I am sure there is much pain in such situations and they require compassionate pastoral care. The Church's stance on this issue is not what some people understand it to be.
Divorce says that where there was once a marriage, that marriage henceforth shall no longer exist. The Church looks upon marriage as a sacrament, a sacred commitment of a couple to one another before God. Therefore, the Church does not believe that divorce can break the bond, the covenant of marriage. In this last half century especially, the Church recognizes the increasing existence of divorce as a sad fact of life and so it does its best to help people.
Not a sinner
One can say that a divorce does not, of itself, make a person a sinner. So many reasons exist for divorce that one could never declare a person divorcing as sinful, even if one could judge. Rather than the divorcing being sinful, it would likely be whatever triggered the divorce: the deceit, the unfaithfulness, the violence, the failure to appreciate the sacredness of the marriage vows.
No one would be excommunicated because of a divorce. The Church does not look upon divorced people as sinners any more than the rest of its members. After all, a divorced person may be the one more sinned against than sinning. Besides, Christ came for all of us sinners.
Nor does the Church condemn divorced persons to be forever deprived of the benefits of Mass and Communion. They are still obliged to go to Mass on Sunday and are free to receive Communion. God only knows that they need God's help and grace in their pain!
What Church law does say, however, is that if a marriage was truly sacramental and there is a divorce and remarriage, the participants are not to receive Communion. They continue, however, to assist at Mass.
That is why the Church has annulments to try to determine whether the marriage was defective in any way from the start. If it was, an annulment is granted allowing remarriage. Through this process, the Church is reaching out to the people involved as Christ did.
The idea of annulment is often misunderstood. It is not a Catholic divorce; it does not say here was a true marriage which shall no longer exist. It is a declaration that something was lacking originally - that is, at the time of the marriage.
It could have been in the freedom to consent, as for example, if the marriage was coerced because of pregnancy or if a person wasn't mentally or psychologically competent to freely enter into the marriage. Also, it could have been because one of the partners was previously married and did not have an annulment or because the marriage was not consummated. In some of these situations, even the state would grant an annulment.
Besides these, 1,001 psychological reasons could prevent a couple from making a firm commitment for life. A hasty marriage without getting to know one another could easily come about in a mobile society such as ours. A lack of maturity and of knowledge could prevent a true understanding of the meaning of Catholic marriage.
We may lose sight of what marriage means when we see in the media famous people marrying and divorcing as easily as changing their shirts. How can we expect the younger generations to develop the kind of respect and commitment needed for a lasting marriage when they are bombarded with the fickle image of marriage?
But whatever the reason for the breakup of a marriage, I want to stress that an annulment is neither an expensive nor a messy process. Money is never a good reason to forego an annulment, whether one wants to re-marry or not. One should consult the diocesan tribunal for help in this matter.
As for messiness, people who go through the process, generally find it healing.
Why? It is not the battles of the marriage that are the focus of the process nor is the goal to find out what went wrong during the marriage. Rather, the process looks at the origin of the marriage to see what was lacking at the beginning.
A new beginning
Once a person sees the failure of the marriage wasn't necessarily one's fault, there is a feeling of relief because, no matter what the circumstances of the divorce, one or both partners feel like failures. So, with an annulment, the burden has been lifted. One can breathe a sigh of relief.
If there is a divorce after a church marriage but no subsequent remarriage, then the person or persons involved are welcome to Communion, following the usual procedure of Confession if one has been away from the church for a period of time. If there was a remarriage which still exists, then some guidance may be needed in terms of the best approach to an annulment.
If one has been told that Communion is not allowed because of a divorce and that person wants to receive Christ in the Eucharist, I would recommend approaching a compassionate pastor, a pastoral worker or some other contact person in the Church.
But whatever has happened in the past, I would hope that one not remain in the pain and alienation but seek out someone in the Church who can understand and provide direction. Jesus came for all of us: "The Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost (Luke 19:11)."