Divorced Catholics are leaving the Catholic church in droves because of the church’s perceived lack of understanding and resulting feelings of isolation. The annulment process can also add to the trauma of the post-divorce period. As a woman suddenly abandoned while pregnant with our fifth little boy, I fully understand this sentiment. I too struggled with questions about how I fit in, as a divorced Catholic woman, with my faith and with my fellow believers. This is my story.
The People’s Role in the Catholic Church
I had been youth minister before the sudden abandonment, but with our busy vacation Bible school coming up, I was unable to continue my role. I turned to my local pastor who was as shocked as I was by the events unfolding in my life. The man was dear and sweet and offered prayers and some financial support when child support failed to come in, but, try as he might, he was unable to relate to my struggles.
I never thought I would be one of the many divorced Catholics. The phrase divorced woman conjures up images I want no part of, and many church-goers carry around similar images of divorced men and women. Those I had been close to were supportive but often rightly consumed with their own families and few had time to listen to me cry or the ability to understand how deeply our family’s core had been shaken and altered. Several fearfully expressed concern that, if it happened to us, it could happen to anyone. I noticed how often people used it rather than the dirty word – divorce. I wondered how many people were afraid divorce is contagious. I’d be hard pressed to disagree with them, so while I understood, it still left us isolated.
I tried to keep my boys involved in church activities, but I had five children from pre-born to 11 and now had half the number of weekends to do all parish, school, Scout, and other activities. My older boys could no longer be counted on to show up for their scheduled masses and stopped altar serving. The teen youth group met every other weekend, but my boys were often away those weekends so dropped out even before they had gotten fully involved. Church activities conflicted with my work schedule and asking for rides in addition to everything else was another blow to our fragile pride.
Divorced Catholics, Dating, Remarriage, and Communion
Then there was the question of my receiving Communion and my confusion over dating and remarriage. I was told by many that I would meet someone new, and, while in some ways that was a comfort, in others it left me with greater guilt. I had meant my vows of for better or worse, in sickness and in health. Was my husband’s leaving simply a strange and cruel illness through which I needed to be understanding and patient?
As the years wore on, I did begin to think about meeting someone else. I began to have desires, desires mostly for comfort, companionship, and affection of another human being. My ex had filed for an annulment, but the process takes a very long time and those feelings began surfacing before the process was anywhere near complete. How did my desires fit in with my receiving Communion? Was I still married? Was I ever married? If I was married, but my husband was not, what did that mean? Was that even possible? Was I committing adultery by wanting to have another relationship?
The Catholic Annulment Process
Divorced Catholics who wish to meet someone new must first undergo the annulment process. The annulment process, which promotes such healing in some people, added more pain to my experiences. My ex-husband filed for an annulment almost immediately after our divorce was finalized. In what seemed to be the blink of an eye, I had gone from thinking our family was near perfect to wondering if anything in my life had ever been what I thought. I had gone from being youth minister and stay at home wife and mother with a loving husband and four little boys to a single, pregnant woman facing a three day old baby and a text message letting me know my ex had filed for a divorce. We had very little child support and lost our home to foreclosure. I had trouble finding a new place to live with my five boys and little income. I had no job, then worked three jobs at once. I had no healthcare. We relied on area churches for food and Christmas gifts. The man who meant the most to me was suddenly the man who wanted to hurt me the most.
I didn’t understand any of it, and the annulment process only accentuated this confusion and pain. I hadn’t had a chance to catch my breath before being thrust headlong into the annulment process and was caught off guard by the letter addressed to my maiden name informing me of the action. The use of my maiden name felt as though my case had already been decided and that the marriage I had fought so hard for, that I had so believed in, had already been found nonexistent. Again, I was left questioning what was real and what wasn’t.
To make matters worse, cutbacks prevented me from obtaining an advocate. I had no understanding of the process and no help in figuring out what to do next. Local offices had closed, and meetings with diocesan officials were two and a half hours away which meant another hardship in time, money, and daycare. Perhaps the hardest part however was the cruelty I encountered in my tribunal judge. I still hurts to write that, but his questioning was far from compassionate as he cast accusations at me. I left feeling beyond worthless and sobbed the entire two and a half hour ride home.
This is the first part of my series. Before stopping this segment, I want to thank one of the most caring, considerate, compassionate priests I have ever met. After the horror of the tribunal, I asked to speak to a supervising priest and was awarded this blessing. I will talk about this experience a bit more tomorrow, but for now, I do not want my readers to think, as I did, that my tribunal experience is representative of all tribunal experiences or of all priests or even of all judges. The process is difficult, but the clergy usually tries to soften the painful edges, and I want to thank them for the difficult jobs the do.
Soon I will look at who was to blame for my feelings of isolation and why I didn’t turn to one of the more welcoming Christian churches, and then I will look at what I think is the calling of divorced Catholics and what is meant by developing a common language as I read it in 1 Corinthians chapter 14.
I would love to hear your story. How did divorce affect your standing in the church? Did it draw you closer? Push you farther away? How did you overcome negative feelings or are you still struggling? I am always amazed at the insight I gain from hearing from others.
I hope you join me and comment as I continue this short series.
17 thoughts on “Divorced Catholics and Catholic Annulment – My Story of Isolation”
Trying to obtain an annulment for me has not been healing. It is alienating, punitive, isolating, secretive, mysterious, dismissive and terrifying. I don’t just feel it; am being abandoned by the Church. Like they are saying don’t let the screen door hit you on the way out. It started out so hopeful. It offered hope and healing. It was like walking into a trap. I am stunned in disbelief. My previous life and experience in the Church never gave indication of this darkness. I can’t believe it.
I am so sorry to hear this and wish I’d seen and responded to your comment sooner. I think there are many who feel the same way, and faster or cheaper annulments are not the answer the Church thinks it needs! I do strongly feel there is a reason and value for seeking an annulment, but I agree about some of the darkness you’re facing right now and with some of the questions people have about the validity of the annulment once they’ve received it (myself included – I am truly not sure what to think but am leaving doors open for God to work in whatever way He sees fit!)
Two things I would say to you…1) Satan works anywhere on earth, even in the Church. Whether it is in the hearts on minds of those controlling your annulment process or in the darkness surrounding you, Satan is fighting for your soul (and the souls of those around you too!) almost as hard as the Lord is, but the Lord lets you make the decisions. Satan seeks to invade your every thought. God waits patiently for you to seek Him. 2) We don’t go to the Church for people, those who handle the annulment or even for the priest at our local levels. We go to Mass for the Eucharist and for the reverence we show to our Lord and Savior. Seek Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, in silence, away from others. Identify with the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, using each bead with its matching Bible verse, and read, reflect, and highlight or journal about your Bible. Use this time to allow God to open doors you wouldn’t have understood before.
Please feel free to reach out to me here or privately. Sometimes it takes a few days to get back to people, but I always pray.
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I am happy to find your blog, My story…well, I am Catholic, twice divorced now , 2 sets of kids.. my youngest are now 14 and 15 , I had the first marriage annulled… the 2nd marriage was not in the church and I recently called my pastor to ask about Annullment and he was very curt with me, so that made me confused. ” Why do you want an annullment” and I found myself explaining the Catholic belief to him , that if I wanted to marry again, I would need a nullity at least, right? Anyhow. Long story short… You asked how I am affected by all of this, Greatly. Ever since I was 18 I have had trouble feeling strong as a female and I love the church. Not sure what else to say but I do feel as if married women dislike being around me… same thing that happened to you. I accept it as God’s will and me and my kids just keep going fwd without many friends… without much understanding. That is all we can do. I feel it does cause me to be much more vulnerable to predatory ” friends” because I do not have any really decent friends, and do get lonely for company / But we do steer clear of getting involved with problem people… it is hard and sad … but we pray and try to work hard( I home school, and have a home business for the past 12 yrs) I am happy I found your blog!
Oh Jackie, I admire your strength and commitment. To have survived two divorces takes an incredible amount of courage and faith.
It’s amazing how God makes us see things differently after experiencing hardship. I have wondered about how I treated divorced women before I became one. I don’t think I thought badly of them or anything, but I had no understanding of their reality either. Now, I have noticed I socialize less, but I don’t know if it’s anything about married women not liking me. I think it’s more that I just don’t have time or energy. I find I have difficulty concentrating sometimes, and would rather have a lot of people I like but only a few close friends I really spend time with. I do understand about “predatory friends” too.
I’m sorry it took me so long to get back to you. I would love to hear more about what shook your confidence in your place in the church when you were 18, about your annulment process and the feelings that accompanied it (& why you need an annulment for a marriage not performed in the church), & any advice you’ve got on surviving two divorces. If you’d be interested in keeping in touch or in writing for Single Mom Smiling, please get back in touch with me either here or in a private email.
God Bless You and Your Children…
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