The Marriage Crisis and Canon Law

by Church Militant  •  •  August 29, 2015   

You are not signed in as a Premium user; we rely on Premium users to support our news reporting. Sign in or Sign up today!

By Bai Macfarlane

Human Life International Rome will be holding a symposium this September titled "The Creation of Adam and Eve and the Foundations of Holy Marriage." All the papers will be presented to the delegates at this year's Synod on the Family, including my own: "'What God Has Joined Together': The Current Marriage Crisis in the Light of the Original Creation and the Code of Canon Law."

For decades now, the leadership in the United States has disregarded canon law on separation and divorce. It's one of the reasons I founded Mary's Advocates, an apostolate that supports those who remain faithful to marriage after separation and divorce. If chanceries were set up to implement canon law on separation and divorce, they could be instrumental in keeping a lot of marriages together.

Those who married in the Catholic Rite are obligated to stay together, and they are not supposed to be separated unless a morally legitimate reason for separation exists. If one separates with no morally justified reason, he or she is an abandoner. Forcing unjust divorce is a grave offense against nature and is immoral according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I argue that those who force no-fault divorce are in grave manifest sin and should be denied Holy Communion according to canon 915.

The tribunals in the United States routinely teach Catholics to disobey canon law when they instruct parties to get divorced so they can petition for decrees of nullity for their marriage. The canon law specifies that no one can file in the civil forum (divorce, separation or annulment) until after having the bishop's permission. Before the bishop can give the permission, he is supposed to consider the circumstances of the particular family.

I know of multiple instances where diocesan officials from across the United States have declined Catholics' requests for help in reconciling their marriage, or who asked the Church to apply canon law on separation of spouses. Anyone trying to discourage divorce is up against a well-funded network of tribunals. In the active tribunals covering half the U.S. population, decrees of nullity are granted in more than 98 percent of cases, and these tribunals together have over 15 million dollars of operating expenses.

With the onset of no-fault divorce in the civil courts, justice is never served. In cases where one spouse abandons the marriage though the other has done nothing bad enough to merit separation, the civil courts have no interest in keeping families together. An abandoner isn't told to spend time with his spouse and children in the family home. The civil courts have no expectation for an abandoner to fulfill his or her full obligations to help maintain the marital household.

For example, if a husband was the bread-winner and he wants to leave the marriage, more often than not he keeps most of his money to spend on himself and his new single lifestyle. Those left behind have to figure out how to survive with only a fraction of his previous financial support. Or, if the husband is the one who is abandoned, he routinely has his children removed from his day-to-day life, and he's ordered to pay the abandoner.

In cases where a morally legitimate reason exists for separation, such as adultery, the civil courts don't expect the adulterer to continue to provide his full share to the marital home. Plus, children are scandalized by being ordered to spend overnight visits or live with their parent and his adulterous partner.

Misinformation abounds. For example, some erroneously think it's acceptable for Catholics to file for divorce because civil courts deal with the merely civil effects of marriage. According to canon law, much of what the civil courts control was never supposed to be given to them. A civil court has no authority to relieve a spouse of his obligation to keep an intact family — but that's what the U.S. Church leadership allows by being uninvolved before divorces are filed.

The Church needs to start teaching about the parameters of separations that would be in accord with divine law. A party that wants to allege that a marriage is invalid should do so before separating. At least that way, the facts of the case could be applied so that a separation would be just, compared to no-fault divorce.

In cases where a wife wants to get a decree of nullity and claims to be suffering from a mental problem that made her incapable of consenting to marriage, the man should be free of his obligation to give her property and spousal support. One also must wonder whether a mother with such grave mental problems should be awarded custody of the children, where she would be responsible for making decisions regarding their upbringing.

Rather than allowing no-fault divorce for everyone, the chanceries should instead be pointing dissatisfied spouses to those who have experience helping couples stay together. Only once we accomplish this will the Church be faithfully fulfilling Her obligation to help maintain the sacred bond of marriage, and thus the family.

Bai Macfarlane is founder and president of Mary's Advocates, an apostolate that supports those who remain faithful to marriage after separation and divorce.


Have a news tip? Submit news to our tip line.

We rely on you to support our news reporting. Please donate today.
By commenting on you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our comment posting guidelines