PROVIDENCE — One in three women have experienced some form of physical violence in an intimate relationship. Countless others have endured verbal, emotional and psychological abuse.
“We don’t know how many people we sit next to on Sundays in Church who go home to a horrible situation,” said Carol Owens, the director of the Office of Life and Family for the Diocese of Providence.
Owens’ office is launching a new initiative to offer counseling and support for men and women who are suffering in domestic violence situations. As someone who experienced domestic violence herself, Owens said she wants people to know they do not have to suffer alone.
“We want people to know that there is hope out there, that they don’t need to be in that situation,” Owens said. “We really want people to understand that just because you’re married in the Church, that doesn’t mean you are bound by your vows to be in a situation of domestic violence.”
The new initiative, called “Pathway to Peace, Domestic Violence Outreach,” seeks to offer free counseling, emotional support and advice from a Catholic perspective, as well as resources and referrals to outside agencies and Catholic counselors as appropriate.
Based on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 1992 statement on domestic violence, “When I Call For Help,” the new diocesan program also provides information and support to people who know someone in need of help. The Office of Life and Family is further making itself available as a resource for pastors and parish staff who are willing to help.
“We want to get into parishes to help break the cycle, to let people know who are in a Catholic marriage, in any marriage, that they don’t have to remain in that type of lifestyle,” Owens said.
In their statement on domestic violence, which they updated in 2002, the nation’s Catholic bishops said violence in any form against women, inside or outside the home, is never justified and is sinful, as well as often being a crime.
For battered people who worry about breaking their vows to stay with their spouses for better or worse, the bishops said that acting to end the abuse does not violate the marriage promises. The bishops decried attempts by some to use Scripture out of context to manipulate people into staying in abusive marriages.
“Finally, we emphasize that no person is expected to stay in an abusive marriage,” the bishops wrote, adding that violence and abuse, not divorce, break up a marriage.
Violence in the home has serious repercussions, for the battered spouse and the children. Several studies indicate that children who grow up in violent homes are more likely to develop alcohol and drug addictions, and to become abusers themselves.
“Most of the time, it’s learned behavior. My former husband came from a domestic violence household,” said Owens, who shared her own experience with domestic violence in her first marriage.
“We took beatings and emotional abuse,” said Owens, adding that her older son was also physically abused while her younger son suffered from the anxiety of living in the situation. Owens divorced her first husband, and said she and her sons worked hard to overcome that trauma.
“This is something that pulls at the strings of my heart,” said Owens, adding that many of the women who approach the Office of Life and Family for support in crisis pregnancies and post-abortion healing have experienced domestic violence.
“We’ve been able to help people get into secure situations because they were afraid to go home,” Owens said.
Father Carl Fisette, the coordinator of post-ordination formation for the Diocese of Providence, has arranged for Dominican Father Charles Dahm, the director of domestic violence outreach for the Archdiocese of Chicago, to offer a training session for priests and deacons on Oct. 4 at St. Anthony Parish in North Providence.
On Oct. 5, Father Dahm will also speak on domestic violence at Human Life Guild Day. Owens, whose office organizes Human Life Guild Day, has presented the domestic violence outreach to Bishop Thomas Tobin’s priests council, administrative board and pastoral council.
“This is an issue that sometimes gets tucked under the carpet because people are embarrassed to talk about it. I know I was for years,” Owens said. “People will ask, ‘Why did you live in that situation? Why don’t you just get out?’ Well, it’s not always easy, especially when you have children.”
Owens said she wants to encourage pastors and deacons to give homilies on the subject and to offer support for domestic violence victims in the prayers of the faithful. She said ongoing support is important.
“I think there has to be an awareness that it does exist, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, and there is help out there,” Owens said.
For more information about domestic violence resources, contact the Office of Life and Family Ministry at 401-278-2518.