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Why San Diego’s Bishop McElroy wants disruption in the Trump era

February 22, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Stockton, Calif., Feb 22, 2017 / 12:04 am (CNA).- If President Donald Trump is the candidate of “disruption,” similar disruption is needed to build a better society, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego told a gathering of faith-based groups co-sponsored by the Vatican.

“Well now, we must all become disruptors,” the bishop said Feb. 18 at the U.S. regional gathering for the World Meeting of Popular Movements, which aims to promote structural changes for greater justice in racial, social, and economic areas.

“We must disrupt those who would seek to send troops into our streets to deport the undocumented, to rip mothers and fathers from their families. We must disrupt those who portray refugees as enemies rather than our brothers and sisters in terrible need. We must disrupt those who train us to see Muslim men, women and children as forces of fear rather than as children of God.”

“We must disrupt those who seek to rob our medical care, especially from the poor,” he continued. “We must disrupt those who would take even food stamps and nutrition assistance from the mouths of children.”

At the same time, the bishop told the multi-religious audience of the need for constructive action: “as people of faith, as disciples of Jesus Christ, as children of Abraham, as followers of the Prophet Muhammad, of people of all faiths and no faith, we cannot merely be disruptors, we also have to be rebuilders.”

The Feb. 16-19 conference was held in Modesto, about 30 miles southeast of Stockton. It was organized with the support of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, and the PICO National Network.

The PICO network is composed of faith-based community organizations. It claims 1,000 member institutions representing over 1 million families in 17 U.S. states. The network’s Latin American branch has been supported for a decade by Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, who now coordinates the Council of Cardinals advising Pope Francis. The cardinal addressed a launch event PICO’s “Year of Encounter with Pope Francis” campaign in early 2015.

The Pope himself sent a message to the California meeting that praised the gathering’s “constructive energies” and criticized the brutality of an economic system “that has the god of money at its center.” He encouraged their efforts “to fight for social justice, to defend our Sister Mother Earth and to stand alongside migrants.”

For Bishop McElroy, the meeting was an opportunity to call to rebuild the country.

“Let us disrupt and rebuild. And let us do God’s work,” he said, advocating the advancement of human dignity and equality.

“We must rebuild a nation in solidarity, what Catholic teaching calls the sense that all of us are the children of the one God,” he said, calling for a $15 minimum wage, decent housing, food for the poorest, and attention to environmental issues in the face of industrial threats.

“We must identify the ways in which our very ability to see, judge and act on behalf of justice is being endangered by cultural currents which leave us isolated, embittered and angry.”

Citing Benedict XVI, he said that truth itself is “under attack” and “whole industries have arisen to shape public opinion in destructively isolated and dishonest patterns.”

He said social issues like jobs, housing, immigration, economic disparities and the environment must be made “foundations for common efforts rather than of division.”

Bishop McElroy flatly criticized free market ideology as a rival to human dignity.

“The fundamental political question of our age is whether our economic structures and systems in the United States will enjoy ever greater freedom or whether they will be located effectively within a juridical structure which seeks to safeguard the dignity of the human person and the common good of our nation,” he said.

“In that battle, the tradition of Catholic social teaching is unequivocally on the side of strong governmental and societal protections for the powerless, the worker, the homeless, the hungry, those without decent medical care, the unemployed.”

He placed property and wealth in the context of Catholic teaching that sees creation as God’s gift to all humanity.

“Wealth is a common heritage, not at its core a right of lineage or acquisition,” he said. “For this reason, free markets do not constitute a first principle of economic justice. Their moral worth is instrumental in nature and must be structured by government to accomplish the common good.”

The bishop stressed the “intrinsic human rights” to medical care, decent housing, protection of human life, food, and work. These rights are not merely negotiating points to discuss after the free market system has distributed wealth, he said.

“Rather, these rights are basic claims which every man, woman and family has upon our nation as a whole,” he said, warning that these rights are being denied to large numbers of people.

Bishop McElroy cited Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium and its description of an economy that excludes some people from meaningful participation in social, political, and economic life.

The bishop said that statements like “this economy kills” are not simply exaggerations. He suggested many people have known someone the economy has killed: a senior citizen who can’t afford medicine or rent; a mother or father who is working two or three jobs and is “really dying because even then they can’t provide for their kids;” and young people who turn to drugs, gangs, or suicide because they cannot find a job.

“Now mourn them,” he said. “And now call out their name; let all the world know that this economy kills.”

At other times, Bishop McElroy has been outspoken against the proposed removal of a statue of St. Junípero Serra from the U.S. Capitol, and against a California law barring health plans that restrict abortion coverage.

He urged in 2015 an overhaul of the US bishops’ voting guide to reflect how Pope Francis has “radically transformed the prioritization of Catholic social teaching and its elements.” And following the release of Amoris laetitia, he suggested that the divorced-and-remarried may make a “discernment of conscience” that “God is calling them to return to full participation in the life of the Church and the Eucharist.”

In addition to Bishop McElroy, other scheduled speakers at the Modesto conference included Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton; Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development; Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark; Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux; Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles; and Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces.

One co-sponsor of the event, PICO Network, came to public attention in August 2016 when a cache of documents attributed to billionaire financier George Soros’ Open Society Foundations were hacked and posted to the site DCLeaks.com.

The documents said the foundations committed $650,000 in funds for PICO Network and Faith in Public Life in 2015 to use Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. to influence the 2016 elections and cultivate influence within the Catholic Church.

It claimed the grantees were involved in “the long-term project of shifting the priorities of the U.S. Catholic Church to focus on issues of injustice and oppression” and claimed that some U.S. bishops sought to curb Pope Francis’ influence on social justice issues. The documents are not always accurate and erroneously indicated the World Meeting of Popular Movements would take place in 2016, rather than 2017.

The same cache of documents indicated that the Soros network funds abortion advocates in Ireland as part of a strategic model to overturn abortion restrictions in Catholic countries. The Soros foundations also took part in a multi-million dollar effort to respond to videos appearing to show the politically powerful abortion provider Planned Parenthood was involved in the illegal sale of fetal tissue and body parts from aborted babies.

According to the documents, the Soros foundations gave $450,000 to the group Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good from 2006-2010, crediting the group for changing Catholic voters’ priorities on abortion. Emails to and from leading Democratic Party strategist John Podesta, published on WikiLeaks, claimed that Catholics in Alliance was a group founded with the intent of creating a “Catholic Spring” revolution against the U.S. bishops.

Christopher Hale, who became Catholics in Alliance’s executive director in late 2013, told CNA in October 2016 that the group was not concerned with the internal politics of the Catholic Church. The group has become more critical of abortion groups in recent years.

[…]

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This 200 year-old black Catholic school is a ‘gem’ in Baltimore’s inner city

February 21, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Baltimore, Md., Feb 21, 2017 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Nestled among the mix of shiny new storefronts, foreclosed row houses, parks, and public housing, lies what locals call the “gem of East Baltimore:” St. Frances Academy. Perduring the Civil War, social tumult, economic growth and decline in the neighborhood, the 189-year-old Catholic school still operates from the principles of its foundress, Servant of God Mother Mary Lange.

Along with the building, Mother Mary Lange’s legacy has been preserved as well: to educate and form children left behind by society, particularly those of African descent. While the kinds of challenges faced by many of Baltimore’s students have changed over nearly 200 years, what has not is the need for strong, Christ-centered education in the heart of the inner city, say educators at the school.

“The kids really understand and appreciate the legacy. They know the story, they know the history,”  Sister John Francis Schilling, OSP told CNA. “They will tell you in a minute,” she added of the students’ eagerness to share Mother Mary Lange’s story, “and are very proud of it.”

Dr. Curtis Turner, Ed.D,  principal of St. Frances Academy and a deacon of the Archdiocese of Washington, noted that St. Frances Academy still has its eyes on the same goal their founders did –  Christ.

“You’d have 180 souls really in jeopardy if we weren’t here,” the principal said to CNA.

In 1828, a Haitian refugee named Elizabeth Lange began teaching children of African descent, both slave and free, out of her home in Baltimore – a slave state with a large free African-American population.

“Mother Lange started this school because she wanted to teach the children of slaves about the Bible, about religion and realized they couldn’t read,” Sister John Francis recounted. While it wasn’t illegal to teach slaves in Maryland at that time, educating persons of color was socially taboo. Despite this, Lange was determined to teach the girls from her home.

A year later, Sulpician Father Nicholas Joubert approached Lange and asked if she and her co-teacher, Marie Balas, would be willing to start a religious order while continuing their work in girls’ education. Lange responded that she had been wanting to dedicate her life to God, and with the blessing of the Archbishop of Baltimore she took vows and the name “Sister Mary.”

Mother Mary Lange was named the superior of the new congregation, the Oblate Sisters of Providence – the first religious community for women of African descent in the United States.

The new order also rented a house for the community to live in and use as a school house. Today, the school continues to operate in the building it moved into in 1871, and the Oblate Sisters of Providence still help to teach and form St. Frances Academy’s hundreds of students.

Within the building, next to an English classroom and under a science lab, the room of Mother Mary Lange remains virtually undisturbed from how it was left after Lange’s death in 1882. “The kids see it and walk by,” Deacon Turner commented, adding that the emphasis on Mother Lange’s present preserves her legacy at the school. “She lived, died and prayed here.”

“It’s one of the few places where we can all claim to be third-class relics,” he joked.

Since the 1820s, both the school and the order have gone through several changes. The main school building has served as a school, a dormitory, and an orphanage over the years, and the campus has expanded to include a gym, classrooms, computer labs, and other facilities. The school has become a co-educational preparatory school.

The order has expanded, with presences in Maryland, New York, Florida, and Costa Rica, and sisters from around the globe. Mother Mary Lange’s cause for sainthood was opened in 1991 by Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore.

In spite of, or perhaps because of, this growth, St. Frances Academy has persisted as the nation’s oldest African-American Catholic educational institution. In addition, the school is the oldest continually operating black educational facility in the United States, predating the founding of  Cheyney University of Pennsylvania – the nation’s oldest Historically Black College – by nearly a decade.

Today, the school remains dedicated to Mother Lange’s vision and her desire to educate all those in need of a good education. “We’re carrying out her mission,” Sister John Francis said. The school continues its work despite the challenges of this mission. “She was a risk-taker, and we’re risk takers,” Sister said.

One of those risks is accepting kids who are deemed high-risk or who are suspended or expelled from school. “We take kids who are risks. Sometimes they call us the second-chance school because we allow kids the opportunity to fail and then come back,” she explained. “We’re pretty much always willing to give them a second chance.”

Another risk is the school’s decision five years ago to house a number of boys who are homeless or who don’t have stable housing or family situations, in the Fr. Joubert Housing Program. “It’s been very successful … These kids are considered to be ‘throwaway’ kids by the city,” Sister John Francis explained. The first class of students to go through the program have graduated and are now in college; both made the National Honor Society while at the Joubert program.

Deacon Turner noted that he and the lay staff who oversee the housing programs seek to treat the boys as their own children, making sure they have home-cooked meals, clothes, things to do on the weekends, and adequate furnishings for their bedrooms: “It’s like we have 16 sons on campus.”

It also doesn’t hurt that the boys are also under the sisters’ watchful eye from the convent across the street. “They know that the second they step outside of the Joubert house, they’re within sight of the convent,” Deacon Turner laughed.

The program takes some of the most at-risk students in the city and turns them into the stars of the school, the principal continued. “The funny part is what takes them a while is that they’re the kids who are the most needy, economically, but then they get here and they actually end up being the envy of the rest of the school community.”

As with the success of the boys within the Fr. Joubert Housing Program, St. Frances Academy has managed to thrive in the face of challenges – and do just as well as many area schools with more privileged students. In the past several decades, Catholic schools in Baltimore have faced wave after wave of school closings.

Deacon Turner said that 11 of the academy’s 14 feeder schools have been closed in the past 15 years, and all of its partner Catholic schools in West Baltimore have also been shuttered. “We feel like we’re the last person standing in the breach right now.”

But despite the struggles facing Baltimore’s inner city, the school itself is doing very well: “We’re a poor school, but not a broke school.”  Because of their success, the faculty and administration are focusing on making sure that the tuition remains accessible for the school’s students, more than 84 percent of whom receive federal food aid for lunches.

Yet even though their tuition is considerably less than many of the city’s other Catholic and secular high schools “our kids are going to those same colleges.” The drive – and the stakes – are what set the academy’s students apart.

“The difference that we make isn’t just college or a better college, it’s college or no college – sometimes, it’s life or death without us,” Deacon Turner reflected.

Without St. Frances, many students also would not have had an introduction to what a life with Christ looks like, Deacon Turner said.  “The majority of our students are not Catholic – the vast majority are not Catholic – and I would say at least half are unchurched altogether, so we’re their first introduction to a life with Christ.” In many cases, he continued, a student’s turnaround can be traced to their introduction to a Christian lifestyle and Christ himself.

 “I’ve seen other organizations try to work in the city from a purely secular point of view, and of course they meet with some marginal success, but our success rate is that virtually all our kids go to college. If we tried to do that without Christ in the equation, there’s no way we’d be at that statistic,” Deacon Turner stated.   

“All the challenges that an inner city child faces – economically, socially– in my opinion, can only be overcome with the help of Christ, by introducing them to Jesus.”

[…]

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Archbishop Chaput on his new book about life in a post-Christian world

February 21, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Philadelphia, Pa., Feb 21, 2017 / 02:50 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia’s new book, released on Tuesday, takes a hard look at how Catholics in the United States can live their faith in a public square which has become post-Christian.

CNA recently spoke with Archbishop Chaput about Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World, published Feb. 21 by Henry Holt and Co.

During the conversation, the archbishop discussed the changes seen in American public life in recent years, the role technology has played in these changes, and the place of law in the country’s ethos.

He also touched on Christian hope, the central importance of fidelity to Christ, and the temptation of conformity to cultural norms.
 
Please read below the full text of CNA’s interview with Archbishop Chaput:

Why did you feel the need for a new book after “Render Unto Caesar”?

I think the nine years since the release of Render Unto Caesar have seen a generational change in America. Boomers are aging out of leadership. Younger people are moving in. Their civic formation and memory – their understanding of the nation, the role of religious faith in public life, the nature of the Church – are very different from my age cohort.

The 1960s generation, my age group, had the benefit of moral and intellectual capital built up over many decades. We borrowed on it, even while we attacked it. Now a lot of it is used up. That has political consequences for the country and pastoral consequences for anyone trying to preach and live the Gospel. For example, what does a word like “salvation” mean to people who’ve been told since birth that they’re basically pretty good already, and if they’re not, it’s the fault of somebody or some force outside themselves?  

As Christians, we’re offering a salvific message in a therapeutic culture. It’s a tough sale.

Doesn’t “Strangers in a Strange land” as a title suggest a rather pessimistic view of the place Christians have in society today?

Realistic, yes; pessimistic, no. Optimism and pessimism are equally dangerous because both God and the devil are full of surprises. About three-quarters of Americans still self-identify as Christians. Tens of millions of them actively and sincerely practice their faith. I know dozens of young clergy and lay leaders who are on fire with God, and they’ll make a real difference in the world with their witness. So biblical faith still has an important influence on our public life.

But we’d be foolish to ignore the overall trends in American religious affiliation, which are not good.

You make the case in your book that we’re living in a “post-Christian world.” How so?

By “world” I mean mainly the developed countries of the north. In the global south, Christianity is generally doing very well and growing rapidly. But the north has the wealth and power, and therefore the ability to shape much of the dialogue about international trade, politics, and even history. Take a creature like the European Union. The EU very deliberately ignores 1,500 years of Europe’s Christian heritage and defines itself in purely secular terms, as if a huge part of its own past never happened. In effect, it tries to create a new reality by erasing its own memory.

That’s a harder trick to pull off in the United States, because we have no negative experience of religious wars or state Churches, the nation’s religious roots are still fresh, and religious practice is still high. But if you unpack the subtext in some of today’s militancy about tolerance and diversity, you find the same disdain for Christian faith and morality.

What do you see as the main factors that have changed America’s religious landscape?

Some of the change is inevitable and good because we’re a country built on immigration, and our demography naturally changes over time. More important, I think, is that many of the developments in our legal and educational philosophies and our sexual mores over the past 60 years have not been friendly to religious belief, and especially to Christian faith. At the same time, technology has fundamentally altered the way we learn, live and work, how we imagine the “supernatural,” and even how we think, or whether we think at all, about God.

You mention the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision as an emblem of the “many issues creating today’s sea change in American public life.” How so?

America is an invented nation. It has no history before the age of progress. It’s a country created and held together by law; and law not only regulates, it also teaches. Americans have an instinctive bias toward assuming that if it’s legal, it’s also morally acceptable. So what the law says about marriage, family and sex has a huge influence on how we actually live as a society. Obergefell was a watershed in how we view these things, and not for the better.

Can we find in our current circumstances some practical reasons for real hope, or are we Christians destined to live sort of “by hope alone”?

Jesus changed the world with 12 very flawed men. We have plenty of good men and women, and more than enough resources, to do the same. But not if we’re too self-absorbed and too eager to fit into the world around us to suffer for our faith. We’re not short of vocations. We’re short of clear thinking and zeal.

What makes Christian hope so radically different from the “hope and change” kind of political slogans common in the secular world?

Political slogans are designed to bypass the brain and go for the heart. They’re a shortcut that relieves people of the hard work of thinking. “Hope and change” is a classic example. The real issue in those words, which is never addressed, is why we should hope, and what kind of change do we want – because some change can be bad.

Christian hope is not an emotion. It’s based on our faith in a loving God, no matter how hard our circumstances. There’s a wonderful line in the King James Version of the Book of Job, where Job – who’s bitterly tested by God – says, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (13:15). That confidence, despite all the seeming evidence to the contrary, that’s the virtue of hope. And it’s very different from just choosing a positive outlook.

How does your vision of a great Christian past and a hopeful future differ from “Making America Great Again?”

The Christian past was great only to the degree that Christians were faithful to Jesus Christ and his Gospel. All the beauty of Christian art, music, architecture, culture and scholarship that we’ve inherited – all of it – depended on and derived from that fidelity. The same applies to how we build the future.

As for the country: We’ll make America great when we make America good. And that means laws and leaders and communities that embody justice, charity and a respect for the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death, and including the refugee and immigrant. Otherwise, “making America great again” is just the latest version of “hope and change.”

You say in your first chapter that there are things we Christians “should not bear, should not believe, should not endure in civic life.” Wouldn’t that make us “culture warriors” rather than evangelizers?

Preaching, teaching, defending and suffering for what we believe about God and his love for us are part of a culture war that goes back to Golgotha. These things are also called witness.

You quote Václav Havel saying that “the only way to fight a culture of lies…is to consciously live the truth.” What would it mean to live the truth for rank-and-file Catholics today?

Every Catholic every day has little opportunities to speak up to explain or defend his or her faith.  Nearly 200 years ago Alexis de Tocqueville – the great early chronicler of our nation’s life – noticed that Americans, despite all our talk about individual liberty, have a terror of being out of step with public opinion.

We don’t need more resources to renew the Church in the United States. We need more courage. And that begins with the honesty to live what we claim to believe as Catholics, whether public opinion approves or not.

[…]

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Overcome divisions to protect God’s creation, bishops ask US government

February 20, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Washington D.C., Feb 20, 2017 / 02:03 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The United States government has the opportunity to overcome political divisions and respond effectively to climate change, the nation’s bishops have said in a letter to the Secretary of State.

“The Judeo-Christian tradition has always understood the environment to be a gift from God,” the bishops said. “From time immemorial, the people of our nation have recognized this gift in our abundant and beautiful lands, pristine waters and clear skies. Rooted in this tradition, Pope Francis called on the world’s leaders to come together to protect the gift of our common home.”

The Feb. 17 letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was signed by Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces,  chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Justice and Human Development; and Sean L. Callahan, president of Catholic Relief Services.

“We have one common home, and we must protect it,” the letter said.

Its authors lamented that environmental issues can be “politicized for partisan agendas and used in public discourse to serve different economic, social, political and ideological interests.”

However, they said, Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato si’ has invited everyone “to rise above these unhelpful divisions.” The Pope has rejected “a narrow understanding of climate change that excludes natural factors and other causes.”

The bishops said human-caused climate change is widely recognized, as is the importance to help communities and nations adapt in response.

“The poor and vulnerable disproportionately suffer from hurricanes, floods, droughts, famines and water scarcities,” they said.

Efforts to adapt to climate change must be accompanied by efforts to mitigate human contributions to climate change. The bishops stressed the importance of U.S. leadership and commitment to the international agreement on climate change signed in Paris in 2015. They called that agreement a “key step” to goals like curtailing carbon emissions and assisting vulnerable populations in the U.S.
 
The bishops asked Tillerson to support the Green Climate Fund that helps developing nations build resilience to climate change and recover from negative climate change impact.

They also called for an “energy revolution” that could provide sustainable, efficient and clean energy in a way that is “affordable, accessible and equitable.”

“This will require ingenuity, investment and enterprise, all virtues of the American people. Our leading scientists and engineers, research institutions and energy companies have already made great strides towards developing affordable clean energy,” the bishops’ letter said.

The U.S. has the opportunity to achieve energy security and assert global leadership in growing sustainable energy capabilities through infrastructure and technological investment, they continued.

“This is a time of both uncertainty and significant opportunity for our nation and world,” the bishops told Tillerson. “Filled with hope in God, we pray that your work may contribute to America’s material, social and spiritual wealth and further solidarity across the world.”

[…]

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Parishes aren’t talking about the epidemic of domestic abuse.

February 19, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Washington D.C., Feb 19, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Domestic violence is a hidden epidemic that many clergy and laypersons are not properly trained to fight, says one priest who runs the country’s largest parish-based ministry to counter the problem.

“When you start talking about it, that’s when people will start coming forward,” Fr. Chuck Dahm, O.P., who directs domestic violence outreach for the Archdiocese of Chicago, told CNA about the problem of domestic abuse.

The Church’s hierarchy “has not been good in getting this into the training of clergy, deacons or priests,” he said, even though a “beautiful” pastoral letter on the topic by the U.S. bishops, “When I Call for Help,” exists.

“Most priests and bishops are unaware of it,” he said. “And it should be taught and discussed in the seminaries, and it’s not.”

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. According to the CDC, “intimate partner violence” can be physical, sexual, or even emotional, as with instances of stalking or “psychological aggression.”

27 percent of women in the U.S. have suffered intimate partner violence at some point, along with 12 percent of men, the CDC has reported.

There are many physical and psychological effects of domestic violence on victims – physical injuries and disabilities and bodily effects of stress, but also anxiety, depression, and trust issues. Children witnessing violence in the home may grow up with emotional problems like anger, or may even become abusers themselves when they are adults.

In his apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris laetitia, Pope Francis wrote of the problem of domestic abuse:

“Unacceptable customs still need to be eliminated. I think particularly of the shameful ill-treatment to which women are sometimes subjected, domestic violence and various forms of enslavement which, rather than a show of masculine power, are craven acts of cowardice. The verbal, physical, and sexual violence that women endure in some marriages contradicts the very nature of the conjugal union.”

He also insisted upon the need for parishes and priests to be ready to deal properly with these problems: “Good pastoral training is important ‘especially in light of particular emergency situations arising from cases of domestic violence and sexual abuse’,” he added, citing the final document from the 2015 Synod on the Family.

Catholics are responding to this dire need, organizing a prayer campaign for domestic abuse victims while trying to spread awareness of the problem and educate clergy on how to properly deal with instances of abuse.

A symposium on domestic abuse took place in July at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., hosted by the university’s School of Social Service.

A “toolkit” for fighting domestic abuse has been provided by the Catholics for Family Peace, Education, and Research Initiative, which includes prayers and directions for helping a victim of domestic abuse.

The group is asking everyone to pray at 3 p.m. daily for domestic abuse victims, and have called for a day of prayer on Oct. 28, the feast of St. Jude the Apostle, the patron saint of hopeless cases.

Fr. Chuck Dahm has created a parish-based ministry to combat domestic violence. A key part of his work is simply preaching about it, he says, because it is a widespread problem that hides in plain sight.

There is an “overwhelming lack of recognition that the problem is more frequent, more common than people think,” he told CNA. Many priests are completely unaware of cases of it, Fr. Chuck noted, although “there are people in their parishes who are suffering.”

“I have gone to 90 parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago,” he said. “And after I preach about it, people walk out of the church and they tell me ‘thank you for talking about this. This is long overdue. And my sister, my daughter is in it, or I grew up in it.’ And this is so much more common than anybody realizes.”

Priests must listen when victims tell them of their abuse they’ve suffered, he insisted.

“You always have to believe the victim,” he said. “Victims do not exaggerate. If anything, they minimalize. So they have to be believed and supported.”

In one case, he said, “a victim survivor” told him of how she went to her parish priest, who “was not receptive and said he couldn’t do anything to help her.”

“Well that’s tragic,” he said. “She went and told him about the abuse she was suffering. He didn’t know how to handle it.”

Another problem is when some priests tell an abuse victim to go to marriage counseling with her husband – which “is not appropriate,” Fr. Chuck noted. “She needs domestic violence counseling and he needs perpetrator counseling,” he said. “A lot of priests don’t know that.”

Fr. Chuck participated in the symposium on domestic abuse at Catholic University this past summer.
Since then he’s seen the fruits of the conference, spreading awareness of the problem.

“A significant number went home with the plans of doing something in their diocese or their respective organizations,” he said of conference participants.

The Archdiocese of Washington just held a workshop for priests to learn how to deal with incidents of domestic abuse and 31 priests attended, he said. Two representatives of Catholic Charities in Vermont are starting a workshop for priests there, and the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City held a workshop attended by several priests and a meeting for priests with Fr. Chuck.

“It’s hard to get the priests to come to any kind of event like this,” Fr. Chuck acknowledged.

Unfortunately, it’s been negative incidents that have driven the conversation about domestic abuse, he said. For instance, when surveillance videos surfaced of former NFL running back Ray Rice punching his fiancée, and then dragging her off an elevator while she was unconscious, the “subsequent outrage” after that and other incidents like it “helps create more awareness about the problem.”

Then “people feel a little bit more comfortable and required to speak out about this and do something about it,” Fr. Chuck explained. “The publicity about negative events or harmful events is quite helpful in raising awareness.”

“We’re really behind on this,” he said of the Church’s efforts to combat the problem, while noting at the same time that “we’re making progress.” There will be a Domestic Violence Awareness and Outreach Mass on Saturday Oct. 29 at Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral, celebrated by Cardinal-designate Blase Cupich.

“Many times violence in the streets begins at home,” Cardinal-designate Cupich stated on the issue. “Adults and children are traumatized and alienated from the love and support they need by the violence they witness. We must respond to this tragedy.”

This article originally ran on Oct. 24, 2016.

[…]