Ministering to Catholics Facing the End of a Marriage
by Lisa M. Hendey 1/31/2007 / Family
In day to day life, when I meet people and discuss the fact that I build and write for Catholic web sites, I occasionally encounter individuals who are bitterly separated from the Church owing to circumstances involving an ended marriage. The common denominators in these meetings are the sense of pain I feel emanating from the separated brethren, and the discomfort I feel in advising them on how to reconcile with the Church.
Thanks to a new book from Catholic author and mother of six Antoinette Bosco, I now have the perfect resource to offer these types of friends and acquaintances. Growing in Faith When a Catholic Marriage Fails: For Divorced or Separated Catholics and Those Who Minister with Them (Resurrection Press, July 2006, paperback, 128 pages) is the perfect resource for any Catholic wanting to know more about the Church's ministry to those whose marriages have ended. Bosco, herself a divorced Catholic, shares not only her own personal story and perspective but also the truth about Church teachings, doctrine and processes. This book is a work of great love, encouragement and hope. For those dealing with ended marriages, it offers support and practical wisdom. I plan to keep copies on hand to share with those I meet who need support an advice when dealing with the difficult issues of divorce.
I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Antoinette Bosco, author of Growing in Faith When a Catholic Marriage Fails and am happy to share her thoughts and insights.
Q: Antoinette Bosco, author and mother, congratulations on the recent publication of your book Growing in Faith When a Catholic Marriage Fails. Would you please tell our readers a bit about yourself and your family?
A: I like to let readers know, first and foremost, that I am the mother of six children, and also had a son I adopted way back in the 50's, who was a homeless kid, and turned out to be the most terrific son one could have. I had an arranged marriage. That was the custom my Italian father - a wonderful man - believed in. Unfortunately, the marriage was a disaster, except for the wonderful gift of having these specific and special children. The marriage ended in divorce in 1967, and I became a single parent who had to fully support my family. Not bad news, though, because this necessity forced me to do an awful lot of writing and speaking, which also became my ministry of helping people, after my youngest son Peter, suffering from bi-polar illness, committed suicide, my son John and his wife were murdered by an 18 year-old, and my adopted son Sterling died of a failed heart and kidney transplant. I have been a syndicated columnist for Catholic News Service for 32 years, and I have written 16 books.
Q: Toni, what prompted you to write this book, and what is the primary message you hope to share with readers through it?
A: I wrote this book because I got a call from Emilie Cerar, editor at Resurrection Press, in the fall of 2005 asking me if I would write on this subject of Catholics and divorce. "Coincidentally," (of course, we know there are no "coincidences") I had been asked to be the keynote speaker for the North American Conference of Separated and Divorced Catholics at Notre Dame University for June 2006. I felt it would be helpful to have the information I had learned about Catholic divorce available in book form at the conference, so that the attendees, leaders in their parishes and dioceses, could have one more volume of hopefully helpful information to bring back to Catholics in troubled marriages. So I said yes to Emilie!
Q: For divorced Catholics who may be separated from the Church at this time, what steps of healing and hope would you encourage?
A: I specifically asked Emilie to title this work," Growing in Faith", because I believe too many Catholics wrongly believe that if their marriage fails, they are no longer welcome in the Church, and that is far from the truth. I wrote this book to tell the history of the Church's work to help these hurting Catholics, and to encourage them to stay close to their baptismal faith, which is their heritage. If they have had a bad experience with seeking an annulment with a marriage tribunal, I offer hope that they should try again, perhaps going elsewhere, because there is always hope that an undiscovered factor was indeed present that made it impossible for this marriage to be a truly Christian and valid one.
Q: In your book, you discuss the possibility that divorce and/or annulment can actually increase one's faith. Could you please comment on this for our readers?
A: It may seem hard to believe, but I have found many Catholics who, sadly, had to go through a divorce, and yet found they emerged stronger as a person, and more connected to God. Why? Because a bad marriage is a defeating, debilitating situation for anyone to be in, and it makes one weak, unsure of both the present and the future, grappling with a terribly diminished self-image, and often shooting anger and blame at God. When a Catholic in a bad marriage finally gets the courage to act, that is, to free themselves from that destructive situation, then one can begin to move into freedom, and once you are free, then you can grow in the good ways one deserves. With freedom, you learn again that God is worthy of your love, and then faith grows.
Q: In your book, you discuss efforts by the Church to minister to divorced Catholics. Could you please describe some of the efforts and possibly share some success stories?
A: The Church began to minister to divorced and separated Catholics in the early 70's. I was part of the first effort in the country to begin such a ministry, and I saw it grow with excitement, especially when Bishops would support such groups. Most every diocese now has a "Marriage Tribunal" staffed by people well versed in Church teachings, but who are also professionals, be it in human relations, psychology or theology, who are available to help Catholics in troubled marriages. Many Catholics who felt they would be turned away from the Church found out that, no, they were always welcomed, and many of them were able to understand that they never really had a "valid Christian marriage," and were eligible for an annulment, which gave them the freedom to marry again, if they so wished.
Q: We all know friends and family members who have feel alienated from our Church because of divorce issues. What words of wisdom do you have for those of us who would like to reach out to family members and help them reconnect to the faith?
A: To reach out to family members who feel alienated from the Church because of divorce issues requires great sensitivity. No one must ever judge, or be critical. Only someone who is inside the marriage really knows the problems that cause the destruction of the bond. Never put your love for one on the line, meaning they must adhere to your criteria or be out of your life. Just offer love, and practical help, if needed. And if you have a problem with loving them, just ask yourself, "What would Christ do?"
Q: Are there any additional thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?
A: I am a person of faith, and for me that means I must be fed, nourished - with the Life of the Lord. I believe that is the truth for all baptized Catholics. And so, my strongest urging is that divorced Catholics never accept that a failed marriage makes them unworthy to be nourished by Christ. I would urge them never to give up on their right to have a full and deep examination of a prior marriage and why it went wrong. Put their situation in God's hands and trust in the help of the Lord Jesus.