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Catholic families need more from Pope Francis (COMMENTARY)

Francis’ recent pronouncement does not erase the embedded hurt that has been caused by decades of punitive references to families that do not fit the happy family mold.

A woman breastfeeds her child as Pope Francis celebrates his inaugural mass in Saint Peter Square at the Vatican on March 19, 2013. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Giampiero Sposito 
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-WELDON-OPED, originally transmitted on April 11, 2016.
A woman breastfeeds her child as Pope Francis celebrates his inaugural mass in Saint Peter Square at the Vatican on March 19, 2013. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Giampiero Sposito  *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-WELDON-OPED, originally transmitted on April 11, 2016.

A woman breastfeeds her child as Pope Francis celebrates his inaugural mass in Saint Peter Square at the Vatican on March 19, 2013. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Giampiero Sposito
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-WELDON-OPED, originally transmitted on April 11, 2016.

I was sitting in one of the front wooden pews of St. Vincent Ferrer Church, armed with a bag of children’s books and Power Ranger toys. The effort was ambitious — taking three sons under age 7 to an hour-long Sunday Mass — but it was important to me as a single mother in the mid-1990s to indoctrinate them as Catholics in the habit of weekly Mass.

I wanted for them the joy of community and to have fond memories of church for as far back as they could remember. Sunday Mass was where I sat beside my own mother, who often promised to take us all to Baker’s Square for pancakes after mass. I wanted to create traditions like that — if the boys could last until the priest’s declaration, “Mass is ended. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

Midway through 9 a.m. Mass, Father from the pulpit was delivering a homily. He was a fire and brimstone brand of priest. I was hoping the explosion sounds my oldest son was making to accompany his action figure tableau would not disturb the concentration of other parishioners in our row.

“Divorce is selfish,” the elderly priest declared, his face contorted in disdain. “It is a sin to create broken families.”

I could feel the heat rise on the back of my neck and my face flush. I wanted to scream. There was nothing selfish about my divorcing an abusive husband, the father to my sons. It was a brave act. And we were not broken. We were healing.