They think they’re entitled to a happy marriage, and if they’re not happy, they’re entitled to get out. Unfortunately, correcting those misconceptions brings us to yet another obstacle facing the Church.And that is the simple fact that many people don’t want those misconceptions corrected.Those groups offer comfort, support and a safe place to talk ... But they also generally neglect to communicate the truths Catholics most need to hear about sex, marriage, suffering, and salvation ... Likewise, some Catholic-based groups, such as Beginning Experience, focus solely on helping people deal with the emotional pain of grieving the loss of a spouse, but don’t do direct evangelization and catechesis.
Even where there are parish-based programs, many aren’t specifically Catholic.
That’s true, for instance, of the Divorce Care groups that meet in parishes in Pittsburgh, Chicago, Los Angeles and dozens of other dioceses around the country.
“In the immediate aftermath of divorce, you feel like you’re not wanted by anybody,” said Greg Mills, president of Catholic Divorce Ministry (formerly the North American Conference of Separated and Divorced Catholics).
“Your self-worth is zero.” Helping people address those wounds is a serious challenge for most priests and lay ministers, many who have little to no background in counseling.
“His response to me was, ‘Anne, I don’t want your husband to feel uncomfortable in the Church.’” Unfortunately, Sweet told OSV, that response is not atypical. “We’re putting Band-Aids on bloody wounds, but leaving the real problems untouched.” Those Band-Aids, of course, are important. Other times, it’s all that people will let the Church do.
“Too many Catholics, priests included, are afraid of making waves, of what people will think,” she said. But regardless, it’s a level of support the Church should not be content to give.
“Much of the difficulty starts with overcoming a central belief that the things of God are just there to haul out in case we get in trouble,” Sweet told OSV. And so it’s not surprising that the Church’s ministry to divorced Catholics is, in many places, not all it should be.
“Many people are going to the Church because they know they need something more, but some general comfort or spirituality is all they want of it.” In a sense, the problems faced by divorced Catholics today and, for many, the very state in which they find themselves, are the culmination of the Church’s failures in the 20th century: the failure to evangelize, to catechize, to counter prevailing cultural attitudes, to clearly communicate the beauty of the Church’s teachings on sexuality, to adequately prepare Catholics for marriage, to support marriages, and to come to the aid of marriages in trouble. Nationwide, support programs for the separated and divorced are few and far between.
For example, according to Frese, in the Archdiocese of Atlanta less than 15 percent of the archdiocese’s 100 parishes offer any sort of programming for Catholics who are going through or have been through divorce.