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Divorce And Catholicism Essay, Research 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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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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