Metropolitan Tribunal

Catholics believe that marriage is for life

Archbishop Daniel M. BuechleinOne of our Catholic beliefs that challenge and is challenged by our society is that marriage is for life.

And if one is divorced, remarriage is not possible without a declaration of nullity concerning the previous marriage.

Not long ago, I received a letter from a woman that illustrates the difficulty some people experience. (The details are changed in order to preserve her anonymity.)

“I would like to become a Catholic and began taking RCIA [Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults] classes a few years ago. Unfortunately, when I was handed annulment papers etc. and told what I need to do, I decided being a Presbyterian wasn’t so bad. It seems unless you are a “cradle” Catholic or “cafeteria” Catholic, the choices are limited. My friend says I should have completed the RCIA classes, kept quiet about being divorced and confessed the matter in reconciliation.

“Can and does the Catholic faith make allowances for those who would like to become Catholic—without all the search and desist stuff? Seems like there ought to be an easier way to become Catholic when so many in your system are choosing the opposite. I would appreciate your consideration since I’ve almost given up.”

Our pastors face this sensitive situation more often than they would like, and it is very difficult to handle. Because our Catholic faith does not “make allowances” to provide “an easier way” to become Catholic, more than a few people find acceptance of our faith difficult. The issue of requesting a declaration of nullity becomes a stumbling block.

A number of principles are at stake, the first being our belief that married love requires a commitment for life.

We believe married love requires a lifelong commitment because of the nature of conjugal love, which includes openness to having children, and, therefore, a commitment that is essential in order to parent a family together for life.

Authentic married love is neither casual nor disposable. We believe that if the conjugal relation of husband and wife is not considered permanent, the institution of the family and the care of children in society is jeopardized. Hence, in our Church, we do not believe in the possibility of divorce because divorce itself insinuates that marriage is not, in fact, lifelong.

The problem, of course, is that too many weddings, in fact, are not truly marriages in contemporary society. Sadly, many couples are not prepared to understand the full implications of marriage for life.

For the most part, our secularized and materialistic culture does not foster an understanding of authentic love in any form. The unquestioned phenomenon of serial divorce and remarriage by high-profile media, sports and political personalities is an example that flies in the face of lifelong commitment.

The growing phenomenon of cohabitation by couples is also largely unchallenged.

The pornographic depiction of human persons as objects to be desired, possessed and then disposed of in entertainment is a less than subtle contradiction of all that authentic, selfless love means. And it is for profit.

Our consumer and materialistic society sells convenience at any cost and is loath to tolerate difficulties that are inevitably encountered in human relationships. Unfortunately, we are more influenced by the wash of secular and material values in our relationships than we sometimes realize.

In any case, despite the difficulties, the condition of things in our secular society calls for an unbending stance in favor of authentic love, marriage and family.

Our Church believes that institutions as sacred as marriage, the family, indeed, authentic love, do not allow for easy compromise. The erosion caused by divorce is not the answer. On the other hand, if many weddings are not truly marriages for

whatever reasons, the Church’s declaration of nullity is a truthful response, though not an automatic one. The process of seeking a declaration of nullity is not automatic or simple for a reason. Integrity and peace of mind of individuals and the commonweal of society require that the declaration is, in fact, truthful.

Once more, I remind us that our Catholic faith is concerned with achieving the proper balance of promoting the good and the rights of individuals while at the same time promoting and protecting the common good of the human family. It is easier to agree about the importance of this balance in principle than it is to acknowledge it and accept it when our particular desires are at stake.

The “easier way” is not always the right way. “Making compromising allowances” does not serve our need for the truth in our life decisions.

We really do want to welcome folks who desire to become Catholics, but we would not be doing the right thing by bending the faith. Our challenge is to explain our beliefs as thoroughly as possible and to support seekers along the way—truly a challenge in a secular culture. †

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