A Presbyterian asks Roman Catholics a questions that should be asked of all denominations: how well does the Church care for divorced (and divorcing) persons?
Bill Tammeus, writing in NCR, rehearses the traditional teaching of the RC Church and describes his own story:
I confess that this is one aspect of Catholic practice that I, as a Protestant, simply don’t understand well. Oh, I know the official explanation based on Canon 915 that says, as the author of the NCR analysis wrote, “civilly divorced and remarried Catholics cannot receive the Eucharist at Mass because they are living in a state of grave sin, that sin being the adultery that they commit with their second spouse every time that they make love.”
But I’ve never understood what I consider the rigidity of that position. I agree that divorce happens too often in our culture, and sometimes for frivolous reasons. However, there certainly are cases in which divorce is the least evil of a series of terrible choices. Divorce can be an acknowledgement that something has gone terribly wrong and that opportunities to redeem lives are needed — lives of both spouses and children.
What went terribly wrong in my own first marriage was that my wife entered into a romantic relationship with another man — our pastor, in fact — without first either fixing or ending her relationship with me.
Although I continued to believe (naively) that the union was fixable, she was adamantly convinced otherwise. We were divorced. It allowed me the freedom to meditate on what went amiss and eventually to enter into a second marriage that has been extraordinarily redemptive.
Then he reflects on his experience in his own Protestant church in the midst of his own divorce:
Indeed, in my own divorce, I felt my faith tradition failed me. A marriage that began in a church ended in a civil courtroom. There was no church ceremony, no ritual to bind up my wounds or my former wife’s wounds and bless us as we entered this new phase of our lives.
We still don’t do that very well in the Protestant world. But my hope for Catholics is that your church will find ways to stand with people in the angst of divorce and provide compassion and a way (perhaps even a sacramental way) forward, not doctrinal roadblocks.
The Episcopal Church is well known for our comparatively open stance towards divorced persons seeking a new marriage. But what is your experience on how the Church supported you through the process of your divorce and how could the Church mark the end of a marriage ritually?