A Letter From Brianna
In 2000, I was married in the Catholic Church. 15 years later, my husband abandoned me and my 5 boys. I was left without notice and was burdened with raising my 5 boys alone. Here is my story.
In 2015, I woke up early one morning to start my day. It started like every other day with preparing breakfasts and lunches for my 5 boys, getting them ready for school and seeing them board their school bus. My husband worked the graveyard shift at the mine and was never home to see the boys off to school. He usually got home around 9 or 10 am. My day started as normal as can be.
I started to clean up after breakfast and began to clean up the aftermath of sending 5 boys off to school. Between dishes and laundry and tidying up the boy’s rooms, I lost track of time. At 10:30 am I started getting worried. I called my husband’s cell phone and left a message.
He didn’t call back, which I found strange, but I continued with my day not really concerned. I thought that he may have gone for coffee with the guys before coming home. So, I started to clean up my bedroom.
I was making the bed when I found a note under his pillow. He often left me little love messages so I didn’t think anything of it. I put the note in my pocket and continued with my day. I was going to read the note later with a cup of coffee when I sat to relax in front of the TV.
After all the morning chores were done, I sat down with a cup of coffee and pulled out the note. I was shocked when I read it. It said “Thanks for the children, they are yours now. I’m leaving you to be with another man. I’m sorry we married, I’ve been denying myself for years and it’s not fair to you or to me. I’m gay and can’t be with you anymore. I’m leaving Ontario today with my partner. You and the children will never see me again.”
After reading this note, I quickly called his cell. I tried to call repeatedly. I left message after message. To this day, he has never returned my call. I was left to explain this to my children and left alone to pay the bills with no money except the part-time job I had at the hospital as a Registered Nurse.
In 2019, out of the blue, I received a call from a lawyer’s office. My husband filed for divorce after leaving me 4 years earlier. He asked for nothing and did not want to see his children. All the lawyer asked was that I sign the papers and be done with this. I signed the papers as I couldn’t afford a lawyer of my own. I didn’t ask for Child Support nor did I ask for half of his pension. I figured that my boys and I would be better off without this dark cloud hanging over our heads.
Being a Catholic, I went to receive the sacrament of reconciliation after I signed the papers. Little did I know that this simple action of reconciliation would unleash the kraken.
I was told that I couldn’t go to communion ever again as I was now in a state of “grave sin”. I argued that this wasn’t my fault. I did nothing wrong. I’m not dating anyone (who has the time to date when you are raising 5 boys). I am not looking to remarry (once was enough for me!). I am a practicing Catholic, raised my kids to be practicing Catholics, adhered to the catechism and fully accepted my faults. What more do I need to do. I was told by my parish priest that I need to seek an annulment.
I started that process with a lot of skepticism but was relieved after it was completed. It was very expensive, but for me it was worth the money. I was granted an annulment after months of paperwork and questioning, I am now free to remarry without worry. Even though I’ve decided not to date or remarry until my boys are finished school and in a good career, it gave me hope for the future.
It’s now 2021, I’m still raising my 5 boys. I’ve been working full time since 2016 and have been managing my finances (with the help of my boys and my parents) to live comfortably within my means. I have never heard back from my ex-husband and would not be interested in hearing from him now. I have forgiven him for what he did but I will never forget. How could I after all is said and done!
Thanks for listening to my story. If you are divorcing, please reach out to your parish priest or the diocese to start the annulment process.
What should you know about divorce and the Eucharist in the Catholic Church?
The issue of who may, and who may not, receive the Eucharist lawfully is a canonical question with deep theological roots. Consequently, the Church has spoken on this matter not merely in the Code of Canon Law, but also in the Catechism and in other theological contexts. As always, canon law follows theology, and the two are consistent for they can never contradict each other.
The code states that Catholics are not to be allowed to receive Holy Communion if they are under the penalty of excommunication or interdict or obstinately persist in manifest grave sin (C. 915). Canon 916 notes that as a rule, anyone who is conscious of grave sin may not celebrate Mass (in the case of a priest) or receive the Eucharist without previously having been to sacramental confession. This is entirely in keeping with the Catechism’s teaching that “anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to Communion” (1385).
It is important to note that at issue here is not only a Catholic’s own personal, internal spiritual state, which might very well be known to them alone; but also their external, visible status in the CHurch, that may be known by other members of the faithful as well. The Church is therefore concerned simultaneously with three different, although interrelated issues: (a) an individual Catholic’s personal spiritual well-being; (b) the need to maintain reverence toward the Most Holy Eucharist and (c) the need to avoid public scandal.
With regard to divorced Catholics, let’s try as best we can to examine these issues separately, beginning with a divorced person’s spiritual state. Theologically, we Catholics know that we should not receive the Eucharist when we are in a state of grave sin. Does the fact that a Catholic is divorced, in and of itself, constitute a mortal sin?
The answer, of course, is NO! The Catechism of the Catholic Church does, it is true, give us the general theological norm about divorce in general, noting rightly that “Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law … Divorce does injury to the covenant of salvation, of which sacramental marriage is a sign” (2384). Yet while the Catholic Church teaches that marriage is, by its very nature, intended to last until death, it acknowledges that being divorced is not necessarily sinful. If for example, one spouse is divorced by the other, it is obviously possible for a Catholic to find themselves divorced entirely against their will. The Catechism makes a very clear and necessary distinction:
“It can happen that one of the spouses is the innocent victim of a divorce decreed by civil law’ this spouse, therefore, has not contravened the moral law. There is a considerable difference between a spouse who has sincerely tried to be faithful to the sacrament of marriage and is unjustly abandoned, and one who through their own grave fault, destroys a canonically valid marriage” (2386).
Therefore one can and certainly does encounter sincerely devout, practicing Catholics who happen to be divorced. Such persons are hardly excluded from the sacraments simply because their spouses chose to divorce them.
There are other situations in which a Catholic source might very well find that divorce is, unfortunately, the best way to resolve a difficult situation. TO cite the Catechism again “if civil divorce remains the only possible way of ensuring certain legal rights, the care of the children, or the protection of inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral offense” (2383). In circumstances involving abuse and violence, for example, the Church certainly understands that a divorce may be legally necessary. A battered wife, or a spouse seeking to protect children from an abusive situation by taking the means required under civil law to keep the abuser away, can hardly be considered morally culpable for obtaining a divorce for reasons of physical safety. Similarly, a divorce may be civilly necessary if one spouse is bankrupting the family with compulsive gambling or addiction issues. In such a case a Catholic might need to obtain a divorce in order to safeguard the financial well-being of the rest of the family.
We can see that it is entirely possible for a good Catholic to be divorced! Since this is the case, why is it that we hear the Church teaching that divorced Catholics cannot receive the Eucharist?
For those of us who believe what the Catholic Church teaches about the sacraments, the logic of this position is actually quite straightforward. A Christian marriage lasts until the death of one of the spouses – unless a Catholic marriage tribunal has ruled that the marriage was null from the beginning (see “Marriage and Annulment”, among many others, for further discussion on Catholic marriage annulments). If a Catholic obtains a civil divorce but does not have a declaration from the Church that the marriage was null, they are still married in the eyes of the Church – even if civil law asserts that the marriage has ended. A person in this situation cannot remarry in the Catholic Church; they are impeded from doing so because they are already married to someone else (c. 1085).
Consequently, if a Catholic does remarry under these circumstances, they must remarry outside the Catholic Church, either in a non-Catholic religious ceremony or in a civil proceeding (before a Justice of the Peace, for example). The Catholic Church naturally does not accept that this second marriage is valid! Instead, the Catechism teaches that the remarried Catholic is living in a state of sin with the new spouse:
“Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions. In adherence to the words of Jesus Christ – “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and married another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:11-12) – the Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid if the first marriage was recognized as valid. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists.” (1650).
In other words, society reasonably presumes that a husband and wife are engaging in sexual relations. Consequently, the Church regards the relationship between a Catholic and a second spouse as adulterous, if the first spouse is still living. And since adultery constitutes a grave moral evil, a Catholic who is living in this situation is not permitted to receive the Eucharist. To quote the Catechism yet again, “The sexual act must take place exclusively within marriage. Outside of marriage it always constitutes a grave sin and excludes one from sacramental communion.” (2390).
If a divorced and remarried Catholic wishes to receive Holy Communion, what can be done? Catholic sacramental theology is unequivocal on this point. And so it doesn’t give them a lot of options. This is where the reverence due to the Most Blessed Sacrament fits directly into the picture. In order to safeguard the dignity of the sacrament, the CHurch will never, ever condone the reception of the Eucharist by a Catholic who persists in an adulterous union. Therefore, if a divorced and remarried Catholic wishes to receive the Eucharist, he must first repent of his adultery, and receive sacramental absolution. But in order to be truly sorry for his sins, a Catholic must have the resolution to avoid them in the future. Thus the adultery has to end – it’s as simple as that!
This is why paragraph 1650 of the Catechism, noted above, concludes as follows: “Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence.” A remarried Catholic must resolve that they will no longer engage in sexual relations with their second spouse – ever. This means that they must either separate from the second spouse altogether, or they must henceforth live together as brother and sister, rather than as husband and wife.
The number of married couples who would willingly agree to the latter arrangement, in order to receive the Eucharist is presumably very slim – and yet it is a fact that they do indeed exist. There definitely are Catholics among us who remarried outside the Church, but subsequently wished to rectify their situation for spiritual reasons. They have made a good confession, firmly resolving to sin no more. With their spouses in agreement with their decision, these remarried Catholics are still living with their second spouses, but in total continence. (In many cases, the presence of minor children in the house has let the couple decide to continue living together, for the good of the children.) Catholics like these are, spiritually speaking, once again entitled to receive the Eucharist.
The relative rarity of this situation, however, leads us to yet another issue: the possibility of public scandal. If the Catholic faithful see a divorced and remarried Catholic receiving Holy Communion, what will they think? Will, they immediately assume that the Catholic has agreed with the second spouse to abstain permanently from all sexual relations? Or will they instead be more likely to conclude that the remarried Catholic is living in sin with his second spouse, and nevertheless is being permitted to receive Holy Communion?
Canon 915 ( already cited above) notes that a Catholic cannot receive the Eucharist if they persist in manifest grave sin. The point is, if the Catholic faithful see that a priest gives the Eucharist to someone whom they know is living in a gravely sinful manner, they might naturally – and wrongly – conclude that such a sinful lifestyle must be morally acceptable. In such a situation, the need to avoid public scandal is crucial!
There is a tremendous need for tact and diplomacy in situations like these, on the part of both the remarried Catholic and his pastor. It might, depending on the circumstances, be preferable for these Catholics to refrain from receiving Holy Communion at large Masses, where their action can easily be seen and totally be misunderstood by others in the congregation. An understanding parish priest can make an effort to ensure that these parishioners can receive the Eucharist in a more discreet way.
We can see that the Catholic Church tries her best to balance multiple concerns simultaneously. The right of Catholics to receive the sacraments must be assessed in light of the very real need for reverence toward the Most Blessed Sacrament. The need to uphold publicly the dignity of Christian marriage, and the Church’s consequent opposition to divorce in principle, must be weighed against the legitimate spiritual needs of the Catholic faithful, who may very well be divorced – and even remarried – and yet entitled to receive the Eucharist.
Help for the Divorced and Separated in the Diocese of Sault Ste Marie
(Healing Through an Investigation of Nullity)
SCRIPTURE: Mark 10:2-9
Some Pharisees approached him and asked, “Is it against the law for a man to divorce his wife?” They were testing him. He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” “Moses allowed us,” they said, “to draw up a writ of dismissal and so to divorce.” Then Jesus said to them, “It was because you were so unteachable that he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. This is why a man must leave father and mother and the two become one body. They are no longer two, therefore, but one body. So then, what God has united, man must not divide.”
Present Social Situation
Several questions continue to be raised today with regard to marriage and the permanence of marriage. There are elements in our society, hidden under the guise of intellect, freedom, and progress, which speak to us about what should be considered as sacred. There is little question that the single most influential factor in forming our social and moral attitudes is the media. Even a cursory glance at television displays for us an image of society in which we are somewhat less than moral and intelligent humans.
The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council addressed this depiction of humanity head-on in their document the “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” or (Gaudium et Spes). Human beings are considered God’s special gifts, stewards of creation, and therefore entitled to great dignity and respect. It only stands to reason, then, that marriage and family life are regarded as the very basis for our life here on earth, the foundation of our culture, and the fundamental structure of our Church.
These basic values are challenged, openly criticized or denied by individuals and groups within our society. Consequently, more is heard about divorce and about the lack of commitment on the part of people in all areas of life. Conversely, in a world looking for answers, we in the Catholic Church are also hearing more and more about Declarations of Nullity or Annulments. People injured by the pain of divorce and the rising lack of personal responsibility tolerated in all facets of life are becoming more prevalent.
Marriage – Brief Understanding
It is meaningless to describe Declarations of Nullity without adequately understanding what marriage is. The Church views marriage as a sacrament. Therefore, as with all sacraments, if a sacrament is present, then it is present forever (i.e., once baptized, always baptized, you can never be unbaptized). Marriage is also intended to reflect, in everyday life, the love of Christ for His Church. The relationship Christ has for His Church goes beyond any sense of a mutual contract but is more precisely a covenant between God and man. Therefore, marriage is best described as a covenant rather than a contract. A brief comparison of the concepts of contracts and covenants may be helpful:
|Deal with products or services||Deal with people|
|Engage the services of people||Engage people|
|Have time limitations||Are forever|
|Are SACRED AFFAIRS belonging to the marketplace||Are SECULAR AFFAIRS to the Church|
|Can be made by children who have a sense of value of a coin||Can only be made by adults who are mentally, emotionally and spiritually mature.|
Marriage is a sacred union between a man and a woman where they are permanently united as husband and wife, establishing a communion of life between them in mutual fidelity. This union also provides a stable environment for the procreation and education of children. Marital life challenges people to develop a means for mutual growth to salvation and union with God (cf. Canon 1055). In this setting, the couple becomes a domestic church, a miniature or basic community reflecting the greater Church. In order for this vision of marriage to become a reality, there must be an act of faith and a sense of self-sacrifice (agapé), oblative love, and a precise act of the will (see John Paul II, Allocution to the Roman Rota, January 21, 1999).
Obviously, this definition and understanding of marriage are not limited to Catholics. As a matter of fact, the Catholic Church recognizes and presumes that marriages between a man and a woman are valid and binding until proven invalid (cf. Canon 1060). Therefore, second marriages do not exist in the eyes of the Church unless it has been proven that the first marriage was indeed invalid or not binding.
Marriage Failure – Some Misconceptions
Each one of us is painfully aware of the fact that the ideal we hold and the reality we live maybe two completely different things. We know that we sometimes fall short of the ideal we hold for ourselves. Marriage is a covenant exchanged between people, witnessed by a priest, judge, or minister with two witnesses, can become an occasion of injury and pain if the marriage fails. Moreover, unnecessary stress and turmoil can be inflicted on people and on their consciences by misinformation concerning divorce, remarriage, and their status in the Church.
One of these misconceptions is that if someone is divorced, then they are automatically cut off from the Church. This is simply not true. The Church does not accept the notion that a civil divorce has an effect on the sacramental bond of marriage. However in many cases, for serious reasons such as division of property, etc., the Church permits Catholics to seek a civil divorce to regulate their situation. A second marriage after divorce alone is a conscious choice by the individual to disregard the standards, faith, and teachings of the Church in favor of this second union. By this action, the person has chosen to be excluded from the communion of believers who share the beliefs and teachings of the Church.
Some people have stated quite openly that a nullity investigation is nothing more than the Church’s own form of divorce. This accusation is unfounded and minimizes the need for a search for truth regarding the binding elements of marriage in these painful situations. It is precise because marriage is regarded as holy, a sacrament, and absolutely binding, that there exists a procedure whereby marriage may be examined to ascertain whether or not there truly is or ever was a binding union. An investigation for the possible nullity of marriage is above all else a search for the truth. It is an investigation designed to discover if there was adequate consent exchanged by the parties to the marriage. Such an investigation is involved and can, at times, cause some pain to the parties when they are asked to remember some of the past events of their life. This pain, however, is not the pain of an injury inflicted, but rather the pain that accompanies healing, much like the pain of cleaning and disinfecting a festering wound.
As human beings, we have a tendency to mask or hide our emotional or even spiritual pain. We tend to deny our anxiety, our grief, our anger, our frustration, our fears and our disappointments so that we do not have to face them. This same process of denial occurs in separation and divorce, mourning the loss of a loved one, or in facing the fact of our own imminent death. The anger, pain, humiliation, guilt, and frustration of divorce are masked and hidden so that we can at least appear to function normally. We would prefer to forget the whole mess. Unfortunately, we cannot forget because our guilt, our misconceptions, and our hurt continue to plague and cripple us.
Nullity Investigation – Who? What? How?
The process of investigating a marriage through Marriage Tribunal procedures allows time for healing, growth, and hopefully a new sense of strength in the faith we share. The answer we receive from the Tribunal may not be convenient, or what we want to hear. Similarly, the answers we receive from the Lord to our requests in prayer often do not meet our expectations. They do, however, on occasion, exceed them when we are open to His will.
Many feel lost or baffled when trying to find a way to begin the process for a Declaration of Nullity of their marriage. The first thing that must be done is to get in touch with the Marriage Tribunal in the Diocese. This may be accomplished by contacting the Pastor of the Parish, or by calling the Marriage Tribunal in Sudbury directly at (705) 674-2727.
The Tribunal needs several preliminary materials before it can be determined whether or not there is adequate reason to investigate the validity or invalidity of a marriage. The person who asks the Tribunal to investigate the validity of the marriage is called the Petitioner. The Petitioner is asked to provide the preliminary material including a Life History. This Life History is to be written as a story, a guide is provided. Simple responses to the questions are not adequate. The Tribunal is searching for the truth regarding the validity of the marriage in question so the more information provided, with examples, the easier it will be for the Tribunal to come to the truth with an honest decision on the validity or invalidity of the marriage.
The Petitioner is asked to provide the Tribunal with the following documents:
- the baptismal certificate of both the Petitioner and the first partner, who is called the Respondent;
- Church marriage certificate;
- a copy of the Decree Absolute.
It is not absolutely necessary to be civilly divorced to begin a nullity investigation, however, the final notification of a Declaration of Nullity is withheld until the parties have been civilly divorced.
Marriage is established by the mutual consent of two people. It is absolutely necessary that the Petitioner provide an accurate address for their first partner or Respondent. In order to assist the Tribunal in ascertaining the truth concerning this marriage, the Petitioner is asked to provide the names and addresses of persons who knew the Parties. These persons are called Witnesses. The ideal Witness is one who knew both Parties prior to the marriage, during the marriage, and after the Parties separated. It is understood that some circumstances may exist which would not allow for ideal Witnesses to be found. Witnesses maybe anyone who knew something of the Parties and the marriage. The Petitioner is asked also to ascertain that the Witnesses have consented to cooperate with the Tribunal. This is usually done using a written consent form letter provided to the Petitioner by the Tribunal.
When all of the preliminary information has been gathered, it is sent to Sudbury so that a formal case may be introduced to the Toronto Regional Tribunal. From this point on, the case is now considered a formal case. The depositions of the Petitioner, Respondent, and some of the Witnesses are heard under oath and transmitted to the Tribunal.
Everything Submitted Through the Auditors and Tribunal Personnel is Held in Strictest Confidence
Each person is interviewed individually by an Auditor. The interviews are taped on cassettes, then sent to Sudbury where they are transcribed and erased. After the necessary material has been gathered, the complete case is given to an individual appointed as Defender of the Bond who is to defend the bond of marriage, if possible. From there, the case is sent to Tribunal Judges who assess the validity of the marriage. The Parties are notified of this first decision. A time is provided for the Parties to appeal the decision. Once this time limit has passed, the case is transmitted to the National Appeal Court in Ottawa. It is once again assigned to another Defender of the Bond, and another panel of three Judges. After this review, if the Second Court agrees with the First Court, then a Notification of Nullity of Marriage may be sent to the Parties
Some Effects of A Declaration of Nullity
A Declaration of Nullity merely states that as far as can be determined by the Tribunal, this union is not binding. This position by the Court is held with moral certitude even though the externals of marriage appeared to have been present. In no way does the Tribunal decide moral right or wrong. The Tribunal states the fact of the validity or invalidity of the marriage. The Tribunal does not judge or blame one or another of the Parties.
A Declaration of Nullity has no effect in civil law and certainly has no effect on the legitimacy of any children born of the marriage. Children are, after all, a gift from God born into a union that was presumed valid (cf. Canon 1060). Church Law or Canon Law explicitly states that children born of a marriage that is later declared null are legitimate (cf. Canon 1137).
An Affirmative Decision, or Declaration of Nullity, declares that both parties are free from the bond of the first marriage. They could be free to enter into a new union. It is imperative that the priest who is preparing to witness this new union contact the Chancery Office.
The costs for all of this work and effort are enormous. It should be first mentioned that whether or not any donation is given to defray the cost to the Diocese, the quality of the investigation does not depend on monetary reimbursement. A Declaration of Nullity cannot be bought nor can the Decision of the Judges be swayed by monetary considerations.
The Petitioner is asked, according to their means, to defray expenses incurred in the processing of their case. The question is not simply one of cost, but rather one of justice. Those who can afford to defray the costs of a Nullity case are often negligent in this regard. Those who cannot afford such costs often make arrangements to “pay” for their case.
The Diocese has subsidized the work of the Tribunal and the administration of justice for several years. There are, however, limits to what the Diocese can and should do to guarantee a fair and equitable system in which justice is truly served. Obviously, each situation is unique. A policy is now in a place where all financial considerations of the case are to be assessed by the Judicial Vicar. There is the possibility of Diocesan subsidy or even the waiving of all costs subject to assessment and real need.
This outline is extremely brief and is not intended to be comprehensive. The members of the Tribunal devote their time and effort to assist our brothers and sisters who suffer the pain of a broken marriage. The primary ministry is to aid those who experience a sense of separation from the Church and God as a result of their marital situation.
For further information, please call the Marriage Tribunal at (705) 674-2727 Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. We will try our best to help heal the wounds of a broken marriage.
Please download our information brochure.
What can you do to help?
If you know someone that is experiencing a divorce and is not sure what the next steps are,
- Please ask them to call Father Sam or the Diocese and ask for the marriage tribunal.
- Please be knowledgeable and review the information on this webpage.
- Please do not judge others that are going through a divorce.
- Please do not make assumptions if you see them going to communion.
- Please do not engage in gossip or spread rumours.
- Always remember that:
Silence is the golden rule for it’s hard to prove the silent one a fool.
You can also:
- Request Prayers for someone going through a divorce https://www.holyredeemerchurch.ca/prayerpals-prayer-request/
- Become a Prayer Pal and pray with our team https://www.holyredeemerchurch.ca/become-a-prayerpal/