Divorce and Abortion: Roadblocks to Faith?

Conference Considers Church's Role in Healing

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By Carrie Gress

ROME, APRIL 7, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The pain and suffering caused by abortion and divorce keep many from pursuing a full life of faith, concluded a conference seeking pastoral situations for children of divorce and parents of aborted children.

The two-day congress, titled “Oil on the Wounds: A Response to the Aftermath of Abortion and Divorce,” was organized by the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family and the Knights of Columbus. It ended Saturday.

Victoria Thorn, founder of Project Rachel, told those in attendance that "[t]he brokenness caused by abortion keeps millions of people from fully entering into their faith journey, from fully experiencing the God-life within."

"The wound of abortion" Thorn explained, "is both spiritual and human and must be resolved in both realms to be healed." The woman who has had an abortion "believes that she has committed the unforgivable sin. That is the core of the spiritual wound. She is a mother who knows she is responsible for the death of her child; a child she never got to birth, to see and to hold. That is the core of the human wound."

Mother Mary Agnes Donovan of the Sisters of Life in New York said, "The trouble with every abortion is that it profoundly and inescapably works havoc on an individual, a unique person, who fits no mold, falls into no organized category. If she has ever had a scintilla of faith, or religious conviction, or moral education, she is crushed with guilt -- a guilt that may be driven deep into the unconsciousness by whatever forces are at work -- but which is then a cancer in the very soul."

Division of divorce

On the topic of faith and children of divorce, Elizabeth Marquardt, the vice president of the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute of American Values in New York, explained that research shows that "the grown children of divorce say there's no such thing as a 'good' divorce. Even amicable or 'good' divorces require children to grow up between two worlds, focused alone to make sense of their parents' often dramatically different beliefs, values and ways of living."

"When parents divorce," she continued, "the tough job of dealing with the conflict between their worlds does not go away. Instead, divorce hands the job of making sense of the two worlds to the child alone. The result is that divorce sows lasting inner conflict in children's lives. This inner conflict burdens children, making them grow up too soon."

Children of divorce, Marquardt added, "feel like the divided selves, torn between their parents' worlds. They feel much more alone. They become guarded and often secretive. They don't know where they belong. They feel like they have to figure out the big questions in life alone. They struggle with huge losses that impact their spiritual lives. And they do all this in isolation and silence, because no one ever talks about the job they've been given, to make sense alone of their parents' two different worlds."

As a result of their two worlds, "children of divorce are much less likely to have had consistent involvement in a religious faith when growing up," and that as a group they "are much less religious than their peers from intact families," Marquardt explained.

Marquardt also found in her research that many children of divorce have a difficult time understanding God as a parent because of their own estranged parental relationships. For those who do have faith, Marquardt said, they "are more likely to say that their relationship with God is an outgrowth of lacking a loving father or parent when they were growing up." Their relationship with God fills a void, Marquardt explained. "They turn to God for love and guidance in place of an absent father or parent, or a lonely home life."

"Yet it is clear," concluded Marquardt, "whether they become more or less religious, the spiritual journeys of children of divorce consistently reflect stories of loss, pain and loneliness."

Healing steps

Marquardt says churches can be a tremendous help to children and families affected by divorce, not by avoiding the topic because it makes some uncomfortable, but by discussing it from the pulpit. "It is fully possible to be compassionate to children of divorce and emphasize the importance of marriage while, at the same time, affirming and supporting single and divorced parents."

As for abortion, Thorn underlined that "the sin of abortion has become so pervasive, so overwhelming today that it is imperative that the Church not only continue its prophetic stance in protecting unborn human lives, but also call to healing the millions who have been drawn into the evil of abortion, willingly or under duress, knowledgeable or ignorant of the reality, extending to them God's forgiveness and healing."

"Women who experience healing through God's mercy and love do not have more abortions. Men who are restored after abortion, work diligently to end abortion as do the women. Indeed," Thorn concluded, "these people become the cornerstones of the Culture of Life."