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Priest Supports Divorce Over Marriage

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I received the following message from a man named Patrick a few years ago. It is a story I hear again and again from others.

“In 2007 I went with my wife to see our priest in Florida about our marriage. Although my wife had filed for divorce, I told the priest that I did not want to get a divorce. The parish priest said, while pointing his finger at me, that he believed our marriage, quote— ‘. . . should never have happened.’ I told him that I had come for help to save my marriage. I told him that I expected him to defend the Catholic sacrament of matrimony. He repeated, ‘The marriage should never have happened.’ We have four young children who attend school at his church. The priest advised my wife to be lenient with child custody. Leaving the rectory on the school grounds, I repeated my admonishment to the priest, ‘Defend the sacrament of marriage.’ He then said to me, ‘Get out of my sight, you arrogant bast-rd!’ On our way home after the meeting with the priest, my wife said to me, ‘You see, even the priest believes we should divorce!’ I know you will not believe what I am saying. But it is absolutely true. You can contact me or my wife to verify it. I want to know— what can I do now? My wife is in the last stages of this divorce and she is living with another man. Time has passed since my encounter with this priest and (for obvious reasons), I believe there is no way to repair the marriage situation. But as far as I am concerned, the priest to whom I went for help was instrumental in shattering any hope to resolve the situation with my wife. He threw his weight and that of the Church behind her decision. I have stopped attending church since this incident. I still pray. I am angry and I find it difficult to remain silent. Sometime in the future, when all my pain is gone, I will pursue this priest in the Church under ecclesial law. I cannot forgive this priest for what he did to me, particularly when I was foolish enough to go to him for ‘help.’ He committed the greatest sin.”

Here is the response that I sent him:

I am so sorry Patrick for what you have gone through. There are cases where marriages are difficult to save, particularly when there is abuse and fear. However, I am sickened when people simply say they fell out of love or found someone they liked better. I do not know the grounds for her divorce and have not heard her side; however, you are right, whenever possible a priest must both safeguard the well-being of the spouses and the sacrament of marriage. It is not the role of a priest to urge divorce but rather dialogue and reconciliation. You mention that your wife is in the end-stages of a divorce but living with another man. Does she think that most priests would also rubber stamp adultery? If she attempts an annulment you have every right to share your side and how you view the sacramental nature of the bond. Be honest about it, even if it means that she would not be able to get the annulment. Anything else short-changes the process and is an offense against truth. Know that not all priests would have acted like the one in your story. I will keep you in my prayers. Her departure from your life and home is a terrible cross. Bring your struggles and pain to your penitential observances. Do not blame the Church for the callous actions of one priest and the abandonment of a wife who failed to return the love you had for her.

The diocese in which you live may have resources for coping with the loss and for dealing with the repudiation of the priest. Bai Macfarlane has developed a national campaign against no-fault divorce and appealed her husband’s divorce to both the civil courts and the Roman Rota. She may have some useful information to share with you, too.

Her webpage is: http://www.marysadvocates.org.

Her email is: ma.defending@marysadvocates.org.

One Response

  1. Again, I base my understanding of this topic from a pre-Vatican II Church and some seminary training. I recall that the practice of the day regarding divorce in a Catholic marriage was that secular divorce was permitted under certain circumstances such as abuse and financial obligation of one spouse towards the other. This would give the abused spouse, usually the wife/mother, legal recourse under the terms of a legal divorce. However, it does not allow the parties to remarry. The Church was firm on its teaching of marriage forever (except in cases of annulments.) This may be a moot point now after Vatican II, as the Church became very lenient towards annulments, which, of course, allowed the divorcees free to remarry in Holy Mother Church.

    FATHER JOE: No matter whether Vatican II had happened or not, we would be in a similar situation regarding marriage and divorce. Indeed, even at the time of the council, Western society was increasing being liberalized regarding matrimony. Nothing about Catholic teaching shifted on the sacrament of marriage. Indeed, given the divorce epidemic, the Church imposed a six month period for preparation and some sort of pre-Cana. As with social teachings, the Church tends to be reactive to changing situations. Unfortunately, the laity today does not immediately seek out clergy on important life questions. Often there is no counsel prior to separation and divorce. When or if the priest hears about situations, the damage is already done. Most in my experience do not seek out annulments and they follow up sacramental marriages with civil bonds not recognized by the Church. Annulments, if sought, are possibly acquired years later but despite presumptions to the contrary are sometimes refused. While most annulments may reflect genuine problems and impediments early on, they are not guaranteed. I think Pope Francis was right to make the process free but I think there was a terrible stumble in dismissing the secondary court of review.

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