TO LIVE WITHOUT FEAR

A Statement by the CCCB Permanent Council
on Violence Against Women


Introduction

On May 13, 1991, the Federal Government announced in the Speech from the Throne, its intention to appoint a "blue ribbon panel of concerned Canadian men and women to inquire into the serious problem of violence against women in our society". This is a significant and most welcome initiative.

Every year at least one million women are physically, sexually, or psychologically abused by their husbands or common law partners. Two women are murdered by their male partners every week. Fifty-six percent of urban Canadian women as compared to eighteen percent of men feel unsafe walking alone in their neighbourhoods after dark(1).

A Sin and a Crime

Violence against women breaks the fifth commandment. It is a sin, a crime, and a serious social problem. It is not only an individual, private or family matter.

Many of our ecumenical partners(2) and the Social Affairs Committee of the Assembly of Quebec Bishops(3) have prepared statements and workshop materials that include an analysis of the social and individual causes and dynamics of violence against women. It is not our intention to repeat the good work that has already been done.

The purpose of this statement is to express our deep concern about violence against women and to identify some of the ways the Catholic community, in collaboration with others, can work for short term and long term solutions.
 

Pastoral Approaches to Domestic Violence

Since clergy and pastoral workers are often among the first people to be contacted by an abused woman, there is a significant opportunity for them to do real good or real harm. Some of the pastoral approaches that have been identified as harmful or helpful are listed below.
 

Harmful Approaches

1. Being Uninformed

The dynamics of family violence are very specialized and very explosive. It is critical that everyone in ministry become informed about these dynamics by attending seminars or workshops, visiting emergency shelters, or reading the available literature. Failure to understand the situation could be lethal. It is also important to be prepared to discern signs of abuse among people who seek counselling.

2. Premature Reconciliation

Counselling premature reconciliation minimizes the woman's pain, suffering, and danger. Moreover, it will not stop the abuse, protect the victim, or provide any healing. Only the man can stop the violence by accepting responsibility for it and changing his behaviour.

In an abusive situation, the priority must be the safety of the woman. This may involve a marital separation. True reconciliation can occur only after the woman has been protected, the man has been held accountable for his actions, and he has genuinely repented. Acceptance of responsibility for the abuse and a firm purpose of amendment are integral to authentic repentance. It is therefore important that the man, even when he has expressed regret, be encouraged to seek professional help.

3. Silence

The abused woman is often very isolated; church may be the one place she is still able to go. If she never hears a homily on this topic, her sense of isolation may be increased or she may not feel free to approach the pastor or a member of the pastoral team.

4. Misuse of Scripture

The misuse of scripture to justify the domination of women is unacceptable. Clearly, men and women are created equally in the image of God and are one in Christ.

In his Apostolic Letter On the Dignity and Vocation of Women,  Pope John Paul II says that it is a sinful situation when a woman is "the object of domination and male possession."(4)

He affirms that the passage at 3:16 of Genesis ("Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you") does not mean that men are created to rule over women. On the contrary, the "ruling over" that we have seen in history is the result of sin and broken relationships between God and humanity and among people.

If we as Christians believe that the relationship between God and humanity has been restored through Jesus Christ, then should we not also believe that the relationship of equality between men and women has also been reaffirmed? Anything less diminishes both men and women.
 

Helpful Approaches

Through the richness of its tradition and its commitment to community, the Church can help to end violence against women. The following are some pastoral approaches that have been found to be effective:


Prevention of Violence Against Women

Helpful, compassionate and just responses to women who are victims of violence are important and needed. Long term strategies for prevention are critical. Each sector in society must contribute their expertise and energy to finding long term solutions. Governments, communities, social, religious, and educational institutions all have a role to play. As bishops, we shall work, in collaboration with others, for prevention by:
 


Violence Destroys All That Is Human

A healthy and creative society cannot tolerate any form of violence. When this violence is based on the erroneous and insidious premise that men are entitled to dominate women, it is particularly abhorrent and dangerous. This attitude and behaviour are capable of destroying all that is life-affirming and beautiful in society. As Pope John Paul II said on his visit to Canada: "Human beings live by wisdom, by culture and by morality. Violence is in complete contradiction to such a life. Violence creates the justifiable need for defense. And at the same time, violence threatens to destroy the sources of human life. Not only does it threaten to kill human beings, millions of men and women, but it threatens to destroy all that is human."(5)

Let us work together as men and women of faith for a truly non-violent society that respects the equality, integrity and dignity of all persons. Let us break the cycle of violence and enable women to live without fear.

June 13, 1991

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1. Linda MacLeod, The City for Women: No Safe Place, 1989. (A study commissioned by the Secretary of State)

Health and Welfare Canada, The National Clearinghouse on Family Violence, Wife Assault, January 1990.

Linda MacLeod, Battered But Not Beaten: Preventing Wife Battering in Canada, Ottawa: Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women, 1987.

2. The Catholic Women's League of Canada has prepared an annotated bibliography of these resources.

3. Social Affairs Commission of the Assembly of Quebec Bishops, A Heritage of Violence: A Pastoral Reflection on Conjugal Violence, 1989. A bibliography is included.

4. John Paul II, On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, 1988, no. 10.

5. John Paul II, Ottawa, September 20, 1984.