"Big Four" Highlights


Jail Break Faith

Finding family freedom in the fallout of marital infidelities

By Jason Godin
Associate Editor, Fathers for Good

Recently the Journal of Health and Social Behavior published a study that found children of incarcerated parents had significant behavior and health issues. Drawing from data collected during the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH), researchers discovered that kids with parents in prison were more vulnerable to behavioral misconduct, attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities as well as speech or language difficulties. The data proved even more troubling when accounting for race and socioeconomic status.

Such a study, it seems to me, raises additional questions during a time when Church leaders are addressing challenges facing families around the world. What tends to happen to children with parents engaging in marital infidelity and other negative behavior that are proverbial prison bars of their own making? What generational fallout follows for families exposed to the sins of adultery, divorce, incest, sexual abuse of minors and cohabitation? Just as important, where can children go to begin to break free from these seemingly inescapable shackles?

For Catholics, an appropriate place to start searching for any answers involving questions of family and faith is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Reading its pages reveals a treasury of observations made for millennia by the Church on such issues. Adultery, for example, isn’t treated simply as a breach of an earlier covenant forged between husband and wife; it is also an action that “compromises the welfare of children who need their parents’ stable union” (CCC 2380-2381). Divorce doesn’t just witness the physical separation of spouses physically; the parental division also traumatizes children emotionally (cf. CCC 2385). Incest “corrupts family relationships” by turning the unitive, procreative power of sex inward, toward relatives or in-laws (CCC 2388). Sexual abuse of minors violates trust, makes it a weapon that strikes against the integrity and innocence of children and produces lifelong scars for both the violator and violated (cf. CCC 2389). Cohabitation or other arrangements that the Catechism calls free unions “destroy the very idea of the family” by releasing sexual activity both from commitment as well as any moral moorings (CCC 2390).

The Catechism truly exposes both the heart and heartache of marital infidelities for what they are – offenses against sacramental marriage with effects that echo across space and time in the domestic church. Thankfully, Church teaching also reveals a key to unlock the cuffs. The Sacrament of Reconciliation acknowledges the weakness of humanity and our tendency to sin. It calls for sorrow so we can move closer to God’s mercy. It finds triumph in tragedy by recommitting us to our relationships with God and the Church, two relationships that strengthen marriages and families (cf. CCC 1496). One could say such a sacrament is a lot like a get out of jail free card – you arrive at it as a result of your decision to act, you pay no financial fee to obtain it, and authentic freedom serves as your return on investment.

Marital infidelities such as adultery, divorce, incest, sexual abuse of minors and cohabitations or free unions warp adult desires and, in the process, plunge families into disastrous depths. Yet, as St. Paul wrote, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). The Sacrament of Reconciliation testifies to this fact. And because it serves as such a source of grace, it also becomes the rendezvous point for a jail break faith.