I was married to a Catholic many years ago. I was practising, he was not. He was still a good man, but had an unhappy cradle Catholic childhood and so was very sour on the church. For other sad reasons, our marriage crumbled, despite marriage counselling; I am the one who pulled the plug.
This brought me great sadness and I felt like a terrible failure. After a number of years of staying away, I went back to church to confess all to the parish priest. I knew I could no longer receive communion, for reasons I will sadly note shortly. He gave me absolution with penance, and I was able, thankfully, to participate in communion again with a reasonably clear conscience (still feel like a failure, though).
I do not want to seek an annulment, as I considered the marriage to be a valid one at the time we celebrated that sacrament, and still do, though the union became untenable afterwards. My spouse did not take his faith seriously at all; perhaps that is grounds to consider the marriage not sacramental.
But wait. There’s more. Another far more grim reason to consider the marriage invalid from the outset, and one that marks me as a hypocrite of the worst kind.
Before we were married, I got pregnant. And I had an abortion.
When I decided that I would become a murderer, with my spouse’s approval (or total indifference, really), part of me died along with the child. The circumstances surrounding this act, and the effects it has to this day, are for another time and place. I did not confess this at the time, so I was under a latae sententiae excommunication at the time we were wed- in a state of mortal sin. I suppose he was, too, for having gone along with it. The confessions we made before the wedding were imperfect. I was so overwhelmed by the magnitude of my sin that I felt I could rely on God’s forgiveness only, and could not bear confessing it to a priest. I was a coward.
I have since confessed the crime of taking an innocent life (at the same time that I explained the divorce business to the priest), and have received absolution, though it does little to repair the harm done, and far too late to erase the mess I have caused matrimonially.
The circumstances of my meeting with the priest, my motivations, and the fact that he absolved me, seem like a “good conscience” solution, or what is known as “internal forum”. I am unclear on whether a priest has to have special dispensation to distribute this particular kind of mercy. Is it a formal undertaking, or can it occur within the scope of a normal, if lengthy and traumatic, confession? I guess I should have asked, but I didn’t know that such things existed, was not expecting absolution in the first place, and was quite overwhelmed by the act of forgiveness.
In any case, I do not know if I still have to get an annulment. I do not particularly want one, or think I deserve one. If I had decided to remain celibate and alone for the rest of my life, which perhaps would have been appropriate punishment, I could still take communion- which is all I really want. But, in my usual fashion, I have managed to complicate things even more.
Two years ago, I met a kind, loving, gentle, very Christian man. I considered myself unmarriageable, but he persisted, despite my sorry past. We wed recently, in a civil ceremony. An extremely upright character, he remained a virgin, after a great deal of effort from both of us, until our wedding night.
He is not a Catholic.
Now, I definitely know I’m not allowed to take communion, which pains me immensely. But on what grounds? In a state of mortal sin because I’ve had relations with a man, legally my husband, but unrecognised because our union is not a Catholic sacramental one? In a state of mortal sin because I have not had my first marriage officially annulled, and therefore I am an adulteress? Both??
He is not going to convert to Catholicism, nor am I going to leave my church, despite the mess I have made of my relationship to it. Our bond actually developed after prolonged theological discourse, during which he tried desperately to get me to come over to his denomination, and failed. The respect we found for each other despite our differences is the mainstay of our marriage. We have both become better Christians, and stronger in our faith, and have learned an immense amount, because of the mirrors we hold up to one another; they dismantle the smug complacency and hypocrisy that unchallenged people can become prey to. I know Pope Benedict has warned us of the dangers of relativism, but I think the damage caused by divisiveness and dogmatic elitism is far worse.
Before we married, I confided in a fellow parishioner that this would probably be my last communion. When I told her that my intended would not convert, she looked pityingly at me and said “MrsLeviathan, you shouldn’t do this. You deserve only the very best”. That a person should judge another as hopelessly sub-par simply on the basis of what church they attended, without even knowing them, sickened me. Because this is exactly what I suffered from his family and church’s side of the fence initially, what I decried as unjust and judgemental and superficial and unchristian, hit me like a blow to the face when I heard it coming from my own church. It wasn’t exactly a surprise, but it still hurt a lot.
Am I still a Catholic at all? What do I need to do to be worthy to share supper at Christ’s table? There is no part of my heart that He doesn’t see. Would He really turn me away? He is the bread, but the church is the altar upon which it is served, and I am not welcome. The healing that one finds in the eucharist far surpasses that which can be found anywhere else, for me. Sitting in the pews while others participate, feeling like a leper for things past, things already confessed, and things that I am unable to consider wrong in the present, is making me feel bitter and hopeless, as well as criminal.