By Regina Staloch
Editor’s Note: Family ministers exert great effort to support marriage and save couples from the pain of divorce. Regretfully, neither we, nor the couples we serve, are perfect and thus we are not always successful. Because of this, family ministers are also about supporting men and women who experience divorce. It is in this spirit that we offer an article on divorce ministry.
Since 1974, Catholic Divorce Ministry of the North American Conference of Separated and Divorced Catholics (CDM/NACSDC) has worked to create a network of support for families experiencing the trauma of the loss of the marital relationship by addressing the religious, emotional, and parenting issues. We strive to make Christ’s abundant love known so all might experience compassion, spiritual and emotional recovery, healing, reconciliation and new life. Our primary vehicle for this is peer support groups with trained facilitators who themselves have experienced the pain and grief of divorce. The facilitators understand the consequences and ripple effects on families from the inside.
Losing your best friend creates a major life crisis. When a couple marries, neither is planning a divorce. In time, however, many marriages are on the rocks and sometimes only one partner is aware of the dissatisfaction.
Communication skills are lacking when unhappiness is self contained. No one can read a mind. The attitude that “good Catholics don’t get divorced” exists in parishes. Divorce is not always a mutually agreed upon decision. It takes two to marry but only one to file for a civil divorce. The whole family needs healing as the children’s dreams are also broken.
The separation process, whether mutually agreed upon or not, creates a great struggle with the commitment “until death do us part.”
Can I require my partner to seek marriage counseling or talk with our pastor? No. Imagine the shock when a person learns a spouse can obtain a civil divorce by filing paperwork at the local court house stating irreconcilable differences, live apart for three months, and, if the wife is not pregnant, the sheriff will deliver divorce papers to be signed in court before a judge.
Retrouvaille and The Third Option are helpful to save marriages when both are willing participants. In fact, couples should make sure attending such a program is on their “required to do” list before finalizing a divorce. If divorce becomes unavoidable, however, and a person hopes to one day marry again, marriage enrichment and relationship skills training are just as important before entering into a serious new relationship.
Although painful, it is crucial that divorcing women and men walk through – not jump over – their divorce grief in order to obtain the life giving spirit meant for each of us. Some have found help by staying close to Jesus through Eucharistic Adoration, others get professional counseling and/or medication when necessary, still others begin and end each day with prayer while adding The Serenity Prayer hourly.
Taking off the wedding ring does not make one single again in society, in the Catholic Church, or in God’s eyes. Civil divorce is the state’s method to separate the marriage partnership legally. This civil divorce does not exclude Catholics from receiving the sacraments.
In 1977, Pope Paul VI rescinded the excommunication that had been in effect if a person remarried without first receiving an annulment. In Catholic Church law, the couple is still married unless an ecclesiastical decree of nullity (an annulment) is granted by the Diocesan Tribunal.
Completing the annulment questionnaire can be a healing experience when done with pastoral guidance. The questions go back to the wedding day to discover if full disclosure and consent had been available to each person making the covenant with each other before God and a priest or deacon. The questions surface unresolved hurts stuffed deep within the heart. Uncontrollable tears may flow again as Jesus journeys with us to share our burden and show us the way through shattered dreams.
Even if divorced people never plan to re-marry, CDM strongly encourages divorced Catholics to seek an annulment to feel God’s mercy, healing grace, peace, joy, forgiveness and closure. It’s necessary to drop the baggage from the previous marriage in order not to repeat past mistakes. Nobody wants a second marriage to fail due to incomplete homework.
CDM dedicates itself to serve as a major resource to dioceses and parish leaders for publications and facilitator training. NACFLM members are welcome to join CDM to support this vital ministry of healing. To become a member and to review resources see www.nacsdc.org. Every human relationship is an eternal responsibility.
Regina Staloch is president of Catholic Divorce Ministry and lives in Arnold, Mo.