What is Church Teaching on the Maritally Abandoned?


Greetings All,

I am an RCIA candidate for conversion to Catholicism. I previously was baptised in the Lutheran Church. I was married in 1990 to a Greek Orthodox woman in the Greek Orthodox Church.

In 1998, she decided “she simply did not want to be married any more” and filed a uncontestable “no-fault” civil divorce in Pennsylvania. I attempted to reconcile, and was threatened with a civil “Protection from Abuse” order if I persisted, because my repeated attempts to reconcile “made her feel bad about herself”.

We have a child who was not quite 3 years of age at the time of her departure. I was apparently not a monster, since I was granted fully shared (50-50) physical custody of my son. I had been his primary caretaker early in his life. She has never applied for an Orthodox Ecclesiastical Divorce, and I am told that as the non-Orthodox partner in that union, I am ineligible to even apply for one.

I have three primary questions:

  1. Does the Roman Catholic Church still view me as married if and when my ex-wife does file for and receive the Ecclesiastical Divorce? i.e. Does the Ecclesiastical Divorce have the equivalence in the eyes of the RCC of an annulment?

  2. If not, under what possible justification does that woman get to be heard from by a Catholic Marriage Tribunal, when she has done nothing for 9 years but prove through every action and word that she has nothing but disdain for this union?

  3. Does the RCC expect me to remain as a eunuch for life in order to remain a Catholic in good standing, while wife beaters and practicing homosexual pedophiles (and I am NOT referring to any clergy here, just local Catholic politicians) continue to unrepentently receive the Eucharist on a weekly basis?

Can someone here justify this hypocrisy, and save my desire to convert to Catholicism, which is in severe crisis at the moment?

I believe that divorce is a sin. If I were king, I would abolish it. But we do not live in such a world. Divorce is a metter of absolute right today. Do we punish the crime victim for the crimes committed against him?

And if I am right in receiving the answers I believe I will, where is God’s mercy?

And please, please, do not try to convince me that being called to the single life is a valid vocation, because for me, it certainly is not.

Please help me with answers. Perhaps Catholicism is not right for me.


As far as I understand the matter the Catholic Church has to pronounce an annullment to nullify any civilly-recognised marriage involving its members. However if the Greek Church also considers the marriage null or dissolved, that might affect the decision.

  1. If not, under what possible justification does that woman get to be heard from by a Catholic Marriage Tribunal, when she has done nothing for 9 years but prove through every action and word that she has nothing but disdain for this union?

An annullment is not a reward for good behaviour during the marriage. It is null if, normally, it was contracted without any serious intention of fulfilling the promises.

  1. Does the RCC expect me to remain as a eunuch for life in order to remain a Catholic in good standing, while wife beaters and practicing homosexual pedophiles (and I am NOT referring to any clergy here, just local Catholic politicians) continue to unrepentently receive the Eucharist on a weekly basis?

And please, please, do not try to convince me that being called to the single life is a valid vocation, because for me, it certainly is not.

The whole point of the RCC teaching is that we do not recognise divorce. Since you are married, you are manifestly not called to the single life. Your duty is to discharge your solemn, binding and unconditional obligations to your wife and child.
The wife’s behaviour might be making this very difficult. I would be the first one to say that divorce laws are very unjust. However the Church is not going to solve this problem by adding another divorce law to the set.

Marriage is a public act, which is why illicit marriages can lead to excommunication, but private sins usually do not.


Thank you Mr. McLean for yuor serious and well thought out response.

Where does all of that leave candidates for conversion to Catholicism who are already civilly remaried? Do I understand that if my wife and I refrain from sexual relations, I mat then receive the Eucahrist?

Do you understand the quandry this creates? The Easter vigil approaches, and I am not sure what to do. I believe in the basic precepts of Catholicism, but this marriage issue is a major problem.



I’m sorry to hear your pain.

You may petition the Catholic church for an annulment, it doesn’t matter what church/faith your former marriage was in.

I’d suggest a little book called “Catholic Annulment Spiritual Healing” by Dennis and Kay Flowers.

The Church does NOT teach that divorce is a sin. In fact, the catechism teaches there may be times when civil separation may be neccessary to protect either party.

"Part 3, Section 2, Chapter 2, Article 6, SubSection 4, Heading 2

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. "

from kofc.org/publications/cis/catechism/search.cfm

As another posted stated, the Church simply does not RECOGNIZE the ability of civil divorce to dissolve a sacramental marriage.

I’m in the middle of my own annulment, I’ll be praying for you, please pray for me.


It does create a very difficult problem. The Church allows neither divorce nor polygamy. So of course a demand to dissolve the second marriage is unfair on the second wife. Unfortunately in these situations there is usually no solution that doesn’t seriously impact the interests of someone somewhere.

If you are still living with a second wife it is not acceptable to have separate bedrooms, whatever that does for your personal moral position before God. It is public act of remarriage, not sexual intercourse, which the Church denies communion for.


Thank you again, Mr. McLean.

Then what would be your practical advice for me?

  1. Abandon attempts to join the faith at this time, apply for the annulment now, and proceed to conversion later.

  2. Continue RCIA training and merely not participate in the Rite of Election on February 25, nor First Communion and Confirmation at the Easter Vigil, and then proceed with them after the annulment might ultimately be granted. And what if it is not?

  3. Proceed in a form of the Internal Forum option.

  4. Something else altogther.


I maybe wrong, but my understanding says sexual intercourse in this situation (adultery) and the remarriage (scandal) are grave sins, equally. One is not greater than the other. Under either of these situations a person is required to abstain from receiving communion until the situation is rectified and reconcilliation can be obtained.


As a Catholic I think that the Church is the true body of Christ and that Jesus was God incarnate.

This isn’t so obviously the case that only a perverse man would refuse to accept it. If you genuinely believe that the teaching on divorce is old fashioned, or unrealistic, or an impediment to happiness, then that is a very telling point against the Church being what she says she is. In which case it is better not to join.

Until you are received into the Church, you are not bound by the rules. I don’t see a problem with maintaining the current marriage whilst learning about the Church. You can’t be expected to take the big step of dissolving a marriage until absolutely sure that this is the correct thing to do.

However it is very immature to say “I won’t convert until my annullment is through”. Even should it be granted, it might not necessarily work. Another problem of equal gravity could crop up.


Thank you again, Mr. McLean. Your patience and reason is most appreciated. Please pray for me as I continue to struggle with these issues.


Unless I’m misunderstanding you I don’t agree with that statement.

I was a non-Catholic (Methodist) when I married my Catholic wife. It was a civil wedding. My wife’s first husband died. I was divorced from my first wife. Being a protestant I did not think anything was wrong with that. We have a daughter. However after 10 years of my wife’s prayers I was given the grace to see that the Catholic Church is the true Church. I went through the RCIA prgram and of course came to understand about marriage and divorce (or lack of it) in the Catholic faith.
My wife and I were not told to split up. We agreed to live a celibate life and I became a Catholic. We chose what God wants and not what we wanted. This was confessed years and years ago and we continue to live a celibate life under the same roof (obviously separate bedrooms) and are allowed to receive Communion.


Almost certainly your parish priest would have got special permission from the bishop to allow this. “Celibate” incidentally means “unmarried”. The vast majority of prostitutes are celibate. The word is misused to mean not having sex.

Sometimes it is best to bend rules a bit. However someone who is remarried shouldn’t assume that they will be allowed to continue living with their second partner for the sake of the children.


the entire issue of your marriage situation should have been resolved with the Catholic pastor before you entered upon the RCIA process, and the entire teaching on marriage, divorce and annulments should have been explained to you as part of this resolution. If your pastor was neglectful, that lack is not your fault.

I suggest searching the liturgy and sacraments from for the topic of annulment, as this has been discussed many times, and responses will answer most of your questions, and the discussions also carry the experiences of others in your situation.

short answer, see your pastor immediately for guidance on your personal situation. what you will get here are opinions, some educated and relevant, some irrelevant and misguided. None will probably address properly your personal situation. Each marriage is unique and its validity at the time vows were exchanged must be judged by the Catholic marriage tribunal if either party seeks to have a subsequent marriage recognized by the Catholic Church.

The civil divorce has no bearing on the validity of the marriage at the time vows were contracted, nor does the behavior or either party during the marriage (although they may shed light on whether or not either party was capable of making valid consent). Although the civil divorce must be a fact and reconciliation efforts exhausted before presenting the case to the Tribunal for an annulment investigation. That certainly has been done in your case. Please see your pastor now.

The marriage tribunal hears testimony from both parties and from witnesses. You certainly want your wife to tell her story, especially as it seems quite likely from the scenario you describe, she will give evidence as to her intentions, state of mind, and capacity to validly consent to the marriage.

The other benefit of an annulment proceeding is healing, as well as being free to marry again if the marriage is found null and void from the beginning. This canon law procedure is intended to help you, to break down barriers, to give you redress–not to create barriers. As to what the Catholic Church expects, she expects marriages to be honored for what they are solemn vows binding for life in the sight of God and man. She also gives canon law protection to innocent parties to a marriage that is not valid from its inception so that they are not bound. Again, please see your pastor today for guidance.


Someone on this thread mentioned the possible use of the “Internal Forum Solution”. I am no Canon Lawyer and have read the particular Canon supposed to justify this action. In my estimate, and bear in mind I am not a Canon Lawyer, the groups who are trying to push this solutiion to the problem are blowing smoke. Please be wary.

Can. 1116 §1 If one who, in accordance with the law, is competent to assist, cannot be present or be approached without grave inconvenience, those who intend to enter a true marriage can validly and lawfully contract in the presence of witnesses only:

1° in danger of death;

2° apart from danger of death, provided it is prudently foreseen that this state of affairs will continue for a month.

§2 In either case, if another priest or deacon is at hand who can be present, he must be called upon and, together with the witnesses, be present at the celebration of the marriage, without prejudice to the validity of the marriage in the presence of only the witnesses.



I tried to send you a private message but there was an error.

I don’t think your asking the right question. I don’t think the issue is if you’ve been married and abandoned, but did your wife and you actually celebrate a sacramental marriage.

From what we talked about earlier, if your wife went in thinking that she could be divorced X number of times then I don’t know if you were actually married to begin with. (If that makes any sense.)

Now giving me Canon Law is like letting a monkey play with matches, so take it with a grain of salt, but I don’t think you’re asking the right question.


Malcolm, you are wrong. You need to research your answers before posting. “Celibate” most certainly does mean abstaining from sex.

cel·i·bate –noun 1. a person who abstains from sexual relations.

And this is incorrect as well:

It is public act of remarriage, not sexual intercourse, which the Church denies communion for.

IF the poster MUST have annulment for his first marriage, then he must abstain from sexual relations with his current wife as the Church views this as adultery.

Candidate Kurt,
Take puzzleannie’s advice and speak to your priest of the director or the RCIA program. Marriage and annulment is one of the most confusing issues in the Church and it really requires someone with expertise to comment on your particular situation. When I returned to the Church, I immediately made an appointment with the Pastoral Assistant to get squared away on my marital status. It turned out to be alot less painful than I had expected.

I will agree with Malcolm that if joining the Catholic Church hinges on this issue for you, there may be more spiritual work left to do. We should be prepared to submit to all the Church’s teachings.


Hi sorry to hear about your problem. Only advice i can give u, is go and speak to your parrish priest. His the only one that can tell u what to do and where the church stand. Once married your married for live. The church does not regonise devorce. If your devorce from u u are still married in the eyes of the church and GOD. To think you are single while ur still married is a great sin. To get an annulment from church is almost imposible. Speak to your parish priest and hear what he has to say.Pray to our mother for guidens may our LORD be with u.


An annulment (decree of nullity) from the church is not “almost impossible”, if there are legitimate grounds. Meaning if at the time the marriage took place (as in the wedding day) there was essential element for a valid marriage that was lacking such as going into the marriage with the idea there could be divorce later on, not seeing it as a permanent union.

Also I believe it is correct that if the poster and his current wife live as brother and sister he would be allowed to recieve communion (as long as he was in the state of grace.)

Please consult your priest as soon as possible. He can address all the details and help you better than we can.



Only the Catholic Church has the authority to examine a marriage for validity. What she does in the Greek Orthodox Church has no bearing on what you need to do in the Catholic Church.

No. But, I’m sure a tribunal would look at whatever evidence and conclusions were drawn from any proceedings through the G.O. Chuch when weighing the case.

I don’t understand this question. If you petition the Tribunal to investigate your marriage, her testimony is a part of that investigation. She can choose to respond or not respond.

You are not free to marry until your first marriage has been examined and a declaration of nullity issued. If it is found to be valid, then yes, you would need to remain single and chaste until your spouse dies.

The RCC clearly teaches that those in mortal sin should not receive the Eucharist. Those who do, compound their sin with an additional mortal sin.

The priest and extraordinary ministers are not the “Eucharist police”. If someone approaches, they have no way to know if that person is in mortal sin or if they have recently confessed and are in a state of grace. We are to self-police and refrain from the Eucharist when we know ourselves to be in mortal sin.

Somehow you seem to be under the impression that divorce is an impediment to the Sacraments. It is not. Only if you have contracted a second marriage civilly would there be an issue or impediment to joining the Church and receiving the Sacraments.

You should pursue a Tribunal case if you desire to remarry in the future.

Catholicism is the Truth. How can the Truth be wrong for anybody?


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.