By Cian Molloy - 07 October, 2019
The Irish Bishops have published a pastoral letter which features the harrowing real-life experience of a 43-year-old mother who has survived domestic abuse.
Published on the Church’s annual ‘Day for Life’, the pastoral letter unequivocally condemns domestic abuse and its prevalence in society.
According to the bishops’ pastoral letter, the latest figures on domestic violence show that one in four women and about one in six men experience domestic abuse in their lifetime.
The pastoral letter also cites the findings of a 2018 report by Women’s Aid, which showed that almost nine out of every ten women murdered in Ireland were killed by a man known to them.
“In recent years we have experienced a number of terrible cases of domestic abuse in our own country leading to extreme violence and murder. Such awful events remind us of what can happen if subtle abuse and manipulation of a spouse is allowed to fester and grow into something sinister and threatening,” the pastoral letter states.
Women’s Aid says that “all too often” dangerous patterns present in abusive relationships are dismissed and not taken seriously, putting women at risk of greater injury or death.
“Violence of this kind should never be tolerated or justified. It is an offence against the dignity of the human person,” the Bishops’ stress.
They also quote Pope Francis said on the subject, who wrote in Amoris Laetitia (On Love in the Family) in 2016: “Unacceptable customs still need to be eliminated. I think particularly of the shameful ill-treatment to which women are sometimes subjected, domestic violence and various forms of enslavement which, rather than a show of masculine power, are craven acts of cowardice. The verbal, physical and sexual violence that women endure in some marriages contradicts the very nature of the conjugal union.”
In a shocking personal testimony that accompanies the pastoral letter, a mother-of-two, identified as Laura, tells of how she was horrifically and repeatedly abused during her long marriage to an abusive man.
“I had my jaw broken, teeth broken, was strangled to the point of unconsciousness on countless occasions,” she says.
“On one hospital visit, where I had obviously lied about what had happened, I was told that I had whiplash and significant injuries similar to that of a car accident victim.”
“Despite knowing that his behaviour was unacceptable, I desperately wanted my marriage to work. I was scared 24 hours a day, not knowing when I would be beaten, degraded sexually, or financially and emotionally abused.”
“When my husband beat me up really badly in front of our then three-year-old daughter, I decided that was enough.”
Following their separation, Laura’s husband was given access to their children and on one access visit he attacked their five-year-old daughter, beating her black-and-blue, prompting Laura to contact the police and to bring charges against him. Astonishingly, despite the strong evidence against him, the abuser was found not guilty.
“I felt this to be a sure sign that domestic abuse is not treated seriously enough, even in this day and age,” she says.
The Bishops of Ireland and of England, Wales and Scotland have come together to call on Catholic parishes and communities to be on the alert for signs of domestic abuse and to make themselves places of safety, welcome and assistance to those trying to escape abuse.
“This is a call to action for our parishes, schools and Catholic communities to reflect, learn and act together, so that we can help those suffering from domestic abuse in our parishes, our workplaces and even in our own homes,” the bishops say in their pastoral.
“Knowing what to look for and spotting the signs means that, individually and collectively, we can make a real difference to people’s lives. It is time to start talking and taking action.”