Friday, January 29, 2016

Part II: The Complexity of the Sacrament of Marriage and IPV



In Part I of this series, (Which you can absolutely pause to go read by clicking right here) I give you a bit of background on me, and talked about the important differences between a typical marriage and one that involves Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). In this post, I want to talk about what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) and the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (CSDC), can tell us about IPV.


Marriage is Good. It Builds Character.

The CCC has much to say about marriage. In fact, there is an entire section (Article Seven) dedicated to chatting all about it. I supplied the 'in brief' text in the last post, so here is my paraphrasing: marriage is good. It builds character and helps you develop virtue. I am going to go out on a limb here and assume that you know the basics of the sacrament: a consenting man and a consenting woman enter into the vows of marriage freely and equally yoked. Good and bad times, sickness and health, through the raising of children and family holiday get-togethers, until death parts them.

The CCC defines consent:

1625 The parties to a marriage covenant are a baptized man and woman, free to contract marriage, who freely express their consent; "to be free" means:
- not being under constraint;
- not impeded by any natural or ecclesiastical law.
1626 The Church holds the exchange of consent between the spouses to be the indispensable element that "makes the marriage."If consent is lacking there is no marriage.
1627 The consent consists in a "human act by which the partners mutually give themselves to each other": "I take you to be my wife" - "I take you to be my husband."This consent that binds the spouses to each other finds its fulfillment in the two "becoming one flesh."
1628 The consent must be an act of the will of each of the contracting parties, free of coercion or grave external fear. No human power can substitute for this consent. If this freedom is lacking the marriage is invalid.

One thing is clear: marriage is a sacrament and it is indissoluble. We also are given a clear picture of the elements required for a marriage to exist. In the Catholic faith, there is no such thing as divorce. An annulment is not a Catholic divorce. An annulment can be obtained when there is proof that the couple were in fact never truly in union. What God (and the Church) asks of us in the sacrament of marriage sounds idyllic because, well, it is. It is what God meant for us before the fall, before sin. In our fallen world, marriage vows mean overcoming (together) some nasty stuff. and I quote:

1606 Every man experiences evil around him and within himself. This experience makes itself felt in the relationships between man and woman. Their union has always been threatened by discord, a spirit of domination, infidelity, jealousy, and conflicts that can escalate into hatred and separation. This disorder can manifest itself more or less acutely, and can be more or less overcome according to the circumstances of cultures, eras, and individuals, but it does seem to have a universal character.

The CCC gives us an in depth analysis of how things work when all parties are willing. Humans sin. There is no perfect person walking this earth. We do our best, sin anyways, go to confession, and try not to sin again. But we do. My interpretation of the above passage is that "a spirit of domination"  (abuse) within the sacrament of marriage is sinful.

IPV and the Sacrament of Marriage: Clear as Mud

Let's set aside the ideal marriage, or even the typical marriage. What about a relationship that includes IPV?

Here is what we know:

  • IPV is a complex web of manipulation, deceit, and violence. It is about power and control.
  • Death is the only dissolution of the sacrament of marriage. 

Clear as mud, eh? I believe what the Catholic Church is getting at by reminding us that sin is not a marriage deal breaker, is that our duty as disciples of Christ, is to believe in forgiveness and the rehabilitation of humanity. It is why we do not accept the death penalty as a catch-all solution: we believe that all human life has dignity, value, and free will. We have the ability to choose good and turn away from our destructive ways and, since we are all in this together, we can help each other get there through faith and community. The CSDC notes that this:


entails a duty to denounce, when sin is present: the sin of injustice and violence that in different ways moves through society and is embodied in it. By denunciation, the Church's social doctrine becomes judge and defender of unrecognized and violated rights, especially those of the poor, the least and the weak.
This thought dovetails nicely with the trusty CCC's recognition of severe marital situations that may require a physical separation:


1649 Yet there are some situations in which living together becomes practically impossible for a variety of reasons. In such cases the Church permits the physical separation of the couple and their living apart. the spouses do not cease to be husband and wife before God and so are not free to contract a new union. In this difficult situation, the best solution would be, if possible, reconciliation. the Christian community is called to help these persons live out their situation in a Christian manner and in fidelity to their marriage bond which remains indissoluble.

My take away here is that our Church is acknowledging not only that there are cases where sin is so catastrophic that a physical separation may be in order, but that it is our duty as Christians to to speak out against this sins of injustice and violence, AND to support those involved in healing.

Since the Church is filled with sinners, I feel I am safe to assume that we are called to support the sinner. We must keep in mind however that, when IPV is involved, there are victims. They are also in need of community support and protection.

That is a great deal of information to digest. I find the CCC and the CSDC both to be insightful. I am not a theologian, but reading these documents, knowing what I know about IPV, and trusting what I know about Catholicism, I can safely say that it is not okay for a spouse to abuse their spouse.

So, what options are available to a spouse that is experiencing violence within their marriage? In the next post, we will look at different scenarios, hear more about IPV from Lundy Bancroft, and turn to the lives of the saints for more information.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Part I: What You Need to Know About Intimate Partner Violence

Why I Am Writing This

As I finally sit down to write this post (or four), I feel as though a million thoughts will start pouring onto the screen at once. I want to talk about intimate partner violence (IPV, domestic violence, violence inside of marriage, abuse) and the Church's response. This is an expansive topic, and one that I have done my best to cover in tiny pieces over the years, but there is so much more to say and so many more questions to ask.

A few caveats before I begin. I have resources to use as I write. I will use them, link to them, and cite them for you. I will do my absolute best to be clear about what various Church documents say on the matter. I will also do my best to be clear about when I am interpreting and using my own thoughts.

In the nearly ten years I have spent studying these issues, I have often encountered people that want to know how a person is "qualified" to speak from a place of authority about the dynamics of violent relationships. This skepticism knows no bounds. My former supervisor had spent her entire career in the advocacy field and was not taken seriously in professional settings. You can be Lundy Bancroft himself and people will still challenge what you know about abuse, despite decades of experience.

I have also never once entered into a conversation about violence against women without someone piping up to make certain that I know women are abusive towards men also. In no way do I deny that this is true. My goal here is to speak to the way our culture (patriarchy, unequal rights for women, laws naming women as property and that allow men to beat their wives, and even misinterpretations of scripture and Church teaching that submit women are inferior to men) allows for violence against women to be a pervasive issue, and has done so for centuries. If you think I am being sexist or unfair or narrow-minded for not addressing men's rights here as well, then this is not the place for you.

So, here is what I know. I have been trained as a domestic and sexual violence advocate. I spent several years working with women that had experienced IPV or sexual assault. I've been Catholic all my life. I attended a catholic college and have a degree in a religious studies field. I have a strong interest in Catholic Social Teaching, and over the last several years I have read all that I can about the Church, women, social justice, feminism, etc. The Church's response to domestic and sexual violence is important to me. Advocating for women and their children is important to me, and it is a topic I frequently write about both here and as a guest writer elsewhere.

It is my experience that people often do not understand what is different about abusive relationships. People also often misunderstand Catholic (Christian) teaching. Put these things together and it is a ball of misinterpretation and confusion. Recently, I have been speaking about these things with a woman that is experiencing abuse in her marriage. In my conversations with her, I realized that so much of this is just never really covered in the Life Manual. So, let's talk about it.


What You Need to Know About Intimate Partner Violence

In a typical romantic relationship, there is mutual love and respect. There are good and bad times, suffering and happiness. It takes two committed people. When we are talking about marriage in the Catholic faith, you commit to living out your vocation together, until death do you part. Marriage is not one size fits all: it looks different for all couples. The Catechism of the Catholic Church  (CCC) summarizes:



1660 The marriage covenant, by which a man and a woman form with each other an intimate communion of life and love, has been founded and endowed with its own special laws by the Creator. By its very nature it is ordered to the good of the couple, as well as to the generation and education of children. Christ the Lord raised marriage between the baptized to the dignity of a sacrament.

1661 The sacrament of Matrimony signifies the union of Christ and the Church. It gives spouses the grace to love each other with the love with which Christ has loved his Church; the grace of the sacrament thus perfects the human love of the spouses, strengthens their indissoluble unity, and sanctifies them on the way to eternal life.

1662 Marriage is based on the consent of the contracting parties, that is, on their will to give themselves, each to the other, mutually and definitively, in order to live a covenant of faithful and fruitful love.

An abusive relationship is about power and control of another person. There is not mutual respect in an abusive relationship. In Why Does He Do That? , Lundy Bancroft (I would link to his site but it seems to have been hacked right now. He has spent many years developing batterer's intervention programs, working with abusers, and advocating for children that come from abusive homes.) says:

Abuse and respect are diametric opposites: You do not respect someone whom you abuse, and you do not abuse someone whom you respect.

The best visual aid I can give you for this conversation comes to us from the Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project (DAIP) and it is called the Power and Control Wheel. The folks in Duluth are pioneers in the violence against women movement. (If you are interested in knowing more about the grassroots advocacy movement, here is a thorough timeline.)


If you went out on a first date with a man and he told you that you were worthless and then proceeded to slap you across the face, I'd be willing to wager all of my money that you would not be going out with him again. Abusers are manipulative. They know how set up a relationship to their advantage.  They know how to be a pillar of the community and someone everyone outside of the relationship can trust. They know how to make their partner appear to be crazy. A combination of abusive tactics are used to coerce their partner into the relationship, and then into enduring the abuse. The tactics an abuser may use to keep control over their partner include but are not limited to physical violence, sexual manipulation, emotional/verbal harassment, financial control, isolation, manipulation of access to children, and various forms of minimizing, denying, and blaming their victim for the abuse.

It is not a typical relationship. A spouse does not have the right to manipulate and cause harm to their partner. That is not love.

I'd like to leave you with a link to a post that I wrote in September 2014. I am not much of a biblical scholar, so the resources I have used to guide the next post in this series are Church documents rather than scripture. In this post, I looked up some common bible verses related to marriage and addressed IPV as it relates to the bible. (I am also happy to report that I now have a very comfortable chair, and I am glad that I no longer have to grumble about things in the uncomfortable chair.)