Page > Learn
Catholic > Official
Teaching > Miller
Program for Divorced
Families against Forced no-fault Divorce
Fr. Miller's Program for Divorced Catholics
Learn what the Catholic Church Really
teaches about Divorce and Annulment:
PROGRAM FOR DIVORCED CATHOLICS
by Fr. Donald Miller, c.ss.r.
Published 1962 by Liguorian Pamphlets
Imprimatur: St. Louis, 7
September 1962; Joseph Cardinal Ritter, Archbishop of St. Louis
Divorce is one of the greatest evils
of our times. Everything possible must be done to stop its ravages upon
the solidity of the family. This does not mean that divorced persons,
whether guilty or innocent, must be spiritually neglected. They can and
must still save their souls. To do so, this is the program they should
PROGRAM FOR DIVORCED CATHOLICS
There are a great many divorced
Catholics in the United States today. Their position is a difficult one
because of the wrong attitudes many other Catholics have toward them, because
of the sinful pressures to which others often subject them, and, above
all, because of the problems they themselves must face in trying to lead
Christian lives and to save their immortal souls.
For these reasons divorced persons
need a definite program or plan of living that will contain clear statements
of what is wrong for them and positive recommendations of what will make
their task of living up to God’s will for them as easy as possible. This
is an effort to provide such a program or plan. At the same time it may
help other Catholics form a right attitude and practice real charity toward
divorced acquaintances and friends.
There are many kinds of divorced
Catholics among both men and women. The only ones excluded from consideration
here are those for whom there is no solid reason against their going back
to living with their lawful spouse. A divorced Catholic who can, without
undue harm to body or soul, resume married life with the partner he (or
she) promised before God to accept as a spouse until death, and who would
be reaccepted by that partner, is bound to take whatever steps are necessary
for a reconciliation. This is a matter of obligation.
Among those who are waiting and
praying for the grace to reconcile with their spouses, this program will
involve three things: 1) the right attitude and conduct toward God; 2)
the right attitude toward themselves; 3) the right attitude toward other
1. The Right Attitude of Divorced Catholics
There are many clear and definite
principles that represent God’s will for divorced Catholics who want to
be and remain in His grace and friendship. The most important are these:
1. God wants the divorced person
to return to His grace by a good confession if his or her sins led up to
the divorce or is he or she sinned by getting a divorce.
It is a grave sin for a validly
married Catholic to institute divorce proceedings against a partner without
permission of the bishop of the diocese. [transcriber's note (1983 Canon 1153)]. Therefore
this sin has to be confessed. With it, of course, must be confessed any
sins that contributed to the breakup of the marriage. Even a husband or
wife who did not start divorce proceedings must confess any sins that contributed
to the alienation of a partner.
For example, a wife who for some
time had refused, without a serious reason, to live up to her contract
of taking part in the marriage act, may not have sought a divorce, but
she was guilty of grave sins that contributed to bringing about the divorce.
Thus a husband who left his wife and children to starve by earning or giving
nothing to their support, might say that he did not want a divorce, but
his sins of neglect certainly made some defensive action necessary for
the wife. Such sins should be confessed and God’s forgiveness sought through
the absolution of the priest.
It should be noted clearly that
divorced persons are not necessarily excluded from the sacraments and the
full life of the Catholic Church. Certainly the so-called innocent person
in a divorce, that is, the one who tried to fulfill the duties of marriage
and who tried to prevent the divorce, should have no hesitation about going
to confession and receiving Communion. Even a husband or wife who has
done irreparable damage to their marriage by bad conduct and by the great
sin of seeking a divorce without permission, can receive God’s forgiveness,
if such a one is truly repentant, is ready to make reparation for the evil
done and the scandal given, and is willing to take part in a reconciliation.
2. God’s law strictly forbids
validly married but divorced Catholics to keep company as if they were
free to marry again.
Steady company-keeping is lawful
only as a possible preparation for marriage. When one is not free to marry,
steady company-keeping becomes a serious and unnecessary occasion of sin,
and, therefore, a grave sin in itself.
[note from Bai. For information
on 'comanpy keeping' that is not 'going steady', see Spiritual
Friendship by Ronda Chervin © 1992]
This holds for both the “innocent”
and the “guilty” parties to a divorce. It is the former who must especially
see it as a clear mandate of God’s will.
They are the ones, these innocent
victims of divorce, who are most apt to argue against the will of God in
this regard. They say: “I did my best to make my marriage a success.
My partner turned out to be selfish and sinful and unwilling to bear the
sacrifices of marriage. Since I was ‘innocent,’ I should have a right
to another chance at happiness in marriage.”
The position of such persons is
indeed unfortunate, deserving of great sympathy and charity, but, in arguing
that they have a right to think of marriage again, they forget two things.
The first is that they took their partner “for better or for worse” until
death, which means that they solemnly promised never to think of another
marriage while the partner of their first marriage was still alive.
The second thing they forget is
that the solidity of marriage and the security of the home demand that
a second marriage after divorce never be permitted to Christian people,
not even to those who can call themselves guiltless of any evil in their
If “innocence” were made a loophole
for a second marriage after divorce, the number of aggrieved and “innocent”
husbands and wives would grow into legions. That is why Christ was adamant
and absolute on this point: attempted marriage after divorce from a valid,
Christian, sacramental, consummated marriage is adultery.
And that is why steady company-keeping
for a divorced person, whether “innocent” or “guilty” in the divorce proceedings
is a mortal sin. It follows too that it is a mortal sin for a single person
to keep company with a divorced Christian.
3. It is clearly God’s will that
divorced persons should build up an especially fervent spiritual life to
offset the dangers and temptations that will assail them.
2. The Right Attitude of Divorced
Persons Towards Themselves
No matter how young a divorced man
or woman may be, no matter how bleak and difficult the long stretch of
the future may seem under the strictures to which a divorced person is
subject, God’s grace is ready in abundance to make virtuous living possible
and even easy for such a one. However, this grace must be sought, and
sought with a zeal proportionate to the soul’s need.
Therefore, divorced persons should
get to confession at least every few weeks in order to keep making a check
on whether they are carrying out God’s strict commands. They should receive
Communion often, even every day if possible, knowing that this sacrament
will be the means through which they can grow enough in the love of God
to resist all temptations to sinful love. And they must adopt a firm schedule
of daily prayer and spiritual reading so that they may develop a genuine
interior life, that is, one in which they grow constantly in conscious
union with God.
There are three dangerous, if not
fatal, mistakes that divorced persons can make in regard to their state.
The right attitude toward themselves means a constant awareness of and
defense against these mistakes.
1. The greatest danger that
divorced people must fact is that they may succumb to self-pity.
Self-pity can become a habit and
a fixed state of mind. It is that state in which a person is so constantly
conscious of his misfortunes that he is a burden to himself, a bore to
his family and friends, and in constant danger of rebellion and blasphemy
Divorced persons, whether they admit
to guilt in bringing about their divorce or maintain, rightly or wrongly,
their complete innocence have suffered a great misfortune. But it was
not the greatest or final misfortune of life. Nobody was created just
to have a happy marriage. Men and women were created to win the happiness
of heaven, and that goal remains attainable even after a divorce. Self-pity
is one of the surest ways to endanger the real goal of one’s life.
Much of the self-pity in which divorced
people are tempted to indulge is really inspired by the pagan and secularistic
outlook on the world. Pagans run through three and four and five marriages,
looking for one that will be perfectly happy.
They make the divorced Catholic
feel that he is cheated by his religion in not being allowed to try and
try again for a happy marriage. He has been deceived by his neighbors
into forgetting that his happiness has to be found in God, not in a human
being. Until he realizes that truth, he will be a sorry victim of self-pity.
Of course, the more innocent a person
has been in the events leading up to a divorce, the more that person should
resist exaggerated and unrealistic feelings of guilt.
3. The Right Attitude of Divorced
Persons Towards Others.
Divorced persons should see in their
state opportunities for doing much good to others no matter how much harm
they may have done by the bad example of their past. Three things especially
they should want to do in this regard.
1. Divorced persons should be
eager to show to others the power of the grace of God for any emergency
in life by their good example.
God wants all human beings to save
their souls. His Providence seems to give some greater temptations, a
more difficult lot in life, than others. The tempted, the discouraged,
the despairing, are always helped by the good example of those who have
a harder task than themselves. There is no doubt that divorced Catholics
have special difficulties and temptations to face. If they remain faithful
to God, their example will be of untold value to others.
This hold for all types of divorced
persons, including those who have been most guilty and have the most atonement
to make for having broken up their home. Once they have made a good confession
and been forgiven, they should be inspired to perseverance by the fact
the example of their conversion will certainly encourage many who are faltering
in allegiance to God.
2. Divorced persons should defend
the indissolubility of marriage by resisting all suggestions that they
involve themselves in company-keeping and by rebuking Catholics who make
Instead of complaining that it is
hard to resist company-keeping and thoughts of another marriage, divorced
Catholics should consider it an obligation, now that they have failed to
make their marriage the permanent thing God intended it to be, to prove
to others that they still believe in the indissolubility of marriage and
the sinfulness of attempted marriage after divorce. They will have many
opportunities to do this.
There will be weak and unworthy
Catholics who will suggest that they take up company-keeping and at times
even try to provide companions for them. In no uncertain terms, they should
tell such false friends that they cannot marry again validly while their
divorced partner is alive and that, therefore, they may not take up company-keeping.
They may add that any Catholic who suggests that they start keeping company
is thereby guilty of a grave sin of scandal.
Moreover, they will meet individuals
who will be attracted to them, and who, by word and action, will show an
eagerness to begin steady dating with them. These too must be told at
once that this is out of the question because it cannot be done without
the loss of the grace of God.
Such a forthright line of conduct
and action will repair any scandal that divorced persons may have given
in bringing about the failure of their first marriage.
3. Divorced persons should use
their unhappy experiences to advise and help others: young people preparing
for marriage and the already married who are facing problems and temptations.
Wisdom is often acquired through
mistakes and even sins. Divorced persons should use the wisdom that their
mistakes or sins have brought them to warn others against the same mistakes
Perhaps their divorce was occasioned
by a hasty and ill-considered marriage. Their advice can be very effective
for young people who seem to be in danger of making the same mistake.
Or perhaps the first crack in the
solidity of their own marriage appeared as the result of their drinking
or uncontrolled anger or selfishness in any one of a hundred forms. They
may be able to see the same cracks forming in the marriages of friends
and be able to heal them by giving friendly warnings of what the terrible
outcome of such beginnings can be.
Thus divorced Catholics can do a
great service to their fellow human beings and wipe out the evil that was
done by their own bad example to the world.
4. Dangers that divorced
people must face
2. A second danger that divorced
people must face is that of idleness.
Idleness, as the inspired Scriptures
say, is a danger to anyone, but it is particularly such to divorced persons
who must be on guard against the self-pity described above (always nourished
by idleness), against falling among bad companions, and against steady
company-keeping with anyone, good or bad.
By idleness is meant not only sitting
around doing nothing but also going around doing useless things. A divorced
person who spends a great deal of time in taverns, in cocktail lounges,
at mixed social gatherings, is not only wasting time but creating opportunities
for temptations that not one divorced person out of a hundred would be
able to resist.
A divorced Catholic who wants to
remain in God’s friendship will avoid idleness by concentrating on 1) a
job, 2) an innocent hobby, 3) some kind of spiritual or religious activity.
The job may be that of raising their
children. A divorced wife who has a child or several children whom the
court has entrusted to her is especially fortunate. She can make a full-time
job and a deeply rewarding one of raising those children properly. However
all divorced persons, no matter how excellent an income they may have,
should, if they have no children to raise, get a job and work diligently
The hobby may be anything that will
fill off-hours with interest and pleasure such as stamp-collecting, painting,
music, writing, hiking, gardening, and the like. A good hobby is a priceless
The spiritual or religious activity
may be teaching catechism, becoming an active member of the Legion of Mary
or the St. Vincent de Paul Society, or taking an active part in parish
study clubs. Any divorced person who has never lost the grace of God or
who has returned to it after the divorce should offer his or her services
to his pastor for any spiritual or religious work that needs to be done.
3. A third danger for divorced
Catholics is that of an exaggerated and unreasonable sense of guilt.
It is hardly possible for divorced
persons not to feel a certain sense of failure and that whether they were
the “innocent” or “guilty” person in bringing about the divorce. The marriage
they promised and planned on making their lifetime career went to pieces.
Whoever was most at fault, this was a failure for both.
[Sherly's note: Divorced people
can reconcile. Many have. Fr. Miller says in the fourth paragraph of
this pamphlet that they have an obligation to do so. Perhaps time is needed
to forget the hurts of the near present and remember the pleasures of the
past to bring them back together. With God all things are possible.]
Humbly accepting this fact of the
failure of a plan is a far different thing from permitting oneself to be
burdened constantly with an exaggerated sense of guilt. This latter is
responsible for making some divorced Catholics feel that they are outcasts
from the society of Catholics or the activities of their Church.
All human beings have reason for
a sense of guilt because all are sinners. But when one’s sins or failures
are known to others, there is an inclination to let guilty feelings go
too far. Guilt feelings concerning sins known or unknown to others should
inspire a continuing sorrow for those sins and willingness to do penance
for them until death.
But Christ instituted the Sacrament
of Penance as a means of assuring the sinner of his forgiveness and thereby
bringing peace to the soul. Once a divorced person has made a good confession,
he or she should cling to the certainty of his forgiveness and then offer
up the hardships of his lot as reparation for the evil he has done.