Questions on marriage in the church

Friday, May 12, 2017 - Updated: 8:00 am

QUESTION: My mother has been divorced from my father for several years. He has remarried but she has not, and has no intention of doing so. However, she has not received Communion since the divorce years ago. She says that because she is divorced the Catholic Church will not permit her to receive Communion. Is this true?

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).

It is important to note that the focus of the above passages speaks clearly of remarriage after divorce. The simple fact of obtaining a civil divorce neither excommunicates nor prevents a Catholic from receiving the Eucharist or playing a 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.

The number of divorces among Catholics has certainly increased the need for the church to provide pastoral care for people experiencing divorce. That pastoral care should be extended to all those who are separated, divorced and remarried.

Fundamental to that care and concern is an attitude that avoids judgment. Almost all of us are aware of the tremendous complexity of married life and marital breakdown. Those who have experienced it firsthand know of its pain and the multiple challenges that must be faced. What seems most needed from the church is understanding and support. This is especially true as they continue to fulfill their obligations to any children born of their marriage.

QUESTION: I have heard people talk as if an annulment is a “Catholic divorce.” They assume they are really the same thing. What is the difference?

ANSWER: 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 required 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 true sacramental marriage never really existed.

The rationale for the church’s annulment procedure is rooted in a person’s right to truth and justice. The purpose of an annulment 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. These involve such things as a knowledge of the purpose of marriage and the intention and ability to fulfill it. When these basic factors are absent or severely diminished, a true sacramental marriage never existed from the beginning. In such a case, if that marriage was not a sacrament, then each party is entitled to enter one that is.

Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.

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