Many Catholics, including separated and divorced Catholics themselves, are confused or misinformed about the status of divorced persons in the Catholic Church. As a result of this confusion or misinformation, many divorced Catholics fail to participate as fully as they can in the spiritual and sacramental life of the Church, and many Catholic communities fail to welcome and embrace divorced Catholics as fully as they should.
If you are a separated or divorced Catholic, the first thing you should know is that divorced Catholics are not excommunicated from the Church.
• A Catholic who is divorced and not remarried is a Catholic in good standing, and is entitled to participate fully in the spiritual and sacramental life of the Catholic faith community.
• A Catholic who is divorced and remarried without a Declaration of Invalidity (an annulment) is still a member of the Church and is entitled to participate in a limited way in the spiritual and sacramental life of the Church.
Much of the confusion about the status of separated and divorced persons in the Church arises from the fact that the Catholic Church places a high value on sacramental marriage and interprets Jesus' injunction against divorce and remarriage very strictly (cf. Mark 10:6-12, Luke 16:18). According to Catholic teaching, marriage is an intimate, exclusive, and permanent partnership of a woman and a man, which exists both for the good of the spouses and for the procreation and upbringing of children.
The Church teaches that a sacramentally valid marriage cannot be terminated except by a spouse's death. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, divorce is, objectively, an offense against the natural law; it “introduces disorder into the family and into society” and “brings grave harm to the deserted spouse [and] to children traumatized by the separation of their parents” (cf.#1644; 2384-85).
Although at one time divorced Catholics were excommunicated, today the Church recognizes that, subjectively, in some cases a married couple may have no reasonable alternative to separation and divorce. According to the Church's Code of Canon Law, a couple may be forced to separate and seek a divorce when circumstances are such that they cause “serious danger of spirit or body to the spouse or the children, or otherwise render common life too hard” (cf. #1153.1).
According to the U.S. Catechism for Adults, “The Church's fidelity to Christ's teaching on marriage and against divorce does not imply insensitivity to the pain of the persons facing these unhappy situations. When divorce is the only possible recourse, the Church offers her support to those involved and encourages them to remain close to the Lord through frequent reception of the Sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist. In the case of those who have divorced civilly and remarried, even though the Church considers the second marriage invalid, she does not want these Catholics to be alienated from her.” (# II.21).
In their Pastoral Message to Families, Follow the Way of Love, the U.S. bishops assured divorced persons that “relationships and circumstances within your family may have changed, but God's love for you is ever present and does not come to an end." "There is a home for you within our parishes and communities of faith,” the bishops wrote.
Divorce is a traumatic personal and spiritual experience under any circumstances.
Click here for more information about the spiritual challenges of divorce.
The following guidelines apply as a general rule. If you are a divorced Catholic you should talk with a pastor or pastoral minister about your specific circumstances.
Catholics who are separated or divorced but not remarried are members in good standing of the Catholic church. They are free to participate fully in the life of the Catholic faith community. So is a Catholic who is divorced, has obtained a Decree of Invalidity (an "annulment"), and has validly remarried in the Church.
For example, if you are divorced but not remarried, or have validly remarried in the Church, you may...
• attend Eucharist and receive Holy Communion unless otherwise impaired by mortal sin.
• celebrate the other sacraments (except Marriage or Holy Orders).
• have a Catholic funeral and be buried in a Catholic cemetery.
• serve as a baptism sponsor (Godparent), Confirmation sponsor or as an official witness to Christian marriage.
• serve as a liturgical minister, such as lector, extraordinary communion minister, hospitality minister, musician or cantor.
• hold leadership positions on the pastoral council or parish committees and boards.
• have your children baptized and enroll them in a Catholic school or religious education program.
• serve as a catechist in a religious education program or as a teacher in a Catholic school.
A Decree of Invalidity is the official name for what Catholics in the past commonly called an “annulment.”
Divorce and Beyond
Divorce and Beyond is a ten-week recovery program for divorced Catholics who want to gain a perspective on their divorce, cope with the emotions involved in divorce, and move on in a constructive way with their lives. Each session consists of an opportunity to share, a reading and discussion based on the book Divorce and Beyond. A ten-week series is offered each fall and spring in the Waterloo/Cedar Falls metro area.
Click here for more information about Divorce and Beyond
Beginning Experience Weekend
The Beginning Experience Weekend is a three-day retreat designed for any divorced, widowed or separated person who has passed through the initial stages of anger and loss and is ready to make a new beginning. This is a reflective, prayerful and supportive experience for individuals of any age or faith.
For more information and registration contact Archdiocese of Dubuque Family Life Office at 800-876-3546
The Catholic Parishes in Waterloo are eager to encourage and support our sisters and brothers who are separated, divorced or remarried.
We offer a variety of opportunities for Catholics who are seeking spiritual and emotional healing following a divorce and for those interested in participating as fully as possible in the spiritual and sacramental life of the Catholic faith community. These include: