MARGARET IS A 34-year-old woman from Clifton in Bristol. She is divorced and has two children from her marriage. Her marriage was not annulled and for the past three years she has been going to Mass regularly, where she takes communion and she finds that it has provided her with support and care.
"At my church they are aware of my situation and they have been very kind, there are other people there who have been through it and know what it's like." Margaret is concerned that if she were to meet a new man and enter into a relationship and marriage she would not be allowed to receive the Eucharist. "My church life has become very important to me and I want my children to grow up with the church's teachings....I have avoided getting involved with anyone else because I didn't want to confuse them but now I feel that it would be nice to meet a good man who'll take care of us..but I would have to think carefully about forgoing communion."
Margaret's dilemma is shared by some of the almost two million divorced Catholics in Britain today.
For Catholics, divorce carries with it the stigma of a bar from communion if they are unable to get their. marriages annulled and wish to enter into a new one. The Church's unforgiving stance on divorce came under attack last week when Fr George Lyons told the Herald that the Church's attitude towards divorce showed "silent disapproval and tut-tutting... a form of institutionalised violence which goes to the very core of English Catholicism." Fr Lyons called for more tolerance towards divorced Catholics up to and including communion for those who have an invalid remarriage. Meanwhile, Cardinal Hume announced that he was celebrating a noonday Mass for divorced and separated Catholics on 12 May.
Cristine Hacknett from the Association of Separated and Divorced Catholics, points out that in her experience "Catholics take their marriages very seriously and those who have had to leave their spouses have done so for very good reasons." However these very good reasons may not be acceptable grounds for an annulment.
Regarding the problem of full communion for those who are divorced Cristine insists that there have been many legal separations and that there are many "waiting in the wings" to get divorced; but that they are waiting for a more tolerant attitude towards divorce from the Church. Cristine believes that people should be discouraged from rushing into divorce, however; if things do go irretrievably wrong it is unfair to allow them just one shot at happiness.
This is certainly true in Margaret's case; she explained that her "family are very Catholic and the news that my marriage was over came as a big shock to my parents. They always taught me to believe that when you got married it was for good and that if there were any problems you just got on with it and sorted them out." However, her husband's drinking, mainly due to pressures from work, became more and more difficult to deal with. "I wasn't sure how to handle it. He became abusive and very withdrawn, and he seemed to lose interest in the children." Her husband tried and failed several times to stop drinking but by 1988 the situation had become intolerable and Margaret decided to leave.
"I definitely feel guilty, I still think that I could've helped him get through it but I had to think of my children's safety."
Mary Corbett, director of Marriage Care, is sympathetic to people in Margaret's situation and she would encourage them to keep in touch with their church "we want to keep the doors open for compassion." She is keen to emphasize that "people really must make use of the resources available, like counselling, so that they can be helped." Lord Mackay's Family Law Bill emphasises the need for mediation and marriage guidance. And the British. Social Attitudes research shows that there is a need for it as only 2% of married people first seek help from the marriage guidance counsellor, while 60% go to
family and friends.
Mary Corbett points out that Marriage Care's agenda is to "make marriages work the first time around." While this is obviously the most desirable outcome the reality is that there are many people who are involved in truly unworkable marriages, who wish for nothing more than to be given the opportunity to begin with a clean slate. Margaret said that if "I had known how it was going to be I wouldn't have got married, but who would have thought a person could change so much?"