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Catholicism provides no option for divorce

By Vision Reporter

Added 31st January 2008 03:00 AM

I wish to respond to the article titled, “When is re-marrying in the church legal?” which was published in The New Vision, January 10. This followed the controversial marriage of Soroti MP and Forum for Democratic Change secretary general Alice Alaso to Johnson Ebaju. Men and women marry

I wish to respond to the article titled, “When is re-marrying in the church legal?” which was published in The New Vision, January 10. This followed the controversial marriage of Soroti MP and Forum for Democratic Change secretary general Alice Alaso to Johnson Ebaju. Men and women marry

By Andrew Kato

I wish to respond to the article titled, “When is re-marrying in the church legal?” which was published in The New Vision, January 10. This followed the controversial marriage of Soroti MP and Forum for Democratic Change secretary general Alice Alaso to Johnson Ebaju. Men and women marry for different reasons including prestige, wealth, culture.

However, from a Catholic point of view prescribed in the Code of Canon Law, a man marries a woman for three reasons: To establish a partnership of the whole life, for the good of the spouses, which is open to procreation and education of children. This partnership or marriage comes about by consent (agreement) of the parties.

However, this consent can be defective and thus render the marriage null and void. It is defective when something happened to impede this consent. This impediment can be dispensed of by a grant or favour of a temporary alleviation of the law’s rigour on account of a necessity of circumstances or usefulness to the church or individual, by one who has executive power in the church. If it is not dispensed of, the marriage is null and void.

From a Catholic perspective, marriage has essential properties lack of which nullifies it. These are unity (marriage involves two spouses and not one spouse with a plurality of partners as in polygamy and polyandry) and indissolubility (marriage cannot be dissolved by anybody). These imply that marriage between a baptised man and woman is a firm and permanent institution – a sign of God’s love for his people which is a sacrament. Therefore, marriage for Catholics is for life and is not disolvable. This belief is different from many Christians’ understanding of marriage.

There are requirements for a marriage to exist. These are both civil and ecclesiastical. Civil requirements include property, residence, change of names, succession, inheritance, tax regulations, and others. These do not conflict with God’s laws but are not enough.

Ecclesiastical requirements include exchange consent according to a canonical form before a legitimately designed minister of the church.
The civil jurisdiction recognises divorce and in some churches this gives couples a chance to remarry.

Civil divorce means that the marriage no longer exists. But after the court has granted a divorce, Catholics still consider the parties as married and bound by the marriage unless the church either dissolves the bond or declares the union null and void. The church dissolves the bond in cases of non-sacramental marriages such as celebrated customary or civil marriages. Non-consummated sacramental unions (where no natural human sexual intercourse has taken place after marriage between baptised persons).

In the article quoted above, it was asserted that, “The Catholic Church still provides an option for divorce and remarriage,” adding that, “If it is discovered that the marriage was not valid one can divorce and remarry?”
This is not true.

The Catholic Church in its millennial history does not have an option for divorce and remarriage. If there are parties to a marriage who are presumed to have exchanged consent in good faith, with no idea of an invalidating factor, such a marriage is presumed valid but in fact invalid from a Catholic perspective. Although there was an appearance of marriage since a wedding ceremony took place in a Catholic Church, the presence of a nullifying factor results in actual invalidity.

The nullity may be due to an undispensed impediment, a defect in consent, like in the example of a partner who deliberately hides something serious that may disrupt conjugal life or the case of a partner forced to marry another for any given reason or a condition which causes an incapacity to fulfil marital obligations. Such a marriage is putative and can be challenged it before a competent Catholic Church tribunal which will investigate the marriage and declare it null and void. This is not divorce.

When a marriage is declared null and void, it means, according to the Catholic Church, that the parties have never contracted a marriage. So they are now free to marry, if they so wish, during the lifetime of the putative former spouse. This is not a remarriage because the marriage never existed from the beginning.

When such a couple receives a decree of the declaration of the nullity of their putative marriage, the observers may conclude that the Catholic Church has granted a divorce which is not the case. The Catholic Church provides for no option for divorce – even on the grounds of infidelity. This situation is only a sign of something wrong from the beginning of the marriage but not a ground for divorce.
Catholics believe in marital indissolubility.

This conviction has ever been in opposition to cultures and Philosophies which defend the intrinsic dissolubility of marriage (That marriage can’t be dissolved) by withdrawal of consent by any spouse. Indissolubility for Catholics is based on Gospel values; it is not merely an ideal but a norm of life: Lk.16:18; Mk.10:9-12; Mt.5:32, 19:9. Nevertheless the meaning of the gospel statement and the nature of indissolubility has been subject to debate even in our churches today in Uganda.

However the Matthean exception clause quoted above –Mt 19:9 of no divorce except for Porneia (in the Greek text – adultery) gave rise to the conviction in a few isolated cases that divorce with remarriage was permitted in cases of adultery. However, Modern biblical scholarship seems to hold that Porneia referred to marriages within forbidden degrees of blood relationships and not adultery.

That is why we must be careful in using the Bible to prove certain concepts without going to the original texts.

The writer is a Missionary Catholic priest of the Apostles of Jesus

Catholicism provides no option for divorce

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