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3 Things Synod Fathers Should Know about Divorce

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Lisa Duffy - published on 10/23/15

Here's how to show divorced Catholics that there is hope and that God still has great things in store for them

It’s been 22 years since my divorce, and every year toward the end of the month of July, there is a brief dark period of sadness for me, marking the day my ex-spouse cruelly and deliberately ended our relationship. It’s something that will always be with me, despite the fact I’ve been happily married in the Church for 15 years now.  

Sometimes people ask me why I would then spend so much time writing and speaking about this terrible event or why I would choose to spend time counseling those in circumstances that would bring back my own painful memories.

I choose to do these things—no, I’m passionate about doing these things—because I know the depths of that pain, and I understand how easy it is to turn your back on your faith and become lost in the world. I want to offer hope to the millions of divorced Catholics who are losing hope. I want to show them God still has great things in store for them.

Which is why, as this third and final week of the synod on the family comes to a close, I want to offer one last plea on behalf of the divorced community, regardless of whether they are civilly remarried or not. We know that addressing the situations divorced Catholics face has not been the only issue on the table, but as an advocate for their cause, there are a few suggestions I hope the synod fathers will take into consideration as they wrap up and define their resolutions.

The Root of the Crisis

One of our biggest problems in dealing with the divorce crisis is the widespread confusion about what a Catholic who holds a civil divorce decree is allowed and not allowed to do. This confusion plays a major role in why so many Catholics leave the Church after their divorce. I’ve coached divorced men and women through the healing process for years, and it always breaks my heart to hear the confused and misguided ideas many of them have.

Sometimes, they automatically assume they are barred from the sacraments or aren’t welcome at their parish. But oftentimes their erroneous ideas have come from someone at the parish level: a priest, a deacon or a DRE. Throw in some advice from friends and relatives who don’t fully understand the issues or canon law, and it’s like rolling out the red carpet and escorting them out of the Church. There are too many people offering advice based on misinformation. That is a problem.

Making a Meaningful Difference

With this in mind there are three things I would like to offer the synod fathers that would be extremely meaningful to divorced Catholics:

1. Make sure all priests, deacons, DREs and any other Church representative in a position of dispensing advice have a uniform understanding of the basic things that apply to a divorced Catholic, such as

  • A civil divorce decree in and of itself does not prohibit the reception of the sacraments or participation in parish life. Having fliers or pamphlets with this information readily available in the vestibule and easy to pick up is a good way to start.
  • Jumping back into dating is not a good idea, even when it might look obvious a marriage is null. It takes time to heal from a divorce and one reason we have the debate about Communion in the synod is because too many people rush into dating after a divorce. Socializing is good, and important; dating should wait.

2. Acknowledge them in a homily.

Many divorced Catholics stop going to Mass because the homily is almost always directed at the intact family. No doubt, the intact family needs support now more than ever, but most divorced Catholics never find themselves counted as part of the parish family in homilies. Just showing up at Mass is difficult because the intact families are constant reminders of the loss. Many divorced parishioners have wished to hear homilies that not only clarify Church teaching but also offer food for thought in their struggle to remain faithful to God during this time.

3. Encourage parishes to form outreach committees.

A civil divorce is a horrendous experience. It is often equated with the death of a spouse, but when someone loses a spouse to death, the surviving spouse is bombarded with an outpouring of sympathy: flowers, meals and visits from sympathetic friends and family. But this rarely happens when a divorce occurs—in fact, the opposite reaction of pulling away is normally what takes place. Yet the pain and loss of divorce is quite real and depression sets in fast. A meaningful act of compassion might be as easy as showing someone who is divorced the same sort of attention, such as checking in every now and then with a phone call or a visit, offering to bring a meal, etc. It would also be a spiritual work of mercy.

If there is any message I take away from the synod thus far, it’s that we’re all in this together and we need to find ways to support each other in our struggles. Let us continue to pray for the synod fathers and the Pope as this final week draws to a close.

Lisa Duffy, blogger, speaker and author of The Catholic Guide to Dating after Divorce writes from Charleston, SC. She welcomes your comments and questions at lisa@lisaduffy.com.

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