Social Justice Sunday falls on the last Sunday in August and this year the Australian bishops have used their annual social justice statement to condemn the scourge of domestic and family violence, saying relationships must be “marked by respect and freedom rather than coercion and control”.
The Media Release states:
The Church in Australia has published social justice statements each year since the 1940s on a wide range of topics. This year’s statement is titled Respect: Confronting Violence and Abuse.
The document draws on data around family and domestic violence, and gathers the insights of people – especially women – on that data. It also reflects on the words and example of Jesus.
“The teaching of Christ urges us to promote relationships marked by respect and freedom rather than coercion and control,” Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB writes in the foreword.
“The message of the Gospel is not a message of domination of one person over another but a message of mutual esteem and kindness.”
The statement, citing the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, explains 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 Catholic Church is a major provider of services for all people affected by domestic and family violence through its dioceses, agencies, religious institutes and other organisations.
The statement and associated resources can be found at:
I hope you recall Sunday’s reading from the book of Ecclesiasticus (3:17-20, 28-29) and see its teaching for us on this issue:
My son, be gentle in carrying out your business,
and you will be better loved than a lavish giver.
The greater you are, the more you should behave humbly,
and then you will find favour with the Lord;
for great though the power of the Lord is,
he accepts the homage of the humble.
There is no cure for the proud man’s malady,
since an evil growth has taken root in him.
The heart of a sensible man will reflect on parables,
an attentive ear is the sage’s dream.
The diocesan Social Justice Council along with CatholicCare and The Rosewood Centre have been exploring how we might be able to inform people about this Statement, and the complexity of confronting violence and abuse. We are planning on holding a fundraising lunch event on Friday 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
Recently, I read a book of historical fiction by Ken Follett, called The Pillars of the Earth, about the building of a cathedral in a town of Kingsbridge, England, in the 12th Century. I was shocked and disturbed by the violence and need for revenge of that time in history, particularly the lack of regard for humanity, especially for women. Power, greed and lust appear to have been the key drivers of the day, even though the church had responsibility for villages and people’s overall wellbeing.
Bishop Tim Costello, president of the Australian Catholic Bishop’s Conference introduces the 2022-23 Social Justice Statement in the following video:
The Statement is asking us, as faith communities to be mindful of the violence that is perpetrated on women in particular, and to provide support to them and their children. I believe we continue to imagine and explore the transformation of society, by being informed, and by taking action based on our foundations of faith, hope and love.
The following actions are suggested for how Church communities can confront violence and abuse:
- Listen to, support, and believe those who are experiencing violence and abuse.
- Speak out about the sinfulness of family and domestic violence and the responsibility of perpetrators to change.
- Publicise the support available in your area for victim-survivors and for perpetrators who want to change their behaviour.
- Reflect together on how we might be caught up in structural and cultural violence.
- Reject spiritual abuse by debunking the misuse of faith sources to justify violence, abusive behaviour or to coerce women to stay in unsafe situations.
- Connect with programs, ensuring our responses are evidence-based and trauma-informed.
- Promote resources on responding to family and domestic violence produced by other dioceses such as Perth, Broken Bay and Parramatta.
And finally, here is the accompanying prayer for this Statement:
Loving God, you made each of us in your image and likeness.
Open our eyes to recognise one another as equals,
replacing domination and control, violence, and abuse,
with mutuality, reciprocity, respect, and freedom.
Help us to love like you.
Jesus Christ, you rejected the use of religious traditions to justify violence.
Teach us to unmask manipulations of our faith used
to justify violent, abusive, or coercive behaviour.
Teach us to be people who show tenderness,
respect and care for others as you did.
Holy Spirit, you are with us always, showing us the way.
Move us to assist those who experience violence and
abuse, and support their call for justice.
Empower us to hold perpetrators of violence and abuse
responsible, encouraging them to change their behaviour.