ASK FATHER: Husband had an affair, won’t go to confession

From a reader…


Husband had a 2 yr+ affair all the while receiving The Eucharist each Sunday. He says he did nothing wrong; I say he has committed many mortal sins. He won’t go to confession. Your thoughts, please on what I can do besides pray.

We are, each of us, responsible for our own souls.

When we die and stand before that awesome Judgment Seat, we will not have the benefit of counsel. We will not be able to use others as an excuse for our wrongdoing. We will not be able to deceive the Just Judge. We will have to answer for our sins – each and every one of us – each and every sin.

While there are ways in which we can be held responsible for the sins of others, for example, through scandal (as we see often in the pages of the Fishwrap), we are generally not responsible for the sins of others which they choose to commit on their own without our help or irresponsible neglect. We are responsible if we do not caution those whose sins we are aware of. Ezechiel writes, “If you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you have saved yourself” (3:19). Once we have admonished the sinner (a spiritual work of mercy), he is responsible for his actions and inactions.

Other than prayer, there is not much else you can do. Be patient and loving, of course.  Gently urge and give a good example.  But don’t denigrate prayer!

                                More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
For what are men better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.

Tennyson, Morte d’Arthur, ll. 247-255

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. The Masked Chicken says:

    This is a sad state of affairs (no pun intended). To have an affair (assuming there is substantial evidence) and not realize what this means in the context of both marriage and the moral life shows a grave lack of either knowledge or intention. Can the state of Catholic knowledge among the laity really be that bad, today? That bad? An affair is a pretty cut-n-dried breaking of the 6th commandment. I can hardly fathom a married person not knowing when they have broken the vow of matrimony.

    By all means, talk to a priest about this. I do not know enough about this situation to give any real advice, except to pray and commend the situation to God. This situation is similar to having a sibling who is living, unmarried, with someone else. Family members trying to help them see the errors of their ways are prophets without honor in their own house and rarely effect change, by themselves. Prayer is efficacious in many cases where words would not be.

    You will be in my prayers, as well – so that you know that you are not alone. Please, report back should the situation improve.

    The Chicken

  2. Moral_Hazard says:

    I will pray for the questioner as well.

  3. JARay says:

    Indeed, “Masked Chicken”. Further, many of us have relatives who are living what is usually called “sinful lives” and we (I include myself) are tormented with the thoughts that someone we love dearly is on the road to hell. Prayer is the only recourse that we have since any attempts to point out to the one who is in manifest sin, meet with rejection and simply drive such sinners further into obduracy. St. Monica comes to mind and her prayers brought her son, St Augustine to repentance.

  4. iamlucky13 says:

    Following up on The Chicken’s post, it seems likely the lack of belief in having done a wrong relates specifically to receiving communion. Since the husband and wife are apparently now discussing with each other this unfortunate period of their marriage, I hopefully assume the husband has asked his wife’s forgiveness. That would indicate recognition the affair was wrong and that he has some form of contrition.

    I don’t know if this is relevant, but on the chance that it is, I feel it’s worth pointing out that many Catholics have been given an impression that a mortal sin is almost impossible to commit. Even among those who do recognize they don’t have to be Hitler to commit a mortal sin, many have not been taught by a good authority the seriousness of the sacrilege of receiving the Eucharist in that state.

    I’m also certain many have been taught this, but resist recognizing their actions as mortally sinful under the mistaken belief that a sin great enough to sever their relationship with God and place them in danger of hell must be nearly impossible to earn forgiveness of. I know I was at times troubled by a similar line of thought when I was younger.

    In fact, it’s not nearly impossible to earn this forgiveness. It IS impossible, at least for us.

    The key is that it’s not our work, either in our confession or our penance, that merits the forgiveness. It’s Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for our sake that merits it. So it is by that work, that when we do what seems a pitifully small act of honestly admitting our sins in confession, intending not to sin in the future, and asking for forgiveness, that forgiveness is granted.

    I’ll add my prayers, too. If the affair is over, that at least means things are moving in the right direction, so I pray they continue to do so.

  5. Justalurkingfool says:

    Mr. Chicken,

    I wanted you to know that my wife withdrew her appeal of the negative nullity decision in her Simulation case against our valid marriage. Since no published second instance decision has been forthcoming, I really do not know where this leaves things. One cannot simply leave a case with a single decision against nullity, I hope?

    It remains to be seen, as I have requested many times, whether the Church will intervene on behalf of our marriage to speak to both my wife and her lover, separately, to specifically address their long standing, public and permanent, scandalous adultery, with the long standing opposition of Catholic teaching against such behavior and then FINALLY back it up by clearly informing both of the certainty of a formal excommunication should they refuse to divorce, to publically admit their transgressions and to commit themselves to a lifetime of working to restore our valid marriage.

    It is interesting, I think, that this case, which has played out from within the United States, to the Roman Rota and back again could be a showcase for many issues related to the upcoming Synod and how not to deal with them(the past 25 years of ignored public and permanent adultery) and how to deal with them(my suggestions for the past 25 years, which have been categorically ignored for the past 25 years).

    This case has been hand delivered to the Catholic Church, by God, so that she learns how to support marriage, rather than undermining it.


  6. jameeka says:

    Thank you for the Tennyson quote–yes, more things are wrought by prayer….lovely.

  7. What a sad story of this inquirer. I hope the situation improves. My hard little heart goes out to this woman.

    Some things can only be cast out by prayer and fasting.
    “Pray, pray much and make sacrifices for sinners; many souls go to hell because they have no one to pray and make sacrifices for them.” Our Lady of Fatima
    That’s it – our duty is to pray for others, after we pray for ourselves first. This constant prayer might even lead to our salvation – and sometimes this is the very reason God allows us such terrible crosses.

    When others JUST WONT CHANGE, no matter how much we pray and sacrifice, remember to focus on our own behavior, examine our own conscience, strengthen ourselves in reading and learning the Faith. Our first responsibility is our own salvation. We can be called to a lifetime of prayer on behalf of others – but that prayer is a lot more effective when we ourselves are in the state of grace, and constantly work at perfection. I dunno, just an observation from my own frustrations in prayer for others… at least I can control my own behavior and work on my own sin-infused self-deception! I find this thought a bit of a consolation when I’m anxious about others.

    Oh. another thought. Men think differently from women. [I know, some of you are like, well, duh]. Some people don’t get this and the communication style can be the root problem. I know someone who’s miserable marriage turned around, like night to day, by a single weekend of World Wide Marriage Encounter. Catholic-based, its basically writing letters to each other using a method that diffuses the emotion and preconceived judging. When writing letters this way, and it does take learning this disciplined style, there’s no yelling. Its reading what the other writes.
    Plus this entails others praying for you while on the weekend.
    This person went through the weekend, very uncomfortable the first night with thoughts like ‘oh is this like sensitivity training?’, subduing the urge to run out screaming, it took great control to stay and see what they taught. Both learned a little humility and something they didn’t know about themselves. Fortunately the husband responded with amazing cooperation and life improved immeasurably for the two.

  8. The Masked Chicken says:

    “I wanted you to know that my wife withdrew her appeal of the negative nullity decision in her Simulation case against our valid marriage.”

    That seems to be progress, no? I thought that every annulment decision was automatically appealed, so that it went through two deliberations. Not sure what is going on, either. Thanks for the update.

    The Chicken

  9. chantgirl says:

    Dear Lady, I can only imagine your heartache. A two year affair would be incredibly difficult to forgive, let alone forget. In those two years, you and Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament were betrayed in a terrible way. Since your husband refuses to go to confession, I would suggest spending some time before the Blessed Sacrament in reparation for your husband’s sins, and offering up your Holy Communions for your husband’s repentance. Devotion to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots might also be helpful. Most of all, during the Offertory of each Mass that you go to, I would suggest offering Jesus your pain of betrayal. He can take that sacrifice of yours, take it to the cross with Himself, and use it for great good in your husband’s soul. My prayers fly to Heaven for the healing of your marriage!

  10. gramma10 says:

    I agree with Chantgirl. This is heartbreaking for the person cheated on.
    I also suggest the Serenity Prayer.
    We cannot change other people. People sin but do not call it sin.
    I would not want my husband to go to confession because I said so.
    If a person is deeply repentant for the wrong they did then God will convict their heart. They will feel sorrow.

    I would say yes pray and fast and go be with Jesus I the adoration chapel.
    Plus join a support group or talk to others who have similar situations.

    Catholic/Christian Counseling could help too.

    I am sorry for your situation. Sadly it is very common today. God bless you.

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