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Best Practices for Outreach to Divorced Catholics

Continuing to build the bridge

Our Lady of the Lake has taken the first steps in forming our ministry of outreach to divorced Catholics. I’m taking this opportunity to encourage all parishioners to pray in regard to this effort. First that the Lord may guide us. Second, that the Lord awaken in the hearts of those who are estranged from the faith because of circumstances surrounding a divorce a desire for peace and reconciliation. Third, that every adult parishioner ask God to point out how they can assist in our efforts to build a bridge to divorced Catholics and walk with them on the journey to God’s grace.

Bridge at Ponte de la Reina, Spain, on the Way of St. James

Vincent Frese, who is our mentor in this ministry, published a very powerful letter to Pope Francis and the bishops of the world in October 2014 offering his advice for the Church in ministering to divorced Catholics. That letter can be found in its entirety at his website. I would like to quote a part of this letter as a way of summarizing what we need to accomplish in our own outreach ministry to make “ a divorce recovery ministry a standard offering at the parish level.”  This is what needs to happen:

  • Embrace Catholics from the earliest stages of divorce, and throughout the following recovery, rebuilding, and renewal phases, where they can experience the compassionate and merciful love of Christ in the context of the sacraments and the Catholic faith. The more welcome divorcing Catholics feel from the very first time they approach the Church, and throughout their entire divorce experience, the less likely they will ever leave. Plus, the more engaged they are with the Church, the greater the opportunity to minister to them and help them stay close to the sacraments—the very thing that will bring them the greatest healing. (If you have to go through a divorce, thank God you are Catholic!)
  • Provide a place where they are made to feel welcome in the Church and are encouraged to participate in church life, especially the Mass and the sacraments.
  • Provide spiritual guidance, by a priest or other qualified person, to resolve any issues specific to their circumstances that might inhibit their receiving the sacraments.
  • Assist with providing counseling, or referral to a qualified Catholic counselor. Sadly, it is far too common that Catholics experiencing separation or divorce are referred to non-Catholic counselors, who, while certainly trying to do good, don’t support the Catholic beliefs regarding the permanence of marriage. As a result, in an indirect way, the Church is contributing to Catholics leaving the faith.
  • Be a resource to teach the divorced Catholic about the annulment process and answer any questions they might have to eliminate confusion and mitigate any potential feelings of rejection.
  • Provide long-term support to divorced Catholics. Divorce recovery takes time—often a long time. The Church needs to accompany divorced Catholics on this uncertain and painful journey so they can experience full recovery. Further, this is another opportunity to form and catechize Catholics in their faith. Recovering from divorce is typically a time of reassessment of life’s meaning and purpose. Being reintroduced to the beauty and truth of the Catholic faith offers the divorcee the opportunity to realign their life around this faith. This will create more vibrant, committed, and joyful apostles, elevating the entire Body of Christ.
  • Provide similar levels of support and outreach to single parents as the Church does for unwed mothers. Divorce is devastating financially. This affects single parents in particular as they often face significant financial hardship raising children with greatly reduced income. This is further compounded if child support payments are delayed or stopped. This financial pressure often causes single parents to seek out remarriage as a means to alleviate this pressure and provide security for their children. This motivation is a cause for marriage outside the Church. It is not uncommon for Catholics that have pursued this route, to want to return to the Church once the initial financial uncertainty has passed. Providing support and outreach from the start of a single-parenting situation will make the Church a place of refuge, instead of a relationship outside the Church. Further, marriages established with these types of unhealthy motivations have a high failure rate and perpetuate the cycle of divorce.
  • Provide support for kids experiencing divorce. Parents will often seek help for their children to cope with divorce before seeking help for themselves. If the level of divorce support in Catholic churches is poor for adults, it is even worse for children. This forces Catholics to seek help outside the church, typically from Protestant churches. As mentioned above, Protestant churches wealth of programs draws divorced Catholics away from the Church. Offering vital divorce support programs for adults and children will keep them close to the faith.

In the coming weeks, we will be providing more information and opportunities to our parishioners as we enlist their help in starting the conversations that lead to healing and reconciliation. I think Linda Bukalski said it so well in her talks at mass the other week reminding us that Jesus Christ himself modeled a conversation with someone whose marital life was in shambles.  Jesus was thirsting for her faith. The Samaritan woman had no idea that she had anything to give to Jesus. But she did. In that conversation Jesus awakened in this woman the deepest longing in her heart that she never knew existed, her longing for unity with God.