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The Marriage Crisis

I regularly follow the wisdom on Msgr. Charlie Pope’s blog for the Archdiocese of Washington.  Recently, he posted on the following question:  “In the wake of the Supreme Court decisions of this week, are we coming to a point where we should consider dropping our use of the word “marriage?”  A number of Catholic voices are arguing that we should disengage ourselves both with the word “marriage” and from allowing clergy to function as civil magistrates in witnessing them for the state.  Certainly I am sympathetic with what they hope to accomplish.  However, I am already on the record, from past discussions, as opposed to such a retreat.  Both sides can play word-games.  Towards the end, he poses a second question, “Should the Catholic Bishops disassociate Catholic clergy from civil ‘marriage’ licenses?”  Again, I appreciate the underlying reasoning; we want to avoid guilt by association and giving apparent approbation.  My fear is that any such move would be contrary to a well-ordered or structured society (which is a good in itself).  It would also constitute a retreat that opponents in the public forum would exploit.  It seems to me that our laity would bear the blunt of the suffering and challenge that would come from such a move.


I am not blind to the dire crisis we face.  It is true that marriage as an institution has been largely redefined by our society.  The movement on behalf of same-sex unions is a case in point; of course, if left unchecked it will not stop there.  Next we will see the return of polygamy.  Despite the many scandals faced by the Church, there are even depraved people pushing for pedophilia and pederasty.  There is already a bizarre effort in Australia for a man to marry his pet goat, the degradation of bestiality.  The U.S. bishops reminded us in their failed initiative that marriage is in trouble.  While I am hesitant to criticize our holy shepherds; the fact is that marriage has been in trouble for some time now and we were largely silent.  Contraception nullifies the consummation of the marital act.  Millions of abortions seek to erase through murder the fruit of marital love.  No-fault divorce allows for quick separations and remarriages.  Prenuptial Agreements insert doubt against the vows and a lack of trust from the very beginning, thus making those marriages null-and–void.  Couples fornicate and cohabitate, essentially saying that you do not have to be married to have sex.  Well, when you separate sex and marriage, you also set the stage for infidelity and adultery.  Once sex is disconnected from marriage it is very hard to reattach it with any kind of necessity.  Our society is saturated by an erotic and pornographic media that destroys courtship and sexualizes relationships.  This dilemma is so pervasive that the inner person has lost any sense of propriety or decency.  Viagra gives the old stamina to neglect their coming judgment and condoms give the young license under the illusion of protection.  Wedding dresses that once expressed modesty and femininity are increasing replaced with skimpy gowns akin to those on television dance contests.  Ours is the generation where all rights, even the right to life, are supplanted by the emerging and absolute right to have sex with anyone regardless of promises and unions.  The children are caught up in the middle of this whirlwind.  This is so much so that we even dress our little girls like the prostitutes that walk the street.

Much Ado about a Word

Msgr. Pope makes the accurate observation that the Church and society-at-large mean very different things by the word, “marriage.”  Of course, this is also the situation with many other terms as well.  While language is fluid and hard to control; it can certainly be manipulated.  Look at the word GAY.  This expression for joy or happiness has become the source for giggling when used in old songs.  It has now been exclusively usurped by the homosexual community.  Another word in peril is RELATIONSHIP.  When we hear teens or young adults use it these days, they generally mean a sexual friendship with a certain degree of exclusivity.    The word that most troubles and saddens me today is LOVE.  What precisely does it mean anymore?  We do not want to cast it off and so the dictionary definition gets longer and longer.  Look at how we use it.  “I love my car.  I love my dog.  I love my job.  I love my house.  I love donuts.  I love strippers.  I love my wife.  I love my children.  I love God.”  Then we have expressions like, “Let’s make love,” a euphemism for sex.  We give it so many meanings that the word begins to mean nothing.

What does the word MARRIAGE mean?  Is it just a civil contract to make having sex easier or more convenient?  If that is all it is, it is no wonder that couples are cohabitating without it.  Some states have argued for different types of marriage contracts, one more easily dissolved than the other.  There was even an effort to impose marriage licenses with term limits.  If after five years, if the spouses were unhappy, they could opt not to renew.  The marriages would then automatically expire.  The divorce epidemic, something which Protestant churches pamper by their failure to enforce Christ’s command in Matthew against divorce, has given us what is essentially serial or progressive polygamy, one spouse after another.  Proponents of “open” marriages suggest that couples should still be able to have sex with others outside their bond.  I know one instance where a man lives with both his wife and his mistress in the same house.  The girls share him.  Largely gone is the Catholic-Christian equation that marriage is an exclusive relationship between one man and one woman who are called to be faithful to each other until the death of one of the spouses.  Marriages are rightly directed toward the good of the spouses and the generation of new human beings, children.  Stripping marriage of its propagative element is to make marriage wholly something else.  Even infertile couples must express their union in that act which by nature is directed to the generation of new human life.  That is why something like condomistic intercourse is intrinsically evil, even in marriage, yes, even among older infertile couples.  Too many couples feign the marital act and live in relationships that are not true marriages.  The large cases of annulments are cases in point.  People can share their bodies like cats and dogs but they are ignorant of the true parameters of marital love and union.  Although a natural right, they have made themselves ill-disposed to the sacrament.  Required six-month waiting periods and marriage preparation are attempts to remedy the dark situation.  However, couples frequently go through the motions and tell the moderators and clergy what they want to hear.  I recall one priest praising a couple he was working with for doing all the right things before marriage.  On the way out one evening, I overheard the prospective groom tell his girl, “What a jerk!”  Later I found out from parishioners that they had been cohabitating the whole time and only went to the priest’s Masses once-in-a-while to fool him about their religiosity.  They spent a fortune on the wedding and we never saw them again.  I heard a few years later they divorced because “they grew apart.”  When Catholics marry outside the Church, in the eyes of God they do not get married at all.  However, Catholics who marry in the Church might also start their unions with deception.  Planting lies today often leads to weeds tomorrow.

I will echo Msgr. Pope in giving the definition of MARRIAGE from the universal catechism:

[CCC 1601]  The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.

What are we to do when the definition given to marriage in no way parallel’s the understanding of the Church?

Msgr. Pope proposes that we stop using the word “marriage” and substitute instead, “holy matrimony.”  He explains:

“The word ‘matrimony’ also emphasizes two aspects of marriage: procreation and heterosexual complementarity. The word comes from Latin and old French roots. Matri = ‘mother’ and ‘mony,’ a suffix indicating ‘action, state, or condition.’ Hence Holy Matrimony refers to that that holy Sacrament wherein a woman enters the state that inaugurates an openness to motherhood. Hence the Biblical and Ecclesial definition of Holy Matrimony as heterosexual and procreative is reaffirmed by the term itself. Calling it HOLY Matrimony distinguishes it from secular muddle that has ‘marriage’ for its nomen.”

He readily admits that there are problems with trying to regulate language in such ways.  If I recall correctly, I was among those unconvinced and “perturbed that we were handing over our vocabulary to the libertines.”

We can play word games but our opponents are not fools.  They were not happy with the notion of “civil unions” and wanted “marriage.”  Don’t be surprised that they will also be speaking of their bonds in terms of “holy matrimony.”

Marriage is a natural right.  Opting to use another word is not going to change this fact.  Homosexuals and lesbians can feign marriage and the state might recognize it; but, in truth such unions are a violation of the natural law.  The debate or argument is best sustained by retention of the vocabulary.  We must insist that same-sex marriage is a fiction.  Surrendering the word would only grant them the false sense that they had succeeded in making their argument.

If we cannot even defend a word like “marriage,” then how can we defend all the ideas behind it?  This conflict is not just about marriage; it is a fight over the hearts and minds of people.  So-called same sex-marriage is just one weapon in the enemy’s arsenal.  The goal of our critics is to redefine the Church out of existence.  The government administration wants to become the sole arbiter of marriage; but more than this— it views Catholic Charities, Catholic schools, and Catholic hospitals as standing in its way.  Threats to close would only make them nationalize these institutions and they would argue that such is a “necessity” for “the public good.”  This is the goal of our antagonists.  If American society is to be remade then the Church must either change to insignificance or be destroyed.  This is the fight we face.

Ministers of the State or of the Church

My initial sentiments emerged as an aside to the courageous crusade of Bai Macfarlane against No-Fault Divorce.  The question arose as to whether clergy compromised themselves by acting as witnesses for the state, signing the marriage licenses and returning them to the courts.  Msgr. Pope continues to sign them, he says, out of holy obedience to the Archbishop.  Speaking for myself, I think we would forfeit too much by surrendering this privilege to the state.  I suspect that problems might escalate instead of get better.  Further, if the Church should opt out, would not our couples still have to get their civil licenses before Church weddings? He seems to think not, arguing that they should “in no way consider themselves as wed, due to a (meaningless) piece of paper from a secular state that reflects only confusion and darkness rather than clarity and Christian light.”  I recall arguing with a hippie years ago who regarded the marriage license as just a piece of paper.  In response, I cited that it came along with the Church sacrament and that it also respected the state’s right to regulate marriages as an integral building block to society.  The state is taking a wrong turn with these same sex unions but we should still take advantage of our rights as citizens.  That piece of paper says that as a member of society, I still have a voice and that marriage is an institution that must be acknowledged, regardless as to whether others are given such acknowledgment wrongly (in the past because of divorce and today also because of same-sex unions).  Opting out will undermine a structured society, its institutions, and the protections and rights we take for granted.

I have immigrants in my parish from Asia and Africa.  Their home nations do not give the privilege that our clergy enjoy in being able to witness marriages.  Some of them have only known tribal weddings.  Others have licenses from a judge or notary public.  While they should have immediately had their marriages solemnized by a priest, they put the process off.  Children were conceived.  Time went by, maybe years, and now they all need Church convalidations.  Would we reduce all marriages in the Church to convalidations?

If we attempt to marry people in Church who are not legally married; we will be facing all sorts of headaches.  We would be opening the door to rampant bigamy where people would be civilly married to one person and married in the Church to another— without the recourse to the legal fiction of divorce.  At present the state recognizes all Church unions even though the Church does not acknowledge every civil union.  The last thing we should want is to segregate the Church into her own private ghetto where there are “us” and “them.”  We have every right to a place in the public forum and should fight for it.  Our married couples have every right to the protections insured by law (tax incentives, inheriting property, healthcare and insurance, custodial issues with offspring, hospital visitation and the right to make medical decisions for a sick spouse, and sharing a name).  Marrying couples without civil licenses would once have opened our couples to prosecution for cohabitation.  Even if this is a bygone concern, there is still the prospect of scandal.  Some will view “married in the Church” but “not in the state” as NOT being married at all.  The children from such unions could be labeled as “bastards” by our critics.

The Church has a responsibility to be fully integrated into civil society as a constitutive part.  There will be conflicts but accommodations will have to be made that will not compromise our message and mission.  Maybe there is a need for different types of licenses from the state for religious weddings, distinguishing them from civil ones?  Indeed, there are different theologies between the churches.  Some view the clergy person as the one who performs the marriage.  Catholics view the spouses as the ministers of the sacrament to which the priest witnesses.  Episcopalians and others will probably even allow and celebrate same-sex unions.  We may become a minority voice in this society but we should not allow that voice to be silenced.  Taking our toys and going home angry will not fix the situation.  The retreat of the Church would be precisely what our enemies want.  I fear that it would further erode the foundations of our civilization.  Caesar’s empire might be pagan, but the Christian and the Church still have obligations to maintain a society that would protect our rights and freedoms.

I would maintain the status-quo with priests witnessing marriages for the state.  However, there may come a day when that is taken away from us.  We can cope with that when it comes.  Civil disobedience might then take many forms, some of which could be extremely bizarre.  One priest suggested that all our religious houses claim same-sex unions so as to get the marriage benefits and healthcare.  I know one case already where a married couple got divorced but still live together so as to have better retirement benefits.  I suspect that laws will be passed to force couples and the Church to behave.  How far do we want to press it?  Speaking for myself, I really hate retreating.

The Larger Challenge

It is my hope that we will have courageous shepherds and a supportive flock.  I foresee priests facing fines and jail time for hate-speech in regard to teaching and preaching against homosexuality.  After all, the Church’s language about marriage in the recent Supreme Court case was appraised as bigotry.  Hum, we might have to take priests entirely out of the marriage scenario if all our clergy are locked up.  Already, while the Church is currently protected, and we cannot be forced to marry homosexuals, organizations like the Knights of Columbus are not safeguarded.  At this writing the free-standing Knights of Columbus halls in Maryland have been notified that due to their state charters they must rent for the wedding receptions of homosexuals and lesbians.  The pressure is already on.

Our public schools are teaching that any reservation about homosexuality is discrimination.  What will our children then think of their churches?  Must we extract all our children from the public schools?  Who will pay to place them into Catholic institutions?  Homeschooling is an option for some but not for all.  Where are we going from here?  If the government and the media are more successful than the Church in forming consciences and teaching values; then what avenues are left?  The issue is far more complex than any nomenclature of marriage or whether priests are authorized as civil magistrates.  The question is how does the Church function and survive in a non-Christian society?

Catholics did not unanimously support the U.S. bishops in the Marriage Matters campaign.  Indeed, large numbers were vocal in opposition.  We hesitate to name names and are always fearful of our tax-exemption status.  But if we are going to be shunned in a matter similar to racists over the issue of homosexual acceptance; then we will no doubt forfeit such benefits in the days ahead.  I know I sound pessimistic and cynical.  But that is what I see coming.  The Church waited too long to find her teeth.  She is an old dog grown weak from inactivity and abandoned by her pups.  There are wolves coming.  They want the Church out of the way.  Look at the various initiatives of the current administration.  Starting with appointments in religious churches and schools, then forcing churches to violate their basic principles and next pressing upon us what was once an unthinkable depravity— all these are attempts to redefine the Church out of existence.  The president’s view of religion is seen through the prism of secular humanism.  Anything else is judged as extraneous and must go.

There are some who are pawns to those who hate the Church.  Others actually think that they are catalysts for positive change in the Church and society.  Look at all the Catholic politicians who oppose the U.S. bishops and who dissent on Church teaching.  The chief advocates in Maryland and in Washington are baptized Catholics.  Like Msgr. Pope, I have my opinions; and like him, in obedience we both defer to the Archbishop and the national shepherds of our Church.  We share our ideas, pray for courage and know that God will not abandon his children.

Married Out of the Church


I would like to know if a person married in civil rites to a non-Catholic 40 years ago, then separated after five years of marriage and with 3 children needs an absolution from the Pope even if the person after separating confessed her sin and received absolution from a priest?


It may be that you are confusing “absolution” with “annulment” but in either instance the Pope would not normally enter the picture. Given that the person who married a non-Catholic is a Catholic, the civil marriage ceremony would have no standing in the Church. A simple declaration of nullity would be all that is required should that person want to marry in the Church. The amount of time that has passed since the attempted marriage and separation, even the instance and number of children, would be inconsequential to the ecclesiastical grounds against it being licit. Church law requires that Catholics have their marriages witnessed by a deacon or priest unless the appropriate dispensations have been granted. The absolution of a priest after a divorce or separation is a separate matter; however, if a Catholic should cohabitate with a civil law spouse, absolution could not be given.

If the person who married a non-Catholic were also a non-Catholic at the time of the civil ceremony, then the Church would consider that marriage as lawful and binding. If there were a divorce and either party wanted to marry in the Catholic Church, a formal annulment case would have to be entered and adjudicated by a Church Tribunal to determine the true validity of the prior bond. If the first marriage is shown to be binding and genuine, no second marriage could be permitted until the death of one of the spouses.


Further to my question, since you said that the Catholic/non-Catholic couple who entered into marriage through civil rites and have separated, only requires nullification, who will perform this then? The Catholic woman has no intentions of getting married but is guilty of the mortal sin she committed against God so wants to have an absolution from the Pope if possible.


A declaration of nullity comes from the Tribunal and the Bishop. The application and supporting documentation is sent to the Chancery. A copy of the civil license, divorce decree and the baptismal certificate is part of the package. There is little other documentation because a civil union of a Catholic outside the Church is NO MARRIAGE. The declaration of nullity is NOT an annulment strictly speaking. A formal case ANNULMENT regards a bond that fulfills the external norms of the law: two witnesses, before a priest and deacon, proper dispensations, and jurisdiction. If a Catholic marries in the Church then the presumption is that the marriage is genuine. A formal case requires testimony by people who saw problems early on and an essay by the petitioner.

If the person you are talking about does not intend to get married (again), she should simply see a priest and receive absolution. The Pope has nothing to do with her case. There is nothing more to be done. As for the previous marriage, if it were out of the Church, then forget about it. As far as the Church is concerned, it never happened… sacramentally, that is.


Indeed Father Joe is correct, making a good confession and receiving absolution is all that is required. Sure, it would be great to see the Holy Father, but make that trip after you have seen your parish priest. Make it a joyous trip rather than an act of penance. See a priest, make a good confession and allow the joy and peace of Christ to return to your heart. Know too that my prayers are with you.


Father Joe, thanks for your insights.

I am dealing with a marriage related situation, too, but not of me.

My sister is being married at 54 for the first time. She has cohabitated with the gentleman she is marrying (whom I know) for about 15 years. They even bought a house together about 7 years ago. The man is divorced. No decree of nullity is being sought. They are being married at a facility which has set ups for both a wedding ceremony and a reception. A minister (not sure who or the denomination or if they are of a mainline denomination or one of the more flexible type) is presiding. To top it all off the whole matter is happening on Holy Saturday. They consider themselves proud to be Catholic but not in agreement with all parts of the Church’s law. For example, they are as outraged as are the majority of us re: the President’s ongoing smackdown on religious freedoms. I love my sister, but am really torn. There are so many situations here where I feel I will be witnessing to illegality if I go to the ceremony or the reception. “Keeping the peace” is not my main concern, as there are many young nieces and nephews whom I feel are subtly “taught” in this situation (that one just does what one wants). Do you have thoughts on this matter? Ugh, to put it colloquially!


I have sometimes urged participation for family peace. But there are way too many elements that are wrong in this situation. She is not proud enough to be a Catholic given that she spurns basic Catholic values and practice. Marriages are NOT permitted on Holy Saturday. Of course, her attempted marriage will not be in the Church. Let us call the situation what it really is: after years of fornication, cohabitation and adultery, she now wants a piece of worthless paper to say they are married. Tell her you love her but let her know that you are exercising your RELIGIOUS LIBERTY in not participating in such a farce.

Divorce & Remarriage is Adultery

1 Corinthians 7:10-11: To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband) — and that the husband should not divorce his wife.

Mark 10:11-12: And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Luke 16:18: “Every one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”

Matthew 19:9: “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity [actually incest] and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery.”

The meaning in Matthew is not that the innocent party is guilty if a spouse commits adultery. When circumstances are out of control, the wronged party may be allowed by the Church to live apart from the adulterous spouse. However, if truly married, neither can marry another validly as long as one of them lives.

For more such reading, contact me about getting my book, DEFENDING THE CATHOLIC FAITH.

Concerns About the e5 Movement


fullofhimself.jpgBefore I begin, I have to acknowledge that the tragedy of the Macfarlane breakup and Habisohn’s involvement (he is the founder of e5) has colored my remarks about the e5 movement. I am a hardliner against divorce and have an immediate knee-jerk reaction to anyone or anything that seems to compromise the indissolubility of marriage.

Here is an email that has become part of the record (which elicited a response from Cardinal George and his theological advisor, Rev. Lodge):

I have a friend whose husband regularly corresponds with Habisohn and has signed up for his e5 group. My friend is having serious marital problems and in a personal message from Habisohn to my friend, he wrote, “Stop with the selfish pursuits of your own desires. Your desires might just be the worst thing for you. And ultimately its his [your husband’s] duty under God to discern such things. He has to answer to God for you.” (7/3/03)

The “e5” fasting program is taken from Ephesians 5: “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.” Here is how this regimen from Steve Habisohn is explained by Bud MacFarlane, Jr.: “Jesus gave up his body for his bride, the Church, and we give up our bodies for our brides through fasting. It’s a perfectly chivalrous act, and it will make the woman in your life feel like a princess.”

It is not clear how such a penance “directly” builds up or supports a marriage. While certainly there are benefits to fasting as part of our mortification and penance as Catholics, many of us are left scratching our heads as to how it can cause a drastic transformation or how it signifies “a man taking on suffering to help a woman.” The middle term in all of this seems to be missing. The sacrifices to which the Letter to the Ephesians alludes come with ordinary fidelity and human mortality– these are connected with the cross of Jesus. The husband is told that he should be as willing to lay down his life for his wife as Christ did for his Church. However, this does NOT deny reciprocity on the wife’s behalf. St. Paul’s understanding of the wife’s subjection or submission is a reminder that she must also be willing to sacrifice everything for her beloved. The teaching about the husband’s headship does not deny the wife’s complementary sacrifices for her husband. It is an important point where I find the purported e5 perspective to be somewhat shallow and one-sided. In any case, if we are only talking about once-a-month fasting, then it seems to be a harmless business; but, is it more than this?

Macfarlane cites a series of themes in the e5 movement:

NO TALK – He contrasts this step with being a man of action.

I would submit that men should both talk and act. Action can be misconstrued without clear communication, first. Men err in removing themselves from their wives and in trying to solve their problems unilaterally. This almost never works. While we certainly need quiet time for prayer, do not underestimate constructive talking (dialogue) with the spouse. Many times marriages fail because of poor communication skills.

We should avoid the “passive-aggressive” route in dealing with our shared problems. An example of this is when one spouse is silent because of rage or disappointment. One can also “punish” the spouse in indirect ways. Imagine a response like this: “Having a wife like you forces me to do extra penance and fasting just to stay with you!” Dialogue that does not tear down the other, sometimes orchestrated by a third party counselor, can be quite helpful in opening the lines of communication for healing and growth. It is okay to be a man of action, but the action must be appropriate. The man of action is also one who communicates clearly and appropriately– with the beloved and with God.

I am a big fan of married couples praying together, offering up petitions of love and caring for one another. Why not?

When I went to the e5 Website, I read this:

“Do I tell my wife? There are two answers No and Yes. It really depends on your situation. By telling one’s wife one might risk spiritual pride or she may even discourage you. However, in other situations by telling one’s wife you are allowing her to participate in the e5 Women part of e5 Men. She can actively pray to receive God’s graces merited for her. Often wives are greatly encouraged and gain new hope by knowing that their husband is laying down his body for her. I’m sure there are infinite reasons for both approaches depending on the situation. These are just examples to help you start thinking of the specifics of your situation. It’s ultimately your call.”

Isn’t this a bit crazy? What about the family supper table, the meal that in a Christian home is a “figure” pointing to the Eucharist? What about the wife’s concern over the details of that meal and her concern for her family?

CALLING ALL MEN – I would acknowledge that most of us have hurt the women in our lives but is the e5 strategy really a comprehensive curative? As I said before, fasting as part of our prayer life is fine, but it is not in itself sufficient to heal marital problems and there is no direct or immediate tie-in with Ephesians 5.

threedandies.jpgBANDS OF BROTHERS – Maybe I am misconstruing this movement, but as I read Macfarlane’s article I am increasingly anxious with the rationalization that fuels it. Is it merely an all boys’ club of men fasting for their wives, future wives, and girlfriends? Fasting may sometimes be the easy road out and not a true scaling of the cross at all. You can fast all you want and still let your women down.

TENS OF THOUSANDS – Macfarlane becomes a virtual cheerleader for the e5 Men. He writes, “Imagine the power of having such a vast army suffering for your bride.” It may be an exageration on my part, but he speaks as if a marriage can be saved by supernatural intervention alone.

Marriages are saved neither by committee nor by warfare. They are saved by love, mutual respect, and genuine interpersonal sacrifice. Suffering means loving your spouse even when he or she does not seem all that lovable. It means working long hard hours to keep a roof over your heads, clothes on your bodies, and food in the stomachs of your children. For the husband, his joy is his wife’s happiness and the wellbeing of his children. You do not need an army of men suffering and fasting for your wife. You need one man, husband and father, to sit at the table with her for dinner and thank the good Lord for all that he has done for you.

FORTRESS OF FLESH – Fasting can mean a degree of suffering, but so can dieting. What changes their meaning is the intention.

The devil hates true mortification and prayer. We sacrifice in the flesh to live more in the spirit. But, it is not magic. Further, the devil can take advantage of this mentality and reverse matters if we are not careful—urging us to hate our flesh or to substitute fasting for other obligations in our faith and family life.

Macfarlane writes: “When you fast, you and Christ form a fortress that protects the woman you love.” It is a sweet sentiment, but theologically how does it work? I still do not see it. How does it protect her? If anything, the way this e5 business is explained in the article, it seems to cut her out of the equation.

SUPERNATURAL FIREPOWER – Yes, adopting the military analogy in vogue here, we do need spiritual ammo. As Catholics this armory is replenished by God from many sources: fruitful prayer, the depository of grace merited by the saints, the sacramental life, and ultimately the redemptive sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. We are alerted to the dangers posed by the devil, the flesh and the world. As with his books, Macfarlane sees things in sweeping apocalyptic terms. This is okay as one element, however, the personal battles we face are rooted in the practical here-and-now.

We must be careful not to focus our attention so deeply into the metaphysical and eternal that we lose sight of the physical and temporal. Practically speaking, too often, lacking what one needs in him- or herself, we look elsewhere.

Yes, we trust in God’s protection and we cooperate with it. But look at what he says in his article:

“Our Lord did not merely suggest that some demons can only be driven out by prayer and fasting. Guys, listen up. As a man you will find it extremely satisfying to pull back that bolt, calmly load a Wednesday of bread and water into the chamber, then start pumping round after round into the soft white underbelly of the Dragon of Death. This is war, and you and I were made for war. It never gets easy, but that soft thud you are going to hear is the sweet sound of the dragon, which has been hurting your wife, hitting the ground.”

Cough…swallow…say, what? He concludes by saying that this dragon might be either your anger or the devil; however, until he makes this qualification, one might wonder if he is talking about his wife?

I have done a lot of counseling over the years and can attest that not all dragons are demonic, many of them are human, male and female. Admittedly, I am perplexed how Macfarlane’s own public actions toward his wife and family can be reconciled with what he says here. But enough has been said about that, if not too much.

As a seminarian, my friends and I used to fast on Monday nights. However, we never saw it in such violent and militant terms. We called our efforts a FASTING FOR PEACE. We remembered all those who were suffering injustice and we prayed for the right to life of the unborn. We fasted for holiness, praying that God might wean us away from his gifts so that we might better focus upon the giver.

Macfarlane sees everything in Apocalyptic terms—even his marriage—and the enemy are “the forces of evil”. Many Catholics, including dear friends, were caught up in this but assuredly relieved when the “three days of darkness” hailed for the millennium failed to materialize, a peculiar fascination that reminded me of the faulty timetable espoused by the Jehovah Witness cult.

Imagery and symbolic language has great value but can sometimes be used for avoidance and misdirection. Many disappointed fans, for instance, are quick to suggest that Macfarlane is under demonic oppression and may need exorcism. His own personal family tragedy seems utterly unbelievable to them. While we can never totally discount the work of Satan, I find that concupiscence and selfishness are the essential culprits in our lives. I can offer no real explanation to soothe their concern for a man so admired and for whom we all care about. What we can do is pray, that at least, is one intrusion that our Lord does allow us into the personal lives of others.

Conversely, I shudder to think that being critical of e5 might get me charged with demonic entanglement. Other than the struggle with my own venial sins, I can assure the reader that I am not involved with the conspiracy of cosmic powers and evil men who seek to keep men of faith “impotent”.

Forget the dragon for a moment. Forget the loaded gun. Marriages are not principally about powers and principalities, they are about dirty diapers, crying babies, doctors’ bills, making beds, fixing the car, going to church as a family, sleeping as husband and wife naked together under the covers, and so much more. There, I have said it.

missterese.jpgSPECIAL FORCES – Other than the first Wednesday of the month, he argues that men can fast for other women on subsequent Wednesdays.

The connection to Scripture is still sketchy and the benefits inconclusive. I am surprised that this article remains on his site given his own witness. Again, notice the military view– fasting men are compared to military special forces, as if a SWAT team is the answer to marriage problems.

It might sound silly, but some wives might just prefer to have their husband at the family dinner table. I have found that wives and mothers are acutely concerned about the bodies of their charges, the husband and children. A wife might readily become concerned, if her husband’s fasting practices expanded and he risked his health. It seems to me that the e5 regimen is something about which a husband and wife must agree and should not be adopted by men unilaterally. Would not a weekly family fast be better, even if not as severe as that proposed by e5?

RECEIVING THE BODY – Notice once more how the spouse is discussed as someone who up to now has been excluded from this regimen of fasting and supposedly prayer, although the article does not mention it so far. He writes: “Your wife will soon discover that a major change is taking place and will want to know how she can be a part of e5 Men.”

This is very presumptuous to say the least. He says that their contribution is profound and complimentary, but what is it? He writes: “Many e5 Women therefore attend Mass on the first Wednesday to mystically receive the sacrifice of our body [e5 Men] by receiving Christ in the Eucharist.”

As a priest, I offer the Mass every day and yet this is an odd twist I have never encountered before. I would suggest that men and women alike would do better to more frequently attend Mass and receive Holy Communion. Both can fast when they would like and do so for each other, while safeguarding their health. The strange business here is that Macfarlane says that the women are receiving the body of these e5 fasting men when they receive our Lord in Holy Communion. I would not say that. They receive Jesus, body, soul, humanity and divinity. The sacramental presence is real. Any kind of “mystical” reception of others, even the husband, clouds the issue and does not have Church sanction as Catholic teaching. The closest thing to it is from St. Augustine when he says that in holy communion we receive our own mystery. But, he is talking about our membership in the the mystical body of Christ.

The sacrifice of the flesh in marriage is in the toil that family life entails. Ideally, any spiritual donation of the body should come along with the physical union of the spouses. Sexual union of husband and wife signifies the true self-donation. They are saying to each other, “I belong to you. I am yours. These arms and hands, these legs and feet, these locks of hair, these eyes that adore you, these lips that hunger to kiss you– everything that I am– is yours.” Our Lord identifies himself with the beloved so that the love of husband and wife finds true sacramental expression. It is raised to the level of prayer.

BEAUTIFUL CREATURES – MacFarlane says something that critics might judge as sexist, but such is a charge that has been leveled at me, too: “The truth is women are the most beautiful creatures in God’s universe. We men know it. Women need our strength and protection.”

This is all fine and dandy, but would not a mother of a son say that her baby boy is the most beautiful creature in the universe? Assuredly so and thus it is best to avoid this kind of general license. Scholastic philosophers judged males as better reflecting an ideal humanity. Such claims do not fare well when examined objectively. They depend upon subjective aesthetics and changeable worldviews. Further, I have known some strong women who defended their husbands and nurtured and protected their children against great odds. Women may be even more capable and thus beautiful beyond the measure of skin and figure, than readily appreciated.


Yes, it is true that men and women are not the same, and as much as society tries to lie about it, everything from clothing to books to perfume to movies to home-decorating makes it preeminently true that we are not. However, there is a common humanity and God-given dignity. We know equality in grace and are all called to holiness. Yes, the Scriptures speak of the man as the head of the home, but as Dr. Scott Hahn reminds us, the wife and mother is its heart.

YOU ARE A KING – Macfarlane writes: “The fact is, through baptism you were adopted into a royal family.” This is true, but not just men, but women, too.

We are anointed, “priest, prophet and king.” All of us are called to offer sacrifice, to witness and proclaim the truth, and to recognize the sanctity of life and our dignity as adopted sons and daughters of the Father, brothers and sisters to Christ the King.

A man may be appointed lord of his home, but his wife is the Queen. All families should be modeled upon the Holy Family. Husbands should show the same respect and offer the same support that Joseph gave Mary. Joseph was going to divorce Mary quietly until the meaning of the child of promise was explained to him by an angel in a dream. Mary and Joseph raised their Son in their home, together.

The Macfarlane divorce is a teaching moment. But it is important that we take from this public tragedy the right message.

  • Can you imagine Joseph trying to take Jesus away from Mary?
  • Would he forbid Mary to witness to her Son the lessons she knew as a daughter of Israel?
  • Would he abandon her and then strip her of dignity with a divorce that faulted her for “extreme cruelty” and “gross neglect of duty”?

Definitely not, and neither are these grounds for an annulment.

Couples who marry in the Church make a promise before God to remain faithful, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, until death do they part.

  • A real EPHESIANS 5 MAN does not follow a cult interpretation of inspired Scripture.
  • A real EPHESIANS 5 MAN knows that life is sometimes messy and that true love can bring joy and take us to the cross.
  • A real EPHESIANS 5 MAN lets his wife know every minute of every day that she belongs to him and he belongs to her.
  • A real EPHESIANS 5 MAN does not simply fight “for” his wife but “WITH” HIS WIFE—to make their marriage last and to help their children grow healthy, holy and wise.
  • A real EPHESIANS 5 MAN does not commit physical or verbal adultery with women or spiritual adultery with a ban of brothers.
  • A real EPHESIANS 5 Man does not seek to divorce his wife and the mother of his children– particularly against her will.

Men do not need an army of Kings, as the e5 men call themselves. Rather, they need to know that they share their crowns with their wives, one as king and the other as queen. There may be many thorns in those crowns, but if a marriage is real, none may take them off while there is still life. Even the crown of thorns worn by Jesus was not removed until he had breathed his last. And yet, the kingdom of Jesus is everlasting. We find some glimpse of it in every Christian home because the family is the little Church.

Macfarlane speaks of “men crucified with Christ for the women we love.” But men and women can also play the wrong part in the Greatest Story Ever Told.

Jesus was betrayed with a kiss and abandoned by those he loved. How many marriages have a spouse abandoned, even after public acclamations of affection?

Our Lord was cursed and called all sorts of names. Are not cruel and defaming charges part of the ordeal when marriages fail?

Jesus is stripped of his clothes and is virtually naked upon the cross. How many spouses have been reduced to poverty by divorce and large settlements?

Has not even Bai Macfarlane, for whatever reason, suffered the loss of her children? It is because of her situation that there is a tentative appraisal of e5 from the Church, albeit the Archdiocese of Chicago. Here are those documents as well as a few remarks from a brief interview.

Archdiocese of Chicago / Office of the Archbishop (Selection)

January 16, 2004

“Anyone can post information on the Internet – without any license or check for accuracy. This applies to interpretations of Scripture and to information about Church teaching as much as it applies to products that are advertised for sale. I am glad that you are asking about Mr. Habisohn’s ideas, since the fact that they are being communicated over the Internet give’s them no special credibility. Your letter was referred to me by Mrs. Else Radtke of our Family Ministries office, who has also spoken with the wife of the friend to whom you refer in this letter. I am very sorry to hear that a Catholic who claims to follow Mr. Habisohn’s way of living is now in the process of seeking a divorce from his spouse. I believe that the Holy Father’s commentary on Ephesians 5 makes it very clear that St. Paul’s intention was to draw husbands and wives closer to one another and to Christ in his Church, not to drive them apart. In this case, the harm done to spouse and children by divorce is far greater than any damage that could be done by a disagreement over a passage of Sacred Scripture.”

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Chicago

REV. JOHN G. LODGE Responds at Cardinal George’s Request

Should a wife orient her will to her husband’s will?

Most exegetes of Ephesians 5 — including Pope John Paul II — would not speak of an orientation of wills that was one way. The Pope is careful to discern the difference between the Church’s relationship to Christ and the wife’s relationship to her husband (Mulleris Dignitatem, 24):

This is especially true because the husband is called the “head” of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church; he is so in order to give “himself up for her” (Eph 5:25), and giving himself up for her means giving up even his own life. However, whereas in the relationship between Christ and the Church the subjection is only on the part of the Church, in the relationship between husband and wife the “subjection” is not one-sided but mutual.

A bit further on in the same section the Pope continues:

The apostolic letters are addressed to people living in an evironment marked by that same traditional way of thinking and acting. The ‘innovation’ of Christ is a fact: it constitutes the unambiguous content of the evangelical message and is the result of the Redemption. However, the awareness that in marriage there is mutual “subjection of the spouses out of reverence for Christ”, and not just that of the wife to the husband, must gradually establish itself in hearts, consciences, behavior and customs. This is a call which from that time onwards, does not cease to challenge succeeding generations; it is a call which people have to accept ever anew.

The Pope, then, is very careful to show how Eph 5:21 teaches an innovation in the relationship between men and women, a new way of reciprocity which has yet to fully take hold in many of today’s cultures. Any ‘orienting of wills’ should be reciprocal and mutual.

Is Steve Habisohn correct in that it is a husband’s duty to discern if his wife’s desires are good for her?

No. The gist of the argument in Ephesians 5 and in the thought of the Pope is that husband and wife should have a mutual sense of care for one another. At times that might mean respectfully and lovingly challenging or questioning the other, but neither spouse has a greater responsibility here than the other.

Mr. Habisohn has simply put out his shingle on the Web and asked for money. He has no special training or background other than his personal study of the Pope’s ideas surrounding the theology of the body. On the one hand, I agree with Mrs. Radtke that, when one looks over the material on his sites, there doesn’t seem to be too much with which to argue. He promotes material related to the Pope’s “Theology of the Body” and Natural Family Planning. Still, if (OMITTED) are accurate in their reporting of Habisohn’s letter to their friend, he over stepped his bounds. He should stay out of the marriage counseling business. Furthermore, his language in the letter he wrote their friend is no where supported in either Ephesians 5 or in the writings of John Paul.

ZENIT Interview with Steve Habisohn on the e5 Men’s Movement

In his interpretation of Ephesians 5. Habisohn states “In a complementary response of total self-gift, the wife orients her will to her husband’s to allow for his gift of self to be given freely. She becomes submissive — which literally means ‘under’ his ‘mission’ — to serve her needs.”

There you have it, I gave the founder of e5 the last word.


My remarks about the Macfarlane matter, the issue of divorce, and an article about e5 have caused a flood of comments that I cannot continue to monitor. Some of them have called me irresponsible and in league with Satan. I am going to save a previous comment in the body of the post, but disable the comment feature. You can still send me emails, but I am increasingly uncomfortable with this discussion. It amazes me that people would fault Bai Macfarlane for fighting for her sacramental marriage and against the evil of divorce, particularly the no-fault variety.

As for the e5 business, it may have its merits, but I took “honest” exception to some things I read about it. I would certainly be willing to revisit the matter or even post honest and sympathetic material that would show how it is usually effective and in agreement with Catholic teaching. But, frankly, there is little information to be found and much of it dating back to 2003.

forrealfamily.jpgI will share with you one exceptional article about it that I discovered on the web. Published in a small area newsletter, it is the best that I have read on e3 so far.

PLEASE KNOW, that while I may come across as overly critical of e5, it is mostly because I am unhappy with how it is explained in the few sources nationally available. However, there is a beautiful essay by Dennis Murphy in LIFE CYCLES that presents a picture of e5 with which I could whole-heartedly accept and make my own.

He writes:

“We join our small suffering with the sufferings of Christ on the cross not only for the intention of being chaste for our wives but for being chaste for other good reasons. I, for example, also offer my fasting for the intentions of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. I try to follow the example of Saint Louis De Montfort by giving all to Mary, especially being chaste. I thought it was good to do something simple, and I knew that something like the fasting was coming for me…I wanted to participate in something meaningful especially regarding the sacredness of intimacy, which so much in our culture wants to trivialize. I struggle some Wednesdays more than others, but I don’t find it difficult to do especially when I think of Jesus suffering and crucified. My fasting is such a drop of water in His infinite ocean of love, but it is still my drop of love. It’s amazing that the Son of God and His Mother would even notice it, and they do.”

This is not only beautiful but spiritually meaty. Here is the substance and the middle term that I could not find clearly enunciated either by its founder or by Macfarlane. It also reflects something of simplicity and humility, which makes theology and a true appreciation of faith possible.

He goes on to say:

“As I have offered up my simple 24 hours of fasting on bread and water, I think of those not only in e5, but anyone who has fasted because the Lord said that some healings need prayer and fasting. The Lord also said that when He was gone, there would be time for fasting. Certainly the assault against chastity in our own wounded culture demands the response of prayer and fasting in order to beg healing from our most chaste Lord and His most chaste Mother. I believe that the e5 men and women who quietly offer up their little suffering join in God’s plan to counter the scandal of evil against chastity.”

This perspective upon e5 is one upon which I can whole-heartedy concur. He convinces me of its utility, at least in the manner that he understands and pursues it:

“Certainly the focus and motivation for any acts are rooted in the gifts of the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist and confession. I go to Confession weekly and Mass or Adoration of the Blessed Eucharist daily as does my wife, Mary Grace. I don’t know what I would do without the blessedness of the Eucharist and the forgiveness of Confession.”

I am tearing as I read this. This is the stuff that should be posted on the e5 website. There is nothing here of men imaged as SWAT teams, but as sinners who seek to be holy men and beter helpmates to their wives as fellow pilgrims. He gives a short but convincing explanation about how the mortification dynamic works with prayer, the sacraments, and in the larger context of a community of faith. There is nothing here of an eletist group or a boy’s club. Whatever he read, this man filled in the gaps for himself, and now he does it for us.

He closes by saying:

“It was so great to read about e5 and the direct defense against all these atrocities against women [attacks on our virtue of chastity] through fasting especially to foster respect for the wife that I love, even though in my weak humanity I fail, the children whom we conceived, who have taught me to understand the depth of the need for maturity and holiness in all areas of life and the Church, without whom I would be lost and overcome in the struggle against sin, and the people of God, whom I am called to humbly serve one person at a time.”

If you want to read the whole article, here is the link:

Those wanting to read more about e5 men can follow these links:

e5 Men Website

Habisohn: How Real Men Sacrifice for Their Brides

Macfarlane: Husbands Crucified

OSV: A Fast way for Husbands to Pray for Their Wives

Belief Net: The Fasting Masters of the 21st Century

New Oxford Review: Sensitivity for Sensitive Guys


Eric Scheidler | squarezero.org |

To lay this [Macfarlane] debacle at the feet of Steve Habisohn and the e5men is shockingly unfair. Thousands of men (BTW, I am not one of them) have been participating for several years in the e5 program of fasting and prayer. The marital woes of one of these men hardly constitute a case against the entire program.

Steve Habisohn has never suggested that fasting alone is enough to secure a strong marriage. He has never suggested to men that they not communicate with their wives or share a family dinner. And is one day of fasting per month really destructive of the family meal?

There may be criticisms to be made about the e5 approach, but you offer nothing but a caricature. If you had contacted Habisohn yourself, you might have gotten a more nuanced perspective on what his group is about, including the many men — and women — who have benefited from the once-a-month fast.

Instead you re-hash the attacks against Habisohn and e5 that Bai Macfarlane has already offered far and wide, including the response of a diocesan official to a series of leading questions.

Eric Scheidler | squarezero.org |

Father, I want to make a further comment about your criticism of the e5 Men program. First, I should disclose that I am good friends with Steve Habisohn. He would be the first to agree that he and I do not see eye to eye on all matters, including the headship issue. Indeed, I am disappointed to see a critique of Habisohn’s approach so flawed by bias and sloppy documentation.

The evidence you present here is, in my view, deeply flawed. First, the e-mail quoted at the top or your article. We have NO CONTEXT for this e-mail message whatsoever. We do not know who the “friend” is, or what that person’s relationship may have been to Steve Habisohn — what he may know or believe about the situation which informs his words.

Absent any context, his words look like irresponsible, even misogynistic counsel. They are given the color of grand generalizations about the authority of a husband. But he may very well have intended those words to a particular women about whose situation he knew something WE do not.

Which again points to the singular character of this whole business: what the public knows about the Macfarlanes it knows from only one of them. How, for example, did this e-mail fall into the hands of Bai Macfarlane or her associates? Was permission granted by Habisohn for what clearly is a private communication to be broadcast far and wide on the Internet? Could it be that the “friend” is none other than Bai herself?

Likewise, the critique from Cardinal George’s assistant Fr. John Lodge: How was the e5 Men organization presented to Fr. Lodge? Were, as it appears, statements made to one particular person construed as general laws advocated by Habisohn? Who is the “wife of the friend” involved in this communication? Why were these letters made public, and again, was permission given to do so?

A final remark on the question of demons and marital strife. There is the legitimate problem of a certain kind of pious Catholic seeing a demon behind every challenge or squabble. It’s particularly unsettling to have one’s own role in a dispute attributed to demonic influence!

You say that “Marriages are not principally about powers and principalities, they are about dirty diapers, crying babies, doctors’ bills, making beds, fixing the car, going to church as a family, sleeping as husband and wife naked together under the covers, and so much more.”

I put it to you that you are presenting here a FALSE DILEMMA. These simply aspects of marital life are the very plain upon which the battle between good and evil takes place, where one’s guardian angel and those devils whose special task it is to seek the ruin of one’s soul struggle for decisive influence.

Satan hates marriage, just like he hates each one of us, and he’s going to try to break through every chink and crack he can. Changing diapers! How easy it is for a man to leave this to his wife — selfishly. And how easy for a wife to resent him for it — bitterly. Even this seemingly mundane thing can be matter of real spiritual battle.

To say that a paritcular issue doesn’t involve the “cosmic battle” is, in fact, to say that it doesn’t involve grace. If the battle between good and evil doesn’t involve diapers, then there’s no GRACE involved in diapers, and any mother or father could tell you — and I speak here as the father of seven — that it’s ONLY through grace that you survive the diaper years.

Fixing the car! I know all too well how Satan tempts me when I’m working on a mechanical repair. He would love nothing more for me to lose my temper, swear, rudely rebuke the son who’s too slow getting me the wrench I need. Doctor bills! A man is a fool not to pray for patience before discussing doctor bills with his wife; and no, not because she tries his patience, but because he is a hot-headed fool whose real worry for his families financial state is perverted all too easily into angy words.

And is it necessary to say that the spiritual battle is waged in the midst of that nakedness between the sheets. Pope John Paul II of happy memory said just that — “Becoming one as husband and wife, they find themselves in the situation in which the powers of good and evil fight and compete against each other” (Wed. Audience, 6/27/84).

He connects this fight directly to the marital embrace itself, noting the prayer of Tobiah before lying together with Sarah as her husband.

John Paul II knew that Satan wants nothing more than to undermine the harmony of husband and wife in the marital bed. Tobiah knew it. You ought to know it too.

Teachings About Divorce

This is a reflection upon a two page document sent to me from Bai Macfarlane entitled INCONSISTENT INFORMATION ABOUT DIVORCE, VARIETY OF TEACHINGS:

Father Christopher J. Rossman

Divorce in itself is not a grave (mortal) sin, however. Jesus says, “… whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery” – Matthew 19:9. It’s not the divorce that is a grave sin rather someone engaging in another relationship after the civil divorce. … If one civilly divorces and remains unmarried and chaste no grave sin is committed and the person is not prevented from receiving the sacraments.

I suspect that what Father Rossman means is that while we are dealing with grave matter, the subjective element depends upon a number of factors. While it might be misunderstood and painful to hear, divorce as such is a sin. Yes, I know there are some who would argue otherwise, including clergy; but we cannot allow pastoral considerations and human sentiment to cloud the truth about the matter. I would take exception to redirecting the focus from divorce to adultery; while the offenses are often related (as in the Gospel of Matthew), they are also substantially different. It is not enough to say that as long as the divorced person does not have sexual relations with a person other than the spouse, that the divorce is an insignificant or neutral matter. Pastors may make an accommodation for divorced people to receive the sacraments; but to be quite frank, they often do not even ask the priest if it is okay. It is possible that some divorced people need both Confession and efforts at restitution before the regularization of their status in the Church. Often the fault for the failure of marriages rests with both parties; but it can also be the case that one is innocent of wrongdoing. A person who loves his or her spouse and is faithful to marital obligations would certainly not be culpable of sin if there should be spousal abandonment. The person who selfishly walks away from marriage is guilty of sin and I would argue that the gravity is probably mortal. Those persons who through temptation and/or bad counsel lead others to divorce would also acquire guilt. What makes separation and divorce so very problematic is that spouses have a pledged duty to fulfill the obligations of procreation and fidelity. Spouses have a right to the emotional, physical and spiritual satisfactions of marital love. Those who use sex as a weapon of manipulation in marriages are sinning in a way akin to divorce. Divorce here is understood as more than a legal status; but as the separation of spouses and as their estrangement from the supports proper to this state. A person might divorce his or her spouse and remain both chaste and celibate; however, a sin is committed because the spouse still has needs and a right to a shared life and sexual intimacy. The sin of divorce is precisely this depravation. Arising from this, our Lord intimates about how a man who divorces his wife can be guilty for his own and for the spouse’s adultery, both in actuality and potentially.

There are cases where marriages are defective and for that reason we have an annulment process. But I would urge couples not to date or to pursue romantic entangles until or unless they are free to do so. It may be that some divorced people can never remarry because the first bond is genuine. Are there reasons why a divorce should be pursued? The various grounds for annulments represent a partial list. It might also be the case that a spouse is abusive, violent and dangerous. I knew a case where a woman had to separate from her spouse because he was a bad drunk. He regularly beat her and threatened to kill her and the children. She wanted to preserve the marriage but the value of life and the safety of her children came first. She did not remarry.

Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Atlanta

Please remember that a divorce alone would not affect, or hinder in any way, your participation in the Catholic Church. A divorced Catholic is free to receive the sacraments. … However, if you are divorced and remarried without a Decree of Invalidity (and your former spouse is still living) a problem does arise.

Here too the issue of divorce seems confused with adultery, however, I suspect it is simply the bottom line  regarding the law of the Church. Legal norms in the Church have always tended to be minimalistic.  A divorced spouse may be the innocent party or he or she might be the source or agent of the breakup. Beyond civil divorce there are some who remain together but live as if they are divorced. These spouses tolerate living together but are both emotionally and physically living distinct lives remote from each other. This is wrong for many of the same reasons why separation and civil divorce are offensive.  Those working in a tribunal would hope that people from failed marriages would first seek out their priestly confessors. Before calling it quits, couples should do all they can to work out their problems and, if possible, save their marriages. They should also invoke divine grace and assistance.  Attempting (another) marriage without ecclesial approbation is a decisive civil act that places one in conflict with Church teaching and discipline.  Here is an explicit and verifiable act with a written record to which the sanctions of Church law quickly respond.  However, this does not mean that the couple’s faith and discipleship was not already in trouble.  Spouses are supposed to be the first of helpmates in supporting each other in becoming saints.  If a marriage falls apart, it is obvious that this goal and preoccupation for mutual holiness has also collapsed. 

In the Know with Fr. Joe. (America’s Catholic Television Network)

If you are divorced and not remarried, you can receive communion.

This says what the others said, and it is frequently the practice. But just as many priests lament that so many come up for communion without recourse to the sacrament of penance, similarly divorced believers should change their lives and seek out a priest prior to receiving communion.

North American Conference of Separated and Divorced

There are no laws preventing a divorced Catholic who has not remarried from active participation within a parish. This includes receiving Eucharist and Reconciliation, or participating as a Lector, Eucharistic Minister, Parish Council member, etc. You do not need absolution prior to fully participating.

Reception of communion is not just a legal issue but a spiritual one. Is the person properly disposed for the sacrament? If not, then he or she desperately needs to seek out the counsel, and if possible, the absolution of a priest.  

As an aside, the new guidelines reserve the title Lector to those men formally installed and the term Eucharistic Minister to bishops, priests and deacons. Other ordinary ministers would be installed Acolytes. Those who read at Mass are now called Readers.  The laity who assist with communion are called Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.  No other terms are currently permitted.

Catholic Answers. Jim Blackburn , Staff Apologist

However, in other cases [for the one in grave fault who destroyed marriage], —as with all serious sin—a divorced person should go to confession immediately, prior to receiving Communion.

Yes, this is exactly the case.

EWTN – Pennsylvania Bishop Pastoral Letter. July 29, 1994

Therefore, it is helpful to keep in mind several distinctions among divorced persons whose previous marriage(s) have not been declared sacramentally invalid by the lawful authority of the church. Such distinctions include first of all those who have not remarried, as well as those who have remarried and seek to live in complete continence. These persons are eligible to receive the Eucharist according to the regular norms of the church.

It might seem that the minimalism of law or norms in this instance is based more upon what one does not do than on what one actually does. Instead of placing a lot of moral weight on divorce, it shifts to the avoidance of adultery.  The issue of spousal support and intimacy is not addressed, just the fact that there is no sexual activity. I have to admit that, while the canonists may be correct, such understandings leave me very uncomfortable. The statement here says that remarried couples who “seek to live in complete continence” are eligible to receive the Eucharist. Okay, norms are fulfilled, but serious questions remain. Human laws, even in the Church, may not always satisfy all the prescriptions of divine law. This allowance is probably in reference to those brother-sister internal forum situations known privately to the pastor. I can certainly understand how an older couple might be given such an allowance given mistakes that were made and the approaching proximity of their departure from this veil of tears. But, it could be sorely abused as well. The potential exists for egregious scandal.  We only have a couple’s word that they are not sexually involved. Further, what about all the other satisfactions of married love: a shared life, kisses and small embraces, holding hands, bodies resting next to each other on a couch, intimate words and romantic encounters. Continence might not be breeched and yet all these sweet elements still properly belong to someone else, a true spouse forgotten or ignored. I have encountered men who have wept daily at the loss of knowing that the love of their lives is now in another man’s arms. The Church should not forget these poor souls and the lonely pain they feel.

Diocese of Bismark, ND

Can a divorced Catholic receive the sacraments? Yes. There is nothing in the Church’s law that prevents a divorced Catholic from receiving the Eucharist and other sacraments of the Church. A divorced person is fully and completely a member of the Church.

This explanation is much like the ones that have come before. Tribunals are only concerned about the canonical norms. However, in practice many questions must be asked. There is much public debate today about the scandal of sin or complicity in regards to the reception of communion. The American Life League regularly petitions the bishops to tell pro-abortion Catholic politicians not to receive the Eucharist. Similarly, like all believers, divorced Catholics must seriously examine their conscience before partaking of the bread of life. Are they living chastely? If not remarried, are they cohabitating? That is sin or at least the occasion of sin. As far as I know, no one denies that divorced persons are still members of the Church. That does not mean that our relationship with Christ and his Church is everything it should be. Our Lord identifies himself with the beloved in marriage. Marriage is a sacrament which points to Christ’s covenant with his Church. Jesus keeps his promises and will never divorce himself from the Church. Divorce is a fractured sign of this mystery. How can it not touch our relationship with the Church? If Christ will never abandon us then should we not also keep our promises, even when it takes us to the Cross?

EWTN, Colin B. Donovan, STL

By itself civil divorce is not an obstacle to Communion. As a civil action all it does is settle the civil legal effects of marriage (distribution of property, custody of children etc.). … those who are actually responsible for the breakup of the marriage and the failure to be reconciled when possible are indeed guilty of sin and have an obligation to repent and confess their sin before receiving Communion, as would any grave sinner.

Yes, this is precisely the true Catholic answer to the question!

Diocese of Lacross, WI.

Divorce does not mean one can no longer receive Holy Communion. A Catholic is barred from receiving Communion only if he or she goes on to remarry after a divorce, while their previous spouse is still living, and no annulment has been granted in regards to a prior marriage.

This is consistent with the other answers given. However, a number of things are presumed: that there is no attempted marriage and/or ongoing cohabitation and adultery. It is peculiar that no one talks about the wrong of neglecting marital duties. Refusing the sexual advances and the various acts of marital support and intimacy are also sinful. Might such neglect constitute serious sin and inhibit one from receiving communion?

Diocese of Charleston

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.

I suspect this response is alluding to organizations of Separated and Divorced Catholics. It is true that they can help people through their pain. However, I often worry that they can inadvertently create other problems. People in these situations are very vulnerable. Acts of kindness can lead to special friendships and intimacy. My suggestion would be that such support should be limited to people of the same sex to avoid the possibility of romantic entanglements. I would also resist efforts to automatically minimize the value and authenticity of failed marriages. Some situations cannot be fixed. This is the hard truth we need to face.

Diocese of Arlington. Catholic Herald. Fr. William P. Saunders

Another question arises concerning the status of a divorced person in the Church. Since divorce involves a civil decree by the state and is not recognized by the Church, a divorced person remains in good standing and may receive the sacraments. However, if a divorced person remarries without a Declaration of Nullity, then strictly speaking, an act of adultery is committed: since the first marriage still is presumed valid, remarriage without an annulment places the person in a state of mortal sin and prevents him from receiving Holy Communion. Therefore, the Church encourages a divorced person who may think he may one day remarry to see his parish priest and pursue the annulment process.

Yes, admittedly this is the practice in the United States. Are we too quick to encourage the annulment process? Tribunals will not even begin the investigation until a divorce decree is acquired. Many couples do not seek marriage counseling or some time has elapsed when they finally contact a priest. Often one spouse wants to salvage a marriage and the other does not. Many annulments are pursued after people have become entangled in new romantic relationships. In other words, many if not most annulments are responses, not to divorce, but to what are externally regarded as adulterous situations. Due to weakness and passion, there is often already a second marriage although conducted civilly or in another religious denomination. I heard a priest once joke that we have to teach our people that Catholic divorce is not annulment but murder. The bond is “unto death do we part.” The six month preparation period is precisely to stress the permanence of the bond. However, even at the initial stage, many couples are already brushing aside Catholic teaching by living together and having sexual relations. It is my contention that the disregard for virginity prior to marriage is a poison leading to infidelity and divorce later on. Annulments cannot be assured. I have had a few denied. There were no grounds. It is quite rare that these adulterous couples would then separate or not seek marriage outside the Church. Tell them to separate and they look at you with shock and bewilderment. All the Church is doing is trying to keep them to their word. They promised fidelity to a spouse and before Almighty God. Promises are meant to be kept.

Archbishop of Cagyan de Oro City, Philppines

Archbishop Antonio J. Ledesma of Cagyan de Oro City has strongly criticized a proposed bill that would legalize divorce in the Philippines and said that the move would destroy the moral fiber of Philippine society. “Legalizing something that is immoral will not make it right, but will instead make it worse,” said Archbishop Ledesma.

Similar arguments were made in Ireland. But secularism seems to be winning. Here we do see a “disconnect” from the practice in other nations. Tribunals in the West require a divorce before permitting annulment applications. Meanwhile, in the Philippines, the Church is arguing against legalized divorce. This is the traditional stance and it best reflects Catholic teaching about the indissolubility of marriage. Divorce is not regarded as an option. For better or worse, marriage is for keeps!

Archbishop of Malta and Bishop of Gozo

[From the Archbishop of Malta] As there are those who promote divorce in a pluralistic society, the Church’s mission is to promote the stability of marriage, insisting on the moment of consent as the focal point of one’s commitment. In divorce there is a shift from this focal point towards each moment which is presented as giving the spouse a potential right to consider his/her consent and commitment thus ending one’s marriage.

The philosophical interpretation of the archbishop is on the mark. Sacraments represent special moments where promises or vows can be renewed but not denounced. A person is baptized and becomes a child of God and member of the Church. A man is ordained and he is forever configured to Christ the high priest. A couple is married and the two become one flesh. There is a new and enduring reality. Christianity believes that there are particular moments when we take a stand and define ourselves. Secular society today runs away from perpetual commitments and consistency. No lines are drawn and change is embraced where people are constantly redefining themselves and their lives. These views are incompatible. One promotes order or structure and obedience; the latter brings about chaos and confusion. Christians are people of the promise in a world of broken promises.

Prefect of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Roman Curia, Francis Cardinal Arinze

Divorce tears marriage apart. It desolates both husband and wife. It leaves the children not only in tears but also in misery. We do not deny that there can be serious disagreement between husband and wife, but divorce is not the solution. When husband and wife have a disagreement, they should reflect, pray, sit together and discuss. Accept fault where you are wrong, ask for pardon, or consult a priest or other spiritual adviser, but do not divorce.

Cardinal Arinze, as always, is quite right. The problem that pastors face is that the couples we marry, and the many that get divorced, are only superficially Christian. Large numbers are ignorant of their faith and those who are informed lack a basic conviction to live out their Christianity. If there is rebellion and sin at the beginning of a bond, why should we think it would not show its face when the marriage falls apart? They do not see what is wrong with fornication and later explain away culpability for adultery and divorce. We hear things like this: “Our love died. We grew apart. We married too young. God would not want us to stay in a loveless marriage. I have fallen in love with someone else. It was good while it lasted. It is time to move on. We only stayed together for the children. We are not the same people anymore.” None of these reasons is sufficient for divorce. How many have the mentality that divorce should not even be placed upon the table as an option? Unfortunately, very few think this way. Often it is as if they speak an entirely different language from the priest.

[CCC 2385]

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.

[CCC 2384]

Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death.

The universal catechism also condemns divorce. It is wrong in itself and it acts as a poison to marriage and the family throughout society. The bond of marriage is a facet of the natural law. Men and women were created to enter into a lifelong union. Unlawful marriages by people who are not free violate both natural law and divine positive law. Civil law once reinforced this basic truth, but not so any longer. Indeed, no-fault divorce and attempts to redefine marriage for same-sex couples shows how the corruption is escalating.

More Voices from the Other Side: Divorce & Remarriage

This is a follow up post to a previous one focusing on “the other side” of divorce and upon those spouses who wanted to preserve their unions. The issue of Church censure, annulments and remarriage weigh heavily in the discussion. Here are a number of voices in dialogue about this important matter. The first respondent begins by remarking upon Karl’s charges against the last two popes for not doing enough.


Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI are part of the problem? I do not think so. They have sought to address the problem of invalid annulments, but many canonists will not listen to them. The Holy Father has wanted to prevent scandal and so there is a great deal of communication that is never made privy to the general public. The issue is and was extensive dissent, not simply among ragtag theologians, but wholesale among bishops and chancery clergy.

Why does the problem remain? Liberal theologians are also often canonists and the same passivity that the Church exhibits towards politicians and morals is also revealed when facing distraught divorced people who want to erase a mistake and marry again. For all practical purposes, the Church is involved with a silent schism and the Pope knows that if he pushes too hard, the bulk of the American Church will defect, bishops and all. It will be England and Henry VIII revisited with a vengeance.

[At this point he offers a prayer for Karl.]

Dear God, we ask you to bring healing to Karl and justice to the cause that he feels so deeply. Easy divorce is a violation that attacks at the heart of the marriage bond. Vows are made and should be kept. Marriages are not ended by judicial decree or even by Church courts, but by the death of a spouse. Then and only then is a true marriage ended, and yet, even here, there is no end to the love that a husband and wife share. Bless Karl in his life, and watch over and protect his five children. The fruit of married love is real and everlasting (Holly, Mary, Margaret, Monica and Karl Michael). May the good Lord envelop Karl in his loving embrace and give him peace. Amen.

Sign the petition against No-Fault Divorce:


Many of us have been abandoned by our spouses. Life is tough, Karl. But we are not living for joy & happiness on this earth. We are trying to get to HEAVEN …. There is justice after this life if not during. This is why we pray & pray for conversion in our unfaithful spouses so that their hearts will be softened and they return to Christ before their death and be able to obtain heaven. And we pray and pray for ourselves …for the grace to be faithful to God’s Law (especially that of living a chaste life, which is so very lonely) and the grace to imitate Christ in His meek carrying of His cross. And we pray for our children that their hearts not be hardened by the pain of loss they suffer or by being witnesses to bad example (most likely) from both parents.

No, Karl, life is not fair. I also lost a son in a car accident. Does this give me the right to rage against God at the injustice? To rage against others who have not lost children simple because they do not share this particular cross? …To ignore my surviving children, and my other duties because of my pain? My answer to these questions has been NO! You might be surprised how others answer these questions…peek in on a support group for bereaved parents, you may be shocked. As sad as these situations may be or should I say as sad as the sufferings we all face in life may be, we must be willing to do what we can to correct injustice on this earth without going against God’s Law (because the end never justifies the means). Then, we must accept our fate as God’s Will for us and continue to serve Him in love.


Although I do not fight in the same way or anger as Karl does, I have to agree with him on nearly everything he has said about the lack of help/assistance for those of us who believe/KNOW that we ARE in a Valid Marriage no matter what a civil divorce court has said, or the world has said… OR Tribunals have said.

I have been told to “Trust the Holy Spirit” and petition the Tribunals, with the additional statements that the alcoholism is a clear indication of NULLITY, and would be adequate grounds to a Null Decision.

Point One: I do not believe alcoholism (sickness and heath, better or worse, good times and bad) are grounds for determining that our marriage was NULL on the day we appeared before God and Man and pledged our vows “all the days of my life.”

Point Two: I am not able to sign the basic forms that are needed to petition due to the fact that I must state that I believe my Marriage to have been Null from the beginning. I do NOT believe that.

Point Three: In a Church which teaches/has always taught that ALL marriages are VALID until proven beyond doubt that they were not, before a Tribunal, I cannot buy into the fact that the Tribunals are being led by the Holy Spirit when the first contact with Respondents is to call my spouse my “FORMER SPOUSE.” Sorry, but the Civil Law means nothing, and my spouse is still my spouse regardless of that decree. CIVILLY he may not be, but in my Church, he is! To me, and to many other faithful spouses who live their vows regardless of what MAN says, in obedience to what GOD says (Jesus Himself four times in the Gospel, as well as in Church teachings)–this is a slap in the face, and a clear indication where “the spirit” lies… and discernment can lead one to believe that it may well be a “false spirit of compassion” that rules the day in our US Tribunals that seems to favor those who destroy the marriage, often by adultery/divorce/civil marriage to the “lover”/and finally, a petition to annul the first marriage in favor of the second, which was based on adultery to begin with.

Point Four: Sites with an appealing name such as “Save Our Sacrament” are not pointed out to be dissident. “Internal Forum” is blatantly featured, in spite of the fact that it is NOT to be used for Marriage/Divorce, and no one in the hierarchy calls them on it publicly. No one preaches the Truth on Internal Forum in the local parishes where it is “taught” by priests, etc. It is allowed to stay online for years (as in St Anthony Messengers article by Fr John Catoir on the topic). THIS is SCANDAL.


S.O.S. is a member of Catholic Organizations for Renewal (COR).


Yet, the very cry of most of us who do NOT want NULL verdicts, but the TRUTH of the VALIDITY of our marriages is corrupted by this website. What is promoted there is not saving the Sacrament. It is watering down Truth to fit society’s plunge into the Pit. It is, essentially, what Henry VIII said/taught after Rome refused to grant a NULL verdict about his marriage to Catherine of Arragon.

I do love my Church, and there is no place else I would go. I could not leave Him (The Eucharist) any more than I can quit my vows. To do so would be doing to HIM what my spouse did to ME so long ago— Desertion— forced unilateral divorce— attempting to say that something that EXISTS never really did in the first place.

Yet my Church, which used to defend those of us who remain faithful till death, vehemently, has done this to us by allowing the US Tribunals to grant so many NULL verdicts and to tell us that this is “right” and “true” and “spirit-led.”

If there is a schism here in the US, it will ONLY be VISIBLE evidence of what is already happening! “My people PERISH for lack of KNOWLEDGE!” …of TRUTH. Truth needs to be preached, and to be acted on, or “the spirit of compassion” (which I firmly believe is a False spirit) will continue to overtake Truth. While the Gates of Hell will not prevail against His Church—many of the members of that Church may end up on the other side of those very Gates.

In our situation, the civil wife KNOWS the Truth, and told our children that they (civil wife and my spouse) cannot go to Communion because according to the Church, they are living in sin—her words in the very beginning of that “marriage.”

Another in our family, an in-law, was told by her priest-friend that as long as SHE knew in her heart that the first marriage wasn’t valid, she could avoid the Tribunal and still receive Communion…and she does on the rare occasion she attends Mass.

No one refutes this from any pulpit in our area (and I would be willing to bet, in few nationally). In fact, I have heard only ONE sermon on Jesus’ words on divorce (I believe they show up once every three years in the Gospel readings of Sunday Mass, though it MAY be twice) in all the years since our separation in the early 80′s! And that was watered down….

Karl has very valid points. His anger is, in many ways, justified.

Too many are willing to compromise to “protect the feelings” of those in the pews who may need to hear Truth in order to save their very souls. It is Truth that sets us free, not compromise, not justifying Sin and condoning it with an official “verdict” that is based on today’s psychiatric diagnoses.
His People Perish for Lack of Knowledge… and Hell is for Eternity.


The bit about “sickness and heath, better or worse, good times and bad” are not in reference to things that would invalidate a marriage in the present. If you become a drunk after you are married, there are no grounds for invalidation. If you develop psychosis after marriage, you are still married. If a man has a fishing accident with a hook while on honeymoon and castrates himself, as long as there has been a consummation, he is truly married. But, if any of these things happen prior to the marriage day, then the couple is out of luck. Annulments are granted because people conceal problems from the priest and sometimes try to do so even from themselves. An annulment means they should NEVER have gotten married in the first place and that the sacrament or natural bond is not really present. There is a legal union (both in the Church and in civil society) and for that reason children remain legitimate even after an annulment.

Alcoholism can vary by degrees; however, a person who is grossly incapable of dealing with his own life can hardly make a marital commitment to another. Like paralysis, certain maladies can make the fulfillment of marital duties impossible or highly improbable. If such is the case before the vows are taken and on the appointed day for a marriage, the bond could indeed be invalidated. Indeed, if priests are aware of a problem like alcoholism, we are forbidden to marry the couple. I ask about addictions and diseases prior to witnessing marriages. If they lie to me that deceit can also invalidate the marriage. People have a natural right to marriage, but some like me freely renounce that right and others are incapable of it because of either faulty intention, dishonesty, impotence, addiction, hatred (rejection) of children, physical incapacitation, sexual corruption, or mental aberration.

A person who is HIV positive cannot be married lawfully in the Church to a non-infected person because non-contraceptive intercourse required for consummation is possibly deadly to the spouse. A paralyzed man cannot engage in the marital act and get married, with the possible exception of those with artificial intervention to restore potency. Couples who are sterilized are routinely required to attempt surgical reversals in order to have a sacramental wedding. People who are mentally deranged and/or who take drugs for mental diseases are not normally able to marry. Medication to control various mental illnesses would deform a fetus. Alcoholism or any other kind of serious drug addiction invalidates the marriage vows and bond. A heroin fiend cannot truly fulfill his vows and is lying to his beloved and the priest. The same goes for gross alcoholism. It is a sickness, but there is a moral element related to it. I knew a man who was an active alcoholic who had his prior bond annulled on the grounds that his addiction made him incapable of marriage. He then wanted to get married again but a “monitum” prohibited any priest or deacon from marrying him until a doctor certified that he had found sobriety. He remained a drunk and so he could not marry again. The last time I saw him, he was begging for money on the streets.

You write: “I am not able to sign the basic forms that are needed to petition due to the fact that I must state that I believe my Marriage to have been Null from the beginning. I do NOT believe that.” Fine and good, you should not sign them if you disagree. Indeed, if such is your conviction, you should never remarry even if the spouse does so, in or out of the Church. Marriage is a one-time sacrament. I cannot say that the Tribunals are always right about these things. The culpability is more upon them than any individuals they mislead. However, the process, while imperfect, is an attempt to protect the indissolubility of marriage while being compassionate to those who might have grounds for nullity.

I am not familiar with the website SAVE OUR SACRAMENT although I am familiar with internal forum between couples (usually elderly) and the pastor. They are required to live as brother and sister and they are not to advertise the nature of their relationship so as to avoid scandal. I worked with just such a couple many years ago who were in their 90′s. They have since passed away.

If your husband has civilly remarried, he is not in good standing with the Church. He is still required to go to Sunday Mass and to make sure that any children receive the sacraments. However, as long as he cohabitates with this other woman, the status is regarded as adultery and no personal sentiment or feeling on his part would allow him to receive communion. Indeed, he cannot receive absolution from a priest, either. He is apparently in a state of mortal sin. His in-laws are grievously wrong to tell him otherwise. They are numbing his conscience and that of his civil-wife to the fact that their eternal salvation is at stake.

I cannot speak about your case because I do not know the particulars. Since there is a civil marriage, I take it that no annulment was granted. If you felt that the first marriage was the valid one, then you are right to oppose the annulment, although they are sometimes granted despite opposition. If your husband and his civil-wife were really good Catholics, they would not want to live in an adulterous relationship. If you really loved someone, would you do something that would deprive them of the Eucharist and maybe even cost them their salvation in Christ? I asked this of a priest who left and attempted marriage. He said he loved the girl. I argued that he did not love her enough and that he was selfish. Better for a priest to suffer in his loneliness than to cost another the gift of sanctifying grace and the reception of the Blessed Sacrament. He did not know what to say. He knew I was right. He said he would get laicized. But at that time he was still married to the Church and what if she should die before laicization was granted? He would have to live with the terrible possibility that he sent to hell the person he most loved in the whole world.

I preach upon this subject of divorce and annulments, as well as upon the crisis of premarital sex and cohabitation. Not all priests are silent. I am sorry about your pain. You can pray for him and continue to witness to your vows. We all want joy, but often what we get is the Cross.


I have reconciled myself to living my vows alone till one of us dies. Our civil-forced-divorce was way back in 1985, and I have long been able to praise Him and to forgive my spouse. I pray for him and for the civil wife all the time. (She and I have spoken; she has been praying for my health recently, much to the chagrin of xxxxxxxxx). My primary desire is his salvation and sobriety, as well as mine. Hers is secondary. Reconciliation at this stage is totally up to God Himself.

Yes, it is MY understanding also what counts is prior to marriage, and the wedding day itself, not what is diagnosed 10 plus years after the marriage. But that is not what happened in our area, and it is not what I have been told by at least three priests. I have been me telling THEM this fact.

I can believe that you do teach on the subject, Father Joe, because you are one of the rare ones who speaks of this topic ONLINE, too. But in most places, it is avoided like the plague.

Civil divorce is taken as proof that the marriage was not a marriage most of the time now, or “it would not have ended up in the divorce courts.” But this is not true.

We are still a largely forgotten group of very Faithful Catholics, most often looked upon as pitiable, rigid, angry, bitter… even “pus-filled.” I assure you, most of us are not. When WE plead, “Save our Sacrament,” WE are begging the Church to stand with us regarding the validity of our marriages. We are not looking for a “way out,” but help to work toward reconciliation, healing, and maintaining the validity and permanency that Jesus Himself insisted upon.

As for Internal Forum, I cannot begin to claim the education others have, but I have spent the past 25 years learning as much as possible. One source:
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Cardinal Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), and now Pope Benedict XVI writes forcefully on the subject of the indissolubility of marriage. He concludes such a statement regarding the International Theological Commission’s Propositions on the Doctrine of Christian Marriage:

I would underscore that what is at stake in respect to the teaching of the indissolubility of marriage is nothing less than the Church’s fidelity to the radicalism of the Gospel. “The severity does not derive from a purely disciplinary law or from a type of legalism. It is rather a judgment pronounced by Jesus Himself (Mk 10:6ff). Understood in this way, this severe norm is a prophetic witness to the irreversible fidelity of love that binds Christ to His Church. It shows also that the spouses’ love is incorporated into the very love of Christ (Eph. 5:23-32).”[6]

In short, because marriage is an irrevocable covenant established by God, it is not a mere personal and private act. Marriage consent pertains to the common good and directly effects the Church. Subsequently, a mere personal and private act cannot substitute for a judgement of marriage nullity. In determining such a grave matter, only the Church herself, acting in the name of Christ, has competence to pass judgement.


God bless! (I can still understand Karl’s anger and frustration.)

KARL:  Hang in there, WI Catholic, I do love the Catholic Church, just can’t live with her.

WI CATHOLIC:  Thank you, Karl. God bless you!

Divorce & Remarriage, a Witness from the Other Side

I want to share a response to my remarks about Catholic teaching from a man hurt and angry about his wife’s divorce and subsequent remarriage. While we only know his side of the case, I found myself very sympathetic toward his concerns. No annulment was granted and yet it appears that her pastor permitted her to return to the sacraments. This is problematical and, not privy to the situation, I am at a loss as to what the extenuating circumstances might be.  The reader should be warned that while I censored a couple of words, the language is sometimes harsh and crude.  Further, we have many good people who have suffered divorce, received proper annulments and have started to rebuild a life wounded by  an earlier bad and invalid marriage.  I praise the Lord for how the Church and divine grace has brought healing and hope to their lives.  But this post is about someone who is still hurting and who feels left out or abandoned.  We do not know the grounds for the divorce or why the annulment was denied.  What we see is a man angry that his wife divorced him; angry that she has married again and will not be coming home; and angry that a seemingly passive Church will not excommunicate and punish her.        

Here is what Karl wrote, please note that my response immediately follows:

As a victim of a destroyed marriage due to the Catholic Church’s acceptance and encouragement of divorce, adultery and remarriage without an annulment (which is exactly the situation I faced), your question of divorce is invalid and shows that you really do not know what is going on in the Catholic Church.

I speak from experience.

I have seen tremendous evil and have begged for intervention at every level in the Catholic Church and only am ignored in spite of the FACTS!

Father Joe, the Church is a whore and the clergy are her pimps and none of them care to really understand the evil they are about.

With a broken heart, I say this is absolutely true and if the Pope had the COURAGE to give me a private audience, along with my adulterous wife, her lover and all of our children, he would be heartbroken if he opened his mind, which I think is beyond him. He would see what I have seen and see how my pleas for justice and for healing a Sacramental marriage have been ridiculed and ignored, while the adultery of my wife and her lover, in the face of two Roman Rotal decisions in favor of OUR SACRAMENT have been encouraged and supported for now over sixteen years!

Show some guts and get me a Papal audience, at the Church’s expense and the Pope will never be the same about these issues if he could but open his mind and LISTEN.

For the record, such as this commentary, it is a scandal and should not be said, unless it IS true; before Jesus Christ I have stated herein what is the TRUTH and am very willing to be held accountable for it, but only by those capable of objective, truthful analysis and free from assailing by any legal entity or ecclesial entity. I know their blood thirst for vengeance.

You may be a nobody among priests, Father Joe, but what you have read here is the TRUTH. Ignore it or say it is the rant of a madman and your Savior will know what is in your heart.

You can also be assured that there are many others who have experienced what I have and know this but who are ignored by the Catholic Church.

We DO NOT NEED OR WANT kind words. We DO NOT WANT spiritual direction.

We want accountability among the priests and bishops for what has been done to us. And we want it done publicly since publicly our marriage has been violated.



We want our marriages healed, which in cases like this can only be accomplished with Canonical sanctions – EXCOMMUNICATION.

Excommunication is supposed to be used to restore a person to the state of grace but instead nothing is done while our spouses are completely accepted by the Church as a couple, albeit not married in the Church, but nevertheless functioning as a married couple, while usually deceiving all by saying the arrangements are “brother and sister.” All this is with Rotal decisions stating just the opposite.

When was the last time brothers and sisters dated or took a romantic vacation together?

I dare you to have the [deleted] to preach about this scandal from your pulpit. I would come to hear you and answer questions if you had the guts and were willing to openly challenge the Bishops and the Pope.

I would like to hear what you think, but do not waste my time with piety if you are moved to believe that there is some truth in what I have told you. (I have heard so much [deleted] empty words from priests!) But I am passed being patient/understanding unless the person is willing to go to the wall with me on this issue.

You have no idea of the rage that this injustice breeds or the guilt we feel for our rage and our desperate desire to get rid of all the anger, to heal our marriages to forgive and to be forgiven. But not a single Bishop, at least in the US, cares enough to make this a prominent issue for the press, since the rest of the Church will do NOTHING.



Dear Karl,

I am sorry about what happened to you in your marriage. Even the Holy See has offered subtle warnings and guidance about the large number of annulments in the United States. The response is usually that we have the largest number of canon lawyers in the world or that Americans are generally immature and have difficulty making true commitments. Along with you, I think there is rampant abuse in the system. However, just because divorce and remarriage seems easy in this nation, and I have only had two annulment cases out of countless ones submitted that were turned down, still the truth remains that Jesus hates divorce and it is labeled “sin.” Admittedly, there are priests who would disagree with me, at least as to how this teaching is expressed. Certainly the Separated and Divorced Catholics groups might find such a verdict painful; however, I find disturbing that a number of sanctioned support groups often function as dating services for men and women who are not free to marry or even to have romantic relationships (adultery) . I must quickly add that this is NOT the case with all groups which focus on healing after these losses.

I know it is anger and frustration speaking when you label the Church “a whore” and all her clergy “pimps.” But remember, that no matter how sinful the membership (including the clergy), the Church is holy because Christ is holy. The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. As for clergy, yes we have more than our share of rascals; but I would contend, from my own associations, that most of them are good men who love the Lord and sacrifice much in the service of his people. Good priests keep their promises, just as we want married couples to keep theirs.

It would seem that if the Roman Rota ruled in favor of the sacrament of marriage between you and your wife, then the Pope is actually already on your side. Unfortunately, it is a big Church and even papal universal jurisdiction has a hard time breeching the mechanizations of the local churches and the various bishops. One of the reasons that Rome insists that a second tribunal affirm or cancel the decision of the primary tribunal is to help insure justice.

I know a good man, and a devout Catholic, who suffers daily because his wife left him for another man. He fought the divorce and later he tried to stop the annulment. However, he failed. He still goes to Mass and often he weeps at prayer in loss for her and in distress about the Church. He is absolutely convinced, despite the verdict of the marriage tribunal, that she is still his wife. He spurns suggestions that he should date and marry again. That would be adultery, he tells everyone, and knowing him I would be inclined to agree with him. I never met his wife and cannot say what kind of person she is, but knowing her husband (or ex-husband) my impression of her is not good. I am not blind that such things are going on. But neither can I water down what has always been the official teaching of the Church, and a prohibition (against divorce) that comes from the very mouth of Jesus.

The difficulty is that there are some invalid and unlawful marriages.

If the groom sleeps with the maid of honor the night before the wedding, I would say there is something seriously wrong already with the necessary intention.

If the man is partially paralyzed and impotent, he cannot lawfully consummate the marriage.

If there is an absolute opposition to children and intercourse is always contraceptive, the marriage is negated by the rejection of its principal object or good.

If the girl’s “pappy” forced the boy to marry his daughter at the end of a shotgun, then coercion negates the authenticity of the bond.

I have even turned down weddings that other priests eventually witnessed, as when one or both of the parties is mentally deranged. I recall one lady who was a heavily medicated paranoid schizophrenic. The drugs that drowned out the invisible voices would deform any child conceived. I recommended that she keep a platonic friendship, but that God was not calling her to marriage. They went to another priest and he did the deed. She got pregnant and had to go off medication. As a screaming insane person, necessity required that she be tied to a bed for months. Her husband walked off, like I suspected he would. The child had all sorts of defects and was eventually taken away from her. It was a real mess. She was incapable of the responsibilities of marriage. And her spouse was a lazy bum.

Prenuptial agreements are the big topic these days. They imply a level of doubt that invalidates the vows. Such contracts are forbidden to Catholics, but couples sometimes lie to priests.

These are real if extreme cases, but they represent some of the genuine areas where tribunals are “supposed” to judicate.

I have even had guys who were married before who tried to hide their previous bonds! One girl had gotten married by a bogus priest!

Another fellow had a vasectomy and failed to tell the bride. She wanted a big family and found out afterwards that all he wanted was to violate her virginity.

I have seen it all. I am not the proverbial ostrich with its head buried in the sand. And yet, I sympathize with you and share your concern about laxity in the annulment system.

I have never met the current Pope myself and so I am the last one to ask in getting you an audience with him. However, he is no fool, and I think he is aware of the abuses that are happening. Much is going on behind the scenes to improve things, but I suspect it will move too slowly to assist you. I am sorry for the pain you feel. I do not know about any “blood thirst for vengeance” and do not know the particulars in the case your wife brought against you. However, I can promise you my prayers and personal good will.

Yes, I suppose you could say that I am a “nobody among priests,” but every priest can forgive sins and confect the Eucharist, and so in this light I always feel especially privileged and blessed.

I beg you not to reject the compassion, spiritual direction and formation that the Church and good priests have to offer. You may not want kind words, but I suspect that Jesus would want me to extend them to you, all the same. As for direction, I must encourage you to stay close to the Church and to Jesus. Our Lord’s sacred heart knew what it meant to be betrayed and abandoned. Find solidarity with him in prayer and hope to enrich and live your life. We really have little or no control over what other people do. We do have some say about what we, individually, do. We all have crosses of some sort or another. Join yours to Christ’s. Life is not fair. People we want to respect disappoint us. The “happy ever after” ending of fairytales often does not materialize…at least not in this world.

It is right to want “accountability” among our priests and bishops, but as the Scriptures tell us, “vengeance” belongs to the Lord. God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is that great Tribunal before which we will all one day stand.

People argue for the censure of excommunication these days as if its imposition would cure everything. It does not restore a person to a state of grace. Indeed, it often hardens hearts and people walk away from the faith entirely. It does the opposite from what we might expect. The person is cut off from the Church, the sacrament of salvation. What we should not forget is that which is most basic in regard to rebellion, and that is plain old mortal sin. It does not have to be imposed; the person incurs it immediately and directly by enmity with God and the violation of his commandments. Clergy and other Church officials who do not take their responsibilities seriously, or who are hypocritical, will be punished by God. People who “knowingly” commit adultery will be punished as well. St. Paul says that adulterers, fornicators, and homosexuals will have no part in the kingdom of God. It does not get more serious than that. Please do not forget, that while righteous indignation is permissible, violent anger and seeking revenge are also serious sins. Jesus gave us a response pattern; he forgave his murderers from the Cross.

Catholics not married in the Church are not truly married. You write, Karl, that your wife and her “new husband” are “…functioning as a married couple, while usually deceiving all by saying the arrangements are ‘brother and sister.’” There is a peculiar arrangement permitted by the Church where pastors can allow a couple not married in the Church to feign such a situation in the attempt to avoid scandal. It is called INTERNAL FORUM. However, the couple has to be elderly and the annulment has to be impossible to receive. They are forbidden to publicize the true nature of their relationship and they are forbidden to have any sexual congress. They must live as brother and sister. Is this what happened? [Rome and certain canonists, I learned recently, have become much more strict and hesitant to tolerate internal forum situations.]

The trouble here is that the companionship and affection owed to the lawful spouse is still withheld (or given the wrong party).

Almost everyone in my last parish was elderly. It was a small place. Over the years, however, I have spoken about the sacrament of marriage and the evil of divorce. A number of my priest friends have done the same. I am not sure this necessarily brings one into opposition with the Pope and every bishop, either. Archbishop Wuerl has said wonderful things about the indissolubility of marriage in his catechism and television program.

Let us avoid vulgarity. Dialogue must be respectful. I am a priest and I belong to the Church. The question is not whether I will stand with you, Karl, but whether or not we will both stand with Jesus.

You do not want to hear pious talk, but honestly, there are some wounds that cannot be healed in this world. Life is messy and we struggle in a society of sinners with too few saints. All God is asking of you and me is that we be faithful. We may never know success, but that is okay, as long as there is fidelity.

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Father Joe