Monday, January 28, 2008

Another Hidden Cost of Divorce

Yet another reason to avoid divorce. "The New Alone," an editorial by Elizabeth Marquardt in Sunday's Washington Post "Outlook" section, explains how divorce makes the lives of elderly Americans and their adult children even more lonely and complicated as they grow older. In Ms. Marquardt's words,
Reduced birth rates, widespread divorce, single-parent childbearing, remarriage and what we might call "re-divorce" are poised to usher in an era of uncertain obligation and complicated grief for the many adults confronting the aging and dying of their divorced parents, stepparents and ex-stepparents. And compared with the generations before them, these dying parents and parent figures will be far less likely to find comfort and help in the nearby presence of grown daughters and sons.
Research she has conducted with Professor Norval Glenn of the University of Texas-Austin indicates that it is divorce itself - not merely the aftermath - that strains parent-child relationships. Contrary to the notion of the "good divorce," research conducted by Marquardt and Glenn indicates that even so-called amicable divorces can be especially traumatic for children, since their parents' decision to divorce often catches them completely by surprise. (I can attest to this from my own experience.)

A generation of children raised during the years when American divorce rates exploded is now faced with the prospect of a grief process further complicated by divorce.
...[I]n a divorced family, the parent who has recently died may have symbolically "died" a long time ago for the surviving parent, while for their child, both parents have been very much alive. When parents are married, there is the possibility of shared grief. A father loses a wife at the same time that a grown child loses a mother. Shared grief offers comfort and can draw remaining members of the family into a new kind of closeness. By contrast, adults from divorced families grieve the death of a parent alone. Even if the surviving parent is kind and loving, that grief cannot be shared in the way it could be if he or she had still been married to the deceased.
Of course, the situation is even further complicated when you add the stepparent factor. In some cases, like that of Ms. Marquardt, her grief at the death of her beloved ex-stepfather was short-circuited in a sense because no one around her recognized her loss. In other cases, adult children are faced with the prospect of caring for widowed stepparents to whom their obligations are unclear.

Her concluding comments suggest that what she has observed is only perhaps the tip of the iceberg:
Much of the expert literature on death and dying implicitly assumes an intact family experience. It assumes that people grow up with their mothers and fathers, who are married to each other when one of them dies. Some scholars are beginning to investigate aging and dying in families already visited by divorce. But most scholars and the public still give scant attention to the loss of other parent figures or to the deeply complicating, long-lasting effects of family fragmentation.

Nearly 40 percent of today's adults have experienced their parents' divorce. Increasing numbers of younger adults were born to parents who never married each other at all. I am certain, because I'm one of those living it, that the painful contours of the new American way of death will be discovered and defined by my own generation for years to come.
Sobering words indeed. But not, I believe, an excuse for despair. The prospect of loneliness in one's twilight years may instead serve as an inducement for couples tempted by divorce to work things out instead. Couples tempted to play at being a family by having children without benefit of marriage can add this to the growing list of reasons that this is a very bad idea.

Note: You will have to sign on to the Post website to access their archives, but the service is free, at least for recent articles.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Jesuit Stumbling Blocks

The latest news from Rome is encouraging for those of us who care about doctrinal orthodoxy. The Vatican news agency, Zenit, reports that the head of the Vatican office in charge of religious orders spoke recently to a gathering of Jesuits and urged them, in effect, to clean up their act, especially with regard to obedience to the Church’s teachings.

In his homily at a mass on Monday, Jan. 7, opening the 35th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, Cardinal Franc Rode, Prefect of The Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, exhorted the assembled Jesuits to recover the legacy of their founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola: “It is with sorrow and anxiety that I see that the sentire cum ecclesia [thinking with the Church] of which your founder frequently spoke is diminishing even in some members of religious families. The Church is waiting for a light from you to restore the sensus Ecclesiae.”

Cardinal Rode described his “sorrow and anxiety” about other matters as well, including “a growing distancing from the Hierarchy” of the Church contrary to Ignatius’ formula for the order, “to serve the Lord and his Spouse the Church under the Roman Pontiff.” He reminded the assembly that “consecration to service to Christ cannot be separated from consecration to service to the Church.”

The Jesuit order has, unfortunately, become legendary in recent decades for often rather vocal dissent from the Church’s teachings, especially with regard to life and family issues. Not that every member of the Society of Jesus is a Catholic dissident, and the exceptions are outstanding examples of what it means “to think with the Church. They are, however, the exception.

My own introduction to this phenomenon is perhaps a cautionary tale of how the obstinance of some prominent members of the Jesuits and other Catholic orders regarding Church teachings can create scandal, not only among the Catholic faithful but also among non-Catholic Christians who admire the Church and might someday be persuaded to enter the Church.

Some years ago I was writing a weekly online column for the think tank I worked for. I found a news story reporting that the radical feminist “play,” The Vagina Monologues, was to be performed at several Catholic academic institutions the around the country, with the blessing of college officials. For those of you unfamiliar with the book and the performance “art” associated with it, you can click here to read more. Suffice to say, it is difficult to describe without straying from my policy to provide family-friendly content.

Even though at the time I was still an evangelical protestant, I admired the Church and considered it a bulwark – even perhaps the bulwark – against a host of potential threats to all that is good, true and beautiful. I sought out a Catholic colleague, who explained to me the often shaky faithfulness to Church teaching in a number of American Catholic academic institutions, many of which no longer describe themselves as “Catholic” but rather as “in the Catholic tradition.” I was crestfallen, probably because for the first time I realized how much the teaching authority of the Catholic Church meant to me as a Christian and what the loss of that authority could mean to all believers. I wrote a column on the subject, “Coming to a (Catholic?) Campus near You...”, in which I lamented that such venerable institutions as Notre Dame and Holy Cross had sunk so low. There was no hint of schadenfreude in my attitude. It was more along the lines of “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”

At the time I had no (conscious) idea of becoming a Catholic, but it was still a blow, and in retrospect I think it gave me pause, at least subcousciously. Eventually, as I learned more about the reality of the Catholic Church, I realized that, influential as such orders often are, especially the Jesuits, they do not have the last word when it comes to the teaching authority of the Church. As I wrote in my Apologia,

To be sure, there are plenty of dissenting Catholics, but no one need be in any doubt what they are dissenting from. The buck stops somewhere. Ideally it stops at the desk of the parish priest; if necessary it will go all the way to Rome, but it stops there. Not for nothing do we have the saying, “Roma locuta est, causa finita est.” (Rome has spoken, the case is closed.)

Fortunately I was motivated enough to pursue the matter and discover the real story behind the scandal of Jesuit dissidents. What concerns me is that those who are not similarly motivated might not get beyond such a stumbling block. It appears that the Holy Father is similarly concerned, as was his predecessor. He has publicly corrected several prominent Jesuit theologians since his election nearly three years ago, including the editor of the Jesuit flagship publication, America, who resigned last year following years of dissent from Church teaching. The event caused something of an uproar in liberal Catholic circles at the time.

There are other hopeful signs, too. Younger Jesuits tend to be more orthodox, as are most younger members of all religious orders, especially the ones that are growing. And most hopeful of all, Roma loquitur (Rome is speaking). Let’s hope the Jesuits and their fellow travelers are listening.