I am a die hard fan of the television show, “24”. The main character, Jack Bauer, played by Kiefer Sutherland, was a counter-terrorism hero, saving the country from nuclear disaster and international terror threats. One of the most shocking episodes was when, in order to prevent one terrorist from releasing chemical warfare in Los Angeles, the President had to agree to his list of demands, one which would be carried out by Jack, himself. That was the assasination of the CTU Regional Director, Ryan Chappelle.
It was shocking and heartbreaking because Bauer did not want to kill this man, but there was no way out. It was Chappelle’s sacrifice that would save the rest of society. And after the deed had been done, Jack suffered greviously for it. Although this story was fictional, it reminded me of a very real tragedy happening in reality. The many Catholics who are forced to end their marriages because their spouse is an abuser.
I’m not talking about people who look for and use the slightest excuse to get a divorce or those who feel that falling out of love is a valid reason to divorce. I’m talking about a spouse and children living in a situation that is gravely dangerous to their physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
Since the start of my support program, Journey of Hope, for separated and divorced Catholics back in 2001, I’ve come to know many spouses who have had to face the reality that they had to remove themselves and their children from the abuse taking place and have suffered terribly for it, especially at the hands of other people who automatically labled them as “failures.”
If you are one of these spouses who has faced this decision, or if you are coming to terms with doing this in the future, I’d like to offer you some ways to cope:
The separation of spouses, while maintaining the marriage bond, can be legitimate in certain cases provided for by canon law. If civil divorce remains the only possible way of ensuring certain legal rights, the care of the children, or the protection of inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral offense (#2383).
Therefore, if you have been or are now faced with having to separate from your spouse, know that you are doing the appropriate thing for you and your children.
2. You Cannot And Should Not Be An Enabler. If you make excuses for your spouse’s abusive behavior, you are allowing the abuse to continue. You have a responsibility, especially if you are a parent, to stop the harm being done. Separating does not automatically mean a divorce will ensue, and it creates an opportunity for healing to begin for everyone involved.
3. Your Children Are Getting A Distorted Idea Of What Marriage Is. One of the reasons why divorce is so prevelant in society today is because our children are not getting the right ideas about what marriage really is. Marriage is supposed to be a sacred covenant where a man and a woman love, respect, and serve each other. Children who see their mother abused will grow up with a distorted idea of what marriage is and will likely contribute to this breakdown of society by abusing their spouses as well, or not ever getting married at all.
4. You Cannot Control What Other People Think, Say, Or Do. Sometimes, you have to do what you have to do, and you can’t worry about someone else’s approval. If your parish priest or spiritual director has counseled you that you are doing the right thing, do your best to explain to others who deserve an explanation, and then don’t worry if they understand or not. The most important thing is worrying about what God thinks. If you know you are doing the right thing and you can stand before God with a clear conscience, that’s all that matters.
My heart goes out to anyone who is facing this situation for it is indeed a terribly difficult one. Please count on my prayers for you and feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.