Domestic Violence Awareness Month

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Domestic violence has been in the news a great deal over the past several months because of a number of high profile cases involving professional football players. A part of the discussion has been the role of the National Football League in handling this matter. What might also be helpful is more information on resources to help people in crisis.

The Catholic Church in the United States participates in the observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month because we know that it touches individuals and families in all sectors of society, including families who are members of our parishes and whose children are enrolled in our schools and programs. The Church is here to help all those who are affected – victims as well as perpetrators. God’s merciful love can reach into the darkest places of relationships and family life.

Below you will find some resources that are available to raise awareness of the magnitude of the problem and to call attention to information about where and how to find help or point others toward assistance.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has offered a pastoral response to the issue titled, “When I Call for Help,” which addresses the matter from the perspective of women who are abused, pastors to whom they often turn for help, men who are abusers and society at large.

Here in the Archdiocese of Washington, through a partnership with Catholic Charities and the Archdiocese of Baltimore, we have begun an initiative called “Catholics for Family Peace” that will provide training and pastoral resources for parish staffs so that parishes can respond effectively to any call for help. We hope all of our parish staff members can act as first responders by doing the following: listening and believing victims’ stories, assessing the level of danger to the victim and the children and offering appropriate advice, services and counseling. To learn more about this initiative, please contact the archdiocesan Office for Family Life (301-853-4546).

For Catholics it is important to understand the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage in the context of the reality of families living in dangerous situations. We would never want someone to refrain from seeking help thinking that the Church would not allow spouses to separate. The Church teaches that “the marriage bond has been established by God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1640). Spouses ordinarily have the duty to live married life together, but a legitimate cause excuses them from doing so.

“If either of the spouses causes grave mental or physical danger to the other spouse or to the offspring or otherwise renders common life too difficult, that spouse gives the other a legitimate cause for leaving, either by decree of the local ordinary or even on his or her own authority if there is danger in delay” (Code of Canon Law 1153). In other words, if a spouse is abusive to the other spouse and the children and staying means there is danger of harm, they are encouraged to leave and separate themselves.

There are two reasons for this. First, in leaving, the abused spouse is justly defending his or her life and protecting the children. Secondly, this act of separating prevents the abusive spouse from committing further immediate harm. Separating from them then is acting on their behalf as well. From here the Church hopes there can be help, treatment, healing, forgiveness and reconciliation, but only in the context of a safe and secure situation.

If you know someone you believe to be in danger, please share these resources with them. In your prayers this month, please offer an intention for all victims of abuse entrusting them to the intervention of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and the loving embrace of her Son, Jesus.

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