“Ask a Priest: What to Do About a Friend Who Has Been Abused and Cheated On?

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Q: I have been dating my girlfriend on and off for three years. Problems arise because she has had a traumatic past. She was cheated on and divorced her husband whom she had known since grade school, had an abortion and was molested as a child. As Catholics we are taught not to judge. My initial thought process was to show her love and kindness, which I did. Everything was great, but little by little, things got worse. I talked to her about how much God loves her and that she should go to confession and talk to a priest about her abortion. She resisted and made the comment basically saying the abortion was the right choice. With my job I have to travel quite a bit and always have trouble getting my work done because she has severe insecurity because of her husband cheating on her. Lastly, she keeps saying that she will never forgive God for allowing her to be molested as a child. I don’t know what to do, Father. One of my concerns is if we would be allowed to be married in the Catholic Church. The biggest concern is that I want to raise a family in a loving Christian home, and I am concerned that she will hold onto this anger for God. I try to show her more love and kindness, but the harder I try, the worse it gets. – S.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I am very sorry to hear about your friend. It sounds as though she indeed has many deep-seated problems. There are a number of points to be considered.

First, she probably needs intensive counseling to help her overcome her horrific past. The abuse was lamentable. It is sad but understandable that it affected her view of God, even though Our Lord wasn’t to blame.

Second, she needs psychological as well as spiritual help for overcoming the trauma of the abortion. The problem, of course, is that she doesn’t seem to view the abortion as the moral evil it was.

This leads to a third point. You need to be realistic about how much you can help her change. Views on abortion can be very hard to change, especially if someone shows reluctance to rethink the issue.

Also, the problems with trust are deeply ingrained, too — another level of complication.

Then there is the matter of an annulment. Let me say for the record that the Church presumes that her marriage is still valid, unless and until it is shown to be otherwise. So you need to ask yourself whether it is prudent to be close to someone who is still married in the eyes of the Church.

Even with an annulment, it is not clear whether a marriage between you and her would be sanctioned, given your friend’s many traumas.

I don’t mean this in a judgmental way. God alone knows the suffering that your friend has gone through and how this has affected her way of thinking. Still, there are objective evils that need to be dealt with — the abortion, the childhood abuse, the marital infidelity. All these have left deep wounds in her. How much those wounds can be healed is hard to say.

All of this calls for a lot of prudence on your side. It is admirable that you are trying to help her. But without her cooperation your help can only go so far.

For now it might be good to intensify your prayer for her, and encourage her to seek counseling with a solid Catholic therapist (you might find one at http://www.catholictherapists.com/find-a-therapist).

If she resists counseling or going to confession, perhaps you could encourage her to attend a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat. And don’t be afraid to put some distance between you and her if you think that might be the only way to encourage her to get the help she really needs.

For yourself it would help to find a regular confessor or spiritual director who could guide you. You need someone who can give you an objective viewpoint. I hope some of this helps. Count on my prayers for you and your friend.

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