The institution of marriage is in trouble today. The divorce rate is anywhere from 50 percent for first marriages to 80 percent for subsequent marriages. Perhaps, as a result, more and more couples are choosing to live together without bothering to get married.
The Catholic Church’s response has been to get proactive about better preparing engaged couples before they marry. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) National Pastoral Initiative for Marriage (ForYourMarriage.org) has made strengthening Catholic marriages a top priority.
My own Diocese of Phoenix and other dioceses around the country are revisiting their marriage requirements, lengthening preparation periods and examining couples closely, looking for trouble spots in their relationships and families of origin—indications that they may not be ready for the vocation of marriage just yet.
As a divorced Catholic, I am happy to hear about the Church’s new vigilance. But what is the Church doing for us? Annulling past marriages and saying, in effect, “We hope you do better next time,” is hardly adequate. Many parishes offer post-divorce workshops designed for the first months after a divorce. But the pain of divorce goes on for many years.
The Church—the institution as well as the individuals—needs to minister to the millions of divorced Catholics by both changing ingrained attitudes and reaching out in love. Yes, the Church is and should be pro-marriage, but, like its Lord, it must also love and support those whose marriages have failed. It’s a fine line to walk, but it is necessary.
As the survivor of divorce after 30 years of marriage, I know there needs to be a healthier dialogue within the Catholic Church between those who have never divorced (including our clergy) and those who have. Here are seven things you may not know about divorce: