January 26, 2015

Recent discussion about the plight of those Catholics who have been civilly divorced and entered into a second marriage has centred on the notion of God's mercy. The argument is simple. If we are merciful as God is merciful, we will allow such persons to receive Holy Communion.

The problem with this simple argument is that it is too simple. A larger context needs to be considered.

First, if divorced and remarried Catholics are readmitted to the reception of Holy Communion, the arrangement after a few years, and maybe sooner, will in practical terms become Catholic divorce and remarriage. The notion that yes, the first marriage is not really dissolved, will mean little to most people who go through the process.

The practice of divorce has consequences. More people will prepare for marriage and decide to get married without adequate proper preparation and discernment, knowing that they can get out of it if it "doesn't work out."

It will weaken the resolve of some spouses to work through and grow from difficulties that arise in practically all marriages. More fundamentally, it attacks the notion of unconditional commitment made when vows are exchanged, when couples commit themselves to their partners "for better or for worse, in sickness and in health."

The effects of divorce on children have been studied exhaustively. They are harmful, deep-seated and long lasting.

So who deserves my mercy? Is it only those people who come to me in a difficult situation? Or is it the many people who are harmed when an institution already under attack in our society is further undermined?

If anyone wants references to the extensive literature on divorce, contact me at jgallagher@basilian.org.

Fr. Jack Gallagher, CSB