How the Church can better respond to the problem of domestic violence

Washington D.C., Jun 23, 2019 / 04:12 pm (CNA).- This Sunday, in Catholic parishes across the country, one in four women sitting in the pews will have experienced severe physical violence in their own homes from their spouses or partners – including burns, choking, beating, or the use of a weapon against them. One in nine men will have experienced the same.

According to one priest who is an expert in the subject, priests in the U.S. are still not doing enough to address the issue.

“The Church has been complicit in this because we haven’t talked about it enough,” said Fr. Charles Dahm, a priest of the Chicago Archdiocese who leads its domestic violence outreach program.

Dahm was a priest at a large parish with a majority-Hispanic population near downtown Chicago for 21 years. During his time there, after hiring a counselor on his staff, he learned that many of his parishioners were victims of domestic abuse, he told CNA. He asked his counselor to train him in recognizing and responding to abuse, and he started to talk about domestic violence in his homilies.

“And the more I spoke about it, the more victims came to me,” he said. Word of Dahm’s parish ministry spread, as parishioners referred their relatives, neighbors and friends. Around the year 2000, the parish office was receiving an average of one victim of domestic violence every day, he said.

Today, he coordinates the Church’s response to domestic abuse at the Archdiocese of Chicago, educating and training priests and other Church leaders on how to prevent and respond to instances of domestic abuse. He travels to give homilies and workshops on the topic, and while he’s been to many parishes throughout his own archdiocese, Dahm said it has been difficult to get other dioceses to respond to his offers of help.

The clergy of the U.S., including the bishops, are largely ignorant about the existence of domestic violence, Dahm said.

“The studies show it’s rampant in the United States. Every pastor who stands up on Sunday looking out on his congregation – he is facing dozens if not scores of victims in his congregation in front of him, and he does not know how to speak to them.”

The ignorance surrounding domestic abuse has a variety of causes, Dahm noted. Priests have not been educated on domestic violence in the seminary, and so they do not expect to encounter it in the priesthood. If a priest does not talk about domestic violence, victims may not approach him about it, and he can therefore have a false sense that it does not exist in his parish. Priests are also overstretched and overworked, and can be weary about taking on new ministries, he added.

“It’s a real travesty that…the clergy is resistant to this topic,” he said.

Misunderstanding abuse as a Catholic

There can also be misunderstandings among Catholics – lay people and clergy alike – about the prevalence of domestic violence and how to respond to it within the context of a Christian marriage.

For example, Dahm said, it is a mistake to think that because couples are religious and going to church, they are less likely to experience or perpetrate abuse.

A 2019 study from the Institute for Family Studies and the Wheatley Institution of Brigham Young University found that while religion offers many benefits to couples, it unfortunately does not positively impact their rates of domestic violence.

“When it comes to domestic violence, religious couples in heterosexual relationships do not have an advantage over secular couples or less/mixed religious couples. Measures of intimate partner violence (IPV)—which includes physical abuse, as well as sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and controlling behaviors—do not differ in a statistically significant way by religiosity,” the study noted.

Other misunderstandings about how to respond to domestic violence come from an incomplete understanding of the Catholic teaching about the permanence of marriage, or the role of suffering in the life of a Christian.

Sharon O’Brien is the director of Catholics For Family Peace, an education and research initiative that is part of the National Catholic School of Social Service’s Consortium for Catholic Social Teaching at the Catholic University of America.

O’Brien told CNA that while marriage is meant to be a sacrament that lasts until the end of a person’s or their partner’s life, domestic violence can be a valid justification for a Catholic to seek at least physical separation from their spouse.

“Catholics I think are challenged to understand that abuse in a marriage is unacceptable,” O’Brien said. “But it’s sinful and it’s usually criminal.”

Greg Pope is the assistant general secretary for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, which recently held their annual Day for Life, a day set aside for raising awareness of various pro-life issues. This year, they chose domestic violence as the theme of the day.

Pope told CNA that domestic violence “fundamentally undermines the Church’s teaching on the inherent dignity of the human person and the complementarity of couples within a marriage.”

He said that Catholic couples experiencing domestic abuse should know that Canon Law, the governing law of the Church, addresses domestic violence, and states: “If either of the spouses causes grave mental or physical danger to the other spouse or to the offspring or otherwise renders common life too difficult, that spouse gives the other a legitimate cause for leaving, either by decree of the local ordinary or even on his or her own authority if there is danger in delay.” (Can. 1153 §1.)

“The Church does not force anyone to remain in an abusive relationship,” Pope reiterated.

Furthermore, O’Brien said, Catholics can have a misunderstanding of the role of suffering in their lives, and some may think that the suffering they experience through domestic violence may be God’s way of “punishing” them for some other sin.

“Yes, suffering exists and yes, we can offer it to the Lord, but we’re not to seek suffering,” O’Brien said, and Catholics should not tolerate abuse in the name of suffering.

“The other big deal with Catholics is understanding that this is not punishment,” she added.

“Yes, maybe you had an abortion, or yes, maybe you all were engaged in relations before marriage…but experiencing domestic abuse is not punishment for some other sin, and you are called to address it, to figure out what to do,” she said.

How the Church responds to domestic abuse

In 1992, the Catholic bishops of the U.S. wrote “When I Call for Help: A Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence Against Women.”

In the document, the bishops clearly state Catholic Church teaching regarding domestic abuse. They also examine why abuse happens, how one can respond to it, and information on where and how abused women and men can seek help.

The document “was cutting edge in 1992 and is still incredibly relevant and appropriate,” said Fr. Dahm. It has since been updated, but only in very minor ways.

“As pastors of the Catholic Church in the United States, we state as clearly and strongly as we can that violence against women, inside or outside the home, is never justified. Violence in any form —physical, sexual, psychological, or verbal —is sinful; often, it is a crime as well. We have called for a moral revolution to replace a culture of violence. We acknowledge that violence has many forms, many causes, and many victims—men as well as women,” the bishops stated in the document’s introduction.

But while the document is excellent, it is still a “really well-kept secret” of the Church, Dahm said, in that many priests and Church leaders do not know that it exists. He said part of his work over the years has been to bring this document to the attention of priests and seminarians during his workshops on domestic violence.

Catholics for Family Peace is another key part of the Church’s response in the United States.

“All the major religions have a national office where clergy and leaders can be trained on domestic abuse, and so we’re it for Catholics,” O’Brien noted.

“We work with dioceses to implement the 20 strategies in the (bishop’s) statement and to create a coordinated, compassionate response to domestic abuse,” she said. They also host several awareness-raising events during the month of October, which is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Lauri Przybysz, co-founder of Catholics For Family Peace, told CNA that their mission extends beyond education and training for clergy and leaders to “education for engaged couples as they prepare for marriage, for them to understand what a healthy relationship means for their marriage, and just facts about domestic violence that a lot of people aren’t aware of.”

“We actually have an education module that we can share with marriage preparation leaders… [that] has a little questionnaire that a couple can take to say, to identify: ‘Is there something in my relationship that could be better?’” she said.

They also educate teens on healthy dating and relationships, and they compile good secular resources that clergy can use too, because many of them do not have anything in them contrary to the Catholic faith, Przybysz said.

O’Brien also said that the archdioceses of both Chicago and Washington, D.C., have modeled some of the best responses to domestic violence.

Laura Yeomans is the program manager for the Parish Partners Program at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. The website for the program includes a homily on domestic violence, a downloadable packet for pastors responding to domestic violence, definitions and explanations of domestic violence and Church teaching, as well as links to emergency resources for victims, among other things.

Yeomans and her team connect with priests and families at the parish level when they are notified about cases of domestic abuse, she said.

“We go out to the parish setting and we meet individually with families who are suffering domestic abuse,” Yeomans said.

Basic do’s and don’ts of responding to domestic violence

While a natural response for pastors or Catholics who learn about a case of domestic abuse may be to call the police, Przybysz warned against it. If a perpetrator knows they have been found out, their violence could escalate to the point of killing their victim.

“It’s about walking beside someone, giving them information about where they can find safety, when they decide to make the move,” she said.

Yeomans seconded this advice. “When you’re talking with family suffering, domestic abuse, it’s very important that we not go in with an agenda,” she said.

The first thing to do is listen, Yeomans said, and to say: “I believe you.” Next, she said, ask: “What can I do? How can I help you? What step would you like to take?”

“It’s very important not to say, ‘You should forgive him,’” she said, because this gives the victim the false impression that they must continue enduring the abuse in the meantime. Forgiveness may come eventually, Yeomans said, but the first priority is the safety of the victim.

“Forgiveness is not permitting the abuse to continue,” she said. “It is not allowing yourself and your children to be in danger.”

Spreading awareness of domestic violence, and of the resources available, is one of the best things priests can do for their parishioners, Fr. Dahm said, because then they will know where to turn for help. He said he found it especially true among Hispanics and Latinos, especially those who had recently come to the United States and prefer going to the Church for help.

“It is absolutely true that Hispanics prefer to go to their parish,” he said. “They feel more welcome, they feel safer, that was why in our parish we were so successful – people came to us from all over. I think that had a lot to do with the fact that people wanted to go to a place they trusted.”

Yeomans said that besides speaking about domestic violence at Mass, priests should find out what resources are available to them locally. Once they know what domestic violence hotlines and resources are available, they can print flyers with information and hang them in parish bathrooms, and put informative inserts in their parish bulletins.

Another thing that Yeomans has seen priests do is to raise the question about domestic violence and healthy relationships during times like baptism class, when couples are already at Church to receive some education and information.

Pope said that in the UK, the bishops’ goals for having domestic violence as the theme for their Day for Life was to raise awareness of the issue, to raise additional funds for resources, and to make domestic violence culturally unacceptable.

Fr. Dahm added that he is willing to travel throughout the United States to preach and give workshops on domestic violence in parishes.

“If there are bishops in dioceses who are interested, just tell me, and I will go there,” he said.

By focusing on domestic violence, among other issues, as important pro-life issues, Pope said the bishops hope to help their people follow God’s call in the Gospel of John more closely: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

If you or a loved one are experiencing domestic violence, call the national domestic violence hotline at: 800-799-SAFE (7233) or 800-787-3224 (TTY). For more information, go to

Domestic violence resources through the Archdiocese of Chicago are available at:

Domestic violence resources, including the pastoral response packet, are available through Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. at:

Catholics can also visit Catholics for Family Peace or For Your Marriage for additional information.

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  1. “This Sunday, in Catholic parishes across the country, one in four women sitting in the pews will have experienced severe physical violence in their own homes from their spouses or partners – including burns, choking, beating, or the use of a weapon against them. ”


    Perhaps so but that does seem extremely high for any population. Do they have links to show where they obtained that data?

  2. And sorry, I’m admittedly not the sharpest tool in the comment boxes -perhaps there is data specific to US Catholic parishes in the article links but I’m just missing it?

    • Au contraire. You’re no bland cracked white wheat. You’re wholesome, with good gluten, authentic, beneficial for health. With many thanks.

    • 1) The first link in the article is the 2019 study by the Wheatley Institute (BYU/Mormon).

      The title of the referenced report executive summary asks: “Is Faith a Global Force for Good or Ill in the Family?” The first few sentences quote sociologists Max Weber and Emile Durkheim.

      2) The archdioceses of Washington DC and Chicago are mentioned, linked, and Chicago’s priest and programs are described.

      How do we understand the catholic priorities and ideologies of the Catholic leaders in those places?

      3) “Lauri Przybysz, co-founder of Catholics For Family Peace, told CNA that their mission extends beyond education and training for clergy and leaders to “education for engaged couples as they prepare for marriage, for them to understand what a healthy relationship means for their marriage, and just facts about domestic violence that a lot of people aren’t aware of.”

      “We actually have an education module that we can share with marriage preparation leaders… [that] has a little questionnaire that a couple can take to say, to identify: ‘Is there something in my relationship that could be better?’” she said.

      They also educate teens on healthy dating and relationships, and they compile good secular resources.”

      What about those good secular resources? Why do Catholic-sponsored groups not speak to teens and persons in marriage prep about the salvation through Christ and traditional marriage teaching of His Church? Why note quote St. Paul on Christ and His Church as like a marriage with a man who lays down his life for his bride?

      Why does the Church look at good secular resources as if the resources of Christ and could have no influence?

      Seems as if some have given Him up for Lent.

  3. I don’t condone violence against women or anyone. But why is domestic violence always the man’s fault ? Could it be that sometimes certain women either deliberately or unintentionally do things that might deeply upset a man, Not talking about Trivial Things, but things that would deeply upset a Man or Another Human Being. For Example in the Johnny Depp vs Amber Heard case I think both are clearly guilty of Abusing each other
    I’m Not trying to Excuse or Justify Violence against Women or Anyone, but let’s be Frank and Honest, Fair and Objective
    Sometimes with Domestic Violence it’s Men against Men, Women Against Women, as in people living as Roommates. The Respect Between Men & Women Must be Mutual.

  4. I have actually witnessed instances of certain women Very loudly yelling and screaming at their husbands/boyfriends in Public, it was Very Disturbing to see , Very Disturbing

  5. For Example, Years ago a friend of mine in his
    30s mentioned to me how he made a comment to his sister who was like 5 years younger, his sister didn’t like the comment and Physically Assaulted him first , the Police were almost called . His sister didn’t have the right to physically assault him first over a comment.
    Another time I was in Public and I witnessed a Woman Very Loudly yelling and screaming at her husband or boyfriend, the man after several minutes finally lost his temper and Yelled back at her , the Woman said
    “Don’t Yell at Me”
    Why is it OK for the woman to yell and Not the Man. Why the Anti-Male Double Standards and Hypocrisy?

    • The male friend of mine in his 30s who made the comment to his Sister. His Sister then Physically Attacked Him First over the Comment that he didn’t even mean in a hateful way, but in a Joking Way. It was Very Wrong of his Sister to Physically Attack Him First over a stupid comment. My male friend of mine told me he thought the comment was Harmless and that he had no idea his sister would react that way. He told me he Regrets saying that comment , so that he wouldn’t be violently assaulted and almost have the
      Police called

  6. Also very Disturbing is how at times certain women threaten to destroy or confiscate the property of their husbands, boyfriends. The Men feel powerless to do anything about it, they fear Retaliation and Legal Trouble the women are at times abusive and very unpleasant, the respect Must be Mutual . I’ve read about this online and in Newspapers how certain women threaten to destroy the property of their husbands and boyfriends, and sometimes they do destroy the property of their husbands, boyfriends which sadly leads to incidents. I’ve read about it . I don’t condone violence but the respect Must be Mutual

  7. Women can most certainly be abusive, but statistically it is more often the man. Abuse is not just a random slap, or yelling at someone. It is an ongoing behavioral pattern that starts off little by little and gets worse over time, like a frog in boiling water, and is used to control the other person in order to have power over them. It is actually similar to brainwashing. By the time the person realizes what’s going on, they are often already “trauma bonded.” It is often difficult to extract oneself from an abusive marriage, especially with no financial resources or support network. The abuser also spiritually manipulates the victim into feeling guilty for wanting to leave and break up the family, and the Church’s teaching on the permanence of marriage becomes distorted in the victim’s head, so they stay, pray, and hope their abuser will change, until it’s often too late.

    Abusers generally do not change. They know what they are doing because they control their anger around others. Think “Jekyll and Hyde.”

    Catholics need to get educated about abuse. A good place to start is the “power and control wheel.”

    Read author Lundy Bancroft’s book “Why Does He Do That?”

    • Annie , About Women who sometimes Abuse Men
      I found this article

      And Another Article is from on
      March 14,2023 headlined
      “Women Abusing Men-What it is and What to do Next” by
      Andrea M. Darcy , also what is your opinion of the Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard case
      I’m still waiting for my other Superb Insightful comments to be added
      Men Abusing Women,
      Women Abusing Men ,
      It sadly Happens All the Time in America and Worldwide, the respect Must be Mutual
      Why are some comments added , while others are Not, I think they are all Superb

  8. For Example, a while back a male friend of mine told me that years ago, his girlfriend that he was living with was one night literally screaming and yelling at him like a nutcase for several hours over something trivial and minor, he told me that he felt provoked, and threatened by his girlfriend’s behavior and was terrified that any moment she would become physically violent

    • My above comment of
      OCTOBER 4, 2023 AT 12:45 PM , my male friend told me that when his girlfriend was yelling and screaming at him like a nutcase for several hours, over something trivial and minor he felt like his life was in danger, and that his girlfriend would say something like
      “It’s the principal of the matter” is a manipulative , gaslighting tactic

  9. Also, I Know another male friend of mine who lives with his female landlord in an average size house. The female landlord is a nice Irish woman he met years ago at a Diner. Him and the Irish female landlord Living in upstate New York are just acquaintances on good terms. But the female landlord wants the male friend to get rid of some of his books, so the man who pays rent cannot even keep his own property ? He cannot even keep his books that he paid for with his own money ? It’s Not like the Books take up a large amount of space or are an Extreme Hoarding Situation, even if some of the books are Adult Magazines, he is a grown man , and he feels bullied and manipulated by his landlord.

    • I also wanted to discuss more in detail the situation of the Male Friend of mine who lives with the female Irish landlord. How he feels bullied and Manipulated at times

        • meiron, my male friend pays the rent , him and his landlord are just acquaintances on good terms, nothing intimate between them. However the female landlord is at
          times bossy and controlling

      • So I missed this earlier post. So it seems they share a house? If she owns the house, did she provide any sort of legal contract to the man which specifies what rights and obligations she and he would have toward each other.

        Perhaps they are not abusing one another so much as they had no practical understanding of rights and obligations from the outset. If his books are in her library or living room (space in which she justifiably shares occupancy), then she would see them and they may cause offense if X-rated and he will not at least keep them out of her sight. Maybe the books are old and musty (with odor and/or mites, dust, or other insects)and she has an allergy to such things. Heaven help her if they have attracted rodents into her house.

        Seems your friend and his female landlord could benefit from a neutral third party person with some negotiating skills or legal understanding to help make clear to them who has what rights and who is owed what justice under the laws of a civil and charitable society.

    • In today’s World, Both
      Tenants Rights and
      Landlord Rights are Important
      A Man and his Physical Posessions and Property should be Treated with Respect, just as a Woman and her Physical Posessions and Property should be treated with Respect
      Tenants should Never Fear Retaliation from their Landlords

      • About Tenants Rights and Landlord Rights I want to discuss the horrible injustice done to my male friend by his nosy, intrusive female landlord and the trauma he now has because of this

    • If she doesn’t want “adult” magazines in her house, she is free to demand that he get rid of them. And if he is so attached to them that he doesn’t want to, he is free to choose to leave and find a place to live that doesn’t care if he has pornography.

  10. Annie, and others, Im still waiting for my comments to be added here , I don’t consider them to be
    “needlessly combative or inflammatory” but Speaking the Honest Truth and Concerns that myself and other Men have
    Plus I just read online that
    Marvel star Jonathan Majors filed a domestic violence complaint against his former girlfriend who accused him of assault, alleging she is the one who attacked him during a March 25 dispute in New York, according to an incident report obtained by Insider on June 27, 2023
    I work very hard to type my comments

    • I hope everything works out for
      Jonathan Majors and his former girlfriend. I truly do and that no one goes to jail. How many More Cases are there of Women who Physically Assault their Husbands or Boyfriends first or Threaten to Physically Assault their Husbands or Boyfriends
      The Respect Must be Mutual
      We Need Honest Discussions

    • “Im still waiting for my comments to be added here”

      It does take a few minutes or even longer for comments to be cleared and posted; I doubt that there’s someone watching 24/7 to approve them instantaneously.

  11. I wanted to discuss the situation of my male friend living with his female Irish landlord , the female Irish landlord is nice , but at times is Very Bossy, Nasty, Bullying, Manipulative, Yelling, Insulting, Screaming, Controlling, and provokes the man.

    • The Female Irish landlord tells the Male tenant what to do with his Property, yet the Male Tenant doesn’t tell his Female landlord what she can or cannot do with her property, why the Hypocrisy and Double Standard

    • In 2014 Ann Silvers Published a book titled
      “Abuse OF Men BY Women: It Happens, It Hurts, and It’s Time to Get Real About It”
      It got excellent reviews on
      We Need More Civil, Frank Honest Discussions about Women who Bully, Abuse and Manipulate Men.
      Also in the Case of People living with Roommates of the same gender, there are hideous Domestic Violence Incidents at times, Men Abusing Men
      Women Abusing Women, even when these Roommates of the same gender are simply Roommates, Not even friends or romantic partners, it is deeply tragic

  12. The Supreme Court is going to hear the Rahimi case from Texas. The US Fifth Circuit says that people under domestic violence protective orders should be allowed to possess guns. The Supreme Court will hear arguments and decide next year. Let’s hope that side with the state and allow people under domestic violence protective orders to forfeit their guns, at least temporarily.

    • Mr. Kiehl , do you agree with my other comments here ?
      Do you feel that in America and many other Nations , that Domestic Violence Laws and many other laws are unjustly biased against Men and in Favor of Women
      There Must be Equal Rights for Both Men and Women

  13. I hate to be a pest, but why are some comments of mine being added and
    Not others , Why ?
    We Need More Awareness and Discussion of Men who are Bullied, Abused, Intimidated, Manipulated, Controlled and Violently Assaulted by Women
    We Need More Awareness and Civil, Frank, Discussions
    It is NOT being “Sexist” or
    “Misogynist” to point out how Women Abuse Men often

  14. Annie, you are correct when you stated
    “Women can most certainly be abusive” sadly that is often true
    I don’t condone, approve, excuse or justify violence against women or anyone, yet we Must Acknowledge and realize that sometimes certain women either deliberately or unintentionally do serious things that would deeply upset a man , or another human being, just as at times certain men do Serious things that might deeply upset a woman that sometimes the abuse doesn’t just come out of thin air

    • And no matter how “deeply upset” they are, it’s not a reason or an excuse for violence.

      For example, random Capital letters annoy the heck out of me, but that doesn’t mean I’m allowed to use physical violence against the perpetrators.

  15. Let me say, that yes I have done research on domestic violence incidents and cases. While I’m Not in any way, shape or form trying to justify, condone or excuse violence against women or anyone. I’ve read about incidents where certain women, some women yell and scream at men for hours upon hours upon hours, over trivial things repeating themselves endlessly over and over , this drives certain men bonkers and makes them snap and lose control . The respect Must be Mutual . No Anti-Male Hypocrisy or Double Standards. The unjust bias against Men

    • Verbal abuse is bad. Verbal abuse is not the same thing as physical abuse, and to reply to verbal abuse with physical violence is disproportionate.

  16. Exactly what does anyone want the church to say??? That abusing your spouse is bad??? Well, duh. Maybe this can be addressed at pre-cana sessions. The dating period should last at least a year and all parties advised that if the partner seems to have s violent temper, rages or any other abusive behavior, one should exit the relationship immediately.

    Since catholics abort and contracept at the same rate as seculars, its unlikely that catholic teaching on marriage would be keeping couples in bad relationships together.

  17. Leslie & LJ , it’s Not just
    Verbal Abuse , did you scroll all the way up to see
    The many ways Women Abuse,Control,Bully,Manipulate Men
    This Needs to be Addressed

    • Physical violence is not a proportional response to words.

      And no matter how often you say “I don’t condone or excuse violence against women,” every post you’ve made is attempting to make excuses for it.

  18. I too question the one in four statistic at the top of this article. I also question the notion that clergy are unaware of abuse. Not know how to deal with it, maybe, but that’s not the same as unaware.

  19. Mark, I haven’t responded because I haven’t been on this site for awhile. Anyway, yes men can be abused, but statistically the vast majority of abusers are male. It is not biased to claim otherwise.

    The victim eventually needs to “change the dance,” i.e. walk away, hang up the phone, move, etc. The abuser is not going to be the one to change, the victim must be the one to do so.

    Regarding verbal abuse, it often (but not always) escalates to physical abuse. Abuse can manifest in other ways, such as financial, sexual, and spiritual, but it always has as its foundation the desire to control another person as an object. Abusers know what they are doing and will hide their true selves from the victim until it’s “too late,” usually after some kind of commitment is made (marriage, a new baby, the purchase of a home).

    Clergy need to understand the basics of abuse so they can advise their flock accordingly. I can’t be prayed away.

  20. Annie , what I’m saying is that in some cases of domestic violence incidents and abuse. Certain women are not the totally innocent victims that they portray themselves to be .

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