Some clerics have taken to emphasizing that it’s not divorce per se that the Church condemns, but only divorce followed by remarriage during the life of the original spouse. This is technically correct, in that it is the remarriage that constitutes adultery, an intrinsic evil. However, to leave things at that is to deceive by leaving out much of the truth. After all, what we promise in our marriage vows is a great deal more than sexual fidelity, and to repudiate any of these vows is gravely sinful. Thus, even the separation of spouses, which the Church admits, is gravely sinful when pursued against the will of the other spouse except in the most exceptional circumstances. And even in the case of a permanent separation, it is usually a grave wrong to file for a civil divorce.
In making that last statement, I know I am setting myself against the vast majority of Catholic priests in the West, who are known to advise separated spouses (if the party in question is the woman and the priest judges her to be the wronged party–and I’ve never known a priest not to judge the woman to be the wronged party, no matter who does the separating) to get a civil divorce in order to protect their assets (and usually milk the husbands of theirs). It’s just a legal formality, right? The Church herself says civil divorce doesn’t change anything, so signing that form doesn’t mean anything, right? After all, a girl has got to protect herself, and divorce is just how asset-splitting is done in the West.
Well, getting divorced does make you a client of an evil system. Now, this in itself isn’t always intrinsically evil. It’s not sinful in itself to get a routine exam through Planned Parenthood or to work out a mutually beneficial exchange with Ursula the Sea Witch, but you should really ask yourself if that’s the sort of thing you want to associate with. Maybe in dire circumstances, but the circumstances should be dire.
You should also ask yourself whether filling out those divorce papers doesn’t make you a liar. After all, what our law and society mean by divorce is that a marriage is ended and the parties are free to contract another one; you know that this is false. You can tell yourself that that’s not what you mean by signing the form, but what others think is not incidental. The whole reason you’re signing it is to get the law and the ambient culture to act according to the false meaning.
Suppose every statement of divorce spelled out what is intrinsic in this claim that man can and may terminate what God has joined. Among other things, it would state that Christianity is therefore false, that the man Jesus Christ was a fraud or a madman. Do you still feel okay about signing the form? After all, those words you’re putting your name to aren’t what you mean by this act. For that matter, what’s the big deal about offering a pinch of incense to Caesar? There’s nothing intrinsically wrong in doing something like that. You don’t think the Emperor is a god, and you’re not responsible for how other people interpret your actions. After all, a girl has got to protect herself.
It nevertheless may well be that many divorces encouraged by priests are morally licit given the alternatives and the understandings of the parties involved. It is certain though that every divorce makes the culture of marriage weaker and the culture of divorce stronger.
Here’s another idea. There are lots and lots of Catholic lawyers out there. Instead of just reminding women to collect their cash and prizes, suppose we set our lawyers to working out ways to financially protect abandoned wives without corrupting ourselves with the “D” word. When people say “Catholics don’t believe in divorce”, we do more harm than good by saying “No, no. We just don’t believe in remarriage.” The simpler “don’t believe in divorce” really does capture the heart of it. We do not believe in what everybody today means when they say “divorce”.
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