In general, Catholics experience a slightly lower than average divorce rate compared with the general population of married people. CARA’s 2007 research found that 23 percent of adult Catholics have been divorced, with about half of them having remarried at some point.

This projects to approximately 4.5 million U.S. Catholics who are divorced and remarried, with the vast majority of them not having sought an annulment for their prior marriages, since CARA reports that 85 percent of divorced and remarried Catholics have not sought an annulment.

Catholics who have remarried after a marriage that has not been annulled, or who have married someone who has a prior marriage that has not been annulled, are banned from participating in the eucharist. All Catholics in invalid marriages, formally speaking, are not eligible to receive communion. But it's the ban on divorced and remarried Catholics from communion that's publicized and discussed much more widely—including in this 1994 pronouncement from the Vatican.

This is third of four of explainers in our reading list about Catholic marriage today.

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Thomas Baker is the publisher of Commonweal

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