Domestic violence has long been a festering wound in the fabric of our society. All the more scandalous, it infects the Body of Christ!  And this in spite of the increasing availability of information about its many sources as well as the resources to address it. Some of it, as the American Bishops have pointed out in their pastoral initiatives, is exacerbated by certain ethnic, economic and even geographical factors, though it cuts across all social strata.

To be clear on definitions, the Bishops have noted, domestic violence is any kind of behavior that a person uses to control an intimate partner through fear and intimidation. It includes physical, sexual, psychological, verbal and economic abuse. Some examples of domestic abuse are: battering, name-calling and insults, threats to kill or harm one’s partner or children, destruction of property, marital rape and forced sterilization or abortion (see USCCB, “When I Call for Help: a Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence Against Women,” 2002).

Although 85 percent of the victims of reported cases of non-lethal domestic violence are women — and the greatest risk of violence comes from a current or former husband or boyfriend — the vicious cycle of violence affects everyone. Children who grow up witnessing the violence are likely to be directly involved since 50 percent of men who abuse their wives also beat their children. The damage, however, goes well beyond the specific incidents of violence in that it vastly increases the likelihood that the children reared in abusive family situations will fall into drug dependency and patterns of violence in their own lives, thus perpetuating the attitudes and behaviors they were schooled in at home.

The first response to any victim who seeks help is, of course, to ensure her or his safety. Although a web search will reveal that local services are available online, it would be a comfort to know that any person seeking help could rely on their local parish church to assist them. This should certainly be a major goal of every parish: to be an oasis of safety and security for anyone seeking solace from an abusive situation, whether it be against them personally or their children.

It is not to be inferred that immigrants are more likely than others to be victims of domestic violence. However, unfamiliarity with the language and American legal procedures, as well as cultural factors which may discourage any reporting of family problems, can increase the burden on victims to take the initiative needed to address their abuse. We need to recognize not only the need in our Diocese to provide access to the sacramental life of the Church to those in our midst who cannot communicate effectively in English, but also to assist them when their personal and family security are threatened.

Unfortunately, abusers often manipulate biblical texts to justify their actions. Recall that Satan can quote Scripture, too! A correct reading of the Bible emphatically proclaims the equal dignity of women and men as created in the image and likeness of God. As Pope St. John Paul II reminds us, “Christ’s way of acting, the Gospel of his words and deeds, is a consistent protest against whatever offends the dignity of women” (Apostolic Letter, Mulieris Dgnitatem, 15). It was he who specifically taught that St. Paul’s counsel in Ephesians 5:22 should not be taken out of context and refers to mutual and loving submission of both spouses out of love for Christ.

A particularly delicate matter that pastoral caregivers in our Diocese are well aware of is that children may at times be likely to surface the symptoms of a domestic violence situation. It is not uncommon in a classroom or even in a child’s confession for information about disturbing parental behavior to come out. Thus it is imperative that parish leadership proactively establish networks of communication so that, with due respect for confidentiality and the internal forum, every effort is made to address any such concerns swiftly and effectively.

October is Respect Life Month, a time for reflecting on and promoting the dignity of women. It is a month in which we pray for the intercession of Mary in our life and specifically to encourage and strengthen us to protect all lives, especially the most vulnerable. Mary is both a model for women and of the Church. Her role is essential for salvation. “No Mary, no Jesus,” as Mother Teresa was wont to remind us. Her lifelong “yes” to God’s call gives her a dignity lost by Eve who succumbed to the bullying of the enemy of God’s most sublime creation, the human person and, in particular, women, without whom no human being comes into the world.

Mary does not stand for abuse and the bullying of women and children. Nor as a community of faith can we. Our radical pro-life stance is not only “anti-abortion” but pro-woman and the unique role of women in God’s creative plan. Satan, the Devil, the Serpent, the Father of Lies — however one may characterize the Enemy of all the living — hates God and Creation, especially humans, and especially one human, Mary, the Mother of God. This ancient enmity is directed against woman as the bearer and nurturer of human life.

Abortion indeed is a demonic attack not only on unborn children, but their mothers — an attempt to destroy the maternal, life-bearing vocation of women — really to destroy women — and to deprive men of their friendship, to convince men and women that they do not belong together but are nothing more than transactional rivals. This serves to eliminate their sexual identity and to reduce sex to nothing but venereal pleasure with no meaning beyond transient self-satisfaction. The less it involves relationship and friendship the better — from Satan’s stance — for that would be to live in the image of God, which men and women together must never be permitted to reflect, as God intends. God must be hidden from humanity and vice versa.

The serpent destroyed the trust and intimacy of relationship among God, man and woman in Eden, sowing the seed of the original sin of pride, ego-centered and modern. Modernity was invented in Eden! It’s all about self — and death. Unfortunately, our cultural icons often reflect this. Prayer and grace lift us up from decay and self-destruction. But we must also courageously move forward into the breach and defend women and children under attack.

This Sunday, at 11 a.m. at the Cathedral, I will celebrate a Mass for Life and the protection of all vulnerable lives, praying especially for women and children who stand in harm’s way because of domestic violence that knows no bounds even at the earliest stages of conception. Our prayer is that all women may know the love and accompaniment of God’s people as they seek to live their vocation of bringing life into the world, however they may fulfill this call, as mothers of their own children or caregivers and nurturers in a spiritual or sublimely transcendental way as adoptive parents, teachers, religious or in career and professional choices to which they bring the special charisms of their womanhood. Join me in praying for God’s blessing of women and upon them for the love they bring to God’s creation — in the image and likeness of God.

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