Separated and divorced Catholics are deserving of compassion and support from the Catholic community. The impact of divorce is often immense and multiple. Divorce often leaves a lasting and ripple effect for the couple, children and other family members. The immediate and long-term need for support and healing resource is well documented.
Any person who wishes to enter marriage in the Catholic Church, and who has a former spouse who is living, needs to look at the possibility of a declaration of nullity in order to determine that they are free to marry in the Catholic Church. The fact that a couple was married before a Catholic priest and two witnesses does not necessarily guarantee that all the requirements were present to establish a full and valid marriage.
As part of its fundamental teaching on marriage, the Catholic Church does not recognize divorce as ending the bond established in marriage, believing that marriage is binding until death. This is our religious value. While the presumption always exists that a marriage is valid, either of the spouses has the right to ask the church to examine this presumption after common life has ceased, there is no hope of reconciliation, and a civil divorce has been obtained.
Divorced Catholics may consider remarriage following a decree of nullity, commonly known as annulment. An annulment determines that at the time of marriage something was missing in the relationship preventing the marriage from being sacramental. The Church makes no ruling on the civil legality of the marriage, but rather makes a determination whether or not the marriage is considered valid according to the laws of the Church.
The Catholic community “…must do everything possible so that such people [those in irregular marriages] feel loved and accepted, that they are not ‘outsiders’ even if they cannot receive absolution and the Eucharist. They must see that they too live fully within the Church.” —Pope Benedict XVI comment to divorced Catholics, World Meeting of Families, June 2012