Divorcing Catholicism: The Separation of Church and Fate


Leaving Church

Going through a divorce brings extreme challenges; situations you never could have imagined yourself involved in. It can leave you feeling frustrated and displaced, ignored and unloved until all you want to do is go away and find someplace where people will love you and want to be with you.

It makes sense you would look to your parish family as well as your own relatives for this kind of acceptance. You need a home base and a community for support. But many times, you may not feel welcome in your own parish, or even worse, assume you are not welcome in your parish when you really are. You might decide to leave the Catholic Church altogether because of these negative feelings and go someplace else.

If you find yourself in this position, I’d like to share a personal story with you that, hopefully, will help illustrate the point I want to share:

When I was six-years-old, I ran away from home on a cloudy and gray summer day. My family was living at my grandmother’s house while we waited for our new home to be finished. There were a multitude of reasons why I ran away that day. Part of it was because I was feeling irritated and displaced by our New-Jersey-to-Southern-California relocation. I had lost all my friends and didn’t know anyone. Then, my older brother kept teasing me about how he could see my epidermis and I was mortified by this, especially since I thought I dressed modestly.

But all this was exacerbated by the fact that my father came home too late in the evening to spend time with me and my mother was so embroiled in details with the new house, enrolling us in new schools and taking care of my younger siblings that I felt completely ignored and left out.

“That’s it, I’m running away!” I said to the wood-paneled walls in the “bed-rage” (garage made into a bedroom). I didn’t even bother to pack a sweater or take a snack. I was just outta there. I walked out the front door just as my brother reminded me I’d better cover up my epidermis or I was going to get in trouble. If “whatever” had been a 60s buzz-term, that would have been my response. What-ever!

So, I started down the side walk. I was so disappointed. I felt lost. I didn’t like this change and I didn’t like feeling as if I was invisible. But all of a sudden, I heard a sound that made me stop dead in my tracks…

Footsteps. I turned around and saw my mother just a few feet away running toward me. I was so surprised, I just stared at her like a deer in headlights. As soon as she reached me, she knelt on the sidewalk and hugged me close. “What are you doing?” She was crying.

“I’m running away,” I answered sheepishly.
“Why? Why? Don’t you know we love you?”

I hadn’t expected this to happen. My mom and I cried together on the sidewalk until she picked me up and carried me home. It was exactly what I needed and although the things I was upset about didn’t change immediately, they did eventually and I was a happy kid again.

My point is this: Getting to heaven should be paramount in your life, no matter what disasters may strike, and your Catholic faith is the pathway to get you there. Don’t let your divorce serve to distract you from this critical point—your fate.

Problems, such as feeling alienated, outcast, or inadequate because of divorce can be resolved through communication, so sit down with your pastor or other parish representative and talk about your situation. But don’t just leave.

If you are still entertaining the idea of leaving the Catholic Church, I encourage you to pause for a moment and imagine Christ the way I saw my mother that day… coming after you, embracing you, and carrying you home.

No matter what reaction you may have encountered from other people or what false assumptions you may have, you are a significant and important part of the body of Christ and you are home at the Catholic Church.

Please send me your comments, questions, and disagreements at asklisa@catholicmatch.com.






24 Comments

  1. Wow Lisa, a powerful visual that put me in tears…Christ running after me and scooping me up, loving me no matter what childish decisions I had made. Thank you.

  2. Too bad leaders and members in the Church do not act or respond in the way your parents did to many of us who have been divorced

    Fact is, many of us have reached out to our pastors, church members and the church community for help and assistance only to be shunned and, worse, labeled. In my case, not only did I reach out to the Pastor, priests and members of my own parish — I actually reached out to neighboring Church pastors in two different cities (over 2 hours away) and the local diocesan office only to be treated in an extremely negative manner.

    As a lifelong and truly happy Catholic, this has not dissuaded me from the Church, however while the spirit of your article is lovely and emphasizes what is most import — our personal relationship with Christ — it unfortunately diminishes what really happens to divorced Catholics every day in their Churches.

    • After my divorce in 2007, I went to my parish to find help. I found nothing. So I got busy and became a thorn in the side of my priest and a nuisance to the director of family life in my diocese. I wanted a support group and would not rest until we had one. Just when I was about to give up, the diocese hired a new director of family life and she was very willing to listen and agreed there was an unmet need out there. Today the Catholic Divorce Survival Program can be found in several parishes in my diocese. Amen. But God wasn’t through with me yet. I recently became a certified annulment advocate and in two weeks I will give my testimony at a divorced and separated retreat. I feel so blessed to be able to serve in this way. So glad I didn’t just walk away out of frustration.
      Want change? Pray for it. Be open to the Spirit’s promptings. Have faith in our Holy Catholic Church. She is beautiful!

      • Kathleen O. July 18, 2013

        Jesse, there is a right person for u, god just hasn’t let u find her yet….eawaresident at hotmail..

      • Kathleen O. July 18, 2013

        Thanks for proactive stand u took

      • I am so glad to hear this reply. I am in process of divorce and tried to contact parish priest but he didn’t even bother to answer my call. I was disappointed. I even thought about leaving parish but I realized as a few weeks went by just how strong my faith is. No matter what scandals or unresponsive priests there are, I realized that my faith lies there still before the sacrament in adoration. I learned something new about myself. I am stronger than i realized in my love for christ. I went to chancellery in Capitol of state and connected with divorce ministry. I plan to go back there next week and work up a healing after divorce seminar! You give me courage. Thanks for that.

  3. I seriously cannot believe you used that as an example comparing it to divorce. You were gone for 30 seconds then you mother found you. My husband left me forever with a two year old, never came back, then remarried two years later to someone who is ten years younger and is now pregnant. Hence to term, never coming back. Leaving my world still completely devastated two and a half years later. And when I went to speak to my priest, he yawned about ten times during the conversation. I left abruptly seeing that he clearly needed a nap. So a this happens to a person because of nothing that they did. I hope you are just a columnist and not a licensed professional, because that was a disgrace of an example.

    • Diana G. July 18, 2013

      Dear Kasey, I am so sorry that this has happened to you. You are definitely still have not accepted and reconciled what your exhusband did. Unfortunately, sometimes bad things happens to good people but you can not continue year after year hold the anger, the sorrow, or the negative energy to continue to destroy your life. You must somehow move on and see the sun underneath those dark clouds. From your statements you have become a very unhappy very bitter person that is unable to see the beauty behind that simple story. I would advise you to seek a professional to help thru this part of your life in order to cope and learn to deal with whatever comes your way before you and only you destroy your own life. Your husband has moved on and so must you. Forgive him for the sake of your child, accept the past, and move on to live the life you were meant to live.

    • Evonne N. July 24, 2013

      Its been 4 years since he divorced me so he could marry a chicken wing waitress 18 years younger then me. The church approved of the adultry and called it an “invalid marriage”. I have since gotten a college degree and take care of myself pretty o.k. The church has nothing to do with me finding peace and moving forward. There is no happy ending for me. The church or God didn’t come after me and embrace me….it let me keep walking.

  4. Jesse H. July 18, 2013

    The best article I have ever read. We must all ban together and firmly realize that as individuals we are responsible to follow our faith. We must put God first in everything we do. When we were married most of us made our vows in the church. I am a convert, but that does not matter. I go to mass regularly and realize that I have a personal obligation to attend regularly. I did not know how to pray the Rosary until a woman I met after my wife passed away sent me one, which I have and use regularly. I have a personal conviction. After my wife died I wasn’t interested in dating. When I started again 90% of the women I met admitted that they did not accept the church’s teaching on birth control, and the teachings of the bible on premarital sex. I started dating and found some which I became excited about. My family warned me. “Dad that woman is going to hurt you.” I grinned and replied, ” Honey as long as I keep my faith and follow the teachings of the church, there is not a woman on earth that can hurt me “. I am still single, work hard in the functions of my church and am happy. Will I ever find that lady who is willing to make that same commitment ? Right now it doesn’t look promising, but I am happy. Finding that perfect lady is not as important as keeping my faith. Married couples must be willing to keep their promise to each other and to keep their faith in God, no matter what. Jesse Hayes

    • Kathleen O. July 18, 2013

      Jesse, there is a right person for u, god just hasn’t let u find her yet….eawaresident at hotmail..

  5. I agree this is a wonderfully written piece. I liked the story you shared about running away when you were six. I understand what you were trying to say by telling this story. I enjoyed reading this and thank you for writing it.

  6. I still experience abandonment from my parish and community as a divorced person and sometimes I am still treated like a lepard. In order to maintain Catholics, we must become more accepting of divorced parishioners. I like the comment from Jeanne and that she took a proactive choice and started a support group within the diocese. I still believe in my faith regardless of others feelings towards me. I refuse to be defined in a negative light regardless of my divorced status .

    Julia P

  7. The Catholic church does a very poor job at reaching out to those that have been hurt, whether it stems from a divorce or other stress in the family. I have talked to the priest in my local parish and he, while understanding, basically laid it at the feet of the Bishop on why local parishes are so horrible to those going through divorce, have had a spouse leave them etc. The Bishop is too busy trying to bully nuns, revert the local parishes to pre-vatican II rules. The way the diocese treats divorced families is horrible- almost as if they would prefer death to emotional support.

    • Dale, I think the Church does a poor job at organizing singles events, at least where I live (northern suburbs of NYC). I believe there are many single Catholic men and women who are looking for each other but have no place to turn to. This leads to, as the old song says, looking for love in all the wrong places. And when that happens, people will get married just for the sake of getting married and we all know where that ends up 5 or 10 years later. It’s no wonder the divorce rate is so high.

  8. Good post!

    I think there is a wonderful opportunity for further outreach to divorced Catholics in virtually all parishes across the country. However, i also believe it is incumbent upon us divorced Catholics to be in union with the Church and to LEAD. That means, starting to work on our own annulment processes, to understand that remarrying without one separates us from the Church and that, if we want the Church to understand our situations better, we need to be the ones to lead, volunteer and play that part. Divorce is a cross to bear and, in hindsight, I didn’t know what that meant at all.

    Yes, LEADING an outreach will potentially expose us to further pain, further loss, and further frustration. However, the feeling of being ostracized, for me, was in part due to those who attended my same Church but also, in part, due to the absolute feeling of failure I put upon myself. I was not ever planning on being divorced, was surprised to find myself in this position and felt like the eyes of the entire parish were on me everytime I walked through those doors. But I kept coming back and my resolve grew. With that resolve, so did my peace and happiness. Now, after some years, I’m ready to take that LEAD and help the outreach.

    Putting the pieces together after divorce doesn’t come quickly and I really wish I could have gone to a group, within my Church, not to take sides, not to get into the details of the divorce, but simply to walk me through what I should expect. There are a million books about the financial and legal aspects of divorce. There are not many, in my opinion, to address the “what you should expect when you divorce” for Catholics who wish to remain in union with the Church.

  9. To Whom it may concern, A very interesting story, I was very Blessed, my parents stayed married till death do them part. I was loved, and wanted. There are no bothers or sisters, so all of my decisions I make are handled by myself.
    As a Catholic Christian, I generally keep my feelings to myself. No sence of sharing much about them, no one listens anyway.
    I look at the Cross of Jesus, and I pray unto him. No matter what Church I have ever been in, HE is always there.
    I am not in much contact with Priests and I do not generally confide in them. The only Priests I ever liked were at my Church.
    Truly my presence is to no concern in the Catholic Church, but HE is in HIS Church, and when I go in, I only concern myself to Jesus alone.
    In the years of spending time with Christians I have found strength and courage in Fellowship and the Word of GOD. If you could find a Bible study it is worthwhile to get involved. Love and Happiness to all
    So it is nice when CM ladies write to say hi

  10. Will be praying for you Kasey… this situation sounds gut wrenching!! (sorry Diana G, but I think that response came off pretty rough)…. may God console and comfort this terrible heartbreak you must be experiencing! You are in my thoughts xx

  11. Sofia Laura C. July 21, 2013

    Nice Story Lisa! But I was a little confused why you compare you child experience with a divorced, because is completely different. As Kasey it happend to me the same situation, my ex husband remarried again and they had their own children, at the beggining I was frustated and a little angry.
    Four years ago I started to look for in other religions an answer because I felt bad but my children started to grow up and make their first communion and confirmation and I thought God find me and I started to near to the Catholic church again and I feel great and thankfull.
    God is my father and my best friend and now I feel blessed. Because I have a relation with Him :o)

  12. @ Sofia & Kasey, You are missing the major point regarding Lisa’s written piece. Of course the circumstances of a divorced adult and that of a runaway child are different, however that’s not the point of the article. The reality is that the writer is simply using her childhood experience, as a literary device to drive through to OUR HEARTS (all of us) that no matter how great our sorrow and pain are, nothing can separate us from God’s eternal love, EXCEPT our very own choice to make an “about face” on the very vehicles (the Holy Sacraments) that bring us in deep union with Christ himself.

    Lisa’s response to Kasey is harsh, but I concur because sometimes we need a third party to remind us that true life comes not from our spouses, but from only God himself. God gives & God also takes, sometimes to help us grow as people, and even grow closer to God.

    If we live our lives wondering and wishing about why such great pain came our way, then we are not staying focused. God didn’t call us to wallow in pain, we are called to follow Jesus, we are called to accept and pick up our crosses in the very light of Christ’s passion. This precisely is what the Church teaches. We are to pray, and oftentimes our very own desperation is a combination of a lack of many things, not just lack of Church support, but lack of prayer, lack of discipline, lack of mental health support, and negative thought patterns that are sinful to say the least.

    Thank Lisa for encouraging us to not leave our Faith Community. A community Jesus begs for us to help construct. It is our responsibility to rise up and be Christ’s hands and feet in our parishes, not just the religious.

    Perhaps it is Jesus himself, helping us to realize that THERE IS AN UNMET NEED, and He is begging us to fill the need with our hands, our legs, our everything, including our pain. Trust me, I’m speaking to the choir here, but we are called, and what a shame it would be if our very own desperation would drive us away from Christ instead of letting it drive us closer to him.

    At Kasey, my prayers and anyone in her situation are with you. Stay encouraged and fight the good fight. Know that while you feel alone, you are not. I have heard countless times that the words “Do not be afraid.” appear in the bible 365. Trust that God is greater than what has happened in your life and seek out the professional therapy you deserve. It will make you stronger. Seek out Eucharistic Adoration . It is transformative and will give you strength. Remember that WE ARE the Church!

    • Evonne N. July 24, 2013

      why bother getting married, we should all be nuns and priest because its all about God

  13. Delete me from this circulation list I never asked to be added! I am a divorced catholic and refuse to get my marriage annulled. I had a few happy years and three lovely children from this union and would not shame them by declaring to all and sundry that I was never married to their father. Shame on you for thinking that annulment is the answer. I have always gone to mass every week, but can’t go to communion although i would dearly love to do so – what is the answer? Stop being a catholic and then I can do what I want? No I love God with all my heart and pray every day for a solution so don’t send me your pathetic articles on annulment

  14. Cathy L. July 23, 2013

    I’m seeking insight to my marital dilema. Two years ago my husband’s cousin told me my husband had been having a long distance affair with a woman from Mexico for over three years and had fathered a child with this woman. He had also been sending her a bundle of money for years. I was emotionally destroyed! I sought counseling from my parish priest who advised me to not rush into a divorce. The priest also told my husband he could not receive communion until he had made a cofession. We are now finally geographically separated. I still love my husband but can’t trust him. I’ve caught him in so many lies and he continues to receive communion despite the priest’s directions. I had begun the divorce process twice; the court system wanted to close the process but I had my attorney keep the case open. Am I just avoiding the final pain??? My husband has told me many times he’s sorry but the trust has been shattered. I have little family and am currently living with my mother. I don’t know what’s worse…knowing the trust level will never be the same and staying in the marriage or ending the marriage and walking through the pain which scares me.

  15. Kevin N. August 13, 2013

    Lesley: I am sorry for your difficulty. I am also sorry that you have been misinformed about annulment and divorce. It is important to understand clearly what effect divorce and annulment have on a Catholic. Annulment does not state you were not married. It examines and comments, on the ability of yourself and that of your ex husband, to live up to the expectations of marriage. You and your husband were married in a civil or legal sense. You and your husband must live with the financial (and other) arrangements and responsibilities arising from your divorce. Annulment cannot change that. Annulment does not have to bring shame upon your children. The process of annulment is a potentially healing one. Divorce does not prevent you from receiving the Eucharist. This is a lie, perpetuated by people who should know better. Ask for the truth. A useful reference for me has been “” Seeking an Annulment with the help of your Catholic Faith “” by Lorene Duquin. Unfortunately it is now out of print. You could reach the author in Lockport, New York, where she is director of Parish Life Diocese of Buffalo.
    Kevin

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