Divorce is not in itself a bar to receiving Holy Communion and the Church accepts that in some circumstances Catholics may need to initiate divorce proceedings to protect their rights in civil law. However the Church presumes that all marriages are valid and bind until death, unless and until nullity is proven, or a dissolution of the bond on the grounds of non-consummation, or in favour of the Faith is granted (where one or both parties was not baptised). A Catholic who marries outside the Church, without permission from the Bishop (dispensation from the canonical form of marriage), is still free in the eyes of the Church, because the Church’s law has not been observed, but the appropriate documents must be produced to show this. However, Register Office marriage does bind non-Catholics. A priest cannot book a marriage when one of the parties has been divorced without proof that he or she is now canonical free.
Equally the Church cannot bless a marriage which she regards as invalid, and those who are in a marriage the Church considers irregular are not feee to receive Holy Communion or absolution. A recent letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith states: ‘In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ, the Church affirms that a new union cannot be recognised as valid if the preceding marriage was valid. If the divorced are remarried civilly they can find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Holy Communion as long as this situation persists.’ The letter also recognises that this is a heavy burden, one that needs the support of the Catholic community. In addition to the personal contact with one’s parish priest, support may be found in the Association of Separated and Divorced Catholics. Anyone, Catholic or
non-Catholic, wishing to enquire about the possibility of a declaration of nullity, or dissolution with regard to a former marriage, should initially contact the Brentwood Diocesan Tribunal Office for further information and help on 01277 265283.