Domestic violence is sin requiring pro-life response

Categories: Editorial

Joe Towalski

Too many victims suffer in silence and need the church’s help and support

The problem of domestic violence has been getting a great deal of attention recently because of publicity surrounding the acts committed by a few high-profile professional football players.

While the incidents have raised more awareness about the issue, the problem sadly still doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Not every instance is caught on camera — as in the case involving Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and his then-fiancée — or reported to the authorities or others who can help.

Too many victims continue to suffer in silence, unable to escape a cycle of violence, fear and intimidation. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, approximately one in four women has been a victim of “severe physical violence” by an intimate partner at some time in her life. Women in rural areas oftentimes face additional challenges of being more isolated and having access to fewer resources.

The church recognizes the seriousness of the problem, and in 1992 the U.S. bishops issued a statement titled “When I Call for Help,” which was updated and reissued in 2002. “As pastors of the Catholic Church in the United States,” they wrote in the introduction, “we state as clearly and strongly as we can that violence against women, inside or outside the home, is never justified. Violence in any form — physical, sexual, psychological, or verbal — is sinful; often, it is a crime as well.”

While the church believes in the permanence of marriage and healing troubled marriages whenever possible, the bishops were also very clear on another point: “We emphasize that no person is expected to stay in an abusive marriage.” It’s a point they reiterated in 2009 in their pastoral letter, “Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan.”

The statement explains the scope of the problem and offers suggestions for how priests, deacons and parish staff can help abused women and their families. In the St. Cloud Diocese, the Office of Marriage and Family offers resources connected to the bishops’ statement. It also includes on posters contact information for Anna Marie’s Alliance in St. Cloud, which provides shelter, support, and referral services for battered women and their children. The shelter served nearly 2,000 adult and child victims in 2012-2013, according to the alliance’s annual report.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month as well as Respect Life Month, a time when we pray for all human life from conception until natural death. This includes the baby in the womb, the person with a disability, the elderly, the ill, the immigrant, the poor and those vulnerable in other ways. It also includes the person who is victimized by violence and abuse.

“Our mission is to show each person the love of Christ,” Cardinal Sean O’Malley, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities wrote as part of this year’s Respect Life Month statement. This October, let’s include the victims of domestic violence in our prayers, education efforts and outreach so that they, too, can better feel the love of Christ in their lives.

The sin of domestic violence should be obvious. But, as the most recent incidents and statistics show, too many people still aren’t getting the message.