Local ministry reassures those going through a divorce they’re ‘not alone’

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Divorce seems to be a taboo subject in the Catholic Church; however, the Church still seeks to provide hope for individuals going through it.

While marriage is a lifelong covenant by which a man and a woman enter a communion of life and love with each other, the Church is also obligated to provide support to those whose marriage has ended. An annulment process may be requested when it can be shown, with moral certainty, that a marriage was missing some essential elements to be considered a valid sacrament.

In addition to the annulment process, there are more resources that the Church offers to support divorced Catholics. Spirit of Christ Parish in Arvada is home to an active divorce ministry that provides compassionate Christian education and awareness that helps those dealing with separation or divorce to heal and rebuild their lives.

The “Surviving Divorce Program” at Spirit of Christ Parish includes ongoing leader support, personal guides for participants, and resources for anyone who wants to know more about what the Catholic Church teaches about love, sex, marriage, divorce and annulments. The goal of the program is to guide those who have been separated or divorced and are in need of a deeper knowledge of the love of Christ through his Church.

“We offer some guidance where [divorced Catholics or those in the process] can learn some teachings about the Church, their relationships and also help welcome them back if they’ve been away from the Church,” said Deacon Charles Hahn, Permanent Deacon at Spirit of Christ and an active member of the Divorce Ministry.

Deacon Charles Hahn is actively involved in the Archdiocese of Denver’s divorce ministry, which helps to support Catholics through the divorce and annulment processes. (Photo by Daniel Petty/for the Archdiocese of Denver)

Most of the time, divorce is seen as a civil matter where a married couple takes care of only the civil responsibilities, leaving aside the fact that a sacramental marriage is a commitment between a wife, husband and God, which a civil judge has no authority over. Nevertheless, it’s not surprising that many times these individuals decide to leave the Church when they don’t find the support they need during those difficult times or simply don’t feel welcomed by the Church when they need it the most. One of the greatest challenges a divorced Catholic must face is the Church itself.

“A lot of churches and parishes don’t want to address it,” Deacon Hahn explained. “A lot of times, people you have been friends with, in ministry or some type of church group, don’t really understand the issue, so then you pretty much get shunned. A lot of people who saw me coming into Church would turn and walk the other way when they found out I got divorced.”

At the same time, Catholics tend to misunderstand the concept of divorce in the Catholic Church. There is no such a thing as divorce in the Catholic Church; however, if a person demonstrates that his or her marriage was not valid at the beginning when they said their vows, then the Church has the right to revoke that marriage. In order to have this done, the petitioner must apply for an annulment and get it approved by the Church tribunal.

The divorce ministry supports Catholics through the annulment and divorce process and offers them hope through it all.

“It’s very important that people know that this is out there,” Deacon Hahn said. “They’re not alone in this, the Church is there to support them. They have someone that will be there for them, from the very beginning all the way through the divorce or annulment process.”

Every marriage has challenges, hence the Catholic Church also offers a wide range of programs for families and couples in trouble who are struggling and wish to save their marriage. Any divorced person in a state of grace is welcome and encouraged to attend Mass and receive the sacraments as often as possible.

For more information about the Archdiocese of Denver marriage and divorce programs visit: archden.org/marriage/marriage-help/

COMING UP: Q&A: New book offers help and hope for divorced Catholics

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Without a doubt, divorce is something that always impacts an entire family, and especially children. It is very important that divorced parents learn how to cope with this trauma and how to help their children cope with it as well.

Lynn Cassella Kapusinski, with her own story as a child of divorced parents and with her professional experience, helps Catholic parents walk with their children through the heartbreak of divorce into healing and peace with her book The Divorced Catholic’s Guide to Parenting. The book has the endorsement of Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila.

Cassella Kapusinski was kind enough to sit with the Denver Catholic and answer a few questions about her book that offers hope for parents on how, with God’s grace, they can raise their children after a divorce.

Denver Catholic: Tell me about your new book, The Divorced Catholic’s Guide to Parenting.

Lynn Cassella Kapusinski: The book is a “first of its kind,” in applying Catholic teachings directly to the unique struggles of children from divorced families and in being written by a Catholic child of divorce who is happily married for nearly two decades and also a licensed clinical professional counselor.

As a practical, easy-to-use guide, the book helps divorced or separated parents help their child heal and grow in a Catholic context. It addresses many stages of divorce or separation and can also be used as the family matures and changes.

I start with personal sharing about my experience as a Catholic child of divorce. This sharing gives parents an intimate look at what their child may be experiencing, but not be able or willing to share because of not wanting to add to a parent’s disappointment. Then, I provide parents with a practical, step-by-step roadmap for helping their child in a specific area related to the divorce or separation. The third section, “Meaningful Connection Time with Your Child,” provides parents with specific “talking points” to use during one-on-one time with their child. The fourth section, “What the Church Says,” is a groundbreaking aspect of the book. In it, I highlight and apply Church teachings that are directly relevant to children’s struggles so they and their parents may be further supported by the rich wisdom of Church teachings. Then comes “Thorny Situations,” where I highlight one or two tricky problems based on the chapter topic. And the last section includes reflection questions to help parents think more deeply about the chapter topic and consider how they may need to grow in order to help their child more fully.

Lynn Cassella Kapusinski, with her own story as a child of divorced parents and with her professional experience, helps Catholic parents walk with their children through the heartbreak of divorce into healing and peace with her book The Divorced Catholic’s Guide to Parenting.

DC: How does your book help divorced Catholic parents?

LCK: This book treats divorce difficulties from many different angles in order to help parents fully. It gives parents a detailed, step-by-step roadmap for understanding and navigating common challenges that children face in healing and growing from parental divorce or separation while arming them with Catholic tenets that can further support them. Specifically, the book helps parents:

  • Uncover the emotional effects and challenges that divorce or separation may have on their child and find concrete, developmentally appropriate ways to address them;
  • Understand common problems children face as a result of co-parenting difficulties or a parent’s personal issues and learn how to communicate constructively about them;
  • Navigate circumstances that arise in the later stages of divorce when a parent is absent, or when one or both parents date or remarry;
  • Explore ways to use the divorce as a Catholic teaching tool regarding God, forgiveness, and the beauty of the Sacrament of Matrimony; and
  • Find outside resources and additional support.

DC: What do you think is the greatest challenge facing divorced Catholics today?

LCK: I am hearing from divorced Catholics that they feel alienated from the Church and as if they no longer “belong.” Research appears to indicate this as well. Many divorced Catholics no longer attend Mass, with a significant number having left for Protestant churches (Paulson, 2015). Other research states that over three-in-ten (34 percent) Catholics who are divorced and remarried without an annulment or cohabitating say they never attend Mass (Lipka, 2015).

Whether justified or not, some divorced Catholics perceive the Church as focusing primarily on what they have done “wrong” or what they are not permitted to do, instead of how the Church is there to unite with and support them in their journeys as disciples. In considering the lack of parish-based support groups available to help these families heal and grow as Catholics, this perception has some validity. While these offerings have increased in recent years, they need to be provided, at a minimum, in every deanery for both parents and children. This outreach could very well have the effect of keeping divorced Catholics in the Church or bringing them back to it.

We need to formalize this area of pastoral care at the archdiocesan level, just as we do in protecting the unborn and their mothers through Respect Life offices. We also know that divorced Catholics and their children are at higher risk for divorce, which makes this pastoral care area a critical marriage building initiative as well. We need to do a better job of helping the weakest among us.

Other ways that the Church can demonstrate acts of love are by including specific prayers for divorced or separated families during the Prayers of the Faithful. We also need to show similar outreach to them as we do for bereaved families by offering annual healing masses, card ministries, and the like.

It is not enough to provide these families with counseling referrals. We need to show them, through tangible and ongoing ways, that we do, in fact, regard them as an important part of our parish communities.

DC: How can divorced parents maintain their relationship with God and Faith, and pass it on to their children as a separated couple?

LCK: Divorced parents need to attend Mass regularly and receive the sacraments of Holy Communion and Reconciliation as much as possible. Parents also need to require their children to do the same. The impact of parents and their example on their children’s faith lives and identities as Catholics cannot be over-emphasized.

This is definitely a time when children require the graces of the sacraments and the support of understanding Church teachings that apply directly to their struggles. This is one reason why I wrote The Divorced Catholic’s Guide to Parenting, because that Catholic message is not getting to children strongly enough. Each chapter in the book has a section titled, “What the Church Says.” Parents can draw on these sections during discussions with their child as they both learn more about the wisdom of church teachings that can help them immeasurably.

How does Catholicism influence your own perspective on divorce and remarriage?

I have never been divorced and am fortunate to be married for almost two decades. Catholicism influenced me to take marriage very seriously and, actually, more seriously than my friends from intact families. I was determined to “get marriage right” and felt I had an even stronger obligation to do so because of all I learned from my parents’ divorce. I fully embrace Church teachings on divorce and remarriage and consider the annulment process a valuable learning and healing opportunity which all divorced Catholics should pursue even they do not plan to remarry. I also am grateful that the Church recognizes situations in which divorce may be morally justified plus the reality that there can be innocent victims in divorce. We really need to do a better job of educating the faithful in this regard.

Have you written any other books for divorced families?

Yes. I am also the author of three books for children of divorce which can be used in conjunction with The Divorced Catholic’s Guide to Parenting, either individually between parent and child or as part of a parish based divorce group for children. The books are When Parents Divorce or Separate: A Catholic Guide for Kids, for ages 8-12, Now What Do I Do? A Guide to Help Teenagers with Their Parents’ Separation or Divorce, for adolescents, and Making Your Way After Your Parents’ Divorce, for older teens and young adults.

Who is the Faith Journeys program for?

Our program is for children (grades 4 and older) and adolescents whose parents are divorced or who are separated and have decided to divorce. It is also for young people whose parents have been divorced for years. Children in this long-range period also benefit because, at every stage of development, they rework this loss and process it at higher levels of awareness and maturity.

The program is intended for young people who are willing and psychologically able to face and make progress working through their grief and difficulties related to the divorce or separation.

As a Catholic program, “all are welcome.” However, participants must be respectful of the Catholic content that is addressed and explored. We welcome non-Catholic children to share aspects of their faith when we review spiritual and religious content, if they would like. For non-Catholic parents, we are happy to review the Catholic content in advance in order to help them feel more comfortable with the Catholic elements of the program.

We are also developing a Catholic online class to provide additional assistance and support for parents in helping their children adjust to and heal from the divorce or separation.

For more information about this program, please email Lynn Kapusinski at Lynn@Faithjourneys.org.