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Jo Hayes: He may be divorced, but he’s still married

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Marriage annulment - The Catholic weeklyI have a few rules when it comes to dating. Here are two of them.

  1. Obey the Holy Spirit
  2. Don’t date a married man

I can hear a collective gasp. But of course. How could that even be a consideration, for any woman, let alone a committed Catholic?

I agree. It is an obvious no-go.

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But, dear friends, this is a fairly common practice in our church. Women, and men, dating people who are civilly divorced, but who haven’t yet received a marriage annulment from the church.

Which means they are still married in the eyes of God. And, thus, not free to re-marry within the church.

As a not-yet-married Catholic woman, with complete faith in God’s perfect timing for marrying Mr Right (and, I will add, grateful I’ve not married before now), I feel privileged to have a few years of dating experience up my sleeve, to share with my younger (and, perhaps, older) single sisters.

I’ve penned a few words over the years on the wonderful world of Catholic dating (see here, here and here).

The issue of annulments is the latest area I’m keen to tackle, mainly because it hones in on our understanding of what a Catholic Christian marriage is. It is a sacrament. A sacred thing, not to be treated lightly.

Marriage annulment - The Catholic weekly

And yet, there exists, in parts of our wider church community, an almost blasé attitude to pre-annulment dating, that looks far too similar to the world’s approach to romantic relationships.

An attitude that views marriage as something that can be quickly disposed of, with the spouses freed up to date other people.

If I may share some first-hand experience.

A few years ago, I met a very eligible Catholic man, on a Christian dating website.

His profile stated that he had previously been married within the Catholic Church, but that his marriage was annulled. Fine. No worries. Tick.

I have no problem with dating, and possibly marrying, a man who has previously been married. Yes, marriage is holy, and divorce is an awful thing. But God is the King of redemption. If God, via the church, rules the previous marriage invalid, the slate is wiped clean.

So, I agreed to an initial phone call.

It didn’t take long for Holy Spirit warning bells to start going off. This man had two children from his previous marriage. But the children were not the issue.

It was their ages. They were very young.

My mind started doing the maths. With the knowledge that annulments can take five to seven years (at least in this man’s diocese), it didn’t add up that an annulment could have gone through that fast.

Being the frank, and oh-so-committed-to-living-in-truth, person that I am, I had to ask the question.

“May I ask, is your marriage actually annulled?”

“Well, not yet. But we’re confident the annulment will be granted”.

Right.

So that would mean you are still married.

This ain’t happening, buddy. I’m not that kinda lady.

I quickly nipped it in the bud, clearly but kindly explaining my reasons and that in good conscience, I cannot be romantically connected to a married man.

But, of course. This is basic ethics, people.

And yet how many Catholics (and, I’m talking ‘committed Catholics’) are doing just that?

Our beautiful mother church has many things to say on the topic of marriage. But, while canon law clearly states that a person cannot re-marry, within the church, unless or until an annulment is granted, there is nothing explicitly stated about dating, pre-annulment.

But that doesn’t mean it’s ok.

There are many things canon law doesn’t explicitly address, but theologically, the understanding is clear.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a valid marriage is a perpetual, exclusive union between two spouses (CCC 1638).

Marriage annulment - The Catholic weekly

That means, that until a marriage is proved invalid (and, hence, annulled), each spouse is expected to remain faithful to the other. They have, in fact, made vows, before God, to do just this.

And that means, no dating, or romantic connections, with other people.

I rejoice that there are many priests, religious, and wise lay people who voice strong opposition to pre-annulment dating.

But, there remains too much of a grey area, and a general sense of “oh, it’s ok”, within the church community, around a topic that is, actually, black and white.

Just as sex before marriage is wrong, being romantically connected to another person, while one is still married, is also wrong.

Marriage was created by God, for our great benefit. Let us honour this precious gift, by avoiding anything that compromises, and undermines, this most holy sacrament.

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