for Catholics who find themselves in such unfortunate situations as addressed here this week and by Cardinal Kaspar.   Thank God.  It's time.  More than time.

And a word to those who speak rather disparagingly of the annulment process as a convenient "pass" for those who qualify to move on to a normal life.   I offer a testimony from the trenches.   

The Church granted me an annulment over twenty years ago, and I have never remarried.  Nevertheless, being granted the annulment offered a bit of validation and truth, and it is helptul to me as I make sense of my journey, as we all must.  The annulment process was one component of healing that helped balm the pain of a series of "bad breaks", one of them being the rather primitive and certainly inadequate pre-marital preparation that was available over 50 years ago when I naively "walked down the aisle".   Thank God there is greater wisdom and insight available now both for those preparing to enter marriage and for  a resolution of difficulties for those whose "unions" have failed -- or never were authentic unions.

Thank God the Tribunals are equipped with more sophisticated psychological insight nowadays to address the delicate issues involved in human development and the individuals' capacity to enter into a "covenant", a word not even breathed in marriage prep 50 years ago. 

There is so much pain involved for everyone when a family breaks apart, lifelong repercussions emotionally and otherwise.  ( This blog even has discussed recently the pain of feeling marginalized in one's parish, which may seem like a place for intact families and couples only.  Single-again people deal with that perceived exclusion,  as well as the never-married singles, and countless other negative consequences. )

It's an imperfect world and no one escapes suffering; indeed, we are made holy in embracing the cross that is ours.   As Jim P said, it's so sad that often there is little or nothing that can be done to reverse what has happened in one's history, things often beyond one's control.   But, in our Church, our Mother, let there be a little compassion for those who have borne a good share of injustices, even some for which our "Mother" can share responsibility.  Mercy for those who needed and found a second opportunity for  partnership and mercy for those who qualify for an annulment and may or may not have remarried.

I find a grace of healing in this discussion as I read each entry of someone who is struggling to figure out the perplexing issues involved regarding the marriage covenant and/or failure of it, especially those who persist in asserting a merciful  (rather than legalistic) view.   May the merciful Jesus guide us all.

Forgive me for asking, but what value does all this back and forth and scoring points off one another offer to someone to someone going through a painful divorce?  What warmth does it give them?  Why should they care about of this?

A marriage should last forever. That should be a given. The problem with granting exceptions which I believe there should be, is that there is a slippery slope where people beging to get out of marriage for trivial or selfish reasons. Many European men have no problem with this because there is the ubiquitous mistress. And more European women have had affairs if truth be told. Just ask Erasmus. 

Even a cursory glance at the contemporary  scene impels one to realize that too many marriages are broken because of whims, selfishness and a sense that one "deserves" better. During the sixties a phrase began to circulate about the shortness of marriage. It was said that: "We live in an age of revocable commitment."  Which is really a contradiction in terms. It is not a commitment if it is revocable. 

The words of Jesus are important.  A commitment is a commitment. But He did say "except in the cse of adultery." So I would say that the person who is left for selfish reasons has a right to get married again. 

A clerical class out of touch with people has developed onerous rules because they felt/feel the sheep must be herded. But if they were in touch they would have worked out these things and helped people through them.

Augustine said that at the end God will sift the wheat from the chaff even inside the Church. So let people make their decisions in conscience. Bernard Haring used to advise that the way married people treat each others in every transaction fulfillls the bond of marriage. Not some contract which is a lifeless thing. 

So concern for others should motivate our help with those who are remarrying. Not referring to Canon law and misinterpreting the words of Jesus. Let the mercy of God prevail. If people treat one another well, pray togetherand sacrifice for each other, who are we to judge?


Sometime I have found that the things I used to think of sins really are not sins at all. And that the real sins involve my lack of care for the poor, etc. A lot of what the official church listed as "sexual sins" are found -- after due examination -- not to be sins at all.

It seems the discussion reflects the efforts of the community (this one and the larger ecclesial community) to come to grips with our corporate blind spots, to review ithe church's past definitions in order to foment more just ways of addressing pain such as yours .    People care about the points discussed here because they care about you and others caught in a painful, life-damaging situation.

You see here a deacon who has walked the journey with individuals in such pain as you are experiencing, and that is one instance of compassion in the church.   The contributors of these posts and the Cardinal representing the higher echelons of leadership are impllcitly demonstrating their care and compassion for persons like yourself.   This is all a part of finding our way, of being something of the community disciples of Jesus Christ should be.

As a divorcee of many years, my heart aches for you in the sorrow you are enduring, and I, for one, will keep you in prayer as you find your way.    May "Wisdom"  who seeks you in all solicitude meet you with divine graciousness in all the ways you are in need, Kevin.  

Katherine Nielsen (May 8) noted the difference in the way the church handles cases of priests who request release from their vows (although "marked" for life, they are permitted to marry and take communion) and the way the church treats laity who divorce and remarry.  Jim Pauwels and others also discussed pre-marriage preparation.  

The subject of vows was raised in an article called "I do" Undone by John Garvey in the Dec 9, 2013 issue of Commonweal.    My comment was later printed as a Letter to the Editor. Since the article and letters are "premium" content available only to subscribers, I will copy and paste part of what I wrote vis a vis the "permanent" vows of Holy Orders and those of marriage.

The author wrote:  I had a complicated conversation with a Catholic priest, a friend, who was considering leaving the priesthood to get married. (In the end he did not.) His argument was that the vows he had made as a younger man were not made by the person he had become. I pointed out that the same is true of anyone who has been married for a long time. It is true of anyone who says, in effect, “This is who I will try to be from now on,” or “This is what I claim to be, whatever else may change.”

My comment (later printed as a letter) in part:

The priest's comment about not being the same person that he was when he was ordained is very true, and is true of those who marry also.  These vows should not be broken lightly, but they should not be considered immutable under all circumstances either.  A priest who is miserable will not be an effective priest. Some marriages are so miserable that the couple should separate or divorce, especially if there are children who are impacted by the parents’ misery.

 In some ways, it is more understandable that marriage vows are broken than that the final vows of priests and religious are broken. 

Most couples who marry make the decision after a relatively short time of knowing one another (compared to those who take religious vows), from a few months to a few years. They usually marry within six months to a year of becoming engaged. They are given very little preparation for marriage, and none for the demands parenthood will bring - being 'open" to parenthood is a requirement for marrying in the church, which seems unconcerned about the suitability of the individuals to be good parents.  

Priests are in formation - immersed in it and removed from the "world" - for years, unlike individuals who marry, who are not removed from the world for years and immersed in marriage preparation.  Priests and religious take temporary vows, leading to final vows. Couples who intend to marry do not have these "trial" vow periods, nor does the church approve of cohabitation, which would provide a sort of “immersion” experience for couples before taking “final” marriage vows. 

Priests and religious who decide to leave the priesthood or religious life after final vows - even with years of preparation, immersion, discernment, and stages with temporary vows before making those final vows, are usually permitted to leave without being punished by the church through the withholding of sacraments as long as they follow correct procedure. Couples who decide to divorce are usually told they may not participate in the eucharist.  They may be offered the expensive and painful option of annulment, which many refuse to do because it forces them to deny that the marriage was ever "valid", which many see as a distortion of truth. They must also obtain the cooperation of a former spouse who may not wish to cooperate, and they must lay out their "dirty linen" to a tribunal of strangers who will “judge” them and the “validity” of their marriage. It is not surprising that so many divorced people choose not to seek annulments. 

In an ideal world, nobody would ever break religious or marriage vows. But we don’t live in such a world.

Thank you, Carol, but I'm really happily married and crazy in love with my wife.  I simply found myself shaking my head at the insularity of this two-day conversation, which seems to me so removed from real life--real life just as you describe it in your own situation.  The subject is so important and yet the tone of the back and forth suggests a church grudging in its kindness, one that cultivates in its member a habit of thinking first about what's in bounds and what's out than on simply "How do I help?"  Jesus must be scratching his head.

My best to you as well, Carol. And thank you again for your impulse to kindness.



Bill deH. --

I noted in my comment that where there is love in the marriage that the love of the spouses will no doubt continue, and no doubt it will be a special sort of, individual sort of love.  But I also remind you that Matthew seems to say that there won't be marriage in Heaven.  

So, yes, if you want to talk about heavenly marriage, then there needs to be some re-definition of "marriage", or, rather, "matrimony".  (Or does "marriage" also need to be re-defined? Either that or "adultery" needs re-definition.)  

Ann Olivier,

It's coming from an apologetics that seeks to defend the position rather than discern the truth. People start saying whatever answers the current objection without thinking about how this fits into the larger whole. I see this a lot in discussions about gays and lesbians getting married. Adoption, the foundation of the pro-life movement's policy for unwanted pregnancies, gets painted as a horrible crime against the child in order to avoid giving credit to those gay and lesbian couples who take in children in need of a home and raise them as their own.

“So here's a solution: don't bother getting married until you are really, really sure, maybe when you are 35 or 40, that way, when you do get married everyone will be so grateful that you are no longer living in sin they will totally forget that you didn't get married earlier.”  

be·troth·al     : the act of promising to marry someone

                       : an agreement that two people will be married in the future


Re:  abolition of annulments:

In their 2002 book, “Catholic Divorce:  The Deception of Annulments”, Joseph Martos and Pierre Hegy state:

“Because the grounds for annulment have become so broad that practically anyone who applies for one can obtain it, many observers now regard annulments as ‘virtual divorces.’  After all, the same grounds for divorce in a civil court have ‘become grounds for the nonexistence of marriage in an ecclesiastical court.’  (Page 23)  To add to the deceit, many couples who receive annulments do so believing that their marriage was, in fact, sacramentally valid – that the marital bond did exist but that, over time, it began to break down.  These couples, understandably, choose not to disclose this part of the story to marriage tribunals so that they can qualify for an annulment.”

In other words it has become the Catholic game of “nudge-nudge, wink-wink.”  (Monty Python fans will recognize that term.)


Ann & Ryan - sorry, only stating one of the theologies - it is not my theology nor would I write an disertation on it.  Agree with Kevin McDermott's feelings.

Covenant emerged as a theological explanation for the sacrament and Vatican II continued and reframed it.  Covenant has an ancient history, meaning, pedigree but find that when language such as covenant is used because marriage is like the bond between Christ and Church - we start to have problems with lived human experience.....the same approach is used too often to explain the sacrament of orders (remember some of the stuff you read during the Year of the Priest)...the whole bridegroom of the church stuff (can't say the real word).  this sacrament is also explained as a covenant and borrows the same type of theological explanation connected to the Thomistic philosophy which explains it using categores such as ontology.  You do realize that these explanations are borrowed from philosophy (not scripture); that they are time limited in terms of meaning, etc.  Would suggest that it is time to move past the Thomistic categories which hold us back from reframing a living, sacramental experience.

Same with the OT understanding of *covenant* - it spoke about God's love for humankind and his everlasting commitment - and acknowledged that humans are on a journey and broke the covenant over and over.  (thus, perfect in one direction; imperfect in the other direction which doesn't mean that we don't try to commit - see Rita Ferrone's analysis above; she says it better)


Thanks, Jim McCrea - didn't have time to make that link or copy/paste from Martos.

I do not doubt for one moment that people entering the priesthood, religious life or marriages have the goal of their covenant being forever.

Reality has a way of taking the bloom off of the rose.  Many priests are released from their vows of obedience and celibacy.  Many religious are release from whatever vows they make when the make their professions.  The decisions about these releases seem to be made, either as first recommendation or final approval, by male clerics.

Married laity evidently are not releasable from their covenants that were witnessed by male clerics.  Oh, they can play the annulment game (and these process might even be valid in many cases), but to do so requires a belief that their marriage covenant wasn’t valid to begin with.  In other words, it isn’t a question of d-i-v-o-r-c-e because it wasn’t a marriage.

What is wrong with this picture?

Jim - the priest being laicized is not as clean as you think or make it out to be.  JPII stopped all priest leaving requests for almost 15 years until a core group of bishops convinced him that it was only harming their families, spouses, children.

In some, if not most, cases, the priest has to provide grounds for why he is leaving - these are usually around statements that he did not understand the lifelong vow; he was not psycholoically capable of a lifelong vow; he was immature, etc.  Not exactly what most wanted to say - but to achieve a clean leaving, many just went along with some psych grounds.  No different that the degree of nullity in annulments - and, yes, the same game playing can happen.

My question - why force or put folks in that situation to begin with?  Even fully mature and solid folks make mistakes - as those of us in the behavioral field are wont to say - what is normal?

I guess Carlo's argument falls if marriage is not a sacrament. The hierarchy did not finalize the number as seven until the 12th century with the councils of Lyons and Florence. In fact at this time we start hearing about infallibility for the first time. Now we know the pope is not infallible, Carlo. Then marriage falls also. Correct? But then again, how can we think straight without Canon Law?

Somebody, on this thread or the previous one about Cardinal Kaspar, maybe Barbara, raised a point about the Millennials and their views on marriage. Frankly, I think how the Church catechizes children about marriage is probably more important point than anything the Church does about marriage-after-divorce, annulments, or marriage prep.

How do kids under 18, for whom divorce is a common part of the landscape--probably in their immediate or extended families, certainly in those of their closest friends--make sense of what the Church teaches about marriage when more than half the marriages they see run counter to the Church's ideal? For children of divorced parents, Church teaching must raise a lot of questions and some emotional tensions.

At some point, the kids must realize that their parents are sinners for whom the sacraments are beyond the pale. This may be hard to take if the child is of an age to understand that the reasons for their parents' divorce were complex and, in some cases, happened in order to protect them from abuse or neglect. These kids are going to question Church teaching, and, without some loving guidance from the parish, feel that they have to choose between their parents and the Church.

I find this discussion interesting because new views are proposed on marriage, things I had not thought of before and that might help reconcile the supposed indissolubility of marriage and reality of marriage, divorce, and second marriages.

I got an annulment some years ago. I was clear to me that I was no longer married, and I had only two choices: either go through the annulment process and get my official status in the church aligned with my current personal reality, but at the cost of putting a question mark on my past (what did I live in for many years if not a marriage?), or keep my official status in the church disconnected from my current personal reality, while preserving the notion that I had lived in an (imperfect) marriage. I filed, pointing out the defects of my past marriage, and left it to fate (i.e. to the anonymous tribunal) to decide the outcome, unsure what I wanted it to be, and hoping that there would be some truth in the decision. 

When the result came out and the annulment was granted, my children and ex-husband (or rather, ex-something-that-is-not-a-husband) were all quite upset. I was surprised that a mere piece of paper from an unrecognized authority (for them) would affect them so much.

The tribunal was careful to specify that the annulment did not make my children illegitimate, but did not explain why not. It was still good, though, because my children were worried about it, so I could reassure them even if I could not explain it - I could say I knew it from church authority. Funny how an authority that is not respected and routinely criticized still has power over the very people who sometimes speak of it with great contempt!

In retrospect I am very glad that the annulment was granted. I could not imagine hanging on for years and years to a past that is past, like the parents of a dead child who keep his bedroom as it was when he was alive and who organize their lives around the memory of the past. (That's basically the view of the world that the church institution proposes to divorces whose marriage was not annulled, right?)

What I have learned is great skepticism about sacramental marriage, so this thread is interesting because it is trying to propose other ways to think about it. I appreciate it.

I remember the day I received the annulment. I went outside, and suddenly every man walking on the street looked extremely attractive. Humanity had all at once become brighter, as if the sun had come out from behind the clouds!

 So much for making light of the church institution...


The difference between Orthodox and Catholic marriages is that in Catholic marriages the two people marry each other and the Church witnesses it. In the Orthodox church the church literally marries the two people. That is why in Orthodox marriages there is no exchange of vows.

That accounts for the different practices and why the Orthodox is, or should be, more involved in divorce.

As for the Catholic church, the best criteria for annulment should be the couple. If they are able to arrive at a consensual understanding that one or both was not really prepared for sacramental marriage, that should rectify it.

The problem is that oftentimes one part of the couple feels that it was a marriage and that it is not fair that the person should be free to marriage. It is unjust. They feel hurt and betrayed.

This is why divorce and remarriage is messy, painful and screams for a pastoral and not canonical solution as so many have said.

Cardinal Kasper and Pope Francis are accurately grasping the real issue.

Nobody likes divorce and few people go in thinking that they will not be together forever. Life happens and people change. Divorce is not a good thing and obviously it would be better if there were fewer divorces. This is not to judge, malign, or find fault with people who discern that their marriage no longer functions. It is just that as a faith community, we need to respond with compassion and support.

And certainly, underscore what marriage is in a Christian context for those entering into marriage in a Catholic church. Grooms, brides, groomsman, and bridesmaids coming in to their wedding day hungover from the rehearsal party the night before does not quite bode well for a happy future!


@George D: 

Cardinal Kasper and Pope Francis are accurately grasping the real issue.

And it seems Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople fully agrees. Commenting on the Roman Church's upcoming synods, he said: 

"What is most significant is that Pope Francis is squarely facing the realities of Christ's flock, and in imitation of Jesus the good shepherd, leading the flock with compassion and grace."

From this CNS interview:


And certainly, underscore what marriage is in a Christian context for those entering into marriage in a Catholic church. Grooms, brides, groomsman, and bridesmaids coming in to their wedding day hungover from the rehearsal party the night before does not quite bode well for a happy future!

But if children were properly catechized about the true nature of a sacramental marriage, would they be coming in hung over before such a solemn but joyful event? Something is not working earlier on in the lives of children and their families. Pre-Cana prep is not going to fix this. Meaning no disrepect to those who do pre-Cana.

Anglicans require some kind of examination prior to remarriage after a divorce, which can only, as I understand it, happen once and is conducted by the pastor marrying them. Marriage is, however, considered a "minor sacrament," as opposed to a "major sacrament" like baptism, a distinction I never quite grasped. 

Jean,  I am not an expert on this, but have tried to learn a bit since I have been spending my Sundays in Episcopal pews for several years now.

The language used for sacraments within the Anglican communion varies somewhat. All accept the seven sacraments, but most consider only baptism and the eucharist as having been instituted directly by Christ - they are called the Sacraments of the Gospel.  Some refer to the other five sacraments as either sacraments or as sacramental rites.  The Sacraments of the Gospel are necessary for all, but the others are optional.

True story; names changed: Rick left his wife  Irene when he learned that she was pregnant.    Irene obtained an uncontested divorce.  Later  Irene arranged that little Janie  visit with Rtck and his parents on a regular basis . When Janie was six Irene married Joe, a man of strong character.  A t ten years of age Janie told me: "Dad Rick is a pal but Dad Joe is my real dad."  


 "Dad Rick is a pal but Dad Joe is my real dad."  

Out the mouths of babes and infants. You have established a bulwark against your foes, to silence enemy and avenger.







Anne, I was an Episcopalian for 20 years, and the way I finally came to understand it--and this is more a practical than a theological explanation--baptism and receiving the eucharist are those with which we cannot live as full members of the Body of Christ. The others are  situational (confession, annointing of the sick, and confirmation) and used to bring someone closer to God in certain circumstances, or vocational (marriage, ordination). 

You can't go around calling yourself an Episcopal priest without being ordained. You also can't present yourself to an Episcopal congregation as married without a valid and legal marriage, and once your marriage is recognized, you cannot be married in the Church without grounds for the invalidating the original marriage. If I understand it correctly, the original marriage is not necessarily "annulled," as if there never was any marriage, but is dissolved because there is no longer any true marriage there.

Here's an example. I doubt it presents a way forward for Roman Catholics, but it makes sense to me:

An Episcopalian  friend's husband abandoned his family to live with his pregnant girlfriend. She divorced him in order to force him to pay her child support. The kids were teenagers, and she lived an upright and chaste life maintaining a stable home for her children. She occasionally kept company with a single gentleman friend.

At age 50, she and her friend decided to marry. He wanted to marry in the church, so they consulted with the parish priest, and there was a period of counseling, reflection, and some investigation by the priest, who discussed the woman's situation with her former priest and with her ex-husband. In short, the process of nullifying the marriage to the satisfaction of the church was left to the priest, who would marry and pastor the couple. 

There was no question that her children would be "illegitmate" because my friend was considered legally married at the time to her previous husband, but his subsequent infidelities and reluctance to pay child support, his refusal to play any significant role in his children's lives or consider reconciliation, had dissolved the marriage.

My friend and her new husband could, of course, have simply gone to a JoP for a civil marriage, and their Episcopal priest would have allowed them to take communion. However, if he/she was doing her job right, there would have been urging to have the marriage blessed and the same investigative process undertaken before that ceremony.


Of course, it seems to me the "hard liners" can ask, "What is a mere lifetime of pain and anguish and lonliness on earth when the compensation for doing the right thing here—although it may be agonizingly difficult—is eternal bliss?" (And the penalty for doing the wrong thing is eternal torment.) How do you deny that 80 or 90 years of sheer misery is a small price to pay for eternal happiness? 


you then require the other spouse to just *exist*.

I doubt that single or divorced people consider their life a forced existence.  Maybe they dont like the circumstances, things are not going the way they planned, etc, but to characterize their lives as 'just *exist*' raises the married state to the ultimate way a life should be lived.  That is certainly not anything I recall in the Bible or the Catechism.

don't bother getting married until you are really, really sure, maybe when you are 35 or 40,

Ok, so lets just ignore the biological fact that women are much less fertile at this age.  Or that children raised by non-married couples have much worse life outcomes.  But hey, its all about the 2 adults, no one else.

I don't see any universal way out that would be just to all concerned.  Consider the matter of the children involved. They have a right to be raised by their own parents, don't they? Shouldn't they have their own lawyers in divorce proceedings to be sure that their interests are considered equally?  On the other hand, insisting that two people who loathe each other stay together for the children's sake also does't seem a practical solutiont.

So discouragement, if not prevention, of marriage for those not mature enough would seem the best solution.  Ideally there would be no marriages between de facto adolesceents regardless of their chronological ages.  But how to measure maturity? Could "trial marriages" solve that problem?  Or co-habitation? I'm quite sure that many who co-habitate do so becaause their parents were divorced and they don't want to marry an inappropriate partner by mistake.  (I knew one co-habitating person like that very well.)   But as I see it, co-habitation works out in some cases, but mostly it causes heart-ache and wasted fertile years for the young women who are indeed ready to marry.  And, of course, there will be guys who would take advantage of such a system -- enter into the relationships without any real sense of any sort of committment.

David,  I was once a person who was prepared to live "80 or 90 years of misery" in a moribund relationship, assuming that was what God required of me.   If nothing else, there would be stability and financial security.    Thankfully, in deep and continual prayer, I was confronted with a God who was not as willing to settle for the moribundity and emotional abuse, the inauthenticity of it, as readily as I was.   

Very important here in this thread that folks have cited the passage where Jesus tells us "the sabbath was made for humankind,  not humankind for the sabbath".      And in the OT: "Deep within I will implant my law, I will write it in their hearts...".     "I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart...."

Even while we revere and cherish the commandments and laws of God and our church, we also live in and listen to the Holy Spirit alive in our hearts.   One can "hear" some surprising things.  One  of them might be that God takes no joy in meaningless, life-negating  misery but may have another way of a child of God to flourish.    Although that is a crude condensation of decades of trying to fathom the divine munificence.

Ann, in some states, divorcing parents are required to go through a program that outlines the deleterious effects divorce has on children. Some divorce judges have also ordered parents to provide for a single domicile for the children, with parents required to do the shuffling back and forth for custodial periods until the youngest child is 18.  Regardless of the Church's teaching on marriage, I think these arrangements at least give the kids a better chance at a stable life and could reduce social problems resulting from blighted childhoods further down the road.

Not surprisingly, my views about cohabitation at 20 are far different than they are not at 60. At 20, I believed an invitation to cohabit was a step toward permanence and commitment. At 60, I believe it is a way for men to get free sex and maid service ... or for some women to trade sex for temporary material benefits. Of course, people can get married for the same reasons. But at least they get a 50/50 split if it doesn't work. In cohabitation, women are usually the ones who lose any "sweat equity" the put into the common household. 

Whatever the orginal saying of Jesus was in the sayings source Q, when it got into Matthew 5:48 it was recorded as, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perect."  In Luke 6:36 the author recorded it as."Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful."  Both are part of the scriptural tradition, so take your pick.  I think I know which version Pope Francis has chosen.

"I don't see any universal way out that would be just to all concerned."

There often isn't any way -  the death of a relationship is inherently tragic and that's probably as it should be if the relationship was once meaningful. The church can't make everything ok in these situation by trying to force people who aren't in love to stay together. Life is messy and there isn't always a way to live it painlessly, said me who was divorced by a husband who dumped me for someone else. 

Jean @ 3:45 has made some really important observations about cohabitation. It made me recall a secretary I once had who was the mother of four children, unmarried. We were talking one day and I asked if she was divorced. No, she said, unmarried. And, with a cold eye, she followed up with a statement I never forgot: "My mistake. You can't get them to pay for ANYTHING."

But apparently more children are now born to unmarried people under 30 than to married people ...

Fathers are still legally responsible for their children even if they're unmarried ...

Think of the many people with children who atr unmarried but still responsible and good parents  ... Brad Pitt for instance  :)

"My mistake. You can't get them to pay for ANYTHING."

I have heard a similar tale from a friend whose partner left her. She told me she wished that she had gotten married and then divorced so that he would pay child support. She said women's rights were protected much better within the frame of marriage.

I also know that it is on the minds of many parents when their daughter gets married: they push for marriage, not necessarily out of conviction that the man is the right one, but also because, if he is not and they have children, when they break up  things will be better, relatively speaking, if they first get married. That's what marriage is good for: divorce.

Bill DeH:  yes, that is true.  However, a priest CAN be laicized and then marry.  A married lay person, in the eyes of the church, cannot be divorced, only have their non-marriages annulled.

What is wrong with this picture?  Did the priest have to attest that he really hadn't been a priest?

So marraige is really all about planning for your financial security after divorce?  Yikes!

Re: Rights of unmarried people to property

It seems that this is more of an American legal issue. In Canada, and in most other commonwealth countries, the tradition of "common-law" applies. That means that if two people have been living together for one year as husband and wife, they are considered married by the common law. Even if not married by a justice of the peace or clergy, the status of the relationship, as far as the law is concerned is "common-law" spouse. 

As for the impact of children, there is no way to sugar-coat it. As a friend told me, his greatest regret in divorce was wrecking his children's family. He said that although we all say it is better for kids, etc, that really is b.s that we collectively throw out for public consumption. In most instances, it isn't. However children are resilient.

By almost every single measure of well being, children fare better in a home with a stable mother and father. That this is not always present is certainly true, and that people have all kinds of reasons for divorce that are not for anyone else to judge is also true, but so is the findings around conditions for childhood flourishing.

Oh, and if we want a measure of how well we are doing as a country, consider that two of the top five pharmaceuticals sold in the developed Western world are anti-depressants and anti-anxieties.