In responding in the negative to the question of whether Catholic married couples should be able to divorce and remarry, there are two dimensions to consider: the doctrinal issue and the pastoral issue. The answer to the first is rather short and straightforward and easily proves the point of the negative side, but the answer to the second is a bit more complicated. I will try to devote more attention to the second point to show that, even from a pastoral perspective, the side that argues against the possibility of divorce and remarriage within the Church is correct.
The first, rather straightforward issue is the doctrinal one. Can—within the context of the teaching of Christ and the Tradition of the Church—a person divorce and remarry? To this question, Scripture answers with a resounding ‘no.’ In Matthew 19: 3-12, Our Lord clearly and definitively ends the discussion of divorce within the Church. Thus, He tells us, “… the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matt. 19:5-6) When the Pharisees bring up the question of the fact that under the Mosaic Law divorce is permitted, Christ answers, “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” (Matt. 19:8) The careful reader should notice that the radical nature of Christ’s teaching on marriage and the responsibility which Our Lord places on the institution of marriage is not lost to his interlocutors. They ask Him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” (Matt. 19:10) In response to this statement, Jesus says that it is not possible for everyone to live life without being married and goes on to a different subject. This passage alone, however, coupled with its univocal interpretation across 2000 years of the Tradition of the Church, is enough to show why the Church cannot allow Her members to divorce and remarry.
That is all well and good, but with this answer, another difficulty arises. The aforementioned response is a great academic argument and a fine point to make in synods and so on, but how do we concretely respond to the spouse that has been wronged, whose marriage has been turned to a nightmare. How do we respond to the spouse that has been abused by the person who swore to love them for the rest of their lives, or the spouse that has been betrayed and cheated? In responding to this issue, we must (as we almost constantly should) remember that Christ is God.
When He spoke the words recorded at Matthew 19, He spoke not only to His interlocutors then, but to all who would hear His voice. The Gospel of Matthew ends with His comforting word, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28: 20) When Our Lord forbade divorce, He did not only have in mind the Pharisees and his disciples, His eyes gazed at all abused, betrayed, and neglected spouses throughout history. He did not say to them “It was because you were so hard-hearted,” to them He said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” One of the myriad problems of our current time is that we try to do too much by ourselves and rely too little on God. We often forget what Proverbs proclaims, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Prov. 3: 5-6)
While the Church does not allow divorce, separation is sometimes recommended and necessary, especially in cases of abuse, betrayal, and neglect. The spouse who has suffered these things may often see nothing but darkness ahead of them, but in this darkness, a Light shines and “the darkness could not overcome it.” (Jn. 1:5) Our Lord is a “merciful and faithful high priest” (Hb. 2:17) and He is the Physician of our souls and bodies and true healing flows in abundance from Him. To the spouse that has suffered, the way ahead seems to be nothing but dark, but all those who trust in God are rewarded with eternal joy at His sight. We were promised at a place where all tears would be dried and all wounds would be healed and God is nothing if not reliable in His promises.