From a reader…
I hope you are doing well! First, I want to thank you for your blog. Your writings have been very educational and inspirational. I’m hoping you might share your thoughts on an example that came up during a discussion with fellow Catholics on irregular marriages.
(Please forgive my errors in grammar. I have a disability and my errors were “excused” and never corrected in school. I’m working through some textbooks trying to improve.)
Several Catholics insisted divorce was not a “real” option for a
couple, with children, in an invalid marriage. If both adults do not agree to live as brother and sister, it would be preferable for them to continue to have relations and stay together rather than raise their children in divorced homes.
They insisted it was better to not partake in Confession and
Communion. They insisted the Church would never be in the business of breaking up families. They really weren’t open to discussion on this.
I was taught trying to keep sin at bay without the sacraments is a fool’s errand. While divorce is less than ideal, it is not necessarily sinful. Once sin takes root, it grows. Alcoholism, drug addiction, anger issues, and abusive attitudes do not spring up out of nothing. Children are vulnerable targets.
This idea seems terrifying to me. It seems somewhat arrogant. The idea that “good” Catholics cannot fall. That we can limit and conquer sin without obeying God’s law. I will confess it angers me this idea is promoted for the sake of the children who will be the ones who pay the price if this all goes south.
It is possible my opinion is being colored far too much by my own experiences, but would the Church really insist it is better to stay in sin and away from the sacraments rather than put children through a divorce?
Discussing situations like these in the abstract is fraught with difficulties, because people want to go from the particular situation to the general principles, and then back to another particular, which may be entirely dissimilar to the original situation discussed.
Divorce is bad.
The effects of divorce upon society are bad. The effects of divorce upon the couple are bad. The effects of divorce upon children, other family members, neighbors, friends and coworkers are bad.
Worse than divorces are invalid marriages.
A couple who remain in a marriage which they know to be invalid, and continue to live as husband and wife, to engage in all that activity that should be exclusively shared by a husband and wife, are act perilously.
By the way… “knowing” that one is in an invalid marriage is a delicate proposition. The people involved are not the judges of these things. The Church reserves to Herself, to Her tribunal system, the right to determine whether a marriage has been proven to be invalid. The opinions of the parties are not wholly probative (can. 1536, 2).
If one has doubts about the validity of one’s marriage, that person should immediately seek the counsel of a trusted priest.
There are situations and circumstances where I could envision advising someone to remain in the conjugal home, particularly if there are children involved who would be unduly harmed by their parents’ separation and divorce. I would not advise someone in such a situation to stay away from the sacraments. Hence, that means not engage in intimacies with his or her purported spouse.
The Church is definitely not in favor of breaking up families. But neither is the Church in favor of the pretense of marriage when it is clearly false.
In some cases, I could see myself advising the couple to separate, preferably by utilizing the Church’s process for separation while the bond remains (canon. 1151-1155 & 1692-1696, which allows the party to separate from bed and board on his or her own volition, can. 1153). Cases of abuse, situations where the children’s safety or well-being are in doubt, situations where the common life has deteriorated to such a degree that no one, least of all the children (who tend to be very perceptive) is fooled by the pretense of normalcy, … all these situations could warrant a legitimate separation and even permit the parties to turn to the civil courts and pursue a divorce.
Since this is delicate, comment moderation is ON and I may be slow to review the queue.