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Home :  Ministries :  Office of Family Life — FAQs on Divorce

Office of Family Life

Marriage & Family

Pastoral Services

FAQs: The Catholic Church on Divorce and Annulments

Is the Catholic Church concerned for people who are divorced?

The Catholic Church realizes that divorce is an experience of great emotional pain in people's lives. For this reason, the Church is compelled to offer the healing touch of Jesus to men and women who have experienced the devastation of divorce.

Does the Church consider divorce a sin?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
• "The separation of spouses, while maintaining the marriage bond, can be legitimate in certain cases provided for by canon law. 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" (#2383).
• Divorce, for reasons other than safety and security however, is considered a grave offense because it "claims to break the [marriage] contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death" (#2384).
• "Divorce is immoral also because it introduces disorder into the family and into society. This disorder brings grave harm to the deserted spouse, to children traumatized by the separation of their parents and often torn between them, and because of its contagious effect which makes it truly a plague on society." (#2385).
• "It can happen that one of the spouses is the innocent victim of a divorce decreed by civil law; this spouse therefore has not contravened the moral law. There is a considerable difference between a spouse who has sincerely tried to be faithful to [their]... marriage and is unjustly abandoned, and one who through his own grave fault destroys a canonically valid marriage" (#2386).

May a divorced person receive the sacraments and be involved in parish life?

A divorced Catholic who is neither remarried nor cohabiting is free to receive the sacraments and to be involved in life of the parish. In many cases such individuals can help their fellow parishioners who may be going through or have gone through the pain of marital separation or divorce.

What about remarriage?

Divorced Catholics are not free to date, remarry or enter into religious life. A divorced person would be free, however, to enter into these ways of life in one of two conditions: Their former spouse dies; The Church grants them a decree of nullity, otherwise known as an annulment.

What is an annulment?

An annulment, properly called a "decree of nullity," is a finding by a Church tribunal that on the day vows were exchanged at least one essential element for a valid marriage was lacking. For example, one of the parties did not intend to be faithful to the other party or approached marriage as merely a temporary bond. A decree of nullity may also be considered on the grounds that one of the parties is incapable of entering into a valid marriage due to fear or coercion, a lack of judgment caused by mental illness or gross immaturity, a psychological disorder or the fact that one of the parties is still validly married to another party.

What is the difference between a divorce and an annulment?

Whereas a civil divorce is concerned with the end of a marriage, a decree of nullity is concerned with the beginning of a marriage. Simply because a separation or divorce has taken place does not mean a decree of nullity can be granted. Civil law grants divorce because the couple cannot or will not continue to remain together. A decree of nullity does not dissolve a marriage. It declares that a specific union, thought to be a marriage by all appearances, did not include, from the beginning, the proper intentions and/or capacities for a valid marriage according to Church teaching and thus was not fully valid.

Why are annulments necessary?

Any person previously married, and seeking a marriage in the Catholic Church, must present a petition to the Marriage Tribunal in order to verify his/her freedom to enter a valid and sacramental marriage. Neither civil divorce nor the remarriage of the other spouse gives an individual freedom to marry in the Church. The purpose of the tribunal's procedures is to give official judgment concerning the validity or invalidity of a particular marriage in accord with the essential elements necessary for marriage according to the law of God and the doctrines of the Catholic Church.

Don't children become illegitimate by annulments?

Church law has no effect on the civil status of children, and thus decrees of nullity do not determine the legitimacy or illegitimacy of one's children. Church law states that children are legitimate and remain so, when born to unions begun in good faith and thought to be a marriage at the time that subsequently receive a decree of nullity.

Can a person who is remarried without an annulment receive the sacraments?

An individual who has divorced and remarried outside of the Church, is living in objective grave sin which prevents them from reception of the Eucharist. The sacraments of Penance and the Anointing of the Sick, however, may be approached so long as the individual has a firm amendment to separate themselves from grave sin. This would require the individual to separate from their new spouse or, if impractical for numerous reasons, at the very least, to make a resolution to abstain from conjugal relations which are reserved for those who are validly married in the Church.

For more information on the grounds and procedures for an ecclesiastical declaration of nullity, please visit the webpage of the Tribunal for the Diocese of Peoria.

Contact Information

Spalding Pastoral Center
419 NE Madison Ave.
Peoria, IL 61603-3719

 

Phone (309) 671-1550

Fax (309) 671-1597

 

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NFP Coordinator