Does a sister or brother who leaves the religious life, divorce God?

I am not Catholic but am wondering since I work in a Catholic school.If a nun, sister or a consecrated woman, or even a priest or a brother decides not to be this anymore and leaves and marries, is he divorcing God? A consecrated lady once told me that they take vowel of marriage and are married to God, and go through a wedding ceremony to marry God. Just wondering.


While in the past, and even in some instances today, women wear a wedding dress in the clothing ceremony of receiving the religious habit, and a ring at final vows, the Church does not teach that the vows of religious life are comparable to wedding vows. Wedding vows express a commitment to God by the mutual self-giving of the man and woman through the one flesh union of Christian marriage until death.

Those professing the vows of religious life make the vows of poverty, celibate chastity, and obedience. Such vows cover the totality of human life. The vow of poverty gives God all personal property of every kind. The vow of celibate chastity gives God all their relationships including the exclusive relationship of a spouse. The vow of obedience gives God the surrender of adult independence. Such a commitment unites the vowed person directly to God, making his or her whole life a living act of religion (worship).

The ultimate goals of marriage and religious life are both union with God. In marriage, it is accomplished through spouse and family. In religious life it is accomplished directly and immediately by the total sacrifice of one’s life.

If a vowed person wishes to leave the religious life, he or she can be granted a dispensation, even after the profession of final vows. The Church would not call this a divorce. It should be noted that final vows do not constitute a sacrament while the vows of marriage do. Ordinarily, the Church does not have the competence to dissolve a sacrament. Religious life was instituted by the Church. The sacraments were instituted by Christ.

The priesthood is another matter. The Church may dispense a priest from the discipline of celibacy, but because priestly ordination constitutes the sacrament of Holy Orders, the Church does not have the competence to dissolve this sacrament. The man may be given the freedom to marry (without permission to administer the sacraments except in an extreme emergency), but he will remain a priest forever.

Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.

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