A friend of mine on Facebook, after reading what my colleague Ojeifo Emmanuel had written on the Sis Osinachi Nwachukwu Saga, asked me a direct question, “Fr please, is divorce a sin? In the situation of the woman, what could she have done when her marriage became toxic? Please throw light on this matter.
Another friend asked, “How can married couples deal with the clause “for better for worse” in an abusive marriage, considering the Church’s stand against divorce?
You’re currently reading my attempt to answer these and similar questions.
In the wake of recent happenings, namely, the passing onto glory of the popular Gospel Music Minister, Sis. Osinachi Nwachukwu, and the consequent evolving story(ies) surrounding the cause(s) of her death, social media is agog with opinions.
Some are angry with pastors, priests, preachers, and religion itself. Some others are angry at the ‘Nigerian culture’, the government, our dysfunctional society, the marriage institution itself, and whatever else seems to be more likely to blame in the present circumstances.
The anger we feel is good. It would be unnatural if we didn’t feel this way. However, the Sis Osinachi situation mirrors that of many others in Nigeria today, and our anger will be utterly useless if it didn’t move us to right action.
Nearly six years ago, precisely in December 2016, I wrote a piece titled, “Why are you still stuck in that relationship?” In that reflection, I made particular reference to the Nigerian movie, “Knocking on Heaven’s Door.”
In Knocking on Heaven’s door, the seemingly perfect marriage between the Charismatic Moses (played by Blossom Chukwujekwu) and gospel singer Debbie (Adesua Etomi) starts showing visible cracks as a dark secret from one’s past surfaces.
Unknown to the ‘outside world’ Moses is a wife beater, who has consistently abused Debbie physically and emotionally, all through the course of their marriage.
Now that I write about it, this movie does bear a striking similarity to the Sis Osinachi story. Doesn’t it? In fact, in one review, talkafricanmovies stated, “what became clear about the marriage was that Moses couldn’t handle Debbie’s success.”
This theme of jealousy; of the sheer inability to handle his wife’s success, is what has permeated the discourse on social media, regarding the motive for the incessant bouts of domestic violence meted out on the late Sis Osinachi by her husband.
Consequently, many persons have seized this opportunity to push DIVORCE as the natural solution to the problem of domestic abuse and domestic violence.
At first glance, this does seem like a great solution. But it is hardly a permanent one. When we push the argument of divorce further, we see that it makes the mistake of presuming that marriage is THE PROBLEM, when in fact the problem is usually with the couples themselves.
So putting an end to the marriage permanently might solve some immediate problems, while raising other issues at the same time.
It is therefore better to put the person(s) involved in the marriage under scrutiny, to see if they had CAPACITY to marry in the first place.
MARRIAGE isn’t for EVERYONE!
Couples must find the WILL to speak to MARRIAGE EXPERTS if their spouses start exhibiting unusual behaviours.
In cases where the couple is in denial, then their LOVED ONES must take it upon themselves to come to their rescue.
Most times, too many persons ‘hurry’ into marriages due to all kinds of societal pressure, and they end up missing the mark.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t others who take all their time and yet marry the wrong persons.
The point here is that due diligence before marriage has its advantages.
I don’t know how other Churches handle serious marital issues arising from ESSENTIAL INCOMPATIBILITY. But I do know that the Catholic Church takes these matters quite seriously. If your priest doesn’t, he should.
Divorce is not Catholic teaching, and there is no condition whatsoever that could allow for it.
However,annulment happens when a tribunal of competent ecclesiastical authority finds any marriage null and void as a result of many factors that I cannot exhaust here.
Hence, the annulment process may not begin until it is certain that the existing marital bond has been IRRETRIEVABLY severed. Even at that, the aim is never to dissolve an existing bond, but to show that a particular marriage was null and void (nonexistent) ab initio (from the beginning).
This means that, a declaration of Nullity is not a legal dissolution of marriage as is done in civil marriages, but rather a determination that the sacrament of marriage was NOT VALIDLY entered into.
Trust me, the Church didn’t arrive at this teaching due to gross insensitivity, as many of us think today. She did from the teachings of Jesus Christ himself, to highlight, preserve and protect the amazing union that is Holy Matrimony.
So what could have been done in the case of Sis Osinachi?
There’s no straight forward answer to this question because there has not been a straight forward explanation of the problem.
What has been ALLEGED is that Sis Osinachi died due to injuries sustained from her abusive relationship with her husband. Unfortunately, she’s no longer here to tell her side of the story, and what’s circulating on social media is too SENTIMENTAL and VAGUE to base all arguments on.
Canon 1095 of the 1993 Catholic Code of Canon law specifically states that “The following are incapable of contracting marriage:
1: those who lack sufficient use of reason;
2: those who suffer from a grave lack of judgment concerning the essential rights and obligations to be mutually given and accepted;
3: those who because of causes of a psychological nature, are unable to assume the essential obligations of marriage.”
Each of the points above will take many pages to espouse. So where, among the three broad areas, can we place domestic violence?
I’ll argue that this would have to be analysed on a case by case basis.
But it’s important to remember that Pope John Paul II, in his 1987 address to the Roman Rota stated that for “the canonist, the principle must remain clear that only INCAPACITY, and not DIFFICULTY, in giving consent and in realizing a true community of life and love, invalidates a marriage.
Nonetheless, the Church realises that there are situations in which marriage could become unbearable.
Fr Cosmas Ojemen paints this picture quite vividly. In his book, “Psychological factors in Matrimonial Consent,” He says, “some characteristic features of inability for interpersonal
relationship in marriage include, rigidity, self-isolation,
paranoid personality traits, affective immaturity,
narcissism, chained to fixed ideas, stubbornness, disrespect
for others and excessive self-gratification.
Canon 1151 states that “spouses have the OBLIGATION and the RIGHT to maintain their common conjugal life, unless a lawful reason excuses them.” In broad terms, this canon recognizes the fact that a couple may end conjugal relations with the spouse ‘for a lawful reason’.
So when interpersonal relationship fails in a Catholic marriage, one of the options available to the INNOCENT SPOUSE is SEPARATION WITH THE BOND REMAINING.
The first course of action is usually to see how the situation can be remedied of course. Is it a case of unfaithfulness? Does the innocent spouse wish to forgive? Are there psychological problems? Can experts resolve the attendant issues? Is there a risk to life if the relationship lingers?
This is why separation in the Catholic Church is not without some conditions.
So assuming there’s indeed a case of severe battering, as has been alleged in the Sis Osinachi case, and all attempts to resolve the matter amicably has proven abortive, the innocent spouse is encouraged to move away from the same space with the abusive spouse.
Then he/she must bring a case for separation to the competent ecclesiastical authority within six months. There’s usually one priest or more assigned to the marriage tribunal in each Diocese.
The said authority is then to examine all the circumstances of the case, to see if the innocent spouse can be brought to condone the fault.
However, Church law specifically says in Can. 1153 §1 that, “a spouse who occasions grave danger of soul or body to the other or to the children, or otherwise makes the common life unduly difficult, provides the other spouse with a reason to leave, either by a decree of the local Ordinary, or if there is danger in delay, even on his or her own authority.”
This simply means that couples can themselves assess the moral and physical dangers of their situations, and take the decision to be SEPERATED from their spouses.
However, when the reason for the separation ceases, conjugal life is to be restored, unless otherwise stated by the Church authority.
It is always important to note that timely and adequate provision must be made for the due maintenance and upbringing of children in every case where separation has taken place.
Even when separation is PERMANENT, the innocent spouse cannot remarry, since the bond of the previous marriage remains. Only death can terminate this bond.
So I ask again, is DIVORCE the ANSWER?
I would love to hear your thoughts on this.
May God continue to bless and sustain marriages everywhere, and may the soul of Sis Osinachi Nwachukwu rest in peace, Amen.
© Oselumhense Anetor, 2022.