SPLIT: Must we separate after becoming Catholic?

My husband and I have been married for 26 years. We were both previously married. To make short a complex question, we were told that as long as we are celibate, which we have been for 10 years, living as “brother and sister”, we were allowed to convert to Catholicism and receive the Eucharist. We have been Catholic for 4 years. We were previously Anglican for 26 years, my husband being a priest. Now, reading this forum I find that we were given incorrect information by our priests and that we must separate. We are old, financially stressed. Incredulous!


I suggest you take a deep breath and relax.

Your priest has given you correct guidance. If for whatever reason the prior marriages were found to be valid, or you could not/did not pursue a decree of nullity, then yes remaining as brother/sister is the a path that can be taken, as your priest has guided you.

Please, please, please be careful when reading and interpreting threads that do not pertain to YOUR situation. SuscipeMeDomine’s post did not state anything that should lead you to your conclusion, least of all the idea that you “must separate”. SuscipeMeDomine was also talking about a couple that were living a full conjugal life, not your completely different situation of living in continence.

That absolution and solution is sometimes given by the priest or bishop in the private forum, normally when children exist or there is not financial independence. In which case in addition to living as brother and sister, scandal must be avoided, such as receiving Eucharist in a parish where one is not known (that is, where there will be no public knowledge of any scandal).

I have a reference to a Vatican statement on this topic. This solution is not available in general to those that married and do not have children or are capable of living apart financially.


Why does the Church believe it would be scandalous? When you keep situations like this on the Down Low, and there are problems. No one, even the Catholic counselor, at Catholic Charities, my priest sent me to, understood…and tried to work on the invalid marriage. Which really made me feel unsupported.

I am disconnected at this point and due to his behavior during this period of time, I am in counselling to determine if I can even possibly stay legally married. I won’t convalidate unless, he gives me a reason that would make me think it would be better. So far, I am not convinced.

So, I do not understand why the church teaches that we must keep it secret. Or why living in such a way would be scandalous to anyone. I live chastely. And now, I am on antidepressants because there is so little support…because it is on the down low so much, no one understands.

He has his annulment now…he is free to marry. At this point because of his long term behaviors, I don’t know I want him.

So I am not blaming the Church, but the church needs some level of pastoral care for people like me who have the unwilling invalid spouse. I am probably not the only one. Something more than sending us to marriage counselling…it is a problem, they need to address.

I am sorry for all the difficulties. It is scandal once the nullity is certain. I may be able to explain about scandal:

Scandal (Modern Catholic Dictionary):Any action or its omission, not necessarily sinful in itself, that is likely to induce another to do something morally wrong. Direct scandal, also called diabolical, has the deliberate intention to induce another to sin. In indirect scandal a person does something that he or she foresees will at least likely lead another to commit sin, but this is rather tolerated [by the one giving the scandal] than positively desired.

(Etym. Latin scandalum, stumbling block.)
From the Holy See (made in 2000): "The Code of Canon Law establishes that “Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion” (can. 915). …

...the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments declares the following:

1. The prohibition found in the cited canon, by its nature, is derived from divine law and transcends the domain of positive ecclesiastical laws: the latter cannot introduce legislative changes which would oppose the doctrine of the Church. The scriptural text on which the ecclesial tradition has always relied is that of St. Paul: "This means that whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily sins against the body and blood of the Lord. A man should examine himself first only then should he eat of the bread and drink of the cup. He who eats and drinks without recognizing the body eats and drinks a judgment on himself."

This text concerns in the first place the individual faithful and their moral conscience, a reality that is expressed as well by the Code in can. 916. But the unworthiness that comes from being in a state of sin also poses a serious juridical problem in the Church: indeed the canon of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches that is parallel to can. 915 CIC of the Latin Church makes reference to the term "unworthy": "Those who are publicly unworthy are forbidden from receiving the Divine Eucharist" (can. 712). In effect, the reception of the Body of Christ when one is publicly unworthy constitutes an objective harm to the ecclesial communion: it is a behavior that affects the rights of the Church and of all the faithful to live in accord with the exigencies of that communion. In the concrete case of the admission to Holy Communion of faithful who are divorced and remarried, the scandal, understood as an action that prompts others towards wrongdoing, affects at the same time both the sacrament of the Eucharist and the indissolubility of marriage. That scandal exists even if such behavior, unfortunately, no longer arouses surprise: in fact it is precisely with respect to the deformation of the conscience that it becomes more necessary for Pastors to act, with as much patience as firmness, as a protection to the sanctity of the Sacraments and a defense of Christian morality, and for the correct formation of the faithful. 


You may understand more if you read this declaration regarding divorced and remarried: CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH

“With respect to the aforementioned new pastoral proposals, this Congregation deems itself obliged therefore to recall the doctrine and discipline of the Church in this matter. In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ(5), the Church affirms that a new union cannot be recognised as valid if the preceding marriage was valid. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Holy Communion as long as this situation persists(6).”

“The faithful who persist in such a situation may receive Holy Communion only after obtaining sacramental absolution, which may be given only “to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when for serious reasons, for example, for the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they ‘take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples’”(8). In such a case they may receive Holy Communion as long as they respect the obligation to avoid giving scandal.”

“6. Members of the faithful who live together as husband and wife with persons other than their legitimate spouses may not receive Holy Communion. Should they judge it possible to do so, pastors and confessors, given the gravity of the matter and the spiritual good of these persons(10) as well as the common good of the Church, have the serious duty to admonish them that such a judgment of conscience openly contradicts the Church’s teaching(11). Pastors in their teaching must also remind the faithful entrusted to their care of this doctrine.”

it still doesn’t say why it is scandalous. If you are living apart under one roof. Do people automatically assume that is impossible?

I have read those documents. But the Church needs to look at this. Provide pastoral care. You did not even address my question, not really.

People do not *know you are living apart *under one roof when you live as husband and wife, so that gives scandal to the community. It appears to be sinful, and that is all that is necessary for scandal. But living together in one house can make in more likely for inappropriate sexual thoughts arise. In that case the scandal is given to the one you are living with. So the said “That scandal exists even if such behavior, unfortunately, no longer arouses surprise: in fact it is precisely with respect to the deformation of the conscience that it becomes more necessary for Pastors to act”.

Pastoral care is providing the sacraments and the the word. Is there another kind of pastoral care you are looking for?

So in your mind, I am just supposed to marry him even though I have not discerned it, just because we live in the same residence? No extenuating circumstances would make this any different in your mind?

You do not have to worry about inappropriate anything from me. He may be inappropriate because he never accepted the fact that we are not married. So you consider it scandalous that we live in the same house with two kids that a priest told me they need a mother and a father?

I cannot nor will not marry him unless I know for sure it would be a good thing. He has proven himself a real jerk the last few years, so I am not so sure your situation fits my situation.

It doesn’t really matter what people are saying here, throwing in their two cents. We do not know you and do not know your situation.

You need to follow the advice of your priest, not strangers on the internet. The priest can help you, and seems he has already given you sound advice for your situation with children involved.

I am presenting some statements by the bishops of the Catholic Church, not saying what you should do. Nobody can compel you to marry, and I am not advising you to marry. The Church can and has refused the sacraments however, in situations like this. I know that a Catholic that is not validly married but living as husband and wife can give scandal which is sinful, and also is sinful in some other ways.

Questions to ask are:

Has the priest advised you to continue to like together?
Has the priest said you may receive absolution continuing in that situation?

I am not living as husband and wife. You make assumptions because I am in the same house. I sleep on the sofa. I have for oh, almost two years. The kids are even used to it.

I don’t plan to live this way forever. Eventually, I will marry or leave.

You are right. --The idea of what marriage is, has been driven home these past few years and when someone tries to speak on this forum and act as if I am living in sin. I am not just sitting on my hands waiting. Well part of me is. but some say He won’t change. I have told him I need to see change.

The true question has not been answered. I have lived through this with an unwilling “partner” and there is no support. People just don’t “get” it. The priest even sent us to marriage counselling…which doesn’t make sense if you are not seen as married. It doesn’t make one bit of sense. then I have told the catholic counselor the situation and it was as if she didn’t even listen.

We are both seeing different counselors to figure out stuff, we may or may not all come together at some point. I am looking at myself, and our history, and trying to decide if I can even make a sacramental covenant with this person. He is free to marry now. This is only a couple of weeks since he recieved the news.

Just because he did it under duress, doesn’t meant anything is going on around here.

His counselor is working on it, i have had to trust her. Let her figure it out with him, and mine is working with me.

My DD goes to counselling and her’s doesnt believe he will change that he is disrespectful…but the hope she says I have is denial…the hope isn’t in the man, but the Spirit of God who He says lives in him.

So Vico, you cannot objectively just say I am sinning by living here this way. The church needs to support people like me who are living chastely in situations like this. To guide us, to encourage us to not lose faith.

People on this forum throw out the term “live as brother and sister” as if that doesn’t present true problems. It’s not about the sex, it is about the disrespect. Not seeing a person as a child of God created in the image of God, and the difference in beliefs about the marital “act”. It was quite abusive. Emotionally and spiritually…all I was told was to go to counselling with him. …it just doesn’t work that way. If you are not married in the eyes of the church it makes no sense to have marriage counselling. It’s stupid.

What is needed is a support group in the very least. A group of people living the same way, and I dont’ doubt that i am the only one.

We have things in common that we could provide support for. We have a group on here, that helps, we have a canon lawyer to help and we have each othr. It isn’t enough though.

If the church really teaches what you say, Vico, then why was I allowed back in communion? Why was I allowed into Reconciliation? Why was I told, when I asked about scandal, to not worry about what everyone else thinks? Busy bodies. Too many people think they know what is good for you, but then I find they just really don’t even listen.

No, I do not agree with keeping it on the down low. It is bad and causes more problems with depression and despair. I have lived honorably in the eyes of the church, and thus God. so this is NOT sin that I have to repent of.


Sorry I was not clear, I meant the appearance of living as husband and wife, which is what matters with scandal, also the appearance of receiving communion unworthily which can follow from the first.

I can see from what you wrote that you were able to receive absolution. You stated that your were told (I assume by a priest, but I do not know from what you wrote) " to not worry about what everyone else thinks"

Since you read the statements from the Vatican explaining scandal, I hoped you could see that scandal is to be avoided. Although you say they do not apply because the situation is not exactly the same, I believe this is not true, because broader truth is given there that applies to invalid marriages.

I am not sure what you mean by this: “So Vico, you cannot objectively just say I am sinning by living here this way.” especially since I did not say you were sinning (I am not making a personal judgment). Did you rather mean “objectively sinning” as in committing a material sin, but not culpable by intention? Admission to communion is possible through the private forum in these situations when living as brother and sister, when the appearance of receiving communion unworthily is avoided (i.e., scandal). That is what I mentioned before, I suppose you missed it. (Post on May 18, '12 12:37 am.)

And here is the applicable statement:

“This means, in practice, that when for serious reasons, for example, for the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they ‘take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples’”(8). In such a case they may receive Holy Communion as long as they respect the obligation to avoid giving scandal."

(7) Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, n. 84: AAS 74 (1982) 185-186.
(8) Ibid., n. 84: AAS 74 (1982) 186; cf. John Paul II, Homily on the Occasion of the Closure of the Sixth Synod of Bishops, n. 7: AAS 72 (1980) 1082.


Well, my priest gave me permission to go to reconciliation and communion at my parish.

While I am not shouting from the roof tops about my living situation, certain people know about it. I have not told but one person outside of my home and my counselor about the decree of annulment going through. Because I do not know what i am going to do.

I guess we will have to agree to disagree on this one. I have already asked a canon lawyer about the situation. Not about communion. But about having to marry him.

The rule still applies about the children needed both a father and a Mother. They know I sleep on the sofa. Why does anyone but my friends and family need to know anything?

If they don’t know, then, there is no scandal. If they presume scandal then they frankly need something like a creative hobby that is life affirming.

Oh and btw, saying that I am not allowe to recieve communion is saying that I cannot due to sin. What other reason would there be to not recieve it?


Not because it is sinful to receive due to mortal sin prior to reception, but that it would be a sin of scandal to receive. That is what was explained by the Vatican statements. If there is no knowledge then the scandal would not be intentional or by omission.

Modern Catholic Dictionary, Fr. John Hardon:

SCANDAL. Any action or its omission, not necessarily sinful in itself, that is likely to induce another to do something morally wrong. Direct scandal, also called diabolical, has the deliberate intention to induce another to sin. In indirect scandal a person does something that he or she foresees will at least likely lead another to commit sin, but this is rather tolerated than positively desired.
(Etym. Latin scandalum, stumbling block.)

Here is an example. If an alcoholic is invited to a party where there will be drinking, and the host knows the person is alcoholic, it is uncharitable, either by indifference or diabolically. If it is unknown, then it may be sinful by omission or not, if secret.The culpability is different based upon these factors. It is because we are each others keepers and should protect the weak in our charity of living like Christ.

Since we are our brothers (sisters) keepers, by providing a bad example, we become stumbling blocks to the weak. What stumbling block we provide need not be a sin in itself either. In Corinthians is an example of eating meat offered to idols leading others to sin, although not a sin to us.

1 Corinthians 8
1 12 Now in regard to meat sacrificed to idols: we realize that “all of us have knowledge”; knowledge inflates with pride, but love builds up. 2 If anyone supposes he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But if one loves God, one is known by him. 4 So about the eating of meat sacrificed to idols: we know that “there is no idol in the world,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 Indeed, even though there are so-called gods in heaven and on earth (there are, to be sure, many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 3 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom all things are and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things are and through whom we exist. 7 But not all have this knowledge. There are some who have been so used to idolatry up until now that, when they eat meat sacrificed to idols, their conscience, which is weak, is defiled. 8 4 Now food will not bring us closer to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, nor are we better off if we do. 9 But make sure that this liberty of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak. 10 If someone sees you, with your knowledge, reclining at table in the temple of an idol, may not his conscience too, weak as it is, be “built up” to eat the meat sacrificed to idols? 11 Thus through your knowledge, the weak person is brought to destruction, the brother for whom Christ died. 12 When you sin in this way against your brothers and wound their consciences, weak as they are, you are sinning against Christ. 13 5 Therefore, if food causes my brother to sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I may not cause my brother to sin.

Oh I get it, you think it is bad because you interpret such a thing as scandal. There is no way my priest would have granted me absolution, and told me it was ok.

As far as I am concerned, you are defining scandal where there is none.

Yet you accuse me of being diabolical.

Who are you? You maybe should ask your own priest for an interpretation of what you have read.

I am sorry about being so reactive toward you. I have been through a lot and you are telling me it is not good enough according to the Church. Words cannot describe in this short context what i have been through.

I am sure your intentions are good.

We just do not agree. I have read, and read, and read. I have even read the document you referred to.

Your interpretation of that document will not keep me from Eucharist when I have done as the Church has asked me to do. If I didn’t have that consolation, I may have indeed gone through with those things that were only fleeting thoughts last year.

The thing is I have examples of my own that you would say are scandal and I say…they are a necessity or innocent. You call something black when I call it white.

My example is that we have a one bathroom house. I have two kids. We have a rule, that if I am in the shower, they can come in and use the bathroom. Now to the outside world, they might think…how do they use one bathroom…they have two males and two females.

My answer to you is that simply, we respect one another in our state of exposure. It is out of necessity. If I am out, and not dressed decently, they have to hop in the hallway.

Another would be that I meet a friend from ministry for coffee every saturday. He is a happily married man. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. We have the coffee for about 30 minutes or less and meet another friend in the park and walk for 3 or 4 miles. We are all now very close. On the outside others have assumed we are married. I have gotten to a point where I just roll my eyes and smile. This person has earned my trust. To you it would be scandalous for others to see us drinking coffee. Because people presume we are married when we are not.

I have done this for about 5 years. My family knows about it and do not care to get up so early and go with me for a long sweaty walk. That is just fine by me as I go early and spend some time alone. Pay for two coffees and catch up with my friend face to face. I can see how he is doing in his life better face to face.

It is kindness, and a sibling relationship. We have had to learn to modify what we do together as we discovered that so many people presume lots of things. It is very frustrating. But he is my brother. He is one of the few who know my story and has been a loyal friend and has heard me out with much patience.

But according to you, I would be commiting scandal because I have coffee with someone in that state in life. How are we to care for one another if we do not know what the needs are? How am I to discern and be a parent without tearing my family apart from past sins that I have been forgiven for?

You see things as black and white, when they are not quite that way. You accuse me of acting as a stumbling block. That makes me very sad that I would have a finger pointed at me…and stones thrown in the name of brotherly love.

When you have worn my shoes, and lived uprightly, it is highly disheartening and disconcerting to be told…".eh…still not good enough. You are a bad example. "

I have been driven crazy by people asking where the father of my children is. We are not married so I don’t bring him along. Well now that he is free to marry, I may have to go on some dates to see if I really want to. If his changes are really and truly a good effort and the Holy Spirit is changing him, then I see no reason to persue a relationship once again. He said he now realizes he is about to lose his family if he doesn’t make changes.

In good faith, we are working on the problem. I am sorry that you think so highly of your idea that scandal is so powerful…even in a situation like this. I am still in disagreement with you and your philosophy about what it means.

You would have me finish tearing apart my family or marry someone I am not sure I should and make it permanent because I am a stumbling block to you? I am the first to acknowledge that if someone confided in me that they are not validly married…I would tell them what they need to do. The decision is still up to them. they may see better than I that to redirect a ship is a lot more difficult without help. I had one friend…um…the one you would think I was in a scandalous relationship with.

I have been diagnosed with major depression because of the whole ordeal. I have read, and worried, and been rejected, and demeaned behind my back, and all kinds of things. Yet you say that is not good enough. The church says otherwise.

Yes, I am defensive. I am sorry for you that you are passing this on to me. When I still think that if the church has an annulment process. Divorce support. Then they should have some kind of program for support with those who are going through annulment but have never been divorced. Sending a “couple” to marital therapy where they ask you about your sexual relations…and other things that married people do. It is just backwards. If you tell me I am not married and I finally get the message. I need support with the difficult challenge of dealing with the other person. Most of the people i have met who are living with this, have partners that just think they have lost their minds. Then there is no support in psychology, nor in the church, and so we do have one another, if we could just organize it. It has been a journey of an invisible path. No safety net or guard rails I could see. but I did what was asked of me.

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