Domestic violence is a serious problem affecting millions of people throughout our country. Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior used by one person to maintain power and control over another within an intimate relationship. It turns a loving relationship into one of violence, fear and control.
The Centers for Disease Control reports one in four women and one in seven men in the U.S. reported suffering severe physical violence. Tragically, in the U.S., one in six women report that the first instance of domestic violence occurred during pregnancy, and 38 percent of pregnant teens report being physically abused.
Clearly, the statistics alone demonstrate the severity of this issue and how it affects more people than we might realize.
Leaving an abusive relationship is not as simple as it may seem. Victims are often married or have children, which makes leaving emotionally and/or financially challenging. The "control" by the violent partner is very intimidating as well.
While law enforcement obviously has a critical role to play in protecting victims, the Catholic Church has a role to play as well.
First, we must pray for the victims and their children. They're situated in a spiral of fear, anxiety and distress. We also should pray for conversion of those who inflict violence and abuse on others, that they'll find God's healing in their lives.
In our parishes, we can make parishioners aware of this problem by letting them know how prevalent it is and by encouraging victims to ask for help. I encourage my brother priests to address this issue in an appropriate manner with the intention of creating a greater awareness of this scourge within society.
We must remind everyone that there's hope and healing if people can take the courageous step of asking for help. Catholic Charities — www.ccstl.org for Catholic Charities of St. Louis — offers help through Catholic counselors, makes referrals to domestic violence shelters and provides educational opportunities. There is support for the victim and victimizer if they seek it.
The Catholic Church also teaches that, while we always affirm the indissolubility of marriage, a person isn't obliged to remain in a violent or abusive situation. When violence (or the continual threat of violence) threatens the physical safety and the innate dignity of one of the spouses in a marriage, that person is free — and for the sake of children, perhaps even obliged — to leave, at least temporarily, until professionals are able to assist.
In cases in which abusers are unwilling to accept responsibility for their actions or commit to change, permanent separation may be necessary for the safety of the spouse and also for the children.
Domestic violence should never be accepted or tolerated as "normal." Our role as the body of Christ is to build the prayerful homes of love and affection that Christ intended and to be ready to assist our brothers and sisters in need.
May Our Lord Jesus Christ instill peace in the hearts of those suffering abuse and convert those who perpetuate violence of any sort.
Through the intercession of St. Monica, patron saint of abuse victims, may our country be a place where victims are protected, families are stable and those with emotional suffering are offered relief and counsel.
Bishop Burbidge is Bishop of Arlington, Va. This column appeared in the Arlington Catholic Herald on Oct. 19.