Here's something I've always wondered. What does the Church say about divorce if one spouse is dangerously violent? I know a man whose wife i mentally ill and stabbed him for bringing her the wrong flavor of ice cream. They divorced, but would the Church expect them to stay together despite the danger to his life?

Many people are confused about the subject of Divorce and the Catholic Church.  Let me define the terms:

Divorce: A period of separation where husband and wife do not love together but live separately.  This period of separation can be for a brief time or depending in the circumstances it can be until death.

Divorce is an unfortunate happening but IS (IS) permissible in the eyes of the church for grave reasons. The example you cite above would certainly qualify as a grave reason to divorce.  Divorce however DOES NOT (DOES NOT) dissolve the bond between husband and wife. For that reason a couple in the state of divorce is NOT free to enter into another marriage or relationship unless they apply for and successfully receive an annulment.  

The issue is not Divorce but REMARRIAGE.  Catholics are free to divorce for a grave reason, but they are NOT free to remarry because again: Divorce does NOT dissolve the union.  The couple might be in the state of Divorce (separation) but that state of separation does not dissolve their union-hence they remain married and must remain faithful to each other by not entering into another relationship.

The reason marriage cannot be dissolved by Church fiat or by government fiat (and the reason marriage cannot be redefined by church or government fiat to allow for homosexual couples) has to do with the fact that Marriage is not a human institution.  Marriage is a DIVINE institution.  God is the one uniting the couple and bring them together in marriage.  What God joins together man must not divide.   

Matthew 19:6: "So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."  

An annulment is NOT "Catholic Divorce" it is an official document stating that a marriage was not VALID and therefore the parties are free to enter into a marriage.  Annulments do not dissolve marriages they state that the evidence presented shows that there was no valid marriage to begin with. There are certain conditions which must be met in order for a couple to validly marry.  If one or more of those conditions are not met and the person proves that one or more of those conditions were absent one can get an annulment allowing them to enter into "another" marriage.

To give an extreme example: the husband kidnapped a women and forced her to marry him.  No one knew this because the women never told anyone out of fear.  Finally she leaves her husband and wants to enter into another marriage.  On of the conditions necessary for a valid marriage to take place is freedom.  Both parties have to be freely and willingly entering into the covenant.  If that freedom is compromised and the person proves it they can get an annulment.   

Annulments do cost money.  This is not because the Catholic Church is getting rich, it is because in order to get an annulment you are essentially hiring a lawyer--the Church equivalent of a lawyer (Canon Lawyer) to work on the case and process the information.  Lawyers do not come cheap even in the Church. A Canon Lawyer needs as much advanced education on Church law as a Civil lawyer does on civil law.  However in most dioceses the price charged for the annulment does not even come close to paying what it costs to operate the "tribunal" (place where the Canon Lawyers work and process annulment requests.) In my diocese the cost of an annulment is 500 dollars for a Formal Annulment, and 50 for a Lack of Form Annulment. No one in the diocese is getting rich on these rates I assure you.   

Annulments do not "bastardize" any offspring of the union.  

All of this might sound complex and perhaps it is.  However---I think this goes to show why people should be very careful about who they date and marry.  Marriage is a SERIOUS commitment.  I think today that realization is lacking.  People are either choosing not to get married (yet live together as if they are--sometimes for 30, 40 years!) or they get married with the attitude that if it does not work we can just get a divorce.  I can say this: it does not matter how long a couple has been living together--a long time living together does NOT create a marriage. Unless or until a couple makes a formal commitment to each other in which they exchange vows before the wider community and pledges their love they ARE NOT MARRIED.  Anyone who says otherwise is just kidding themselves.  Deep down--I guarantee you they know it.  

People need to know who they are marrying before they marry the person and understand that the person they date is going to be the person they marry.  In other words--people do not change after the wedding.  I have seen many people get divorced because "He/She didn't change."  Of course they didn't!  Why would you have expected that they are going to?  Weddings and marriage isn't magic!


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Father Dave Bechtel


I am a Catholic priest in good standing and in active ministry in the Diocese of Scranton PA. I can answer most any question about the Catholic Faith, however my area of specialization is Systematic Theology. Systematic Theology is a branch of theology that focuses on the fundamental tenants of the Faith and the Dogmas of the Faith. I have specialization on the Reformation and Catholic vs. Protestant theology/issues and answering Protestant challenges to the Faith.


I was ordained in June of 2008. Since that time the thrust of my ministry has been specialized. In my first assignment I was an assistant pastor. A year later I was sent to work in education. I spent six (6) years in education and have now assumed my first pastorate. While education was the thrust of my ministry, nevertheless I continued to have a hand in parish ministry, hospital chaplaincy and prison chaplaincy. Now that I am out of education I will obviously be focusing more on parish work than specialized ministry. I have two years of formal Clinical Pastoral Education and prior to ordination I successfully pursued Board Certification for health care ministry through the NACC. My certification needs to be renewed and I plan to seek dual certification in health care ministry (NACC and APC) when I renew my certification. I have a breadth of experience working with Protestant ministers and collaborating with them to achieve the goals of hospital pastoral care and chaplaincy. These ministers run the spectrum from the liberal to the conservative.

Bachelors of Science-- University of Scranton PA Masters of Arts Theology--- Saint Mary's Seminary and University Baltimore MD Masters of Divinity--- Saint Charles Borremeo Seminary Philadelphia PA Board Certified Chaplain (up for renewal)

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