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Can Divorced Catholics Receive the Eucharist?

A listener named Susan shares with Father Dave that her marriage recently ended. “I came to no other choice but to get divorced to protect myself from further physical and emotional harm,” she says. “I feel very lost sometimes. How can I rectify my situation with the Church? I pray daily and go to confession, but I still feel like I’m a hypocrite receiving the Eucharist.”

Father Dave first shares that he will pray for Susan through this difficult time. He then makes a clarification saying, “While the Church certainly upholds the dignity of the Sacrament of Matrimony and believes that it is a commitment that we make to one another for life, the Church does not insist that people should put themselves in harm’s way. Susan mentions physical and emotional abuse. In the teaching of the Church, it even says that sometimes the best course of action for people’s health and safety is the separation of the spouses. Legally, we would call that divorce.”

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He continues, “I think the key to remind you, Susan, is that you don’t need to rectify your situation with the Church merely because you have a degree of divorce from some sort of state authority. We could say academically that the Church doesn’t have any problem with divorce. What the Church has an issue with is remarriage or even being involved in any other intimate, loving, sexually active relationship if we have been married, and we have a divorce decree. Essentially, because the Church doesn’t recognize the state’s power to dissolve that matrimonial bond.”

Father Dave offers some insight into the Catholic Church’s reasons for an annulment and its process. “The sacramental bond is not dissolved by our frailty as humans or our sinfulness. So if two people enter into that sacramental bond of Matrimony, and one person by their behavior and actions, even if abusive behavior, doesn’t seem to be upholding that, we don’t believe that in and of itself nullifies the marriage. That’s why we have the annulment process, that it might very well be that those actions during the marriage are indicative of the fact that it wasn’t a genuine sacramental bond; It wasn’t entered into in the first place, in the right frame of mind or heart. That’s what the annulment process seeks to officially say.”

He addresses Susan’s guilt of feeling like a “hypocrite” even after receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Father Dave assures her, “God has absolved you of your sin…Identify that those are the feelings and emotions surrounding this, which obviously will persist. The priest absolving you from your sin is not some sort of magic wand that instantly makes us go, ‘Oh, I feel so much better about that, I don’t have any guilt.’ But realize that that’s a feeling, and you are not a hypocrite, you are not alienated from the Church. You said, ‘How do I rectify my situation with the Church?’ No rectification needed, you have not fractured your relationship with the Church, [from] what you’ve told me.”

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Father Dave also encourages her to begin the annulment process if she has intentions of getting married again at a later point. “You never know where life is going to take you. There might be some other person who treats you better, and who might be a good partner for life that you might want to get married to. It’s good to sooner than later, maybe not if it’s still very fresh and dramatic, but sooner than later, begin an enrollment process with the Catholic Church so that you’re not 10 years from now in a situation where you’d like to get married and [realize], ‘Oh, but I never got an annulment.’”

He does stress that the annulment process requires you to describe in detail what happened in your marriage, so Susan would have to choose if it is easier emotionally to do that now or later. “I’m not saying it’ll be pleasant,” Father Dave says. “It’s one of those things kind of like exercise or going to the gym where it’s not fun right now, but I know that down the line, this is going to be better. For me, my soul, my relationship with the Church, and my potential relationship with someone who might treat me better than I’ve been treated.”