The Instrumentum Laboris (Working document) of the Synod on the Family is the first Church document I’ve seen that specifically addresses the topic of the children of divorced parents. (If there are other documents, please point them out to me.)
According to the document, the responses to questions in the Preparatory Document "raise the issue of the children of separated or divorced persons, who notably lack the attention of society. They bear the burden of conflict within marriage and require the Church's care." (87)
I am pleased to see a Vatican document reminding us that the children are the ones hurt by divorce. It is very true that children of divorce "notably lack the attention of society." Their parents are surrounded by friends who support their decision regardless of the fact that Christ and His Church forbid divorce; but their children have no support system. The children may be exhibiting behavior problems, throwing temper tantrums, and otherwise trying to cope with the upheaval in their lives; and they are neither seen nor heard. “O, she’s just going through a stage,” people might say, making no correlation to the upsurge in tantrums, and the fact that six months ago, her mother kicked her father out of the house. “O, he’s just being a boy,” people say about a boy bullying other children, not realizing that the boy’s father just left, and the boy is angry and hurt and confused.
And the father did not just leave his wife; divorce is not just a separation of the spouses. That father left his kids behind. No amount of visitation and joint custody can make up for the fact that, to a child, his parents’ divorce means that one of them is abandoning him.
Many children feel--whether they admit it consciously or not--that the divorce was their fault. So the Synod Fathers specifically state that the children are not at fault, and that the Church needs programs to help children of divorce:
Particular Churches are well aware that children or young people are not to blame for the choices and living situation of their parents. Consequently, children are welcome everywhere, without distinction with respect to others and with the same love and attention. The Christian formation offered to them is no different from the initiatives in catechesis and pastoral activities intended for the other children in the community, namely: catechesis; schools of prayer; introduction to the liturgy; associations… parochial schools and camps; and youth groups. Special programmes to assist children in healing their wounds and working through their problems appear lacking. Consequently, the responses hope for the promotion of programmes on their behalf and support groups, especially in the difficult period of the separation and divorce of their parents, when they must be able to continue to hope in family relationships, despite the fact that their parents separate. In a diocese in northern Europe, where the number of children of divorced parents is very high, some pastors, to deal with these family problems and the strain on the children who on weekends cannot always attend the catechesis classes, are scheduling catechesis on alternate weekends, so that children can always participate without feeling different. (IL 149, emphasis added)
This is going to do a lot towards healing the countless children of divorce who feel abandoned by the Church, who feel that there was nothing geared toward them, that if they missed Sunday school every other Sunday because they were with their other parent, no one made an effort to help them catch up.
However, the statement "Particular Churches are well aware that children or young people are not to blame for the choices and living situation of their parents" needs to be put into practice, it needs to be lived by the Church. Because children feel that. Even if the thought never consciously crosses the mind of a 7-year-old: "Daddy left Mommy because I was bad, or because I wasn't good enough, or I wasn't worth enough," that's still what they're feeling inside. It is true that good, sound psychology can go a long way toward healing that wound; but there is also a spiritual component to that wound, and only their Mother, the Church, can heal that.
It will probably be years before we see any practical effects of the Synod, but this is a huge step in the right direction.
Because if the Church doesn't speak up for the children of divorce...who will?