At a Lenten prayer service, Cardinal Dolan told separated and divorced Catholics that God makes a continuing effort to cleanse, purify and restore His people. Baptism is the first cleansing, he said, “but He is constantly wanting to wash us clean in a bunch of ways any time we ask.”
The cardinal offered a Scripture reflection and led the March 5 morning service in the chapel at St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie. More than 75 people participated in the event sponsored by the archdiocesan Office of Family Life.
Cardinal Dolan likened God’s cleansing work to the multiyear restoration project at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which returned the church to its former radiance and sparkle after years of grime were removed. During his nearly 46 years as a priest, the cardinal said he has encountered separated and divorced faithful Catholics who experienced confusion, anger, disappointment, isolation and resentment. Some described feeling “filthy and dirty,” he said, which is not what God wants for them.
“God wants to restore you. He looks to you to be really and truly a stack of glistening, beautiful, purely driven snow,” the cardinal said.
Reflecting on Ash Wednesday, the cardinal cited the ongoing conflict within humans between evil and good, dark and light, and isolation and restoration. “There’s not much we can do about the battle, as long as that second side always triumphs,” he said. “And God wants that side to dominate for all eternity.”
Carmen Noschese, archdiocesan coordinator of Separated and Divorced ministry in the Office of Family Life, told Catholic New York the cardinal’s welcome presence was a recognition that separated and divorced Catholics “are on his radar,” she said.
“Separated and divorced is something of a taboo topic within the Church,” she said. “We need to talk about it. It is a reality that not all marriages, even those blessed by God, will end up lasting a lifetime.”
“Some people leave the Church because they don’t feel welcome. Catholics have to feel that the Church is welcoming them back,” she said.
She said the ministry was established by late Cardinal John O’Connor to offer comfort, hope, healing and joy after a tumultuous experience. There are 12 parish-based groups of Separated and Divorced Catholics in the archdiocese that meet once or twice a month to listen and support participants.
Helen Piltman is the longtime facilitator of the group at St. John the Evangelist parish in Goshen. “We don’t counsel or tell people what to do. We listen, offer compassion and help people make decisions. We let them know that God wants them to be a vital part of the Church,” she told CNY. “Sometimes people think they can’t receive the sacraments and feel they’re not welcome in the Church.”
Ms. Piltman said her group also uses a 12-week program, “The Catholic’s Divorce Survival Guide,” as a basis for discussion.
One participant who asked not to be identified told CNY her parish’s Separated and Divorced group “was welcoming and helped me process what had happened so I could heal, help others and not repeat what I did.”
“It took me a long time to go back to the Church because I didn’t think I was worthy or welcome because I had broken the sacrament of marriage,” she said.
“But I found that God still loves me. I’m loved by the Church.”
Information on Separated and Divorced Ministry: www.archny.org/family-life/separated-and-divorced or (646) 794-3194.
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