Perth Auxiliary Bishop Don Sproxton has mirrored Pope Francis sentiment in relation to domestic violence, following the Perth launch of the 2022 Social Justice statement Respect: Confronting Violence and Abuse.
The Perth launch of the 2022 Social Justice Statement, held last Tuesday 23 August at Newman Siena Centre, was attended by representatives from Archdiocesan agencies and organisations, CEWA, Notre Dame University as well as local Catholics and clergy.
Justice Ecology and Development Office Director Carol Mitchell launched the statement, emphasising that it acknowledges the more gendered and learned nature of intimate partner domestic violence as well as broader family violence and abuse.
“But notes that this needs to be a whole of community concern with corresponding effective action,” Mrs Mitchell said.
“That is, timely and culturally appropriate safety plans are needed, with the prioritising of the survivors’ safetyas wellas holding theperpetrators to accountfor their actions (such as through perpetrator behaviour change programs)as theyare both critical,” she said.
Mrs Mitchell also highlighted that attendees at the launch were asked to consider that we all have a positive part to play to promote respectful relationships – thus enabling individuals, families and communities to flourish. So, we challenge you today to prayerfully reflect on what is going to move you to social justice action – to help enable others to safety and ‘fullness of life’ (cf John 10:10); and to confront violence and abuse in its many forms.
“Given those in attendance represented a cross-section of Catholic agencies and institutions who are well placed to further promote the Statement, the JEDO facilitated Perth Launch broadens the range of change agents so more can heed the call to respect one another through “relationships marked by equality and reciprocity rather than dominion and control; respect and freedom rather than coercion and control” (SJS, p 13),” Mrs Mitchell said.
In his 2016 exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis acknowledges that domestic violence exists in families in our Church and our parishes, and declares that it is not something we can turn a blind eye to, Bishop Sproxton explained.
“He reiterates Canon 1153, saying that in cases where a spouse and children are experiencing violence and abuse, ‘separation becomes inevitable’ and even ‘morally necessary’ for their safety,” Bishop Sproxton explained.
“He expresses deep empathy for persons in those situations, ‘who have been forced by maltreatment from a husband or wife to interrupt their life together.’
Speaking in December 2021, Pope Francis said that men who commit violence against women engage in something that is “almost satanic”.
He made the comment – some of the strongest language he has used to condemn such violence – during a programme broadcast on Italy’s TG5 network in which he conversed with three women and a man, all with difficult backgrounds.
“The number of women who are beaten and abused in their homes, even by their husbands, is very, very high,” he said in answer to a question by a woman named Giovanna, a victim of domestic violence.
Pope Francis said Europe had failed to heed the lessons from history during his address in December 2021 to people at a migration camp.
“The problem is that, for me, it is almost satanic because it is taking advantage of a person who cannot defend herself, who can only [try to] block the blows,” he said. “It is humiliating. Very humiliating.”
Bishop Sproxton said Pope Francis’ comments are very true, highlighting that the loss of Christ in situations of domestic violence is a significant outcome.
“For both the abuser and the victim, it becomes a very challenging situation to see Christ alive in the other person,” Bishop Sproxton said.
“It is important we never forget that we are made in the image and likeness of God, and our relationships with each other should always be marked with respect and freedom, rather than coercion and control,” he said.
The 2022 statement, which is published by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, cites the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, explaining that family and domestic violence “affects people of all ages and from all backgrounds”, but notes it “predominantly affects women and children”.
Younger women, women with disabilities, people in regional areas, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and members of the LGBTQI+ community were highlighted as particularly vulnerable to violence, various studies have found.
The statement also points out that “family and domestic violence is a painful and complex reality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities”.
The document’s sections cover the importance of listening to women and children, the drivers and enablers of violence, supporting respectful relationships and the importance of respect, dignity and justice, as well as transformation and hope.
The statement concedes that in some contexts, Scripture has been used to explain or even justify instances of violence against women or children. It rejects such distortions.
Passages used to imply the inferiority of women or children “do not reflect a context in which the equal dignity of every human being created in the image and likeness of God is acknowledged, or in which marriage is based on a relationship of love, mutuality and partnership”.
“The respect due to each member of a family, household or community should reflect the respect and care shown for others by Christ,” the statement says.
The statement promotes programs and agencies that support those who suffer various forms of violence, but also highlights the importance of support for those who perpetrate such violence.
The statement and associated resources can be found at: www.socialjustice.catholic.org.au