World Meeting of Families: ‘Domestic violence affects millions of Catholic families’

By Devin Watkins, 28 August 2022
Dr. Christauria Welland and her husband Michael Akong at the 10th World Meeting of Families in Rome. Image: Vatican News


At the World Meeting of Families in June, Dr. Christauria Welland described the lifelong harm that comes from domestic violence, and says the Church must respond to this reality in order to help form healthy families.

Around 125 million Catholic women may endure physical or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime.

Dr. Christauria Welland offered that estimate based on statistics that about 30 per cent of women worldwide have been victims of domestic violence.

The US-based clinical psychologist and catechist told participants in the 10th World Meeting of Families in Rome that the pandemic has worsened the situation of domestic violence, often due to heightened stress.

Violence in the family, she noted, includes physical aggression, sexual coercion, and psychological or economic abuse, all of which violate God’s plan for the family, which is for the smallest unit of society to be a place of love and communion.

Does God still love me?

On the sidelines of the event in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, Dr. Welland told Fr. Benedict Mayaki that these terrible statistics should urge the Church to help victims of domestic violence to become survivors.

“Fortunately, the Church is much more aware of domestic violence, especially since Pope Francis’ pontificate began,” she said, adding that many dioceses and parishes are beginning to offer help for victims.

And her message for victims of domestic violence?

“I want all victims to know that God loves them. I want them to know that they can become a survivor. It takes time and work. You can’t do it alone. You need God. You need other people to help you.”

What can priests do for victims?

Noting that priests are often the first person to whom victims turn, Dr. Welland called for the Church to offer better training for priests to help them deal with this situation.

“With domestic violence, you can’t just make the sign of the cross over someone and say, ‘Well, you have to forgive and forget, so go home and carry your cross’,” said Dr. Welland. “I have heard many people tell victims that, but they don’t know what they are saying.”

The first step priests can take is to believe the person, even though the temptation is to trust outward appearances, since the priest may know the husband who appears to be a good guy.

Priests then need to have a plan in place to find immediate shelter for victims of domestic violence, which may be a family who has offered to provide a confidential and temporary residence.

Another step is to call emergency services, perhaps a special hotline dedicated to domestic violence.

What leads someone to become an abuser?

One of the main risk factors that lead people to abuse others is growing up in an abusive home, according to Dr. Welland.

“If you live in a family where there’s a history of domestic violence — what we call intergenerational transmission in families, where there’s there has been violence in previous generations — I call that somebody crossing the line. And that line is being crossed, and it just continues to be crossed because there’s nothing to stop it.”

The amount of violence in the surrounding culture can also contribute as well to someone becoming violent toward others.

An abusive spouse or father is responsible for what they do, said Dr. Welland, but the Church’s ministers must also care for them.

“He’s also a human being. God also loves him,” she said. “We need to get to work because our families will never be healthy as long as we have abuse occurring in them.”

Catholic teaching, she concluded, reminds us that men and women are equal in dignity, and everyone in the Church has a role to play in responding to domestic abuse, from Bishops to priests to lay Catholics.

With thanks to Vatican News and Devin Watkins, where this article originally appeared.


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