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.)
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.)