What should you say to a woman pregnant through adultery?
I was having lunch with a Catholic acquaintance who mentioned St Rita of Cascia is popular in the Philippines because the rate of domestic violence is high and battered wives beseech her for graces to cope with bullying husbands. Thoughtlessly, I said I would look into praying to her. The person sitting opposite me raised an eyebrow and asked if I was having “man trouble”. Quickly, I clarified that I wasn’t, but was eager to pray to St Rita for work and money intentions.
It is not surprising that some of my female friends say they become tongue-tied when St Rita comes up. Our being tight-lipped is due to St Rita’s reputation as the saint for heartbroken women, victims of punch-throwing husbands and those in unhappy marriages. Were we to admit praying to her, we fear others may wrongly draw the conclusion we have been or are being abused at the hands of our boyfriends and husbands.
St Rita herself was in an abusive marriage – she had been married off as a child of 12 – even though she wanted to become a nun. It was the late 1300s, and her husband Paolo Mancini was as wretched as any cad drawn from an EastEnders plot. He lashed out at her, beat her and was unfaithful to her.
On that last point, the fact that Rita suffered because her husband cheated on her places her as a saint for those who are victims of adultery. Our thoughts immediately fly to the grown men and women who find out their spouses are carrying on with someone else. But there is another set of victims in mind, who are not grown men and women: the unborn children conceived in adultery who are “evidence” and who risk being destroyed.
During the course of my pro-life work I have met dozens of women who were pregnant as a result of affairs with married men.
One case concerned a man who told a very young woman that he had to put his kids and wife first, and that she would help him by aborting their baby. I remember saying to her, “Congratulations”. She looked at me like I was a loon, and said, “Why would you say ‘Congratulations’?'” I answered quietly, “You’re pregnant and that’s why I say ‘Congratulations’.” When she had had the baby, I found out that this one moment jogged her thinking and made her to view the pregnancy in a new light, the baby was a cause for champagne corks sounding, and did not deserve to be maligned on account of the shame she felt.
Another woman who was pregnant from an affair, kept making appointments at abortion clinics, but could not make herself go through with it. I found out that the pregnant mother’s own mother had conceived her during an affair but had decided not to abort her, so she kept the baby becasue she had been conceived in the same circumstances as her baby.
It is unthinkable for many people to ask a saint like St Rita to intercede for pregnant women who have carried on with married men and for their unborn children. They, however, need our prayers to St Rita so that they may avoid abortion and so the innocent party can live.
I wrote this post for The Catholic Herald. Today, May 22nd is St Rita of Cascia's feast day, happy feast!