Myths and misconceptions:
About marriage, divorce, and Catholic teaching
By Keith A. Massey
FOR THE CATHOLIC HERALD
The Catholic Church always seeks to be faithful to what Jesus taught. His teaching on marriage can be found in the Gospels in several places (e.g., Matt 19:3-12, Mark 10:2-12, Luke 16:18) and in St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians (7:8-11).
Faithful to Jesus' word, the Church has always esteemed marriage. In this sacrament the man and the woman vow to one another a union based on fidelity, permanence, a desire for the good of their partner, and an openness to children.
Sadly, for a variety of reasons, marriages do not always live up to these ideals. Sometimes one or both of the people either did not fully intend to marry in this understanding or they did not intend a necessary aspect of marriage because of some factor such as immaturity.
When this happens, the Church can determine that such a marriage was not a valid sacrament in that case. This is called a "Declaration of Nullity" or an "Annulment." This would then allow the parties to marry again in the Church. The Office of the Tribunal will assist people with this. Anyone interested in pursuing the process should speak to their pastor or call the Tribunal (608-821-3060) for more information.
The teaching and laws of the Catholic Church on marriage can be somewhat complicated. As a result there are a number of common misconceptions and myths that it will be helpful to dispel.
These are some of the frequent questions:
Can divorced people receive Communion?
Yes. Just being divorced does not affect one's right or ability to receive the Sacraments. In fact, the stresses and turmoil associated with such a life change are a perfect time to remain close to all the graces available through prayer and the sacramental life of the Church.
One may not, however, contract a second marriage without a Declaration of Nullity, whether before a judge or in another Christian denomination or religion, and continue to receive Communion. This discipline, while seeming difficult to many, especially those whom it would affect, serves to emphasize the Church's fidelity to the teaching of Jesus that marriage is intended to last for the lifetime of both people.
Are children born of a marriage which is declared invalid illegitimate?
No. First of all, in keeping with the Church's teaching that all human life is sacred, we do not consider any one, whether born in a marriage or out of wedlock, to be anything less than special and beloved by God our creator. If one really wants there to be a category of persons called "illegitimate" simply because their parents were not married, then there will be people in that category.
The Church, however, does not consider such people to be inferior in any way. Even so, the Church emphatically states that children born inside marriages that were presumed valid at the time are legitimate (canon 1137 of the Code of Canon Law).
Do annulments cost a lot of money?
No. The annulment itself costs nothing. There is an administrative fee of $350.00 in this diocese, but no one is turned away because of an inability to pay. That fee is lower than the actual expenses incurred by the operation of the Tribunal, so in reality most of the costs are covered by the diocese.
Does the Catholic Church believe that only Catholic
marriages are valid?
No. We have our own laws about what Catholics must do in order to contract a valid marriage. Catholics must marry in a Catholic Church before an approved witness, ordinarily a priest or deacon. In the event that a Catholic marries a non-Catholic, dispensations can be obtained to contract the marriage elsewhere and with a non-Catholic minister.
We do, however, respect and accept other denominations' internal laws and regulations regarding what is necessary for them to contract a valid marriage. In most cases other Christian bodies merely require a valid civil marriage.
For that reason, the marriage of two Lutherans in a Lutheran Church or even before a judge is considered a valid marriage. In the event that such a marriage ended in divorce, those individuals would have to receive a Declaration of Nullity from that marriage in order to contract a marriage in the Catholic Church with a Catholic.
If you have any questions about Church law, marriage, divorce, or the process of receiving a Declaration of Nullity, feel free to contact the Tribunal at the number above.
Keith Massey is director of the Diocese of Madison's Tribunal.