Social justice and divorce – Clarity and truth are needed, not political correctness.


Last Sunday, I introduced the subject of divorce as a sin against social justice.

Divorce goes directly against the explicit teaching of Jesus Christ, rooted in the original creation of man, male and female. In answer to the Pharisees’ question about divorce, which was tolerated by the law of Moses, Jesus replied: Have you not read that he who made man from the beginning, made them male and female? And he said, ‘For this reason shall a man leave father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. Therefore they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God joined together, let no man put asunder. (Mt 19:4-6) Then when asked about the permission Moses gave, Jesus replied: Because Moses by reason of the hardness of your heart permitted you to put away your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you that whoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, commits adultery, and he that shall marry her that is put away, commits adultery. (Mt 19:8-9)

Last Sunday, I clarified the ‘exception’ of ‘fornication’ in relation to what has become the Church’s legal/canonical process for the declaration of nullity.

It is also necessary to distinguish between divorce and simple separation. To put the matter simply: a husband and wife are obliged to live together, but while divorce should not be regarded as an option, a separation of the common life, even a permanent one, might at times be justified. Yet, presuming the validity of the marriage itself, neither is free to enter a new marriage.

This is important because while the Church urges husband and wife to reconcile, or at least keep open the hope of reconciliation, in situations of physical or moral danger, or situations of infidelity, an injured spouse is not obliged to maintain the common life. The Church has never held, for example, that a wife must at all costs submit to grave abuse and injury from her husband.

Properly in these matters recourse should be had to the Bishop and not to civil courts, especially when the latter have little understanding of the truth of marriage, but, alas, in the United States, at least, it appears that the Bishops have failed to assert their authority and have neglected their responsibility. (cf. Code of Canon Law 1151-1155)

The practical result of all this is that when the common life of marriage falls apart, Catholics have recourse to civil divorce at the very least to settle matters pertaining to finances and custody of children. Then, regardless of the intentions entering the divorce, the newly acquired ‘single’ status and the language that refers to the “ex”, helps shape a mindset that the marriage indeed no longer exists, that it is time to move on, and maybe find a new partner.

We really need to set aside political correctness and the fear of offending so as to be clear about the evil of divorce.

What I shall write in the follow up essays on this subject is not meant to be a blanket condemnation of those who have been involved in divorces any more than an exposition of the evil of abortion is meant to be a blanket condemnation of women who have had abortions.

In both cases, individuals are caught up in a cultural storm in which, even if they have failed, even if they have given in to their weakness, even if they have been selfish, they have also been abandoned to their weakness and encouraged in their selfishness by the culture in which they live, many times by their closest friends as well. At the same time, while the Church has upheld the teaching of Christ on a theoretical level, her ministers, acting ‘pastorally’, have themselves often been complicit in the divorce culture.

Nevertheless, unless we learn to speak clearly and objectively of the evils involved, we will never get out of the mess we have fashioned for ourselves.

If we recall that the first purpose of marriage is the procreation and education of children, then we can grasp that the first and most obvious evil is the incalculable harm done to children. It is also a betrayal of the love to which the couple committed themselves on their wedding day. Divorce inevitably contains an element of despair that is not found in a mere ‘separation’ that acknowledges the permanence of the marriage bond. (To be continued)



Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.

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