Program meets needs of divorced, separated

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By JOHN FRANKO 

Staff Writer

There are two groups of people who particularly need the support of the church, said Deacon Ralph Bachner. People who have lost a loved one to death and those who are struggling with separation and divorce.

But while the losses are similar, he found that there was often little ministry to the latter.

He addressed the issue by coordinating a program for the separated and divorced at St. Kilian Parish in Adams/Cranberry townships. The 13-week session follows the DivorceCare model, which examines areas such as loneliness, depression, anger, financial concerns and keeping the best interests of children in mind. It concludes by moving into reconciliation and forgiveness. If reconciliation is not possible, it strives for an amicable relationship. That is important, Haskins noted, because couples can rack up huge legal bills if the split is messy.

The sessions include video presentations, discussion and a workbook. The program is one of a number that have been initiated in parishes throughout the diocese.

“We try to meet them where the needs are,” Deacon Bachner said.

In starting the program, he solicited the help of Ray Haskins, who is divorced.

Haskins spoke of the dilemma separated and divorced people face when it comes to the church. They need its support, but they feel awkward when it comes to attending liturgies and other events.

“People think that when they walk into church there’s a big red ‘D’ on their forehead,” he said, in noting that much of the stigma is self-imposed.

Deacon Bachner pointed out that it isn’t uncommon for separated or divorced spouses to be at the same Mass in different areas of a church, creating an uncomfortable atmosphere for them. 

A misconception, he noted, is that the separated and divorced cannot receive the sacraments. The reality is that, unless they remarry (without an annulment), they haven’t gone against the faith.

“The misconception is once they get divorced, they think divorce is a sin and you can’t come to church anymore. And that’s not the case at all,” Haskins said.

When it comes to divorce, Deacon Bachner said, one spouse usually feels the pain more than the other. The person who initiates the action is usually ready to move on, while the other is often “blind-sided.” This can lead to people going into “limbo” for several years. They avoid making the decisions that need to be made, such as downsizing a home, etc. Some who come to the sessions are still not ready to discuss their situation.

“You see raw emotion like you’ve never never seen it before,” Haskins said.

Deacon Bachner said that some people have gone through the program more than once. He spoke of the importance of having them share both their joys and sorrows. He also refuted the perception that the affluence of an area, or it’s people, is a safeguard against matrimonial heartache.

“We live in a world where we see other people as having this wonderful life,” he said. “It’s not usually the case. People are struggling in many different ways and many different areas. You just don’t know a person’s story.”

Both men said that each of the stories of those who go through the program are unique. Some may forgive their spouses for infidelity over and over again, while others will leave without a discussion and make no attempt at reconciliation. And in the age of social media, some spouses post their new “conquests,” knowing that the other person is following what they do.

The silver lining, Deacon Bachner said, is that “we know that we can get them to a point that they’ll be better than when they began the program.”

He recognized the practical experience that Haskins brings to the program. He is a witness that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and there can be happiness once again.

But Haskins noted: “Someone told me that I’ve got a lot of wisdom. I wish I got that wisdom from a book.” While his marriage broke up in 1994, he still uses the program to aid in his healing process. 

People often take him aside to ask questions, Haskins noted, and the relationships continue after the program ends. 

Deacon Bachner said the group goes to dinner after the final session and contact information is exchanged. The people know they have a support group they can call on. He noted that people facing a separation or divorce should hear other opinions and exchange thoughts. They may not be thinking clearly and need sound ideas.

Other benefits of the program, the deacon said, are that it builds a stronger relationship with Christ, strengthens prayer lives, and leads to deeper involvement in parish and church life.

“Those are opportunities to heal as well,” he said.

St. Kilian usually presents the program twice a year. The next one is set to begin Jan. 31 and run through April 25. More information is available by contacting Deacon Bachner at 724-625-1665, ext. 2013, or e-mailing rbachner@saintkilian.org.

Information on other local programs is available at www.DivorceCare.org