Home Diocesan News Workshop examines clergy response to issues of domestic violence, assault
Workshop examines clergy response to issues of domestic violence, assault Print E-mail
Written by Pete Sheehan   
Friday, 01 December 2017 13:24

When a woman tells a member of the clergy or other Church personnel that she has been a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault, the most important thing is to “believe her.”

That was the message of retired Detective Sgt. Delphine Baldwin-Casey and others at a workshop, “Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault: A Response from the Faith-Based Community,” held Oct. 26 in St. Columba Cathedral Hall, Youngstown. About 50 people from Churches and from various agencies attended.

The daylong workshop featured representatives of Churches as well as agencies that assist domestic violence and sexual assault victims – such as Sojourner House and the Rape Crisis and Counseling Center of Youngstown – discussing how Churches can best respond to these concerns.

“It is indispensable for Churches to be informed and active in these issues,” said the Rev. Lewis Macklin, pastor of Holy Trinity Missionary Baptist Church, Youngstown, president of the Mahoning Valley Association of Churches, and a licensed social worker who has served on numerous social services boards.

“Churches must serve as resources for women who suffer abuse or violence,” Rev. Macklin said.

Believing the victim “is so important no matter who the assailant is or how
incredible the story is,” said Baldwin-Casey, who specialized in cases of violent crimes against women and who now serves as  victim assistance coordinator of the safe environment program for the diocese.

In addition, Baldwin-Casey advised clergy and others to make victims’ safety a priority – to help the victim see her safety as a priority, and to empower her, supporting her but not making decisions for her.

“It may be frustrating if she decides to return to the violent home,” Baldwin-Casey said, “but remember that many women leave and return several times before permanently going out of the situation” when they are ready.

Toward the end, she called for validating the victim’s feelings, letting her know that her feelings are normal and understandable – even as she is questioning her own sanity.

It is also important, Baldwin-Casey said, to be aware of other family members – especially children – not only for their sake but also because showing concern for them can “help clarify her priorities if she is reluctant to act.”

In addition, Baldwin-Casey encouraged everyone to foster education and to be pro-active so as to reduce domestic violence – especially through early intervention and prevention strategies.

Dawn Powell, program manager for the Rape Crisis and Counseling Center of Youngstown, spoke on faith leaders’ response to sexual violence and its prevention.

“The Churches need to be aware of these issues and be sensitive to women because that is where women go” for help, Powell said. So, Churches, Church leaders, Church personnel, and Church members can make Churches “safe spaces” for victims of such violence.

In addition, she noted that clergy can help raise awareness of the issue among their congregations to discourage such violence and to encourage members to be sensitive to the problem and supportive of victims. Powell also called for clergy and Churches to have policies of reporting abuse.

Msgr. John Zuraw, diocesan chancellor and coordinator for the diocesan safe environment program, offered what he referred to as the “Ten Commandments” for clergy in speaking to abuse victims.

“Thou Shall Listen,” he began, and avoid talking too much or taking sides, Msgr. Zuraw said. Rather, clergy need to recognize the complexity of the problems, and realize that “some problems cannot be solved by us and avoid the ‘Savior Complex.’”

Clergy must also avoid saying, “I know how you feel,” but be aware of one’s own trigger points as well as maintaining certain boundaries and knowing the resources that are available to help victims.

Another speaker, Dave Schmidt, director of the diocesan Office of Pro-Life, Marriage, and Family Ministry, spoke on “Religion: Is it a Resource or Roadblock for Battered Women?”

The short answer, Schmidt said, is that when it is misinterpreted, religion can contribute to a victim’s self-blame and suffering and to the abuser’s rationalizations – such as the erroneous but often common belief that women are inferior or that men are meant to dominate or control women.

When understood properly, Schmidt continued, religion is a resource for battered women – affirming their value and offering strength to help such women face the fear, threats, and insecurities of their situation.

He quoted a passage from a statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “When I call for Help: A Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence Against Women:”

“We condemn the use of the Bible to support abusive behavior in any form. A correct reading of Scripture leads people to an understanding of the equal dignity of men and women and to relationships of mutual love,” the statement declared.

In particular, the statement cited Genesis 1:27: “God created mankind in His image. In the image of God He created them. Male and female He created them.”

Whether it takes the form of physical, sexual, psychological or verbal violence, any “violence against women, inside or outside of the home, is never justified,” Schmidt said, but rather is a sin as well as often being a crime.

Moreover, acting to end the abuse does not violate the marriage promises, Schmidt explained. No person is expected to stay in an abusive marriage. Violence and abuse are ultimately what breaks up a marriage.

The Catholic Church offers resources, both to women who are abused and to men who commit abuse, Schmidt said, because “both need Jesus’ strength and healing.”

Asked about the workshop afterwards, Baldwin-Casey said that “it went great but I was somewhat disappointed that there weren’t more clergy present.

“There are lot of things about how to speak to victims that many of them who haven’t been trained as counselors don’t know,” she noted, such as not counseling a victim and an abuser together and awareness of cultural differences among women who have been abused. “They could learn from a day like that.”

Rev. Macklin praised the workshop and the diocese for sponsoring it. “The Catholic Church took the initiative. More Churches need to do that.


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