Monday, December 20, 2010

Divorce for Catholics

Begun on December 20, 2010 at 11:12 A.M.

While I was in Houston last November, I was able to meet up with a Soompi friend, LP. We talked a bit (much of the conversation was about her experience with teaching), and then we touched upon the question of civil divorce, and how it differs from separation. Is divorce permissible for Catholics? While I was growing up, I heard that civil divorce for Catholics is ok as long as the two parties do not remarry. Is this the general pastoral attitude in the United States? (I have heard it repeated once more rather recently, in fact.)

There are differences between divorce and legal separation. Spouses may separate for grave reasons, such as physical abuse. The threat to one's life or health is evident to most people in the case of physical abuse. But what is "emotional abuse"? If a husband and wife cannot get along, is that sufficient reason for a divorce or separation? What does the inability to live with each other really mean? How much of our understanding of marriage is dominated by unrealistic companionate ideals?

What if one spouse refuses to get counseling? The reluctance of husbands to go into marriage counseling, when much of the industry profession is misandrist, is understandable. How much bad behavior from wives is not criticized (except by a few, like Dr.  Laura)?

Is it better for them to separate, if they cannot live amicably together? How much should a wife put up? What about the example of St. Monica and her husband? And we should not forgot that women can be the "victim" of their own expectations. Who is more likely to stick a rocky marriage out these days, American men or women? Love conquers all -- but are there limits? What about differences in communication? If men should not expect women to be like men and adjust accordingly, should this not be required of women with respect to their men as well?

The vow to help one another includes behaving civilly, and fostering a good environment at home. If the home is not a welcoming place because of fighting, hostility, or ill feeling, it is understandable if one or both spouses want to get away.

But can divorce or legal separation release one from one's vows, one's duties to one another, mutual help, etc.? Especially when children are no longer involved?  If one spouse is failing to live up to one's duties is the other then released from his or hers? Barring separation for the sake of physical (or, perhaps, mental health), what legitimate reasons can there be for allowing Catholics to divorce? Should a divorce between Catholics remain scandalous to other Catholics?

If divorce laws and courts are generally biased against men, is it better for men to separate? But what do they then do about women who refuse to pull their own weight and expect spousal support, instead of doing the honorable thing and getting some sort of work?

Did I mention that someone sitting next to us at Starbucks overheard our conversation and offered us a Protestant apologetics tract? The title of the tract was something along the lines of "Can you believe everything in the Bible?" I suspect that it might deal sola scriptura. He thought we were refusing because it might seem anti-Christian, the implicit answer being "no," but he assured us that the content wasn't what we expected. I tried to politely refuse; he was rather insistent so it took several replies.

Edit. September 1, 2011 - I think LP is getting married next weekend, if I understand her FB status correctly.