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Divorce And Catholicism Essay, Research Paper

Page 1

Theology 2100

Final Paper

Divorce and Catholicism

It’s hard to believe that there are over six million divorced Catholics in the United

States alone. Recent statistics show that one out of two marriages now end in divorce.

The national average is a failure rate of about one out of two marriages. Most Catholics

are taught that marriage is sacred and that it means “forever”. It means that you give up

your single life and prepare to be with one man or woman for the rest of your life. But

today, with divorce at an all time high, this is not always reality. Marriage is effected by

consent. A couple knowingly says “yes” to everything that a marriage involves. The

“yes” is the real issue.

Divorce is the termination of a marriage in civil law by court decree or

judgment. The Church denies that civil divorce can break the bond of a valid marriage,

whether the marriage involves two Catholics, one Catholic and a non-catholic, or non-

Catholics with each other. It feels that the termination of a marriage, in most

circumstances, is impossible because it is against the dominical command found in

Matthew 19:6 and Mark 10:9, …“what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

This teaching does not say that the faithful cannot get a civil divorce or live apart from a

spouse, especially if staying married would bring harm to either one of them, or their


The church is to provide justice for anyone whose marriage has failed, but, they

can only do this when it can be proven that from the very beginning, the marriage was

missing an important part for a true sacramental bond. Sacramental marriage is still a

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central Catholic teaching and Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II strongly believe that a

sacramental marriage bond is lifelong and cannot be broken by civil or Church authority.

The Church does not look for someone to blame for marriage breakup. They only

look to find out why the marriage failed and whether either or both people in the

relationship lacked the proper consent or the ability to carry out consent. It also does not

affect the legitimacy of any children born during the marriage.

According to the Rev. Michael Dogali’s article, Is Marriage Still Permanent?,

“church law affirms the personal relationship, the intimate partnership between the

spouses, as a crucial and basic dimension of marriage”… “marriage is a union of persons,

not simply a union of bodies. The purpose of marriage is to give life, but equally, to

share it.”

We can see that the Church opposes divorce and, at times, may not even

recognize it. The word “divorce” is seen eleven times in eleven verses of the bible.

For example, in Leviticus 21:14, it is said, “A widow, or a divorced woman, or

profane, or a harlot, these shall he not take: but he shall take a virgin of his own people to

wife.” This said that a man who was going to serve God as a priest in the Tabernacle

could not marry a divorced woman.

Other places where the word “divorce” shows up is in Leviticus 22:13, Numbers

30:9, in the Mosaic law seen in Deuteronomy 24:1-4, in Isaiah 50:1, and Jeremiah 3:8.

The New Testament has the last four, including Matthew 5:31-32, Matthew 19:7, where

Pharisees tempts Jesus Christ with the question, “Why did Moses then command to give

a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?”, and finally, the word “divorce” is found

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in Mark 10:4.

It is important to mention that the bible often uses another phrase for the word

divorce, which is “put away”. This phrase is defined in Genesis 35:2 where Jacob tells

his children to “put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change

your garments.” Therefore, it means to “get rid of something”. The words “put away”

occur in Leviticus 21:7, Ezra 10:3, 19, Isaiah 50:1, Jeremiah 3:1, Ezek. 44:22, Hos. 2:2,

Matthew 5:31-32, 19:3, 8-9, Mark 10:2, 11-12, Luke 16:18, and 1 Cor. 7:11.

It was never God’s intention that a husband and wife divorce (Matthew 19:7),

but, God made provision for problems when they came about that might be “out of

the norm”. He said that divorce should be occasional and not habitual or routine.

Malachi 2:16 states, “the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting

away”. In other words, God hates divorce. But, the truth is that God does not hate

divorced people. Also, divorce is not always the wrong thing to do. What if, especially

in today’s society, a marriage involves strong emotional and/or physical abuse? Should a

person stay in that marriage because it is against God’s will to have a divorce? Should

that person keep themselves and their children in a situation where they can be harmed

because the bible tells them to do it? Well, fortunately for these such people, there are, in

fact, biblical grounds for divorce. Thankfully, it is recognized that there are times when

divorce is inevitable and unavoidable.

“And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for

fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery, and whoso marrieth her which

is put away doth commit adultery”. This passage is from Matthew 19:9. It gave grounds

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for divorce. The first Biblical ground for divorce is “fornication”, which is considered to

be sexual relations before a person marries. Both single people and married people are

capable of committing the sin of fornication and this is grounds for divorce.

The second Biblical ground for divorce is in 1 Corinthians 7. Here, Paul

addresses questions from the Corinthians dealing with marital duties and obligations. In

his advice concerning marriage he said, “…I say therefore to the unmarried and widows,

It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for

it is better to marry than to burn. And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the

Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain

unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.”

What Paul is trying to say is that a person is better off single because they are able to

focus on bringing glory to God. A person with a family has obligations to them. Also,

the wife’s duty is to remain with her husband and she is never to leave him. If she does,

it is grounds for divorce. God went on to say that the person who leaves must “stay

unmarried or be reconciled.” Today, we consider this grounds for divorce whether it is

the husband or the wife that leaves. We do not say it is okay for the man to leave if he

desires, but when it comes to the woman, force her to stay or face being defiled by God.

Another ground for divorce is desertion. What should a person do if their spouse

leaves them? Two Christians are not supposed to separate, they are supposed to stay true

to their vows. Of course, God, who is believed to know the beginning to the end, was

aware that Christians would divorce. And, in the case that a person was left by their

spouse, that person “is not under bondage” and God’s counsel is to let them go.

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Although I have explained three Biblical grounds for divorce, there is really only

one, and that is “fornication”. This is because fornication takes place before marriage.

As for the other two grounds, where one spouse leaves or the opposite, desertion, they are

not truly acceptable in the sight of God. A Christian woman is never to leave her

husband (1 Cor. 7:10) and a Christian husband is never to put away his wife (1 Cor.

7:11). Also, if your spouse divorces you, then you are no longer under bondage. So, the

way the Bible sees desertion is in the case that your spouse leaves and divorces you. If

they just leave, without divorcing you, you cannot divorce them without it being a sin.

But, before all of this, you must realize that God does not expect two Christians to

divorce because you are considered married for life.

Finally, in Romans 7, the Holy Spirit reminds us that a divorce without proper

grounds is considered adultery, which is clearly a sin against God.

As for single people, if a person has legitimate grounds for divorce, God then

considers them single. I mentioned before, the Corinthians letter to Paul regarding the

obligations and duties of marriage. One of his answers to their questions stated that it is

better for a person to be single because they can focus on bringing glory to God without

having obligations to a family. Verses 25-28 of the Corinthians are words of wisdom to

singles. The Holy Spirit also repeats that it is good to be single. This does not mean to

get a divorce if you are married, but, it does mean that if you are single, stay that way.

I noticed that many of the passages regarding divorce often mention women.

However, I am bothered at the ‘separate’ set of rules they are given from the men. In

Romans 7:2, God says, “For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to

Page 6

her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead she is loosened from the law

of her husband.” According to Pastor Stan Vespie’s article, Marriage, Divorce, and

Remarriage, the reason the Lord used the female as an example is because, under the law,

she could not free herself from her husband, no matter what he did. Under the Mosaic

Law, the woman did not have any grounds for divorce and a man could divorce his wife

for almost any reason at all. A woman’s only way out of a marriage was by death of her

spouse. In fact, if she were to disobey God by deserting him, and then remarry later on,

she was considered an adulteress. I understand that this was all written during a different

time and meant for a different audience. But I am still bothered knowing that a woman

could have been stuck in an abusive marriage and she would not have been able to do

anything about it, while men could divorce women simply because she displeased him.

For those who are divorced, it does not mean that you have become a second class

citizen or that God hates you. But, it is thought that a true Bible-believing Christian does

not advocate, advance, encourage, promote, or champion divorce. Love is a decision and

not an emotion. It is giving, not taking. If your marriage is in trouble, then according to

the Bible, you should first find help. We live in a society who often “bails out” when it

comes to marriage. The Bible feels that divorces should be rare and to not become a

habit. God does not want people’s attitudes towards marriage to relate to the common

saying, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” It is funny that when a person has a

toothache, they go to the doctor for help, but when a person has a problem in their

marriage, they rarely go to a counselor or priest for help. Instead, they often resort to


Page 7

At this time, Church leaders are concerned about improving both marriage

preparation and marriage support to help lessen the frequency of divorce. Also, the

pastoral leaders of the Church, especially Pope John Paul II, have stressed the Church’s

obligation to relate in an understanding way to those who have suffered from divorce.

Finally, even though the Bible provides grounds for divorce, it does not mean that

you should divorce.


Theology 2100

Bibliography Page

1. Reader’s Digest Family Guide to the Bible. NY: The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., 1984.

2. Murphey, Cecil B. Dictionary of Biblical Literacy. Tenn.: Oliver-Nelson Books, 1989.

3. Achtemeier, Paul J. HarperCollins Bible Dictionary. NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996.

4. Bowker, John. The Complete Bible Handbook. NY: DK Publishing, Inc., 1998.

5. Backman, Milton V. Christian Churches of America, Origins and Beliefs. NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1983.

6. Catechism of the Catholic Church. Liguori, MO: Liguori Publications, 1994.

7. Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholic Almanac. Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 1999.

8. Vespie, Pastor Stan. Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage. Wartburg, TN: 1995

9. Dogali, Rev. Michael. Is Marriage Still Permanent? ….www.spirituality.org

10. Durkin, Mary G. and James Hitchcock. Divorce. Chicago: Thomas More Press, 1979.

11. Bockle, Franz. The Future of Marriage as Institution. NY: Herder and Herder, 1970.


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