We can only hope to overcome the escalating violence against women and children in our society if we are prepared to admit that it is happening. It is a serious social problem, sometimes prolonged by the mistaken belief that it is a "private" matter. It is also an offence against God, as well as the victim.
In different ways, violence against women and children is affecting the lives of an increasing number of people. Some, directly or indirectly, are causing it, others are its victims, and still others work to prevent it or repair the damage it causes. As members of society, people who belong to the Church can be found in all these groups.
Family and home are meant to be centres of love and security. Yet we have been frequently reminded that the family home can be a very dangerous place for women and children. Whether the violence against them is psychological, physical or sexual, it is a grave injustice which cannot be accepted as inevitable in any community.
We want to assure those women who suffer violence in their own home that it can be a faithful and loving action to take positive steps to end the violence of the situation. Christian forgiveness is not in opposition to requiring those who perpetrate injustice to be held accountable. This can mean requiring them to seek positive help, or be confronted in a court of law.
While there is no excuse for male violence against women, or the violence of adults against children, forgiveness is always possible. But it presupposes a firm intention to change what needs to be changed, and to ensure that the violence is not repeated. The first step is to admit that violence is being committed, the second is to take effective steps to eliminate it.
People who are trying to overcome this problem in their own home, whether those responsible or their victims, need to know they can count on the practical and spiritual support of the Church community. We therefore gratefully acknowledge the untiring, and constant involvement of our diocesan Catholic social services and their staffs in addressing family and personal problems.
But the gross injustice of family violence in our society is a challenge to the whole Church. We urge all Catholics to become informed about the extent, the causes and the remedies of violence in family life. It is part of our shared responsibility as citizens to monitor government legislation, supporting that which enhances the dignity of persons, and opposing that which directly or indirectly contributes to violence. In this regard there is need for determined opposition to the current use made of womenâs bodies in advertising. An effective way to do this is by notifying commercial interests of an intention to boycott the goods of those who offend in this manner.
As Christians we are called in a special way to help create an environment in which healthy relationships are encouraged and able to flourish. Those Catholics who act on our behalf in the preparation of catechetical programmes, in adult education, and in marriage preparation programmes, are asked to ensure that the dignity and fundamental equality of men, women and children are clearly taught, that sexual stereotyping is avoided, and the development of non-violent methods of communicating and resolving disputes is encouraged.
Those who have pastoral responsibility are often in a privileged position to help in situations of violence. We request them to take advantage of opportunities for education and training in how to deal with these matters. In particular we ask that they:
- take seriously the woman or child who discloses abuse;
- avoid simplistic solutions and a false spiritualising of the problem;
- avoid the misuse of Scripture in any way that would appear to justify male domination;
- be informed as to available community resources (medical, legal, shelter, counselling and educational) and know when and how to refer people for specialised help;
- be ready to deal with the profound spiritual questions that arise concerning the womanâs relationship with God and her worth and dignity as a person;
- create a parish atmosphere where laity and clergy can discuss the question of violence against women and children openly and sensitively, in homilies and other forums.
A special contribution the Church is able to make is the celebration of the sacraments of reconciliation and Eucharist. Provided the necessary steps for resolving difficulties are being taken, the sacraments can be a significant part of the journey.