Arnold and Maria’s ‘Catholic’ marriage

Even on a remote tropical island, it’s been hard for me to escape news of the disintegration of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s marriage. My former governor and the First Lady announced their split last week, and the story has only gotten more sordid since.

As everyone now knows, it turns out that Schwarzenegger sired a secret love child with a family employee before he took office in a special recall election. Unlike his other affairs, wife Maria Shriver reportedly did not know about this one until after Schwarzenegger, who seemed like he was looking for a job when he spoke at the L.A. Press Club awards last June, left office this January.

Coverage continues as the fallout keeps spreading, most recently putting on hold Schwarzenegger’s “Action Hero” comeback and reportedly leading Shriver to hire a divorce lawyer.

One news article that caught my attention was this one from the Los Angeles Times, published before the latest revelations. It unravels the story behind the Schwarzenegger-Shriver split, sans love child. Of relevance to this blog is this quote:

“There was such a void,” said the friend, “and when she looked around, she realized her husband could never even think of filling it.”

When asked why Shriver stayed in the marriage for so long if she was so unhappy, the friend responded: “Part of it is family legacy, part of it is Catholicism. But the most important thing was their four kids.”

That’s the only mention in this story of Catholicism. Obviously, divorce is not accepted by Roman Catholic doctrine. (Neither is adultery, governor.) And, almost as obviously, the Kennedy clan, of which Shriver is a member, is Catholic.

But what I wondered was whether that freed the reporter from further exploring the religious angle to this story.

Is it enough to tell readers that Schwarzenegger and Shriver are both Catholic? Or do we also need some explanation as to how Catholicism shaped their marriage? My guess is that Catholic doctrine meant a lot less to their marriage than, say, that of Tolkien.

Remember Schwarzenegger’s line about lifting weights and sex from “Pumping Iron?” Or when Shriver unconvincingly defended her husband in 2003 after sexual allegations damaged his gubernatorial campaign? This was a California First Family that had a lot of problems caused entirely by decisions unrelated to Catholicism.

As producer John Kim quipped: “If Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger can’t make it…who can? Oh wait….anyone else.”

So maybe reporters should explain just how Catholic the Schwarzenegger-Shriver marriage is (or soon-to-be was).

Shriver was a self-styled “Cafeteria Catholic,” and yet this blog post today from Bill Zwecker of the Chicago Sun-Times uses the dreaded D-word when referring to Shriver’s religious beliefs:

Friends of Shriver tell me her decision to hire mega-divorce lawyer Laura Wasser proves to them the devout Roman Catholic has reluctantly decided her marriage is so irreparably broken that divorce is her only course of action.

Devout how? Because Shriver told Sally Quinn she is a “Catholic in good standing?” Because she chooses which Catholic tenets she wants to follow?

“I find that I don’t spend a lot of time trying to square my own daily life with the institutional ‘Church.’ I pick and choose,” Shriver sums up regarding her approach to her Catholic faith. “I remember doing a long time ago a show about cafeteria Catholics, American cafeteria Catholics. And I think I’m probably a cafeteria Catholic.”

The statements Shriver has made about her Catholic faith call into question exactly why she would care about the Church’s position on divorce. It sounds more like a cultural hurdle than a religious conviction.

But, as far as my Google searching ability informs me, no reporters have explored this issue in any depth. Instead all we have are a few meaningless references to Shriver sticking with her philandering husband because she is Catholic and good Catholics don’t get divorced.

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  • Nicole Neroulias

    Do we really need to turn this sordid story into yet another political debate about the creed/deed definition of a good Catholic? Every major global religion has a wide gap between the strictest interpretation of text and tradition, and the realities on the ground. For example, just last month, there was a study that revealed that 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women in the U.S. use birth control. There are many devout (weekly churchgoing) Catholics who get labeled “cafeteria” due to some disagreement with the Vatican on birth control or social issues. Divorce would still be a big deal for them, religiously as well as culturally.

    Also, as we now obviously can see, none of us knows what this marriage was like — so why guess that their shared Catholicism wasn’t important?

    P.S. Should it be tenets, not tenants of faith?

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    Good catch on “tenets.” I’ll fix that.

    As for whether Catholicism was important to their marriage, my point is that their being Catholic can’t be meaningfully referenced without further explanation, likely even details that reporters may find difficult to obtain.

  • J

    Seems like there might be pretty good grounds for annulment-the diriment impediment of not intending, when marrying, to remain faithful to the spouse. I’m not Catholic, however.

  • Suzanne

    Divorce is NOT against Catholic teaching. For God’s sake, let’s get that straight. Divorce is not possible in marriage, but civil divorce is sometimes necessary. Neither Shriver nor Schwarzenegger are free to marry again, but they are perfectly free to leave someone who presents a situation that is unlivable. The question is, is this unlivable?

    So long as they do not engage in sexual relations with people outside the marriage, they can still be in full communion. I think I have this on pretty good authority.

    Now, you may say that ship has sailed with Arnold, but confession can make that right. In his case I would imagine that a confessor would not grant absolution without his accepting full responsibility for his child(ren).

    As for being “cafeteria”, Maria’s mother was NOT a cafeteria Catholic (CC). I think Maria will be much less of a CC in the future and, after a possible annulment process, may look for a more devout husband in future.

  • Karen


    I think you are making too much of “cafeteria” Catholicism. Probably most people pick and choose which tenets of religions to follow. Whether a Southern Baptist who believes his pastor to be humanly flawed in interpretation, an Orthodox Jew who chooses a more liberal posken because he doesn’t believe a more stringent one or a Catholic who believes that priests don’t have the expertise to rule on sexual matters between spouses, people tend to stick with a religion where they can grow spiritually, care communally and share a preponderance of beliefs.

    And if I remember from the experience of my Roman Catholic relatives, divorce is not ecclesiastically recognized as having occurred since it is a civil action. The real issue is remarriage after divorce. And for that annulment is required or one may not marry within the Church and subsequent unions are considered adulterous.

  • Brian Walden

    Obviously, divorce is not accepted by Roman Catholic doctrine.

    This isn’t quite that cut and dried. The Church recognizes the need for civil divorce in some circumstances. Shriver is right that filing for a civil divorce does not, in and of itself, mean that she’s not in a state of grace. What the Church teaches is that civil divorce does not end a sacramental marriage. I believe that natural marriages (where one or both spouses aren’t baptized) can sometimes be separated.

    Nicole: When a person belongs to a religion that says it’s followers must believe certain doctrines, then disagreeing on those issues does indeed make that person someone picks and chooses from those doctrines as if they were in a cafeteria line. That said, you’re correct that most Catholics (at least in the US, I don’t know about worldwide stats) are so-called cafeteria Catholics. In fact, because your typical Catholic has no more qualms about divorce than your average American, I think Brad’s right that simply stating that they’re Catholic doesn’t tell us anything meaningful about their beliefs about marriage.

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    I believe that is correct, Brian. And it is my mistake for not explaining that nuance.

  • W.C. Camp

    I am disappointed by Swarzenegger. It is bad enough to disrespect his own vows and the families of those around him, but his selfish actions will likely affect his children’s future families as well. Very sad! W.C.C.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    “I find that I don’t spend a lot of time trying to square my own daily life with the institutional ‘Church.’ I pick and choose,” Shriver sums up regarding her approach to her Catholic faith. “I remember doing a long time ago a show about cafeteria Catholics, American cafeteria Catholics. And I think I’m probably a cafeteria Catholic.”

    When the interviewee is frank and honest, it’s good journalism.

  • Michael

    There is no debate that knowing what is right and doing what is right are not the same thing. The teachings of the Roman Catholic Church on divorce are well known. Many Christians, of every denomination, no longer follow divine or natural law. Most Christians today create their own value system without regard for any external authority. Whether that external authority is God or the Roman Catholic Church, it or He is no longer normative for either beliefs or behavior.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Being “cafeteria” Catholics is in all likelihood nothing new. Going back in time there were no public opinion polls. But we do have the records and diaries, and letters of past kings and queens who purported to be Catholic. And to call many of them “cafeteria” Catholics would be quite appropriate.
    This is a problem all broad based churches have had: the behaviour and beliefs of those only loosely attached to the Faith or the Church.
    The question then becomes –should the Church abandon its moral Tradition and Biblical
    teachings Catholics believe are handed down from God???
    The unspoken “ghost” behind many media stories about the Catholic Church is its agenda to coerce the Catholic Church to go the route of the Episcopal Church.

  • Warren

    Whether realizing it or not, some of the posts herein tend to favour CCC 2283 while diminishing the seriousness of the issue. Lest cafeteria-ness cloud our judgement and we lose a sense of balance, I submit 2384 and 2385.

    2384 Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death. Divorce does injury to the covenant of salvation, of which sacramental marriage is the sign. Contracting a new union, even if it is recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture: the remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery: If a husband, separated from his wife, approaches another woman, he is an adulterer because he makes that woman commit adultery, and the woman who lives with him is an adulteress, because she has drawn another’s husband to herself.178

    2385 Divorce is immoral also because it introduces disorder into the family and into society. This disorder brings grave harm to the deserted spouse, to children traumatized by the separation of their parents and often torn between them, and because of its contagious effect which makes it truly a plague on society.

  • Rob

    If Maria Schriver so quickly is getting an attorney, that should tell us something about how “Catholic” their marriage was. Of course one might argue that those of us who used artificial birth control in the past (and now) might also ask how “Catholic” our marriage was (is). Oh, and by the way, where were (are) the priests when it’s time to remind us of the Church’s teaching on the permanence of marriage and the evil of artificial birth control. .I can count on less than 5 fingers how many homilies I have heard in my 65 years on those two subjects..but let me tell you, the nuns sure drilled that into my head in my younger days.

  • Simon

    Well, good Catholics don’t get divorced. I see no harm in the media amplifying that oft-forgotten point, particularly if they’re going to underscore that Schriver isn’t a good Catholic, as appears to be the case.

  • Katherine

    I understand marriage to be a sacrament which requires the consent of both parties.If one party severs the covenant relationship and shows no genuine intent of honoring the union(on-going affairs)I would think that person has in spirit already divorced himself from the marriage.The other marriage partner would become the victim of a grave injustice.Justice is one of the divine attributes of God.How would it be just for a person to remain in a marital relationship with a person inclined and active in extramarital affairs.Jesus was clear with the adulterous women in that he forgave her and told her to” “Go and sin no more.”I wonder what he would say to her ravaged spouse.Certainly to forgive but what if the offending partner neither seeks forgiveness or chooses to continue the lifestyle.Is Maria exiled to live her remaining years alone.What is Catholic teaching in this regard?

  • Skylark

    The Catholic Catechism, which represents the official teachings of the Latin Rite Catholic Church, lists afew shy of 3000 “items”! (2,864 to be exact) I would defy anyone who calls himself Catholic to be walking/and not just talking the Faith that requires that many “laws” not to be in at least one instance a “Cafeteria Catholic”. The difference between that person (every Catholic who proclaims to be one) and Maria Schriver…she knows it and does not act like a hypocrite…holier than thou is a phrase that should come to us all! Catholic or otherwise!
    I just wish Grandma Rose had explained to Maria ( who appeared in an 2008 interview wearing one around her neck)that a rosary is NOT a piece of jewelry!

  • Leo Ladenson

    We need to make some distinctions here:

    –annulment: the judicial determination that no marriage ever existed;

    –divorce a mensa et thoro: literally, divorce “from board and bed,” basically a legal separation under which the parties are NOT free to remarry–this kind of divorce is acceptable under canon law under some circumstances;

    –divorce a vinculo matrimonii: literally, divorce “from the bonds of matrimony,” also known as absolute divorce, this is the typical civil divorce under which the parties are free to remarry–this kind of divorce is not acceptable under canon law.

    It’s not entirely clear to me whether Maria Shriver is talking about absolute divorce or merely a permanent legal separation.

  • Suzanne

    “Well, good Catholics don’t get divorced. ”

    Pretty cut and dried and judgmental, I’d say,,,?! *I* am a GOOD, devout, Magisterium-believing Catholic and guess what…my husband left me and filed for divorce. I am not divorced by choice, but I firmly believe that God has opened the door for me to have a new life. So does that make me a bad Catholic??

    By the way, the marriage was nullified.

  • deacondog

    Leave this topic for people magazine and the likes. Can you imagine doing a Foccus with them. I am sure they got a pass on the marriage prep.

    Let’s pray for them as well as all married couples. Marriage is a tough road

  • Skylark

    FYI….60% of the annulments granted from Rome the last
    year were in the United States. That fact in itself more than anything one quotes from the Catechism says what the Catholic Church says and what it does …are different things. Call me a cynic..and I will tell you that to believe otherwise is naive…and unfounded.

  • TeaPot562

    No one said that following Christ was supposed to be easy. My wife & I have been married 55+ years, five children, 12 grandkids. We prayed hundreds of rosaries together before our marriage. In the absence of a prayer life, and the grace from the Sacrament, our marriage would probably not have lasted twenty years. Too many people marry before developing a common prayer life. Pray for young couples.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    One big mistake the media makes in reporting on annulments in the Catholic Church is making a big deal out of the number of annulments that are granted by diocesan tribunals (the final venue for getting an annulment).
    You see a priest or deacon or pastoral associate is supposed to be involved in the submitting of an annulment request at the parish level. Part of their job is to weed out any requests that do not meet one of the grounds for an annulment (like being coerced into marrying).
    Now, since cases that will not warrant the granting of an annulment should have been weeded out–I am surprised that the statistic for granted annulments (which come from the diocesan tribunal, not the parish) is not 100%.
    Yet virtually every story I read in the mass media about Catholic annulments uses diocesan statistics and those stories usually make a big deal about the high percent of granted annulments when compared to the number requested. Rarely have I read anything about the weeding out that goes on at the parish level.

  • Julia

    2384 Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death.

    Actually, in the US, marriage is considered a status, not a contract. If it was a contract, the terms would stay the same throughout the marriage. Ask any middle-aged person getting a divorce about how radically different the laws on marriage are now than when they were married.

    In continental Europe, under civil law, marriage is considered a contract and any couple with significant assets will also have a personalized written contract.

    I was taught, during 16 yrs of Catholic schooling, that marriage in the church involves taking solemn vows; it isn’t treated like a contract. In the US some conservative Catholics think pre-nuptial agreements are immoral even when I point out they are very useful for defining inheritances for children of older marriage partners. Lots of widows and widowers are getting married late in life these days. Very unintended things can happen to the assets of such older couples if there is no written agreement about what is going to be left to each partner’s children.

  • Julia


    Many dioceses don’t weed out annulment petitions at the parish level. The tribunals are run similarly to European civil law. The judge of the tribunal acts like a grand jury and determines if there are possible grounds for the case to go forward – even if he is also going to hear the case. A person can also go to a canon lawyer to review the case and help present it.

    I’ve heard of numerous people rudely thrown out of rectories when just coming to inquire about the possibility of seeking an annulment. Parish priests are rarely also canon lawyers.

    Maria may very well have a good case – we are not privy to the details of their situation. For instance, he might not have ever intended to keep his vows on being faithful. Evidence would have to be gathered about his intentions at the time of the marriage ceremony.

    Often evidence from a psychologist or marriage counselor can be important or what he said to friends before the wedding. How would the parish priest know about any of what they know?

  • Leonard

    Far be it from me to judge the Schwartzeneggers. I thought I heard on the news something about a pre-nuptial agreement. I think that Pre-nuptial agreements invalidate a sacramental marriage ipso-facto and are grounds for a “Roman Catholic” annullment. It seems to me that this marriage was unwittingly set-up to fail from the beginning. Perhaps the pain of divorce will bring the joy of salvation. God is Good!

  • Diego Jose

    There’s a reason why the ancient Doctor of the Church says out of every 100,000 Christians barely 100 make it into Heaven.

  • Thomas J. Trotter 3rd OblSBCam

    Cafeteria Catholics justify their right to pick and choose
    because everyone else is doing the same thing. Sadly, this is a result of left wing, liberal, so called Catholic Colleges that invite the likes of Caroline Kennedy the pro choice, gay marriage queen of pick and choose to head a lecture series in a Northern Calif.Dominican College. The effort to live your Catholic beliefs is just that. The effort. No one is perfect and the herd mentality dosen`t work here. As the monk states, you fall down, you get up.

  • David, Chicago

    By what authority do any of you judge whether or not the Schwartzeneggers, Shrivers, Kennedys or any one else are Catholics? (This would include the Gingrichs, Boenhers and every one else.) If one is validly baptized a Catholic, has not renounced his or her baptism, and has not been excommunicated, one is Catholic. Period. None of you get to decide otherwise, thanks be to God. Or do you deny the efficacy of the sacrament of baptism? Reporters saying that Arnold Schwartzenegger and Maria Shriver are Catholic are correct. End of story. They do not, need not, and should not pontificate on the state of Schwartzenegger’s or Shriver’s souls, and are in no position to judge whether they are good Catholics or not. Nor is anyone on this web site. This is strictly up to them, their pastor, and God.

  • Ann

    You may be a baptized Catholic, but unless you make your Faith the basis for your daily life, your marriage, you are not really converted. Conversion is an ongoing process. A few other “Faiths” seem to have a better record: the Amish, the Mormons, and yes, Muslims, whose every decision is informed by their Faith in whatever God they worship. Too few of us Catholics live that way. When the great majority of Catholic women contracept and abort at the same rate as non-Catholics, something is very wrong. No doubt the media and cultural changes have convinced us that we can live as we please and still be Catholic. Nope! We either love God above all, and our neighbor as ourselves, or we are on the wrong road. Repentance and conversion of heart will change us for the better, and then we can influence the world to change. We cannot be Sunday Mass-goers where we get our “ticket punched” for that week. More frequent Mass, a solid daily prayer life, and frequent confession are the keys. Yes, it is difficult at times, but the rewards are out of this world.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Julia–I do not know the mechanics that go on at that tribunal level as you apparently do.
    But what you said–especially about some priests rudely not wanting to get involved in annulments–means that no case for annulment went forward in those cases–which was sort of part of my point—only good cases are supposed to go past the parish level. And in my experience, the cases I have heard of, were good cases that were sent up to the tribunal level and annulments granted.
    This should skew the statistics of the number of cases recognized as nul at the diocesan level making it look like most of those who seek annulments get them (sort of Catholic “divorce”.) And, unfortunately, when the media does annulment stories they usually only rely on diocesan statistics. They rarely look at the number of cases that never reach the tribunal because they never get past the parish level.
    A while back I helped some people go through the annulment process and you don’t need to be a canon lawyer to tell–in general– whether a marriage is likely invalid and should be annuled. Besides, a priest or deacon can always get help from the tribunal or experienced pastors if there is a problem to be sorted out along the way to sending the process forward OR halting it.

  • sam

    Plz. God let’s leave these people alone to sort out their issues which are actually none of our business per se. Yes, sin has effects for everyone since we are all connected, and particularly those of us w/in the Catholic Church. Nonetheless, as Jesus himself has said re “let those of you w/o sin, cast the lst stone.” It seems to me that Catholic websites and bloggers ought be held to a higher standard than commenting on the “sins of omission and commission” of others, particularly other Catholics. This constitutes a formidable lack of restraint, not to mention Charity. I do not mean this as a reprimand for this blog solely but all Catholic sites which purport to be Catholic – thus observant Catholic teaching.

  • Thomas J. Trotter 3rd

    “By their actions you shall know them”. When you hold yourself out to public life and you make your living from the public and you portray yourself as being what you claim to be, then expect the criticism that comes with the
    paycheck. No one asked anyone to espouse their views publicly as have the Kennedys and the former Gov. of Calif.
    Last time I checked,running for public office or pedaling a book was completely voluntary,when you air your problems
    in public, expect the comments. I love when the left wing liberals get their favorites criticized. Can`t do that.
    These people are, after all the ones who state their positions which are not always in communion with the Church.

  • Jimmy Mac

    The Catholic Church effectively gives tacit approval to divorce with what has become the charade of annulment. In their 2002 book, “Catholic Divorce: The Deception of Annulments”, Joseph Martos and Pierre Hegy state:

    “Because the grounds for annulment have become so broad that practically anyone who applies for one can obtain it, many observers now regard annulments as ‘virtual divorces.’ After all, the same grounds for divorce in a civil court have ‘become grounds for the nonexistence of marriage in an ecclesiastical court.’ (Page 23) To add to the deceit, many couples who receive annulments do so believing that their marriage was, in fact, sacramentally valid – that the marital bond did exist but that, over time, it began to break down. These couples, understandably, choose not to disclose this part of the story to marriage tribunals so that they can qualify for an annulment.”

    In other words it is the Catholic game of nudge-nudge, wink-wink.

  • Katherine

    In Mathew’s Gospel(Chapter 19:7-9) Jesus says that a person who divorces -I am not speaking of fornication-and marries another is guilty of adultery. What does this teaching mean..Why did Jesus make this interjection with regards to fornication in this passage on marriage and adultery. Can someone help me understand how the Catholic Church interepts this?I understand the Catholic Church’s teaching on the indissolubilty of marrisge however, Jesus makes a statement here on fornication within marriage that begs for explanation.Can someone offer some insight that is faithful to Catholic teaching?

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Katherine– The word translated as “fornication” or “adultery” in that passage is translated that way to please those who want to justify divorce and remarriage.
    But the actual literal translation would be “except for porneia.” So what is “porneia?”
    According to many Biblical scholars “porneia” refers to being “married” in a prohibited degree of blood relationship–virtually a form of incest–which cannot be a real marriage. This was a problem in the early Church with converts flooding in who whose marriages did not meet Judaeo-Christian standards.
    There is more to it, and it is so complicated that some modern English translations don’t try to translate “porneia” but put the word “porneia” in instead of adultery, etc. and try to explain it in a footnote.
    However The New Jerusalem Bible–in its English translation from the original French translation translates the “Matthean exception” as “I am not speaking of an illicit marriage” instead of trying to do justice to the passage in only one word.
    And note–and Catholics and the media frequently get this wrong–it is not divorce itself Christ condemns as adultery, but the “marrying” of another after a licit marriage has been entered into.
    I hope that helps you a bit.

  • Katherine

    Many thanks Deacon John.Your explanation and insight is most helpful.