New archdiocesan ministry offers hope and healing for adult children of divorce

One of the biggest concerns that couples have when going through divorce is the impact that it will have on their children, especially the youngest ones. The hard reality is that divorce and separation often causes deep emotional, spiritual and psychological wounds in children that can last well into adulthood and are rarely addressed.  

The Church recognizes this issue, and thankfully the Archdiocese of Denver now offers various resources and hope for these adults through the Adult Children of Divorce Ministry. To help adults heal from the trauma of their parents’ divorce or separation, the Archdiocese is introducing two ministries: Life-Giving Wounds and Restored.

“These two ministries help adult children of divorce to see that they are not alone,” said Carrie Keating, NFP and Marriage Specialist at the Archdiocese of Denver. “There are others out there that can relate to their experience. They help them understand the ways in which they have been affected and how they can find healing for these wounds.”  

Life-Giving Wounds Ministry is a national ministry that seeks to help young adults with divorced and separated parents. This ministry also strives to end the isolation of the pain caused by the wound of separation by creating a community of peer support within the Catholic Church and help those affected by divorce find deep spiritual healing through weekend retreats, support groups, consultations and other resources.  

“Many people know that their parents’ divorce has affected them, but they don’t know how or what to do about it,” said Beth Sri, board member of Life-Giving Wounds Ministry. “It’s overwhelming to know even where to start and it can be terrifying… We provide the time, the space and the tools to see the anatomy of one’s personal woundedness and provide the opportunity to begin to take that wound to God for healing.”  

Although the healing process for a child of divorced parents can be long and often difficult, it’s necessary to be able to live a fulfilled life, or else the negative effects of these wounds can remain for a lifetime.  

“Generally speaking, children of divorce have ‘a suffering that is not allowed to be called suffering’ as society tells us that we are resilient and instructs us to be happy since our parents are now happy, having ended their marriage,” Sri added. “Many of us have tragically never had a chance to grieve the loss of our intact nuclear family because no one allowed us to see it as a loss. We valiantly carried on, stuffing our pain down deep, only to have it manifest in other damaging ways. [Adult children of divorce] tend to struggle with anxiety, people-pleasing, perfectionism, fear of commitment and failure, abandonment and even a deep, often well-concealed, anger.  We struggle emotionally and psychologically in ways that are foreign to our peers from intact families.”  

Another harsh consequence of divorce is that most children of divorced couples suffer in silence for one simple reason: they don’t want to hurt their parents.  

Restored, founded by Joey Pontarelli, is another ministry and resource that the Adult Children of Divorce ministry offers. It provides resources to help teens and adults cope with their parents’ separation and find healing. All of this healing is done through advice, podcasts, blogs, talks and a private online community to coach and help them begin their healing process that oftentimes is suffered in silence. 

“Restored offers the practical guidance and support that teenagers and young adults need to heal and grow, so they can feel whole again and thrive,” said Pontarelli. “We provide resources that bring awareness to the problem, actionable advice about how to cope and heal, and support along the way.”  

Healing is certainly a fundamental need for any individual, and while the wounds of divorce don’t necessarily go away, these resources can help a person build stronger relationships and move forward with greater hope, joy, purpose and identity.  

“Your parents might have divorced last year or two decades ago. Regardless, it almost always brings pain and problems into our lives,” Pontarelli concluded. “Most of us go through life unaware of how we’ve been affected… But we weren’t created to tolerate life. We were created to live it to the fullest. We were made to become the best version of ourselves. Yet, what holds us back most from becoming the best version of ourselves? After sin, our untreated brokenness… while healing isn’t easy, it is worth it. It is also necessary. If we don’t heal, we will pass the brokenness onto other people – especially the people we love the most.” 

The Office of Evangelization and Family Life Ministries is also sponsoring two upcoming events for Adult Children of Divorce. Next week, Pontarelli will be the guest speaker for Theology on Tap, and in May, Life-Giving Wounds will hold a retreat at Annunciation Heights. 

For more information about these events and more resources, visit archden.org/acod.

Restored: RestoredMinistry.com 

Life-Giving Wounds: lifegivingwounds.org 

Life-Giving Wounds Retreat: May 7-9, at Annunciation Heights 

Theology on Tap: “How to Build a Thriving and Divorce-Proof Marriage.”  
Monday, March 8 at 6:30 p.m., at Knights of Columbus Hall.  
Guest speaker: Joey Pontarelli, CEO and Founder of Restored. 
RSVP: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/theology-on-tap-how-to-build-a-thriving-and-divorce-proof-marriage-tickets-142147792875 

Featured Photo by Karl JK Hedin on Unsplash

COMING UP: Sin, suicide and the perfect mercy of God

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I love my hair stylist. 

She’s a devoted Christian. So, when I see her, we tend to have much deeper discussions than the usual gossipy hair stylist sessions. And, because it’s a small shop, the discussions often branch out to the other people within earshot, waiting for their appointments or waiting for their color to process. Because she tends to attract a smart and faithful clientele, the discussion is always interesting. 

Yesterday, at my bimonthly appointment, we somehow got onto the topic of suicide — specifically, the insidious way that it spreads among teenagers. One suicide often leads to another, which leads to another. I made the comment “It is demonic.” 

At that point, a woman in the waiting area chimed in. “I disagree. I’m Catholic. It used to be a mortal sin, but they changed it. It’s not any more. It’s mental illness.” 

If a nice Catholic lady at my hair salon could be confused about this, I figured perhaps some of you out there may be as well. Which made me think perhaps it’s time for a little review on the nature of sin — both in general, and specifically as it applies to suicide. 

First, sin in general. The fundamental point here is that the Catholic Church has no power to decide what is a sin and what isn’t. It’s not like there’s a committee that meets periodically to review the list of sins, and decide if any need to be promoted from venial to mortal, or demoted from mortal to venial, or dropped from the list entirely. 

Sins are sins because they are outside of God’s will. And they are outside of God’s will because they have the potential to do tremendous damage to people created in His image and likeness, whom He loves. We know they are sins because it was revealed to us in Scripture, or it has been handed down from the time of Christ in sacred tradition. Sometimes the Church must apply these timeless, God-given principles to new situations, to determine the morality of technologies undreamt of in ancient times. 

The Church has the authority to do that because she received it from Christ, her bridegroom. And once she does declare on a subject, we believe it is done through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. So the Church isn’t going to change her mind. Something can’t be a sin, and then suddenly NOT be a sin. 

“But,” you ask. “What about eating meat on Friday? That was a sin, and now it isn’t.” This is an example of a discipline of the Church. Eating meat has never, in itself, been an objectively sinful behavior — on Fridays or any other day. But the Church was calling us, as Jesus calls us, to do penance. And the Church selected that penance as something we could all, as a Church, do together. The sin was never in the ingestion of the meat. It was in disobeying the Church in this matter. This particular discipline has been dropped. But it doesn’t change our obligation to in some way do penance for our sins and the sins of the world. 

Now, on to suicide. It is obvious that something must have changed in the teachings of the Church. Because, in the olden days, a person who committed suicide couldn’t be buried with a Catholic funeral Mass. And now they can. So what gives? 

Here’s the situation. Taking innocent human life is always a grave evil. (I add the “innocent” qualifier to distinguish this discussion from one about self defense, or about the death penalty — which in a sense is self defense. But those are separate discussions.) God is the author of life, and it is He who decides when our lives will end. To usurp that power always has been, and always will be, a grave moral evil. 

But there is an important distinction we must understand. There is the objective gravity of the sin — the nature of it, and the great damage done by it. Then there is the question of the individual’s moral culpability of that sin. In other words: a great evil was done. But is the person who did it liable to judgment for it? Or were there extenuating circumstances that mean that, while the evil was indeed done, the person who did it was somehow functioning in a diminished capacity that reduces or eliminates their moral responsibility? 

For a person to be culpable for a mortal sin, three conditions must be met. First, the objective act must be gravely sinful. Second and third, the person committing the sin must do so with full knowledge of the sinfulness of the act, and full consent of the will. In the question of suicide, we have learned to much about the psychological condition of a person driven to such a horrible deed. The instinct to self preservation is strong. In order to overcome it, the mental and/or physical suffering is frequently very intense. There may even be, as my friend at the salon mentioned, mental illness involved. All of this can drastically reduce a person’s mental and intellectual capacity to make rational decisions. 

And so, while an objectively horrifying act has occurred, God may very well have tremendous mercy on that person’s soul, given the extreme states of agitation and pain that led up to the act. 

Know that I write all of this as someone who has lost one beloved relative and several friends to suicide. And I am tremendously optimistic in my hope that they are with God. Not because they didn’t do something terrible, or that what they did was somehow justified. But because the God who loves them sees their hearts, and knows that pain and suffering can drive people to acts they wouldn’t possibly consider while in their “right” minds. 

And this is why the Church offers the Rite of Christian Burial to those who die by suicide. Because they need the prayers. And their families need the comfort. And because the Church, too, believes in that the God who embodies perfect justice also embodies perfect mercy. 

And we live in great hope that they are with Him.