Catholic Questions and Answers -
Marriage, Divorce & Annulments
This section covers some of most frequently asked questions (FAQ) that we receive here at The Crossroads Initiative about Marriage, Divorce and Annulments. If you have any questions you can check this page frequently for more Catholic Q & A. We are adding new Questions and Answers every week. Please select the topic that you have questions about. If you don't find an answer to your question, feel free to contact us and Dr. D'Ambrosio will try to answer.
Main Q & A Page
Q -Dr. D'Ambrosio,
The potential for serious harm or death mitigates the seven "love your neighbor" commandments to narrow their scope. For example, regarding the 5th commandment, killing someone is not murder if done in self-defense. For 7th commandment, taking property that isn't yours is not stealing if you are starving or in grave need of shelter. And regarding the 8th, telling an untruth to someone who does not deserve the truth is not a lie.
This leaves us with the fifth. If such a situation arose that a man's wife is held hostage and the hostage taker claims he will kill the wife if he does not have sex with another particular woman, would this act of adultery be justified? If the man believed the only way of saving his wife's life was to commit adultery, would this be justified and would it even be called adultery?
I'm not asking if the act would be good, but justified. If yes, what does this say about the idea of adultery being a moral absolute?
A - Dear Paul,
Intentional, direct Killing of an innocent human being (murder) is an intrinsic evil and can never be done as a means to an end. Killing of an aggressor in an act of defending others is not an intrinsic evil.
Adultery is a married person's betrayal of his or her marriage bond by engaging in sexual union with another who is not his or her spouse. It is an intrinsic evil and can never be done as a means to an end. Period. So the solution to the hostage situation that you propose is not justified. It would allow the aggressor to manipulate the spouse into committing evil and compromising the marriage bond and the husbands own integrity. As a postscript, tyrants and aggressors are not known for keeping their word.
The Nazi's were famous for making similar deals and then killing anyway.
Faithfully in Christ,
Q -I have an interfaith marriage. I am Catholic and my husband Muslim. My Pastor never told me that I couldn't take communion [I read your article on that issue] and neither my husband nor I have been married before. I was told by another priest that there is a 'process' that the Bishop can apply that translates to "healing at the root". Do you know what this is? This priest also told me that he needed to contact my baptismal church so they could write my marriage information on the back of my baptismal form. Is this true? I am very confused now and depressed because I can't take communion, now that I know this, and I don't think my husband will agree to be married in the Catholic Church. Is there anything to fix this? I know my husband was chosen by God for me, so why would the church punish me for listening to God and following his directions? We have been married for 5 years and our marriage is blessed, even without the Church's blessing. I am just very depressed and sad that I must give up communion as a sacrifice for love, if that is what it takes. I thank you if you would take time to answer this for me. I trust in your knowledge and wisdom on issues of the Church. Thanks for being there!
K - NJ
A - Dear K,
I'm sorry for the distress that it has caused you to discover that your marital status at this time precludes you from receiving the sacraments.
Not to worry, though. Just work with your pastor on getting the proper dispensation from the bishop to regularize your marriage. Since marriage can be sacramental only when it is between two baptized Christians, your marriage can't be made sacramental unless your husband is baptized.
However, the marriage can be regularized to the point that you may participate in the sacramental life of the church. I'm not a canon lawyer, so I will not attempt to explain this all to you. That's why I recommend that you rely on your pastor's help here.
I know it will all work out!
Faithfully in Christ,
Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio
P.S. If you determine that you need your own canon lawyer, I can recommend Dr. Ed Peters http://www.canonlaw.info/
Q -What is the rule about receiving communion if you were married outside the Catholic Church?
I am catholic and my husband is not. We were married in his Church. This week at mass I had a priest ask me if I had had our marriage validated with the Catholic Church.I told him no. He went on to tell me that he could no
longer give me communion. This was at my childhood parish. I have been receiving communion at my current parish with no problems and my daughter was baptized there. Is there a problem with me still receiving communion at my home parish? I know my home priest is aware that our marriage did not take place in the Catholic Church.
I know a couple could go on to have their marriage blessed by in the Catholic Church, but what does the blessing consist of?
Thanks - M
A - Hi M,
A Catholic who is in a marriage that is not sacramental (either did not take place in the Catholic Church or was never "blessed" by the Church) is not able to take communion according to Church law.
When the Church "blesses" a civil marriage, it is really a celebration of the marriage as a sacrament, though it often happens privately and without fanfare. It is not just a legal hoop to jump through but conveys the spiritual power of God's grace that makes the marriage and the spouses different. I wouldn't want to be without it!
It entails a rather simple process if neither spouse has been married before and if both spouses are baptized Catholics. If one or both have been married before and the ex-spouses are still living, there would have to be an investigation by the church into the prior marriages to see if a declaration of nullity can be issued ("annulment") which would allow the couple to proceed with having their marriage "blessed." The proper name for this is "convalidation" or having one's marriage "convalidated."
I would encourage you to get together with your parish priest as soon as possible to discuss your particular situation to determine what would be necessary to convalidate your marriage and readmit you to the full sacramental life of the Church.
Faithfully in Christ,
Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio
Q -Dr. D’Ambrosio,
Correct me if I'm wrong but as far as I know you have to get the divorce before you get the annulment don't you? Darryl
A - Hi Darryl,
A qualified yes. A couple must obtain a legal divorce, which essentially means that the legal union is dissolved in the sight of the state and a division of property is settled (plus custody issues regarding children).
The Church does not recognize this as dissolving the actual marriage bond, however. The state has no power and authority to do that!
Q -Dear Marcellino,
I am a deacon and was Family Life Director in a diocese for 12 years. The truth is that just about anybody can be married in most dioceses of the Catholic Church in the United States, regardless of their readiness for marriage. It is also true that in most dioceses, the granting of annulments is virtually a foregone conclusion. I have been told by members of one tribunal that the process is seen primarily as one of reconciliation with the Church. To quote one member, “It’s very loose right now. If they tighten it up eventually, that’s okay, but right now it’s very loose.” Clergy have been told what to say and what not to say in order to secure a declaration of nullity. My point is that the defenses offered for the annulment process do not match up with the reality in most dioceses. It’s a subject about which there is little honesty or willingness to address in a forthright way. For one who passionately believes in sacramental marriage, the whole situation is a source of intense pain and frustration, one which leads to scandal after scandal.
Deacon Tim S.
A - Dear Deacon Tim,
I fully understand your frustration and pain over the poor judgment of many involved in this process. My comments in the article are not an evaluation of how well the church’s teaching is being implemented in various tribunals and dioceses, but on the nature and meaning of that teaching.
In the midst of a culture or relativism and excuses, lets’ pray and work together for a restoration of permanence and holiness of marriage.
Yours in his service,
Q -My family was Catholic until my parents divorced when I was 7 and my mom's priest gave her two options... 1: Never receive communion again because she was divorced, but my brother and I would still be in good standing with the church... or 2: Have her 16 year marriage annulled, thus making my brother and I bastards in the eyes of the Church...
A - First of all, divorce does not invalidate the divorced spouses from receiving communion; only remarriage outside the Church does this. Secondly, annulment does not mean that the children born of the marriage judged to have been null are illegitimate in the eyes of the Church or the government. It means that despite a legal ceremony presumably entered into in good faith by one or both of the parties, something essential was lacking to make the spiritual marriage bond happen which is why the marriage fell apart. So it means that the divorced spouses are single in eyes of the Church and free to remarry sacramentally.
The misunderstanding could have resulted from poor understanding or communication on the priest’s part or misunderstanding on the mom’s part. The Q & A book by Dr. Ed Peters on Divorce and Annulment in the Catholic Church is the best single resource I know to answer questions and clear up the misunderstandings that are so common in this area.
Marcellino D’Ambrosio, Ph.D.
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Love that Lasts: A Vision for Christian Marriage - 3 CD
“Love that Lasts: A Vision for Christian Marriage” is the fruit of years of both study and experience. Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio is an internationally known Catholic speaker, author, and media personality. But he is also a husband and father of five children who illustrates his teaching with an abundance of practical tips and humorous examples from his own family life. This trilogy of talks, originally given as a marriage retreat at the world famous Cooper Clinic in Dallas, is a perfect gift for engaged couples and newlyweds seeking to lay a solid foundation for the marriage and family. But it is also a superb tool to help refresh and renew married couples who have been together for many years.