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Richard G. Malloy, SJ Answers:
The theologian Bernard Lonergan argues the innate operations of our being human, i.e., our experiencing, understanding, judging, deciding and loving, contain inherent transcendental precepts or norms. We should be attentive, intelligent reasonable, responsible and loving in all we do and are. To the degree that we are authentic, and live attentive, intelligent reasonable, responsible and loving lives, we progress and grow. To the degree that we are unauthentic, and fail to meet the challenges of being attentive, intelligent reasonable, responsible and loving, we decline. Our relationships with God, others and our deepest, truest self, falter and stall. We are in danger of losing all we need and love.
When we have not lived up to the norms, how do we set things right? Sin breaks the bonds and relationships that constitute who we truly are. Sacramental confession reestablishes our relationship with God and the community and heals our bruised heart. Our conscience tells us what we ought to do, and when we fail to do so, we know it (cf. Rom 7:14-8:13). We have to honestly and ruthlessly let our conscience confront ourselves in these situations, repent, and choose anew to live according to the teachings of Jesus.
Infidelity is certainly a failure to honor and respect oneself, one’s spouse and the person with whom one cheats. Repentance, true contrition, and the commitment to set things right can include informing one’s spouse. I have been in conversation with a couple whose marriage is stronger and deeper than ever, largely because he was able to forgive the revelation of her infidelity of years earlier.
Still, I don’t think one size fits all in these matters. We enjoy the freedom of the sons and daughters of God. It is a prudential judgment whether or not telling your spouse will make things better, or cause irreparable pain and harm. If the infidelity was a stupid, one night slip (the infamous and demeaning “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”), maybe telling the spouse will be less than helpful. If the infidelity is long term, one may need to address with one’s spouse the underlying motives and reasons for the betrayal.