Catholic Answers asked for Clarity on Divorce
- Posted by Mary's Advocates
- On October 21, 2018
November 19, 2018 – print letter mailed
October 21, 2018 – Blog
Dear Jimmy Akin and Trent Horn
cc: Leila Miller,
I’ve read the section about divorce in Leila Miller and Trent Horn’s book “Made This Way, How to Prepare Kids to Face Today’s Tough Moral Issues.” Thank you so much for the strong words against divorce.
Jimmy and Trent, would you please add clarity for Catholic Answers team about divorce, civil divorce, and the Catechism and Canon Law. Jimmy’s profile on Catholic Answers shows “extensive background in the Bible, theology, the Church Fathers, philosophy, canon law, and liturgy.” Trent’s profile shows the he’s a staff apologist too and “has a master’s degree in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville, and master’s degree in philosophy from Holy Apostles College.”
In “Made This Way” on page 72, is states, “a civil divorce may be tolerated if it is the only possible way of ensuring certain legal rights and protections for victimized spouses and children, but not if one approaches a civil court in an attempt to break the marriage contract which is always immoral.” On page 73, it states, “what a civilly divorced person cannot do is marry another person while the first spouse is still alive. Neither civil divorce nor abandonment affects the permanence of the marriage bond which St. Paul makes clear in Roman 7:2-3.”
The Catechism does not leave as a stand-alone-basis for the toleration of the divorce the purpose in the mind of the person filing for divorce (who thinks he or she is ensuring certain legal rights and protections for victimized spouses). If we were to survey all the spouses who file for divorce, I bet they would all say they have a right to their divorce and need what the divorce court offers.
In the exact same paragraph in which the Catechism says that divorce is tolerated sometimes, it footnotes the canon law on grounds for separation (CIC c. 1151-1155) which also includes the necessity of restoring conjugal living unless the bishop has granted permission to remain separated.
CCC. 2383 The separation of spouses while maintaining the marriage bond can be legitimate in certain cases provided for by canon law (note 176). If civil divorce remains the only possible way of ensuring certain legal rights, the care of the children, or the protection of inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral offense.
Note 176: Cf. CIC, canons 1151-1155.
Can. 1153 §1. If either of the spouses causes grave mental or physical danger to the other spouse or to the offspring or otherwise renders common life too difficult, that spouse gives the other a legitimate cause for leaving, either by decree of the local ordinary or even on his or her own authority if there is danger in delay.
§2. In all cases, when the cause for the separation ceases, conjugal living must be restored unless ecclesiastical authority has established otherwise.
It is misguided for the faithful to consider the grounds for separation in the Code of Canon Law’s book on “Functions of the Church” without simultaneously considering the corollary procedural requirements (canon 1692-1696) in the book of “Processes.” The statement in the Catholic Answers’ book “Made This Way,” gives readers the impression that the deciding factor of whether, or not, divorce is tolerated is the motive of the individual who files for civil divorce. For example, readers would conclude that if a person thinks he is divorcing to protect the rights he perceives that he has, or if he doesn’t consider himself to be breaking the marriage “contract,” then his divorce is tolerated.
However, the private judgement of one (or even both parties) who are divorcing is not the deciding factor on whether divorce is tolerated according to the Catechism and Canon Law. Canon law for the entire world shows that divorce is only tolerated after the bishop of the diocese has given permission to file for civil divorce. Only if the bishops have made a particular law waiving this requirement is one relieved of the requirement. Furthermore, in the United States, according to the particular law in effect today, anyone who petitions for divorce without first obtaining the bishop’s permission is incurring grave guilt and is to be punished by the judgement of the bishop.
These canon laws are based on the fact that the Church–not the government–has competence over cases of separation of s
pouses. Moreover, marriage is not a private institution, and because separation of spouses effects the public good, no spouse or couple has competence to judge his/her/their own case of separation of spouses. Cases of separation of spouses, like cases of nullity of marriage, are status of spouses cases. Just like a Catholic on his own authority, even with counsel from a priest in a confessional, is not supposed to decide on his own little internal forum that he is relieved of all obligations as spouse and is free to marry another person, SO ALSO a Catholic is not supposed to, on his own authority (even with the consultation of a priest) decide that he is free to file for civil divorce. The other spouse has a right to be heard by the ecclesiastical judge before the other files for divorce. The diocesan promoter of justice, who is responsible for the assurance of justice in cases involving the public good, has the obligation to be heard by the ecclesiastic judge before anyone files for divorce. These protections are in place to ensure the preventing of scandal, among other things.
We all know that these canon laws have been very underutilized in United States for our entire lifetime, and Mary’s Advocates is educating the faithful about them.
Would you look at a compilation of research findings concluding that there is a requirement for Catholics to approach the Bishop (or his mandated delegate) prior to initiating a civil divorce? (Collection of Sources on Separation and Divorce for USCCB page 4-16 Canonical Tradition, and Authors Publicizing Obligations here).
Let me know if you agree with my conclusion. If you do, will you please educate the Catholic Answers team about these obligations for all who had a Catholic Marriage ceremony.
Mary’s Advocates shows the party who wants to keep the family together how to petition the bishop asking for the implementation of the canon law on separation of spouses in an effort to stop a break up, prevent scandal, and try to ensure a just outcome for an abandoned spouse during separation.
The collection of sources I’m asking you to review was just sent to Bishop Cordileone. Recently, I contacted the USCCB committee on religious liberty asking them to include unilateral no-fault divorce on their list of issues. It is arguably unconstitutional for the states to essentially rewrite the marriage agreements of those who participated in Catholic wedding ceremonies. The states do this when courts force on a defendant a unilateral no-fault divorce. You can read about my correspondence with the USCCB’s committee on religious liberty and Archbishop Cordileone of the USCCB canon law committee, here. 2nd Plea – USCCB Defend against No-Fault Divorce.
When the Catechism says divorce is immoral and a grave offense against nature, and is tolerable in limited circumstances, it is speaking about cases of separation of spouses that are simultaneously actions in the civil court. In paragraph 2384 and 2385, when it refers to divorce, it does not make the distinction between divorce that is somehow not civil divorce and divorce that is civil divorce. These paragraphs are referring to civil divorce. Moreover, in divorce, someone (or both) are already in grave sin, and it is entering a second so-called marriage that adds to the gravity. But the gravity was already there when a civil divorce was occurring. All divorces occur because one or both spouses are reneging the marriage promises. Even for the innocent party, who has a just cause for separation, the other party who is behaving so terribly to justify separation is breaking the marriage promises.
The reason we are educating the faithful about the canon law on separation of spouses is because the civil forum routinely offers no protection to the victimized spouse. On the contrary, in civil divorce children are being forcibly taken from the spouse who properly consented to marriage and did nothing grave justifying separation of spouses. These spouses, who are counting on the marriage promises to be upheld, are being forced out of their own homes, forced routinely to pay money to an abandoner who lives with parties’ children, and denied due support from the other spouse that was promised in marriage.
With the right kind of pastoral care, intervention, and instruction, I’m confident that many children could grow up in intact homes with parents growing in virtue.
Sincerely Yours in Christ,