Saturday, 5 July 2014
One bright morning as Father Ignatius was leaving St Vincent Church after Mass and making his way to the Parish House where a hearty breakfast prepared by his housekeeper, Mrs Davenport, was waiting for him, he was stopped by Roger Farmer, a wealthy parishioner and generous benefactor.
"May I have a moment please, Father?" asked Roger.
The priest visualised for a moment the appetising breakfast waiting for him, especially the toast and ginger marmalade, and then, forcing a smile he nodded and ushered the businessman into the house.
Moments later they were sitting in the reception room over coffee and biscuits.
"Father, I have cheated on my wife!" said Roger.
The priest nodded and said nothing, encouraging the man to go on.
"This is not a Confession Father," continued Roger, "in Confession you have to feel sorry and resolve not to sin again. But I intend to keep on sinning against my wife!"
Father Ignatius remained calm and said a quick silent prayer; a habit he got into years ago whenever he needed Divine inspiration.
"You see Father," hesitated Roger, "Penelope and I have not got on for a while now. We just grew apart. In time I got friendly with someone at work. Penelope knows about it and in any case she's been having an affair for a while now. We've remained together for the sake of the children; but now they're grown up we're considering divorce."
"And how do you wish me to help you?" asked the priest, more as an attempt to keep the conversation going rather than intervening at this stage.
"That's the problem, Father," Roger said, "I don't know. I realise that I can't confess and take Communion, not if I intend being with my new lover, and I don't know how you and the Church would view divorce."
Father Ignatius cleaned his spectacles from imaginary dust, a trick he had learnt to gain him more thinking time.
"God's view on divorce is clear enough," he said eventually, "and so is the Church's teachings on the matter.
"But the Church has to be practical, as well as instructive. There are times when sadly the bond of marriage is broken beyond repair.
"I've often asked myself whether marriage is meant to be forever. If a marriage relationship is violent for instance, involving crime perhaps, does God really intend that the couple remain together till death? Believe me, Roger, I've seen many such relationships and I felt that they should not continue. But yours isn't such a marriage is it?"
Roger shook his head. "No ... Penelope and I are quite friendly. We just grew apart and have each gone our separate ways over the last few years or so. We've lived together because of the children but each has become friendly with someone else. We now want to make it formal, divorce and get married again!"
Father Ignatius said nothing for a short while and then added, "In Civil Law this is straight-forward enough! There's nothing stopping you from doing what you propose.
"But you can't expect me or the Church to condone what you have been doing in the past. At some point in time you cheated on your wife. At that point she did not know about it and therefore you committed adultery against her.
"Later on, when she knew of your affair with another woman, whether she agreed to it or not, you still committed adultery in the eyes of God.
"That is the past, and whether you confess it or not, we need to look at the future. You now intend to formalise a wrong by divorcing and marrying again. The Catholic Church has strict views on the matter. In certain circumstances marriages can be annulled but this can take time and require extensive investigations and certain conditions to be met ..."
"I may have sinned against my wife in the past" interrupted Roger, "but this is now over. We've discussed it openly and my wife and I forgive each other. There's no ill-feelings between us and we both now want to go our separate ways. We're still friendly and we've promised to invite each other to our new weddings.
"Why is the Church standing in our way? Does God not want us to be happy? At least we're honest with each other. The children understand what is happening and to a great extent we'll remain a family. Albeit not living together."
"I am not sure what you expect of me," answered the priest calmly, "as you say, I cannot absolve your sin if you intend to commit it again. I fully understand that marriages sometimes break-down, and although I may not like it I have to accept that fact. Just as I have to accept that sometimes priests and nuns leave their vocations for a new life.
"You are free to divorce and indeed marry again in a Civil ceremony. As for marrying in a Catholic Church I am willing to take your case up with the Bishop, but I do not want to raise your hopes too highly.
"However, more important than the Church is your relationship with God. For it is He who is the ultimate and final Judge; not the Church or its priests.
"At some point in time you'll need to make your peace with God. A priest can easily absolve one's sins but only God can see deep in our souls and our true intentions.
"Whilst I do not condone your situation and that of your wife, I understand how, over time, a once loving couple can grow apart to the point where they go their separate ways as they meet someone else.
"This is not too dissimilar to our relationship with God. We may well have loved Him at some time in our lives, but if we grow too complacent and self-reliant, we may well drift away from Him and in time meet someone else all too eager to tempt us away from His salvation.
"I shall pray for you and Penelope and your children too. I shall discuss this with the Bishop and come back to you. In the meantime, perhaps it would be a good idea if we meet together with Penelope and discuss this further. Go in Peace!"
Roger went away with a problem un-solved but with the love and understanding of a caring priest.