Most people have seen and been shocked by the video of NFL star player, Ray Rice, punching and dragging his fiancé out of an elevator. Others have remarked that they are not surprised; this is what domestic violence looks like. What did you expect?
While Ray Rice has been suspended, other players who have abused their wives or children are not receiving proper disciplinary action for their abuse. One example is Adrian Peterson who was restored to active playing despite having beaten his son. Public outrage is building. Commercial sponsors are withdrawing their support or threatening to do so. These are healthy signs that we as a people do not tolerate abuse in the home.
Although we can find a report in the news every week about domestic violence, it remains a rather unseen and underestimated crime. It happens behind closed doors and in secret and victims are extremely reticent to come forward.
But the facts belie this blindness. The FBI estimates that every 10 to 15 seconds a woman is battered or sexually assaulted in the U.S. The Center for Disease Control reports that one out of every four women is either hit or sexually assaulted by her partner during her life time.
That’s incredible: one out of four.
We might think that domestic violence happens elsewhere but not in our community. But all studies confirm that the incidence of domestic violence is practically the same in all communities; it makes no difference if you are Black or Hispanic, Caucasian or Asian, rich or poor, whether you live in the suburbs or city. Domestic violence exists at practically the same rate in every community
But how do we Catholics respond to this heinous crime and grave sin? Our U.S. bishops have written a beautiful pastoral letter, titled, When I Call for Help. Sadly, it is a well-kept secret.
In the first paragraph they write: “We must state as strongly and clearly as we can that violence against women, inside or outside the home, is never justified.” And then in the final paragraph they state: “We must emphasize that no one is expected to stay in an abusive marriage.”
Unfortunately, most priests have not been prepared to deal with domestic violence. They see it as too controversial or difficult to preach about. They may even think it is inappropriate to talk about in church or that it rarely happens because victims have not approached them. In reality, if they don’t speak about it, victims will be reluctant to come to them. Some priests even tell victims they must return to their abusers and work it out. They tell victims they must accept their cross.
In fact, few dioceses have any services for victims of domestic violence. In St. Pius V and the Archdiocese of Chicago, we are fortunate to have services for victims and their children and even for perpetrators. St. Pius V also offers courses in parenting to help parents raise their children in a healthy environment.
Domestic violence has risen to a new level of awareness and outrage, thanks to abuse by some NFL players. May our Catholic Church authorities also recognize their failure to adequately respond to victims and perpetrators and begin to provide the necessary services to demonstrate the compassion of Jesus to those who suffer so terribly in their own homes.