“I earnestly call upon pastors and the whole community of the faithful to help the divorced and with solicitous care, to make sure that they do not consider themselves as separated from the Church… Let the Church pray for them, encourage them and show herself a merciful mother and thus sustain them in faith and hope.” – Pope John Paul II, On the Family , #84
According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, an estimated 28 percent of American Catholic adults who have ever been married have since divorced.
The Pew Research Center found in 2015 that among U.S. Catholics who have ever been divorced, roughly a quarter say they or their former spouse have sought an annulment from the Catholic Church.
These statistics represent a significant number of Catholic couples and their children who have a need of pastoral accompaniment and care. Often, they feel abandoned, estranged, and disconnected from the sacramental life of the church and faith community as the family transitions through and adjusts to the divorce.
Like a death, divorce is characterized by feelings of loss and grief. Children are often confused and are not always able to directly express and process their feelings. Adolescents will often act their feelings out. It is common for physical and mental health symptoms to develop as well.
As a Church, it is important to understand the impact of divorce, to be equipped to pastorally meet the emotional and spiritual needs of divorced Catholics and their families, and to accompany them to a place of healing and hope.
Common factors that impact children experiencing divorce:
- Poor Performance in Academics
- Loss of Interest in Social Activity
- Emotionally Sensitive
- Feelings of Guilt
- Introduction of Destructive Behavior
- Increase in Mental and Physical Health Problems
- Loss of Identity and Faith in Marriage and Family Unit
The adult grief process of divorce or separation:
The grief process generally includes stages of denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and acceptance.
- Must grieve the loss of the marriage by embracing each stage to fully heal and recover.
- The first time through the grief cycle is usually the longest, typically 12 to 24 months.
- Repeating the grief cycle is common, with repeat cycles are typically much shorter.
- Common triggers to the grief cycle include events and occasions such as anniversaries, holidays, music, locations and weddings.
- Will not necessarily go through the grief stages in order.
- Will experience some stages more intensely than others.
- A warning sign of being stuck in grief is experiencing one stage intensely for an especially long period of time (six months or more)
- Have successfully worked through the grieving process when beginning to plan for the future.
Here are a few pastoral resources to assist and equip ministry to divorced Catholics and their families:
Divorce recovery parish programs
When Parents Divorce or Separate - A Catholic Guide for Kids
Now What Do I Do? - A Guide to Help Teenagers with Their Parents' Separation or Divorce
Making Your Way After Your Parents' Divorce - Aimed at young adult and adult children of divorce, this is also a valuable resource for counselors, ministers, and religious educators