Matt C. Abbott
Catholic perspectives on divorce, annulments
By Matt C. Abbott
February 11, 2021

A sensitive but important topic in Catholic circles.

From Vatican News (Jan. 29):

    Pope Francis…addressed the officials of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota on the occasion of the inauguration of their Judicial Year.

    In his message, the pope held up the theme of Christian matrimony, recalling his message to the Tribunal officials last year. He also highlighted that the good of the family, especially that of children, should be considered even beyond the situations of matrimonial nullity.

    The Tribunal is the Church's highest court that handles appeals of marriage annulment cases. It also deals with other judicial and non-administrative cases related to canon law….

    The pope went on to draw attention to the predicament of children in marriages that have been legally declared null and void, especially when one of the parties in the marriage is not willing to accept the declaration of nullity.

    Recalling his address to the Federation of Catholic Family Associations in June 2017, Pope Francis stressed that the family is the basis of society and continues to be the most appropriate structure for ensuring that people receive the integral good necessary for their permanent development.

This writer asked Bai Macfarlane, founder of Mary’s Advocates, and Catholic author and speaker Rose Sweet to comment on the above (excerpted) article.


Bai Macfarlane wrote in an email:

    In the United States, because of no-fault divorce, the person who was the cause of a marriage being invalid (i.e. grave psychological problems or fraud) is not held accountable to repair damage done to the other spouse and children and attempt to make them whole. I’d like to see tribunals satisfying the obligation of canon 1611 and Moto Proproprio Mitis Iudex canon 1691 §1. The tribunal judges are to determine the parties’ obligations toward each other and their children as the result of the canonical trial.


Rose Sweet wrote in an email and on her Facebook page:

    Divorce is what changes a family, not a tribunal’s subsequent acknowledgement of the truth.

    Tribunals are not charged with the pastoral needs of the family, but the legal needs—interpreting, defending, and upholding the truth regardless of outside pressures. This is what holds families, churches, and nations together. If it’s true that marital consent was gravely defective, the Church tribunals must uphold the law regardless of the impassioned desires and painful emotions of the parties or onlookers.

    The wider, devastating chaos we have in our culture today is due in large part to decades of church and civic leaders dismissing the law, watering it down, or redefining it so that people can be happy. This is the slippery slope into destruction, and ironically it is precisely what can lead to divorce.

    Divorce terribly changes a family, but it can never extinguish it altogether. Family bonds are unbreakable and last throughout eternity—have you ever thought of that?—and it is grace and time that can help to heal and restore relationships, not court orders.

    We must not remain inactive. We are the ones—clergy, laity, missions, and apostolates—not the judges, who must be there to pastorally support the affected family. I am sounding the call once again, as I have for thirty years, for parishes to:

    • keep in mind the higher goods of spouses and the children

    • provide wise counsel, ongoing support, and quality resources

    • walk with the family members toward healing and some form of reconciliation

    • assist parties in proper post-divorce parenting skills

    • come out of shadowy thinking and walk in the light of God’s clear truth

    • provide language to parents so they can explain to the children the truth of what has happened: a terrible tragedy but also an opportunity to lean on God, rest in his love, practice forgiveness, offer up suffering, and find new and virtuous ways of living, loving each other, and seeking holiness.

    We must protect and prepare our children for the realities of life. It’s a ridiculously tough job these days and we must guide not just the divorced but all families to true peace and joy—regardless of their unjust or painful circumstances.

    We must not remove the cross, but—like Simon and Veronica—help families affected by divorce with the heavy lifting and the wiping away of their tears.

    We must not ignore truth and water down the law; we must pay attention to the truth and use it to strengthen hearts.

    I see great wisdom in a pure, unaffected, and rigorous upholding of the truth and of the law. Pastoral care is a vital and complementary but separate mission. It is Christ who told us the truth would set us free and we must believe and trust him. We all wish—don’t we?—that truth would just not cause us so much pain.


Related articles:

Pope Francis Reforms Annulment Process: 9 things to know and share

Divorce, Annulment, Remarriage, and Communion: A Catholic Primer

No-Fault Divorce, Standing for Justice


© Matt C. Abbott


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He also has an Associate in Applied Science degree in business management from Triton College. Abbott has been interviewed on HLN, MSNBC, Bill Martinez Live, WOSU Radio in Ohio, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's 2019 ‘Unsolved’ podcast about the unsolved murder of Father Alfred Kunz, Alex Shuman's 'Smoke Screen: Fake Priest' podcast, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) and WISC-TV (CBS) in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been quoted in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and other media outlets. He’s mentioned in the 2020 Report on the Holy See's Institutional Knowledge and Decision-Making Related to Former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (1930 to 2017), which can be found on the Vatican's website. He can be reached at

(Note: I welcome and appreciate thoughtful feedback. Insults will be ignored. Only in very select cases will I honor a request to have a telephone conversation about a topic in my column. Email is much preferred. God bless you and please keep me in your prayers!)


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