Pope Francis has made two things clear about family life – family is the foundation for our society and should be promoted and supported. At the same time, family life must be safe for everyone.
Two days after Christmas 2020, Pope Francis held up the Holy Family as the ‘model family’ as a source of inspiration for families around the world.
On 1 January this year, he emphasised that families need to be places of safety, condemning any type of violence against women. Then in February, through his worldwide prayer intention, he asked us not to look away from victims of violence against women, telling us we cannot ignore the cries of women who dare speak out.
In an Australian first, the Diocese of Parramatta has launched a new app to help Catholic women record and journal what is going on in their relationships.
Called ‘Iris’, the app is helpful for working out how a relationship is progressing and how a woman feels.
Sometimes simple misunderstandings can be identified through tracking what’s going on. In these cases, often clear communication will help resolve the matter.
Sometimes the issue is more serious and falls into the category of abuse involving physical or sexual violence, emotional or psychological abuse or coercive control. Abuse can also come in the form of spiritual abuse when faith is used to hurt, scare or control a woman, including preventing her from practising her faith.
Pope Francis has said violence against women cannot be treated as normal, and that it is “morally necessary” to leave a relationship when a spouse and their children are experiencing domestic violence.
Journaling has long been recognised as helpful for people with relationship difficulties of any type – whether or not they involve abuse.
Rosie Batty, the 2015 Australian of the Year and domestic violence campaigner, supports the Iris app in a video message recorded for its launch.
“Journaling is a useful tool for getting the facts about your relationship,” says Rosie.
“Sometimes your partner may not be aware of how you are feeling, and you need to have a frank discussion. Sometimes you need to take your journal to a professional to get specialist help.
“Maybe you feel controlled, and sometimes you may have been hurt,” she continues. “You can record this on the Iris app. It stays on your phone and no one else can see it.”
The app contains affirming words from the Bible and other resources that Catholic women may find helpful.
Tanya, a parishioner in the Diocese of Parramatta, left her relationship after many years of physical and emotional abuse from her husband. “My family were shocked when I left the relationship,” says Tanya. “My family’s culture was that it was not the ‘done thing’ to leave your husband.”
Feeling alone, she sought the help of her parish priest. “I had to keep my faith strong,” she says.
After living through such a difficult time, Tanya shares her story in the hope it will help others.
“It is important for me to tell my story so others can know that no one should be hurt, bullied, made to feel anxious or ashamed,” she says. “I didn’t deserve to be punched, pushed, kicked or violently yelled at. No one does.”
The Diocese of Parramatta also has plans to develop a similar app for Catholic men in the future.
Tracy McLeod Howe is the Head of Safeguarding in the Office of Safeguarding in the Diocese of Parramatta. If you have any concerns regarding safeguarding in the Diocese, go to safeguarding.org.au.
This article was originally featured in the Lent and Easter/Autumn 2021 Edition of the Catholic Outlook Magazine.