First, let me state my credentials:
I’m 61 years old and a father of ten children. My marriage was gaveled out of existence on October 15, 2010, which also happened to be my 22nd wedding anniversary. My family was obliterated in an annulment by a Catholic Church tribunal 2 years later, after which my children found themselves caught in the no-man’s land between a marriage that never was and a marriage that would never be. I continue to honor the vows spoken before Christ, Priest and Bride, while continuing to live the single life without fully embracing it.
I struggle with my unfortunately singular efforts to heal children’s hearts broken by divorce. I have involuntarily been declared “free” by the Catholic Church to pursue a new Princess Bride, but it is hard to do so when one’s heart is still very much attached to the original Princess. Though two 8-1/2 x 11 pieces of white paper can divorce and annul a Catholic marriage, it remains a truth that they are powerless to do the same to the heart.
And now, onto the matter of which I write…
The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines divorce as, simply“…the action or an instance of legally dissolving a marriage”. My definition is less simple but much more to-the-point: “Divorce is a puss-filled, germ-oozing, cancerous, leprotic scourge that never heals.” Elaborating further, divorce causes more problems that it solves and continues the hurt long after the petitioner and respondent have turned to dust. It is a vicious destroyer of marriages, relationships and families and serves but one singular purpose – to placate the selfish desires of one or both spouses, often at the expense of their children, who alone suffer its consequences.
Many would have you believe divorce is the answer to all marital woes; that happiness reigns supreme with a new fresh-from-the-box Prince/Princess Charming II (or is it Marriage-Go-Round Deux?); that everyone deserves and expects to have marital bliss on earth (even though as Catholics we should know that is nowhere guaranteed.) Everyone that is, accepting the children. They have no voice in the matter. They have no advocate in their defense. They have no say in the matter of Mom vs Dad or even if they want a Single-Parent household as opposed to a dual-Parent one. The glaring and stark Truth of the matter is that one or both parents force their own children to accept divorce!
Divorce is about as unjust an action as you can get. Consider the definition of “just”, again courtesy of Merriam-Webster: “…acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright or good… having a basis in or conforming to fact or reason”. So…if you were to tell me that I am wrong in stating that divorce is an unjust action, then it follows that Merriam-Webster is equally as wrong in its definition of “just”, because what a divorce does to children is certainly not “in conformity with what is morally upright or good” nor is it “conforming to fact or reason”.
Divorce is the anti-thesis of both morality and reason and, as I stated above, does nothing but placate the selfish desires of one or both spouses. There is and can never be a “good” associated with divorce, for from its very beginning it causes harm to the innocents. You can’t spin away that glaringly obvious fact…simply Google “Children and Divorce” and you will get confirmation that I am correct. Or stand in line at McDonalds when a bus load of teenagers off-load for lunch and just listen to their conversations, as I have done. It’s utterly heartbreaking…
I have not read a more poignant and accurate description of what divorce does to children than that written by Anthony Esolen of Crisis Magazine in a recent article:
“Let me speak for the children of divorce, who see their homes torn in two, because of a mother or a father who has shrugged away the vow of permanence. I see them straining to put a fine face on it, to protect the very parents who should have protected them, to squelch back their own tears so as not to hurt those who have hurt them. Who speaks for them, harried from pillar to post? Who pleads their case, whose parents conveniently assume that their children’s happiness must depend upon their own contentment, and not the other way around? Where is my Church’s apostolate for the children sawn in half, while the Solomons of our time looked the other way?”
Indeed! Who does plead the case for the children? None other than the State, who now takes control of the children away from both parents and mandates it to one or the other – deservedly or not – and from the moment of the sounding of the gavel, relegates the children to a nameless statistic in some as-yet-to-be-written research study. Esolen’s statements above echo similar ones I wrote of this past August:
“…And they suffer because one or both parents failed to follow the rules; failed in their parental vocation; failed their children by willingly immersing them into an adult situation. Is this good parenting? Or just plain selfishness? If you are not able - or simply incapable - of initiating and sustaining your own divorce without sucking the future from your children to help you cope and subsist, then why-in-the-hell start it in the first place? Is your perceived notion of your "right" to personal happiness of greater concern than the inherent right - via your Marital Vows - of your children to theirs? Since when do children have to sacrifice for the parents happiness? Where is that written in Catholic Marriage 101? What lesson plan covers that in Pre-Cana Conferences?”
And yet, the divorce juggernaut goes on, despite the harm to children, to the nuclear family, to spouses, to society and to marriage. Divorce has been portrayed as just another facet of life, where one goes to “renew and refresh” – to a spa, of sorts – their “luv” life, ala Hollywood. Too bad the reality is anything but Hollywood. As I have written previously of my own divorce “…this particular divorce - has borne no good fruit for any of my children. You simply cannot get good fruit from a tree that has proven to only yield bad fruit time after time after time. No matter how many grafts you try to implant, no matter how much Miracle Grow saturates the soil around its roots, you are naive to believe you can make a divorce something it will never be - delicious... inviting...beautiful to behold. Too much destruction lies behind in its wake.”
Beautiful, delicious and inviting may be adjectives applicable to Hollywood divorces, but not to mainstream America where the harsh reality of a no fault divorce culture runs rampant. Unfortunately, the former must also include the Catholic Church, who now finds Herself in the quagmire of validating the divorce culture vis-à-vis trying to do an end run around the Sixth and Ninth commandments, Christ’s teachings on the evils of divorce and the potential invalidation of two-thirds of the Marriage bona – Fidelity and Permanency.
The now overused emotional memes of Mercy and Compassion are, however, false notions doomed to failure, for they leave out the third leg of that particular triumvirate of Christ’s Teachings – Justice. That the divorced and remarried sans annulment are trying to reconnect to “Full Communion” without the necessity of Justice slaps with an open palm the face of the innocent spouses who live their vows as Christ and they intended – faithful until the death of one or the other spouse. Sadly, Justice seems to start with welcoming back to full communion with the Church those who knowingly and willingly violated their sacramental vows, while the justice for the innocent spouses and children are conveniently forgotten.
They who want nothing more than the reconciliation of a family ingloriously ripped apart are left to languish in that hell-hole maze that constitutes divorce. No sane and reasonable Catholic should ever – EVER – believe that divorce and/or annulment will cure their marital woes. That the Catholic Church seemingly does so does not alter the reality of which I speak. It’s too bad a few well known bishops and cardinals cannot experience divorce; I have no doubt they would turn more than fifty shades of grey over the experience, drop to their knees to sob over their own naivety and their forgetfulness of Christ’s words: “…But he that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
As a point to illustrate and validate the above comments, Pope Francis, speaking to canonists on November 5th, was discussing justice as it pertains to annulments and the salvation of souls. To establish validity to what I’ve said of the starting point of justice, consider these quotes from the Pope:
“...there was talk about procedures, processes, and there was a preoccupation with streamlining the procedures, in the interest of justice…”
“…Justice, because decisions must be just, and because there must be justice for the people who are waiting…”
“…how many wait for years without a judgment,”
Do not the statements above lend needed validity to my comment that justice only starts with the one spouse who has violated their vows of Fidelity and Permanency? Is it not a Truth that the byproducts of divorce – the innocent spouse and any children – are not worthy of such justice and concern? Why is justice a one-way street, despite the numerous citations in Canon Law that mandate seeking spousal reconciliation? Who are the ones truly “waiting for years” for the Justice that will never come? Why does it seem that “the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many”, to paraphrase Star Trek’s Mr. Spock? This is what results when Mercy and Compassion are not bound to Justice.
Now…before anyone takes me to task for being an emotionless and uncompassionate stoic, let me preempt you by saying that what I write – past, present or future - is not meant to cover every aspect of the divorce maze, but only that defined by my own experiences and what I read of and form opinions on concerning divorce. Those marital situations ripe with abuse - physical, sexual or drug - are not part of this and never will be.
What I write of are the “Irreconcilable Differences” associated with 80% of divorces. Or more to the point: their fallacy. Irreconcilable differences are, in reality, only so if one or both parties decide them to be. Instead, they are just simply another one of the many “it’s for the children” memes used to justify an unjust action and to make someone feel good about doing so. You can put a mink coat on a divorce, add an ermine to make it pretty, sprinkle on expensive perfume to hide the sulfuric smell, but eventually you’ll have to take off the coat, revealing that which cannot be made to look other than what its genus makes it – unjust, uncharitable and as defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church #2385, Immoral.
G.K. Chesterton once wrote that "…To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless." Non-reciprocal Love, forgiveness and hope are what the innocent spouses and children have each and every day they wake, still loving and still missing the third part of their own triumvirate. It defines the hard and inherent Truth of what we all vow when we put voice to our own fiat and, in imitation of Our Lord from His Cross, look lovingly into the eyes of our spouse and pronounce “I Do”.
It is a sentiment also ratified by Chesterton, when he wrote of marriages where one spouse wants out and the other doesn’t, that “…it remains both a noble and fruitful tragedy; like that of a man who falls fighting for his country, or dies testifying to the truth.”
It is unfortunate that many believe the opposite - a troubled marriage is not worth the fight, that a spouse is beyond repair, that no sacrifice of self will save what God has already joined together. You’d expect that out of the secular world, but when the Catholic Church appears to be traveling the same road, it gets more than a little discouraging, especially when those within who would rise to defend its honor are being silenced.
Spero columnist David Heath is a freelance writer and blogger.