Divorce

I was looking through the website of the Nordic Catholic Church and found a spiritual reflection on the subject of divorce. I won’t elaborate on my personal situation other than the need to lead a clean and honest life and exercise patience. It was a rational decision for me and I did the proper things vis à vis the law. I have experienced irrational feelings of guilt and disturbing dreams in my sleep, but my fundamental decision rests.

I appreciate Fr Bryant’s reflection in that he takes the Sacrament of marriage very seriously, as most of us reading this blog would do so. Christian marriage cannot be broken unless it was invalid in the first place. Such a question is studied by canon lawyers based on the evidence in each case.

There are also valid marriages that are unsustainable for any number of reasons, typically violence (both physical and verbal), exploitation, durable toxic attitudes, infidelity, deceit and many others. This is a part of the tragedy of life. The ideal remains and consequences must be assumed when it all comes apart. If we are Christians, we don’t enter into new intimate relationships but learn to assume our solitude in a positive way. Celibacy can also be a vocation and a blessing.

I have been fortunate in finding sympathy and support with my family and my Church, especially my Archbishop and Bishop Damien Mead. This has been important to act against emotions of guilt and low self-esteem. I am rebuilding my life, both as a human person and as a priest. Priests should be sensitive to the human tragedy behind divorce and separation at the same time as upholding the sacred bond that exists beyond human weakness and sin.

Those who read my posting and are married, treasure and nurture your love and relationship, keeping it healthy and altruistic at the same time as respecting your own person and your wife or husband. See marriage, not as a kind of “rat trap” but as a garden in which flowers and trees can grow and be ever more beautiful. Some of us have failed and fought to avoid giving up lightly. Others have changed and become reconciled. Each person is a mystery as is God.

Marriage is often taken too lightly. It is too easy to get involved, have a feeling of being “in love” and make what amounts to a perpetual monastic profession. Future monks enter the community as postulants, go through a novitiate of one or two years and then several years in simple profession. Marriage takes place after a very short time of preparation, just a few weeks, with the parish priest. There is too much social pressure on people to get married and conform to the mould. It is a special vocation to create a family and impregnate it with Christian values. We are not all made for family life any more than the cloister or being a missionary in some distant land. We priests need to work to break this social pressure so that this irrevocable commitment may be the most solidly founded and authentic.

I read a Facebook thread about the recent investigation in France that revealed such a scale of sexual abuse of children by priests. One commenter suggested that allowing priests to marry might be a solution, to give authenticity to what a priest teaches his faithful about marriage and family life. I answered with the suggestion “If I were a woman, I wouldn’t want to be marrying a man who merely needed to have some kind of compensation for not abusing children. He would be the kind of person who would abuse me!” Sexually abusing vulnerable persons is not caused by the feeling that one wants sexual satisfaction, but by a toxic personality who wishes to dominate and enhance his own perceived status.

This suggestion, made by a lady who is undoubtedly married, shows a certain ignorance and prejudice about marriage itself. Perhaps some celibate priests have a more objective and detached attitude, perhaps…

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2 Responses to Divorce

  1. Stephen K says:

    One commenter suggested that allowing priests to marry might be a solution, to give authenticity to what a priest teaches his faithful about marriage and family life.

    The way I parse this statement is that the commenter appears to be suggesting or implying (or conflating) two benefits/purposes: firstly, marriage will stop priests abusing children (presumably because they will have a sexual outlet); secondly, a married priest will be able to teach about marriage authentically, based on personal empirical insights which they might not otherwise have.

    Frankly, the first proposition, if that was what was intended, seems to me both abhorrent and preposterous. I think your response addressed it. But it did not address the second.

    In my view, marriage is much more than a utilitarian mechanism. However ultimately transitional romantic love proves to be, without the individual person focus that such initial attractions and motivations involve, marriage becomes just a contract, a social device, a quid pro quo, subject to the disintegrations from property concerns and respectability instead of boredom or irritations or personal threat. Marriages survive and prosper by the conscious will of each to love and renew the will to love the other person, and it takes both.

    The subject of divorce is a different question. It is in either case a mechanism to separate and cancel future obligations. It may have much collateral damage but it may be absolutely necessary in circumstances where real central damage is being done to one or both. Moreover, whilst it appears true that personal love can grow and endure even from unromantic contracts, why should we be surprised that humans can, for all kinds of reasons, cease or forget or never understand how to love? Humans are often weak, but always fallible, complicated and imperfect.

    But I suggest that, however it comes to this point, where there is no love and no will to start or re-start loving, the marriage is broken or dead. Theologians may argue that a broken or dead marriage is still a marriage, and they may argue that it endures for ever, but it strikes me that that approach inflicts collateral damage of its own, even if it were universally true, which I doubt.

    I think we can and must be open to learning and growing from every experience, both bad as well as good, and sometimes maturity and a second marriage can help people learn the nature of love which they did not know or master previously. As can, equally, post-matrimonial singlehood.
    Just some reflections.

    • I think these are extremely good reflections. I was a bachelor to the age of 46 years and I was celibate as a Roman Catholic cleric. For me personally I am “reversing” an error I made in life. Secondly, I would not be able to continue as a priest if I entered a new intimate relationship. However, I can accept that some people may learn essential lessons about self-acceptance and individuation as a part of entering a new relationship. I would be harder on myself than on them.

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