WMOF: “Domestic Violence Affects Millions of Catholic Families”

At the World Meeting of Families, Dr. Christauria Welland describes the permanent damage caused by domestic violence and says the Church must respond to this reality in order to help form healthy families.

By Devin Watkins

Approximately 125 million Catholic women may experience physical or sexual violence at least once in their lives.

Dr. Christauria Welland offered this estimate based on statistics that approximately 30% of women worldwide have been victims of domestic violence.

The US-based clinical psychologist and catechist told attendees of the 10e World Meeting of Families in Rome that the pandemic has worsened the situation of domestic violence, often due to increased stress.

Violence within the family, she noted, includes physical assault, sexual coercion, and psychological or economic abuse, all of which violate God’s plan for the family, which is that the smallest unit of society is a place of love and communion.

Does God still love me?

On the sidelines of the event in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, Dr. Welland told Fr. Benedict Mayaki that these dire statistics should inspire the Church to help victims of domestic violence become survivors.

“Fortunately, the Church is much more aware of domestic violence, especially since the beginning of Pope Francis’ pontificate,” she said, adding that many dioceses and parishes are beginning to offer help to victims.

And his message for victims of domestic violence?

“I want all the victims to know that God loves them. I want them to know they can be survivors. It takes time and work. You cannot do it alone. You need God. You need other people to help you.

What can priests do for the victims?

Noting that priests are often the first person victims turn to, Dr Welland called on the Church to provide better training for priests to help them deal with this situation.

“With domestic abuse, you can’t just make the sign of the cross over someone and say, ‘Well, you have to forgive and forget, so go home and carry your cross,'” Dr Welland said. . “I’ve heard a lot of people say that to victims, but they don’t know what they’re saying.”

The first step priests can take is to believe the person, even if the temptation is to trust outward appearances, because the priest may know the husband who appears to be a good guy.

Priests must then put a plan in place to find immediate shelter for victims of domestic violence, which may be a family who has offered to provide confidential, temporary residence.

Another step is to call emergency services, perhaps a special hotline dedicated to domestic violence.

What drives someone to become an abuser?

Growing up in an abusive home, Dr. Welland says, is one of the biggest risk factors for people abusing others.

“If you live in a family where there’s a history of domestic violence – what we call intergenerational transmission in families, where there’s been violence in previous generations – I call that someone who crosses the line, and this line is being crossed, and it continues to be crossed because there is nothing to stop it.

The amount of violence in the surrounding culture can also contribute to someone becoming violent towards others.

An abusive spouse or father is responsible for what they do, Dr. Welland said, but church ministers must also take care of them.

“He is also a human being. God loves him too,” she said. “We have to get to work because our families will never be healthy as long as they suffer abuse.”

Catholic teaching, she concluded, reminds us that men and women are equal in dignity and that everyone in the Church has a role to play in responding to domestic violence, from bishops to priests to the Catholic laity.

Listen to the full interview

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