In a previous post I spoke about the evils of divorce, and a couple of people commented on the tough cases. They agreed with me about the evils of divorce, but said sometimes the relationship and family life is so terribly awful that divorce is the only option.

I am certainly sympathetic to such appeals, and I know how very terrible family life can be when one partner in the marriage is insane or addicted or just plain evil. When there is drunken-ness and violence and insanity and evil what’s the victim to do?

First, what would it be like if we really, really took those marriage vows seriously? What if we regarded them as sacred vows when we were dating, when we were engaged, when we were saying the vows, and when we were in a marriage? What if all along the way we read those awesome words, “To love and to cherish, for richer for poorer, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, until death do us part” and we really took them absolutely literally and seriously?

Well, first of all we would be a heck of a lot more careful about who we married. We would marry with our eyes wide open. We would check that other person out. We’d check out their family. We’d check out their values. We’d check out their mental health. We’d check out their drinking habits. We’d check out what their old girlfriend or boyfriend had to say about them. If this is really for life and really for better or for worse, we’d get rid of all the starry eyed romance of pretty dresses and ‘princess for a day’. We’d get rid of all the dumb erotic attractions that men have (which are usually only an infantile need to be mothered) and we’d be shrewd and careful and if the right person never came along we’d embrace celilbacy and count ourselves lucky.

Secondly, if we really took the marriage vows seriously then we would not even contemplate the possiblity of divorce. Did we end up with poorer rather than richer? Bad luck. Learn to be poor. Did we end up with worse rather than better? Well, hardship comes to everyone. Grin and bear it. Did we end up with sickness not health? Good, now we can learn to minister and care for a sick person. If we really took the ’til death do us part’ line seriously then we would be far more realistic and far less likely to look for an easy escape once things started to get tough.

Third, let’s say the marriage really is hell. Let’s say that the man really is a drunken, violent brute or the woman really is an insanely jealous virago. What if it really does reach breaking point? Is divorce an option?

Not really. We have to ask why a person needs to get divorced. What does a divorce accomplish that cannot be accomplished with a permanent legal separation? A legal separation can establish all the safeguards and financial needs just like a divorce. So why get the divorce? It can only be that one of the partners wants to marry again. For Catholics, that’s not allowed at all, so why sue for divorce?

Divorce for a Catholic can only therefore lead to further sin and alienation from the church. Lest my views sound too hardline, I do realize that pastoral situations exist where the best we can hope to do is pick up the pieces and try to salvage something out of the wreckage, but even then we do so with an attitude first of all of the sanctity of marriage, a sense of grief at the destruction and a heartfelt prayer that those who suffer may have their broken hearts restored and know some healing and peace.