Catholic Doctrine on Divorce

I interpret the following passages as allowing for divorce in certain situations., such as a spouse having sexual relations with another man or woman or a non-believer deserting a believing wife. Does catholic teaching agree with me on this?

Matthew 5:32 New International Version (NIV)
32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

1 Corinthians 7:12-13, 15 New International Version (NIV)
12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.
15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.

Doesn’t the second case already exist in the Church as the Pauline Privilege.


The actual word used is pornea, meaning an illicit sexual relationship such as consanguinity. This would cause the marriage to be illicit from the beginning.

There is no such thing as divorce in the Catholic Church. Divorce is a secular, legal concept. A valid, Sacramental marriage is indissoluble. Here is the teaching of the Church. Keep in mind that 2283 applies only to rare cases, and for this reason, the Church has canon law to assist:


2382 The Lord Jesus insisted on the original intention of the Creator who willed that marriage be indissoluble.174 He abrogates the accommodations that had slipped into the old Law.175

Between the baptized, "a ratified and consummated marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power or for any reason other than death."176

2383 The separation of spouses while maintaining the marriage bond can be legitimate in certain cases provided for by canon law.177

If civil divorce remains the only possible way of ensuring certain legal rights, the care of the children, or the protection of inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral offense.

2384 Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death. Divorce does injury to the covenant of salvation, of which sacramental marriage is the sign. Contracting a new union, even if it is recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture: the remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery:

If a husband, separated from his wife, approaches another woman, he is an adulterer because he makes that woman commit adultery, and the woman who lives with him is an adulteress, because she has drawn another’s husband to herself.178

2385 Divorce is immoral also because it introduces disorder into the family and into society. This disorder brings grave harm to the deserted spouse, to children traumatized by the separation of their parents and often torn between them, and because of its contagious effect which makes it truly a plague on society.

2386 It can happen that one of the spouses is the innocent victim of a divorce decreed by civil law; this spouse therefore has not contravened the moral law. There is a considerable difference between a spouse who has sincerely tried to be faithful to the sacrament of marriage and is unjustly abandoned, and one who through his own grave fault destroys a canonically valid marriage.

Pornea is a broad term that means “sexual immorality.”

I was married in the Catholic Church (Maronite Rite) and it became evident in time that my husband had no intention of being faithful; I knew of several affairs that he’d had, even though we had a reasonably solid marriage and a child. He was the oldest son in a Lebanese family and a doctor; his family thought that he was just a few steps below God himself. When it became apparent (through counseling) that he had no intention of fidelity, I filed for divorce. I eventually went through the annulment process in the Maronite Church and our marriage was annulled. It was a lengthy process – lots of soul-searching and writing – but it was worth it in the end. I am free to marry in the Church (NOT on the agenda, however) but he has to get permission from the Tribunal if he wants to marry again. If you were married in the Catholic Church and are now divorced, you might want to look into the possibility of an annulment. They aren’t easy to get – nor should they be – but if you think you might want to re-marry in the Church, it’s worth sitting down with a priest to determine whether you have the grounds for an annulment.

I am the sacramental wife of a man who went through the nullity process. It’s not the easiest thing, but it can bring about a lot of healing. There’s actually an annulment support group here on CAF for those going through the process or those who have gone through it. One of the members is also a canon lawyer so he is able to address legal questions surrounding the process. I’m also a member - I joined to provide support and insight to those going through the process.

From the Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law:
Canon 1141 A marriage [between two baptized persons] which is ratified and consummated cannot be dissolved by any human power or by any cause other than death.

Canon 1142 A non-consummated marriage between baptised persons or between a baptised party and an unbaptised party can be dissolved by the Roman Pontiff for a just reason, at the request of both parties or of either party, even if the other is unwilling.

Canon 1143 §1 In virtue of the pauline privilege [1 Cor 7:12-15], a marriage entered into by two unbaptised persons is dissolved in favour of the faith of the party who received baptism, by the very fact that a new marriage is contracted by that same party, provided the unbaptised party departs.

§2 The unbaptised party is considered to depart if he or she is unwilling to live with the baptised party, or to live peacefully without offence to the Creator, unless the baptised party has, after the reception of baptism, given the other just cause to depart.

Food for thought…
Jesus’ teaching against divorce and remarriage is mentioned by Matthew, Mark and Luke but only Matthew includes an exception clause. Why is this? Perhaps Matthew included the exception clause so as not to contradict himself because earlier he had described St Joseph as being a just man even though St Joseph had intended to divorce the Virgin Mary when he found out she was pregnant before they had consummated their marriage. Perhaps the exception clause to Jesus’ teaching against divorce and remarriage found in Matthew only applies to similar, unconsummated marriages. Otherwise, it sounds like Jesus is encouraging people to commit adultery who want to divorce their spouse.

Civil divorce is not a sin but remarrying would be without an annulment.

Really, so you think that Divorce is permitted if there is “sexual immorality” in the marriage?
Better check your catechism.
In charity, perhaps you were just looking at the one post. In that case let me suggest that, as with all things, you read them in the context of the purpose of the thread. Text without context gives an excuse for a pretext.

I think the term indicates sexual immorality with no intent of being faithful at the time of the marriage. If a person lies while making the vow to be faithful. This lie invalidates the marriage.

Regarding the first passage, protestants sometimes cite this to allow divorce in the case of adultery. As someone else mentioned, the operative word here is “porneia.” Protestants like to just limit this to adultery but there is no support for this. Say the the husband is sexually immoral by masturbating. Can the wife divorce? Say the husband is sexually immoral by looking at pornography? Can the wife divorce. Say the husband is sexually immoral by lusting after other women in his heart (what Jesus calls adultery). Can the wife divorce?

In summary, the protestants have carved out a nice little exception that is not consistent with true bible scholarship.

Porneia translates to “fornication”. It doesn’t include masturbation, viewing pornography and lusting in the heart. It refers to sexual acts with a person other than one’s spouse.

Strong’s Concordance gives us the originaldefinitionofporneia. 1) illicit sexual intercourse. a) adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, intercourse with animals etc. b) sexual intercourse with close relatives;

Now for my 1 centavos worth.

Catholics believe (or are supposed to) that marriage is not a contract but a covenant, just like God’s covenant with the Israelites. Sometimes their is language in a contract that allows one party to walk away, therefore dissolving it. Not so with a covenant. Just as many times the Israelites turned away from God in the OT, He still kept His covenant with them. So it is with a Catholic marriage. Even if my spouse were to cheat on me, I am still called to keep my end of the covenant. This is why marriage is never to be entered into lightly.

I have heard both sides of the argument that Jesus says it’s okay to remarry when one side has been unfaithful. The word porneia is a catch-all for many things. It is quite possible that Jesus’ was talking only about a few of the many items that porneia covers. The Greek perhaps did not have the specific words the writer needed ( Petros Petras anyone?). I would like everyone to prayerfully consider this passage, eespecially verse 10:

there.3aSome Pharisees approached him, and tested him,saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?”4**bHe said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’5cand said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?6So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”7**dThey said to him, “Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss [her]?”8He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.9eI say to you,**whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.”10[His] disciples said to him, “If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”11He answered, “Not all can accept [this] word,but only those to whom that is granted.12Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriagefor the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”

The reason the Apostles say it would be better not to marry is because Jesus has basically just said to them that there are no reasons for divorce (of a lawful marriage).

p.s. Now playing devil’s advocate He also says whoever can accept it ought to accept. You could say “Lord I do not accept it.”:cool:


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