I recently posted a meme on my social media accounts that garnered a lot of attention from respondents. One particular reader comment caught my attention. The response was very articulate, thoughtful and direct but it was obvious that the message I’d written had struck a chord and pressed on a wound this woman had either long attempted to bury or had not yet fully healed. I know this woman to be a beautiful soul, a devout Catholic and a warrior for the pro-life movement. But while most Catholics already believe in the Church’s position on life and are against abortion in every instance, her response shows that when it comes to marriage and divorce even “devout” Catholics and Christians (those who would even die for the Lord) still struggle with God’s Truth about marriage. After reading, you will understand.
“A counselor who is divorced cannot usually lead you to a reconciled marriage because at some point he or she quit or surrendered when the going got tough. Once divorced, people are more inclined to tell you to cut and run because it validates them having done so and convicts them if you refuse to give up.”
My words were not spoken out of malice or judgement but they were written, as always, in order to help save as many marriages as possible from the wretched institution of divorce that has devastated nations, generations and souls. After thoughtful consideration and prayer, I penned a lengthy response. I have decided to reproduce it here in hopes that you, too, may find consolation and Truth in my words and that, hopefully, they will help you or someone you love from going down this dark path of divorce that so many before you needlessly went down and so many hearts were shredded by—namely, our children. I begin with her response:
“I find this to be pretty simplistic in thinking. Many of us who have been divorced did not want to be. Sometimes the choice was made for us. Sometimes we made the choice after enduring significant abuse.
I am thankful that I had the option to divorce my husband. I’m thankful that I was able to receive an annulment. Everything I did was within Catholic teaching.
That being said, as a counselor, I have worked with many, many, many couples and would never lead a couple towards divorce unless there was active violence. To say that we would lead others down a sinful path because of our divorce comes across as kind of tacky. I don’t “need validation” for my divorce. I feel totally fine about being divorced. God has wasted nothing in my life, including that time in my life and what came from it.
It would be like asking a non-cancer survivor what it feels like to be a cancer survivor. You haven’t been divorced, yet you are speaking for a huge population of people and telling us how we feel and what we can and can’t do in our job.”
What follows is my response to this reader’s comment:
Thank you for responding, as I know it took great courage to do so. I am sure there are many reading this who feel as you do but aren’t quite so articulate in framing a response. So, I appreciate the opportunity to dialogue about this very painful topic for your sake and for theirs as well.
First of all, I see how it can seem simplistic when one can only fit so much information into a meme or a post. It’s difficult to deal with the micro aspects of a topic from the macro perspective but nonetheless, it still gets to the core of the issue.
I will agree with you that many people—I would argue nearly 100% (apart from those who made drunken vows in a Vegas chapel with someone they just met that night)—of people who divorced did not want to be divorced. It would seem silly to think otherwise. Who, at the altar or in front of the JP would think “Hey, let’s try out this marriage thing! Hopefully it takes. If not, well then, who cares?! We gave it the old college try!” But not to get tied up on that point I will also agree with your next two sentences. “Sometimes the choice was made for you.” That’s why I work with my Standers. They did NOT want the divorce, only their spouse did and the court system is guaranteed to grant it ensuring that the faithful spouse has no say-so in the matter before he or she is unlawfully stripped of 50% of his or her possessions including the stripping away of access to the very humans that were the fruit of the marriage.
Further, I will agree with your statement that “Sometimes we made the choice after enduring significant abuse.” In this broken and sinful world, it is heartbreaking to think that some must endure the most wicked of trials, but nonetheless we must. But it is this statement that I can really, and must really get to the heart of for this statement is at the basis of my argument of the indissolubility of marriage.
I know you’ve heard me say it before but it bears repeating here this very controversial but truthful statement that is foundational to the Catholic Christian teachings:
Only if you can be Unbaptized can you be Unmarried.
As such, abuse doesn’t unmarry you. Abuse is a painfully heavy cross to bear but we are called to bear our crosses nonetheless. (This statement should NOT be construed to say one should stay in an abusive household! They should immediately get out, get safe and get help). This is the very same principle that causes you to fight so voraciously to save the lives of unborn babies—even those that were the product of rape or incest. The abortion doesn’t make the rape go away. It just kills a baby…and retraumatizes a woman (and her family). Similarly, abuse doesn’t make a marriage go away it just hurts a woman/man, their children and their extended family. Equally, then, neither does abuse make a marriage go away.
A divorce in this example only separates you from the abuser in physical proximity. As much as many of us wish otherwise (for many of us have been in extremely painful marriages—this author included), a civil judge has no jurisdiction in a supernatural law. Only God can end a marriage that was contracted in His jurisdiction and in His courts, He has instructed us clearly and carefully that the only thing that can end a marriage is death. Not my rules, His.
Now, annulment is a different thing. As you know, a decree of nullity is the determination by a tribunal of the Church of whether or not a marriage ever existed in the first place. Annulment does not make a marriage go away. This is a most highly misunderstood instrument of the Church. I find myself explaining it constantly. I’m ok with that. I’m just pointing out that few understand what “an Annulment” truly is.
Your annulment, like every other one decreed by Catholic tribunals says that in your case (and for whatever reasons they determined based on the details of your previous relationship [and I say relationship because it has been determined to have not been a marriage]) you were never married to that first man. You thought you were but some impediment existed preventing that marriage from ever taking place in the supernatural. So based on this information, you are currently in your first and only marriage.
Now don’t get me started on how the annulment process is being abused in our country and how they are now being handed out like candy. Don’t expect me to be anything less than angry that 90% of the world’s annulments are granted by U.S. tribunals meaning that had Americans applied for their annulments in any other country they’d have likely been denied. Our tribunals are broken and are in dire need of supernatural intervention to fix an evil that has mushroomed since Vatican II. But that is discussion for another time. Despite the fact that you may not have received that annulment had you filed in any other country, the truth of the matter is that you did receive one. The blessing in that is this: if there is any fault to be given, the fault is NOT yours. The fault lies with the tribunal. They will have to answer to God for their mistakes and sins in this matter.
When Jesus handed Peter the keys to the Church, He said to Peter (and to all those who would come after him in apostolic succession—the future Popes and, thus, the Catholic Church) “What you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and what you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” He gave Peter and the Church permission to determine that in your first “relationship” that a “marriage” never existed. So, yes, everything you did was definitely within Catholic teaching. Congratulations on your one and only marriage.
So, let’s go back to my original post now for which I neither apologize nor will walk away from. Your next statement just made my very point. My original post said “A counselor who is divorced cannot usually lead you to a reconciled marriage because at some point he or she quit or surrendered when the going got tough. Once divorced, people are more inclined to tell you to cut and run because it validates them having done so and convicts them if you refuse to give up.” Your response was “as a counselor, I have worked with many, many, many couples and would never lead a couple towards divorce unless there was active violence.” Your use of a conditional clause “unless there was active violence” perfectly exemplifies the truth of my statement.
As a counselor (and I believe you are spectacular at counseling women regarding abortion) you have determined that there are some conditions that exist that give another person freedom to believe they are not married (abuse) and that leaving that marriage will dissolve the supernatural contract that God established when they vowed to be married to that person until death do they part. See, the difference between your views and the Church’s teaching (my views) is that you think abuse dissolves a marriage. I know it does not. It just shows that it’s an abusive marriage.
Consider this. I know counselors who were also abused and left the physical placement of the abusive household and marriage BUT who still understand that, despite the abuse, they are still married to the abuser. As such, (let’s just say this counselor is a female) she will NOT counsel others to divorce their abusive spouses. She will counsel them that they are still married until death, to get out of that abusive home and to do the spiritual and temporal work necessary to try to heal their abusive spouse in the hopes of an eventual reconciliation. The reconciliation may never come but it is her requirement and vocation (because of her vow made before God) as his spouse to work for his change of heart, mind and behaviors and thus, his repentance and salvation.
So, the first counselor, the divorced or annulled one, will counsel, in some cases, towards divorce. The second counselor, the one standing on her marriage vows, will not. So, it is not “tacky” to say the divorced counselor would lead them down a sinful path. It has just been exemplified that it happens. Divorced counselors are not usually effective at helping you fight for your marriage because when the going got tough (and abuse is about the toughest) the counselor did, in fact, cut and run. Unless this counselor has a change of heart and sees the error of her ways, she will almost always continue to guide some clients toward the sin of divorce.
One last thing, there is zero judgement here though of those counselors (or of you). I myself left my husband and filed for divorce. I get it. I, too, tried to run from the pain so that makes me no better than anyone else who’s gone through it (remember, if you even wish a man dead in your mind it’s the same as murder”)? We live in a world where we are constantly being told to chase happiness and perfection “Go now and remarry. You deserve to be happy! God wouldn’t want you in this horrible marriage/job/situation/etc.” That’s not true. God never said that. God tells us to seek holiness, not happiness. My point is that we must seek truth. TRUTH—no matter how painful it is nor what the consequences because our eternities depend on it. And here is Truth:
- Abuse doesn’t unmarry you
- Infidelity doesn’t unmarry you
- Pornography doesn’t unmarry you
- Narcissism doesn’t unmarry you
- Your spouse’s bi-polar disorder doesn’t unmarry you
Nor does anything else: his gambling addiction, bad money management, harsh words, jail time or any of the million other reasons we use to divorce our spouses and find “happiness”. We are to carry our crosses and not lay them down. THIS is true Gospel teaching. Isn’t that what you tell the women who are experiencing an unplanned pregnancy? Carry that cross? Further, don’t you tell them of the tremendous blessings and graces they will receive from God both here and in eternity for doing the right thing and not doing what was easy or what the world was telling them to do?
I think you and I are way more alike in our principles than you may think. We have just been called to differing vocations to live out and teach these Catholic Christian principles. You and I are ultimately both in the “soul saving” business and I am extremely honored to have such a powerhouse young woman as you on my same team. See, you and I both learned from our horrible mistakes. Now God is redeeming us both. I am so unworthy. Thus, I do my best to pick up my cross and spread the message of the Gospel to those people that the Lord put in my purview. So, I agree completely that “God has wasted nothing in your life”, precisely that dark season that now propels you today. That’s what He’s done with me. That’s why I fight so voraciously for the sanctity of marriage…one marriage at a time. May God continue to bless yours.
And may all of you readers have a newly revived courage to stand strong and fight with everything within you for your own marriages, your children's marriages and those of everyone that God puts along your path. We're in this thing together.