WASHINGTON — Recent studies on marriage show that, while their rates of divorce are significant, U.S. Catholics are less likely to divorce than people of other religious affiliations.
“Although the Catholic ‘divorce rate’ is lower than the U.S. average, it is still a daunting figure,” said the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.
In a Sept. 26 blog post, the research group explained that divorce among Catholics “represents more than 11 million individuals,” many of whom “are likely in need of more outreach and ongoing ministry from the Church.”
In its article, the organization explained that different ways of tallying divorce and marriage rates create a range of different divorce figures, including the oft-quoted statistic that “half of all marriages fail.”
Looking at national surveys, the post stated, “Catholics stand out, with only 28% of the ever-married having divorced at some point,” compared to more than 40% of those with no religious affiliation, 39% of Protestants and 35% of those of another religious faith.
Furthermore, Catholics who marry other Catholics are also less likely to divorce than Catholics married to people of other faiths.
A 2007 survey from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate estimates that only 27% of Catholics married to other Catholics have ever experienced divorce, compared to nearly half of Catholics married to Protestants or to spouses with no religious belief.
The organization also pointed to data showing that the number of annulments requested has continued to decline in the past two decades. In 1990, there was one annulment introduced for every 4.5 marriages, while in 2011, there was one annulment for every 6.5 marriages.
However, the decline in annulments has been accompanied by an even sharper decline in marriages celebrated in the Catholic Church. In 2011, the report found, less than 8% of weddings took place in the Church.
Additionally, the report noted that 49% of Church annulment cases introduced globally in 2011 took place in the United States.
Msgr. Rick Hilgartner, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Divine Worship, explained to CNA that many annulment cases in the United States come about as part of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, “in order to validate marriages for those being baptized or received into full communion” in the Church.
He explained that, compared to other countries, where a majority of the population is already Catholic, conversions to Catholicism in the U.S. are more frequent, and, therefore, annulments in these cases are also more common.
Msgr. Hilgartner added that, for those Catholics who are divorced and remarried outside of the Church, “many dioceses provide outreach and catechesis regarding annulments as a way to invite people to pursue the process so that they can be welcomed back to the sacraments.”