Imagine you are a child that doesn’t want your married parents to divorce. In the United States, with no-fault divorce, millions of parents file for divorce against the other spouse, when the other spouse wants to keep the family intact and has done nothing severe enough to justify separation.
These children hope and pray that someone will help save them and their family from divorce. If the Catholic Church implemented her own canon law on separation and divorce, at least the Church would be trying to keep families together.
The children in these families don’t want to lose their home (which typically happens in divorce) because after lawyers are paid, and the property is split between two parents, there is not enough money to keep the family home. They’ll lose their every-day access to the parent that doesn’t want divorce. The children are saddened that they will never be able to bring their own future children to visit Grandma and Grandpa in the same home. Even though it makes children cringe, if one parent has a new sex-partner, the children will be ordered to spend overnight visits with the parent that has the new sex partner. Or, the children will have to live with the parent and the new sex partner.
In the no-fault divorce culture, nobody is standing for marriage and Mary’s Advocates, the non-profit organization, is working to change that. Letters were recently mailed to approximately one third of the dioceses in the U.S. asking the Church to teach what the Catechism and canon law actually teaches about divorce.
If an unhappy Catholic spouse insisted on forcing divorce on his or her family, even after being instructed by the Church that there is no legitimate reason for separation, at least the children would know that Jesus’ Church spoke in support of their need and desire for an intact family.
Tragically, there are professed Catholics who file for divorce and think they have done nothing wrong, because some priest had affirmed their choice, numbing their conscience. If we lived in a different era, the outcome of civil divorce proceedings might have been in accord with divine law. However, spouses are now filing for divorce when the other has done nothing grave enough to justify separation. Wanting a breakup in these circumstances is in fact "malicious abandonment" in the Catholic tradition.
Why Marry in the Church At All
People ask, "Why would anyone care about getting married in the Church anyway?" if the Church doesn't appear to care. The publicized pastoral care seems to be as follows:
1. Prior to a marriage, a priest reviews with a couple the doctrine of the permanence of marriage and the requirement of sexual fidelity; the spouses agree to work out any future marriage difficulties.
2. Years later, when one party wants out, a second priest will affirm the spouse wanting the breakup who now says, "I think I was immature when I married; I've fallen out of love, and I'm unhappy and tired."
3. A third priest, who works at the tribunal office will instruct the party who wants the breakup that he or she is required to get a civil divorce first. The civil lawyers take lots and lots of money; the children and property are split in whatever random fashion is customary in the area.
4. Finally, a fourth priest acts as a Procurator/Advocate and writes an annulment petition. In the dioceses that cover half the population of the United States, tribunals decided the marriage was invalid for 98.7% of the petitioners in 2012.*
Rather than following this pattern, Mary's Advocates proposes an alternative. Before divorce, the Church could conduct an investigation and instruct the spouse wanting the breakup whether there is a legitimate basis to file for civil divorce (i.e. simply follow canon law). Furthermore, only the ecclesiastic authority has jurisdiction to determine the parameters of a separation plan which is in accord with divine law (cf. canon 1692).
Bai Macfarlane is the founder of Mary's Advocates.
(*note. Saint Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have criticized the misuse of canon law to grant annulments for alleged immaturity.)
See Mary's Advocates materials here and here.