sounds like a contradiction in terms, but there arc more of them than most Catholics imagine. and their lives are a mass of contradictions difficult to evaluate in any terms.
Mary "X" is such a person. After 10 years of marriage and three children she divorced her husband so that he — not a Catholic — could marry the woman by whom he had another child.
The problems in the marriage itself are another story. Suffice it to say that Mary "X" receives no money for herself from her husband but £7.50 a week for the three children. Although she has a little money of her own, her financial situation is to say the least, precarious.
But it is not the lack of money, or the burden of coping alone that afflicts her most. It is the fact that she is a Catholic and divorced that burdens her more than anything else.
"People ask 'How did you manage that?' " Mary said, "and you have to go through the dreary explanation that although divorced in the eyes of the State you are still married as far as the Church is concerned.
"One's first feeling on becoming divorced — I already had a judicial separation — is one of sheer disbelief, almost physical shock. Although you know what is coming you feel as though a part of you is missing — what I imagine it must feel like to have a limb amputated. All this — even though life had become impossible with your partner.
"After the court proceedings and the unreality of lunch with my solicitor I found myself near Brompton Oratory, the church where my parents had been married. I went in and tried to pray but could not.
"I could only cry . . . for myself? for my children? for my disastrous marriage? I suppose it was all of these. It was, I think, also for the love that I had wanted to give my husband but which he had thrown back in my face time and again and which, in a way, I still wanted him to have. You cannot live with someone for ten years even if unhappily, without some sort of love existing."
She divorced her husband, more for his sake than her own but has been told by a parish priest who knew and understood her situation that it might be possible for her to obtain an annulment.
"We started proceedings on the first rung of the ladder," she went on, "but the Church's attitude was so uncompromising and intimidating and the burden of proof, proof, proof, so exhausting that I gave up."
While admitting that hard cases make bad law, Mary "X" is also convinced that the Church is over-concerned with maintaining the letter of the law rather than its spirit.
"I have often asked myself whether it is morally better to suffer the personal aloneness and social isolation resulting from the Church's rules on divorce and remarriage and the problems of children being brought up by a single parent, or whether it would be better and altogether more Positive an attitude to allow remarriage within the Church.
"Whatever happens now I know that to be a Catholic and divorced carries great stigma and disgrace. The scar turns into a running sore sometimes and as far as I can see there is no cure.
"Only worth-while distraction — such as my own particular one of studying with a view to teaching — can alleviate one's ghastly sense of failure. A great palliative for anyone finding themselves in a similar situation is to do something positive like this. It is the only way to survive."
If any other divorced Catholics read this article, Mary "X" would like to hear from them with a view to sharing the burden. Letters will be forwarded.