October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It is observed at the same time as Respect Life Month, which is fitting, since domestic abuse is a scourge that does not respect human life. National statistics bear out the need to spotlight the sin of domestic violence.
According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, about 30% of U.S. women have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner. More than one-third have experienced psychological aggression.
In Wisconsin, 46 women were fatally shot by an intimate partner from 2014 to 2018, according to Everytown for Gun Safety. The COVID-19 pandemic has only served to heighten tensions. Another study found that there was a 7.5% increase in domestic violence calls to police from March to May.
During an Oct. 3 Mass marking October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Bishop Mark Brennan of Wheeling-Charleston, W. Va., said that a “code of silence” exists around domestic abuse.
“We don’t like to talk about it, but the code of silence lets it, like a virus, go unchallenged to keep doing harm to the victim,” said Bishop Brennan during his homily.
What can the church do to address domestic violence?
The U.S. bishops issued a pastoral letter in 1992, “When I Call for Help: A Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence Against Women,” and updated it in 2002.
“As bishops, we condemn the use of the Bible to support abusive behavior in any form,” said the bishops. “A correct reading of Scripture leads people to an understanding of the equal dignity of men and women and to relationships based on mutuality and love.”
In his Oct. 3 homily, Bishop Brennan said that, as a young priest, a woman tried to communicate to him in subtle language that her husband was hurting her. “I was too naive to grasp what she was saying, or to wonder why she was wearing a long-sleeve blouse on a warm summer day,” he said.
Today, the USCCB offers resources for pastors who minister to women facing domestic abuse. The resources include suggestions for preaching about family violence and addressing domestic violence in the sacrament of reconciliation.
Catholics for Family Peace (catholicsforfamilypeace.org), an initiative of the National Institute for the Family based in Washington, D.C., offers numerous resources for parishes and individuals seeking to prevent and respond to domestic abuse. Their Facebook page also includes regular updates on their efforts to fight domestic abuse and shine a light on the issue.
Both the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter and the Catholics for Family Peace resources are available in Spanish.
Locally, the Green Bay Diocesan Council of Catholic Women (DCCW) has made domestic violence prevention one of its priorities. Through its “Let’s Lick Family Violence” campaign, the DCCW has raised over $252,000 over the last 19 years for domestic violence shelters throughout the diocese.
Each October, parish members who belong to the DCCW schedule a weekend to distribute lollipops. Volunteers stand at church doors after Mass and people can donate money for lollipops that help “lick family violence.”
Shelters that have received funding include Golden House, Harbor House, In Courage, Rainbow House, Caring House, Tri-County Domestic, Safe Haven and Avail. The campaign has received recognition from the National Council of Catholic Women, which will soon make this fundraiser a nationwide event.
The U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter (which can be found online at usccb.org and typing in “When I Call for Help” in the search tool) includes a “what you can do to help” section aimed at abused women, men who abuse and for pastors and pastoral staff. It also includes a prayer based on Psalm 55. During the remaining days of October, add victims of domestic abuse to your prayers. Pray also that abusers get the help they need to end the violence.