Over 22% of the country, or nearly 70 million people, identify themselves as members of the Catholic church. For decades, Catholics have faced a serious dilemma when it comes to ending their marriages. The Catholic church does not recognize divorce, and believes that it is impossible to dissolve a valid, sacramental marriage that has been blessed by the church.

If a Catholic wants to get divorced within the boundaries of the church’s teachings, he or she will have to seek a religious annulment from his or her diocese. These annulments may take over a year to complete, and can only happen if one of the requirements for a sacramental marriage was not met when the couple initiated the marriage. If the church grants an annulment, then each spouse is free to remarry. Without an annulment, a divorced member of the Catholic church cannot remarry without facing excommunication.

These religious consequences make divorce a difficult decision for many Catholics. However, Pope Francis recently released a document which gives many Catholics hope for how the church will treat divorce in the future.

The Pope issued a 260-page statement, called “On Love In The Faithful” which addresses how the Catholic church should treat divorce. The document is called an apostolic exhortation, which is an official statement from the Pope, and it was written after two meetings with the world’s Catholic bishops regarding a variety of issues. The document reflects the general consensus of these bishops as well as the Pope’s own opinion.

In this exhortation, the Pope writes that that divorced individuals who have remarried should be made to feel a part of the church, and noted that “It can no longer simply be said that all those living in any ‘irregular situation’ are living in a state of mortal sin.”

While the exhortation does not officially change the church’s stance on divorce and remarriage, it is influential to the church’s leaders. The paper continues the Pope’s work within the church to make religious annulments easier, and requests that the clergy be more compassionate and open towards divorced members.

Though it is unlikely that the Catholic church will change its position regarding divorce any time in the near future, the Pope’s opinion may make it easier for Catholics to seek a religious annulment, which would allow them to participate in the church without fearing excommunication.

The intersection of religion and divorce can make separating from a spouse complicated. At Pacific Northwest Family Law, our attorneys take your concerns seriously, and will help you seek a legal annulment or divorce which fits your family’s needs. To find out more about how Pacific Northwest Family Law can help you, contact our office and schedule an appointment today by calling 509-572-3700.