Goal of Violence is Control, Bishop Says at Vigil Mass for Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Bishop Mark Brennan offers his homily at the Vigil Mass in Observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling Oct. 3. (Colleen Rowan Photo

By Colleen Rowan

WHEELING—Violence comes in many forms, but its goal is always control, Bishop Mark Brennan said beginning his homily for the Fourth Annual National Catholic Vigil Mass in Observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The Mass was celebrated by Bishop Brennan at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling Oct. 3, and was co-hosted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth. The Mass was livestreamed on the diocese’s YouTube channel and Facebook page. Violence in the home, Bishop Brennan said, is common not sporadic like epidemics. Whether it is physical, verbal, emotional, economic, or even spiritual, he said, it seeks to tightly control the life of another. While some men are its victims, he said, it is overwhelmingly women who are the victims of domestic violence by men who usually have an intimate relationship with them―usually their wives or girlfriends. “We don’t like to talk about it,” the bishop said, “but the code of silence lets it, like a virus, go unchallenged to keep doing harm to the victim.” The bishop then recalled that as a young priest, a woman tried to get across to him in subtle language that her husband was hurting her. “I was too naive to grasp what she was saying, or to wonder why she was wearing a long sleeve blouse on a warm summer day,” Bishop Brennan said. “So I was of no help to her.” Some years later, the bishop said, he was doing sidewalk counseling outside of an abortion facility and managed, with others, to convince a young woman not to go in for an abortion. “Her boyfriend was forcing her to get it, she said, and she was afraid of him,” Bishop Brennan said. “Did she want to leave him? I asked. Yes, she said, but she wasn’t sure how. She needed help. I drove her to their apartment, helped her load her things into my car, and took her to the home of some friends.” In her case, the violence was obvious enough to recognize it, Bishop Brennan said, indicating that it was the man’s desire to control her by insisting that she abort her child against her own good judgement. Bishop Brennan said he later took a seminar on domestic violence and learned that violence might be physical, but could also be psychological. He then told the story of a man who while at work would call his wife, not once a day, but every hour questioning her on what she was doing, who she was with. “She was afraid to do anything lest he grow angry with her,” Bishop Brennan said, noting that an abuser will isolate his victim from family and friends to increase dependency on him. He also said that abusers will stalk victims to instill fear. In a family suffering domestic violence, the bishop said, children are victims as well. “Children suffer from seeing their mother treated as a thing, not a woman deserving of respect,” Bishop Brennan said. “Boys may assume that this is how you treat women, and girls might grow fearful of men. If a child tries to stop the violence toward his or her mother, the man often beats the child.” There is a high correlation between violence toward women, and violence toward children, the bishop said, stressing that domestic violence hurts the whole family. “Our American bishops have said, we state as clearly and strongly as we can, that violence against women inside or outside the home is never justified. It is sinful, and often a crime as well. The person being assaulted needs to know that acting to end the abuse does not violate the marriage promises.” Many ask, why women stay in these violent homes, the bishop said. “Some feel pressured to keep the family together and all costs,” he said. “Some belong to ethnic groups that frown on revealing a family problem to outsiders. Women of color may distrust the legal system, immigrants may not know how to use it, while women in rural communities—we have many in West Virginia—may find themselves more isolated and with fewer resources. And there’s always that fear that the violence could get worse if the man suspects the woman is planning to leave.” Some men resort to murder to assert their absolute control over a woman, the bishop said. “No wonder some women stay out of fear,” he said. “I pray for any woman suffering domestic violence will come to understand that it is always wrong, never justified by God’s Commandments; and that there is a way out, if it is carefully planned.” Bishop Brennan then noted the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233, which he said was being flashed on the screen in the livestream of the Mass. Victims can approach a priest or other minister of her religion for help, he said. They need to know about domestic violence and how to help, said Bishop Brennan, who organized workshops on domestic violence for staff of his last parish. “And I intend to do the same for clergy and parish staffs in this diocese,” Bishop Brennan said. “We must know what the scourge is, and what helps and what doesn’t.” Men who use violence to control women come from every race, religion, and socioeconomic status, Bishop Brennan said. For men who accept it, he said, help is available as some may benefit from therapy or anger management courses. For a Christian, his priest or minister can guide him to embrace sincerely the Gospel commandment to love his neighbor, in this case his wife and children without having to have an iron grip on their lives, he said. “Men who hurt women can change,” Bishop Brennan said. “Our faith believes in conversion, that God’s grace can help us to change for the better, to love others as God loves us. But no woman has to stay with a man who refuses to stop being violent. All of us can pray for those who suffer from this rejection of true love, and can offer them our support.” Learning about domestic violence can help all to sympathize with its victims and recognize the signs of its presence, and to reach out and help, the bishop said. “That deeper knowledge helped me,” Bishop Brennan said. “We can also challenge abusive behavior if we see it. A good friend speaks the truth to his friend.” The church’s long-term goal in speaking of domestic violence is to foster good marriages and happy families, Bishop Brennan said. He called to mind the words of St. Paul in the second reading for the Mass that day applied, in a particular way, to marriage and family life: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, think about these things.” “We want marriages and families filled with light not with darkness; to sail on calm seas,” the bishop said, “not through endless storms.” Bishop Brennan thanked God that there are many good husbands and fathers who love their wives and their children. “I have known a great host of them,” he said. “My prayer is that there will be even more. A good husband will give his family the benefit of his energy and wisdom and will rejoice to see his wife and children grow in healthy exercise of freedom,―the freedom to do good. Then the Lord’s vineyard, the family which is the domestic church, will produce good grapes, not bitter grapes, and will give God a rich harvest.” The USCCB’s Pastoral Statement “When I Call for Help “(2002) encourages pastors to dedicate at least one weekend of October to inform people how they can recognize and respond to the signs of abuse. Those experiencing any form of abuse or know someone experiencing abuse, should know there is hope, help, and healing. In an emergency, it is recommended they call 911. For information on local resources, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233; TTY: 800-787-3224.