QUESTION: My parents have been divorced for many years. My mother has remarried, but my father has not (nor does he intend to). However, he has not received Communion since the divorce many years ago. He says because he is divorced the Catholic Church will not permit him to receive Communion. What is behind all of this?
QUESTION: What is the simple distinction between a divorce and an annulment?
ANSWER: In Luke’s Gospel we find these words: “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery. The man who marries a woman divorced from her husband likewise commits adultery” (Luke 16:18, see also Matthew 5:32 and 19:9).
Based upon these passages and the tradition handing them on, the Catholic Church has held that Catholics who have divorced and remarried should not receive the Eucharist.
It is important to note, however, that we are speaking specifically of those who are divorced and remarried. The mere fact of obtaining a civil divorce should not prevent a Catholic from receiving the Eucharist or playing an active part in the life of his or her parish. Unfortunately, however, some have not clearly understood this and have been told or felt that obtaining a divorce excluded them from the church’s sacraments. This is not the case. Divorce for some is a legal necessity to clarify financial affairs after two people have separated. In the eyes of the church, they remain married even after a civil divorce is granted.
The multiplication of divorces among Catholics only increases the need for the church to provide pastoral care for such people. That pastoral care should be extended to all those who are separated, divorced or remarried.
Fundamental to that care and concern is an attitude that acknowledges the tremendous complexity involved in marital breakdown. Those who have experienced it firsthand know of its pain. Their need from the church is for support. This is especially true as they continue to fulfill their obligations to any children born of their marriage.
The distinction between a divorce and an annulment is important. A divorce is a civil decree that a marriage, once contracted, is now ended. An annulment is a church decree declaring that a sacramental marriage thought to have existed, in fact, never did. A judgment regarding an annulment is based upon various factors. For example, the knowledge and freedom of each of the parties, their intention at the time of the marriage and their capacity to bring about what they intended. Divorce declares an existing marriage ended, an annulment declares that a sacramental marriage never really existed.
The rationale for the church’s annulment procedure is a search for justice. Its purpose is not to assign blame or declare a winner or loser. Each person is entitled to enter a marriage that is recognized as such in the eyes of God and the church. A valid marriage is one in which certain prerequisites are present. When these essential factors are absent or severely diminished, the marriage may be annulled and judged not to have existed from the beginning.
Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.