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.

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