Each month the pope chooses a special prayer intention to guide all of us in our intercessory prayer. This month his intention is Women who are victims of violence.

The Holy Father has produced a special YouTube message for this which you can view here:

There is also a special Pray With the Pope website. As we begin to prepare for Lent the pope suggests that a desire for repentance, in relation to society and perhaps our own past histories, could be among our Lenten prayers.

In our diaconate formation programme and MA degree in Catholic Social Teaching we now have special sessions on Catholic teaching and domestic abuse (of course I realise that the remit of the pope’s prayer intention is not restricted to violence or abuse in the home). It has been important for us to do this in the last year because, as some of you will know, there has sadly been a big rise in incidents of domestic abuse since the first lock-down last March; and the majority of victims of domestic abuse are women and children. People have had to spend more time together, children and young people have been home from school, a lot of people have lost their jobs, and overall in society there has been a big increase in stress and mental health problems, which can cause people to be violent to their partners. There is a growing amount of evidence that the rise in domestic abuse has been one of the most serious social problems during this pandemic, and it is unlikely to decline in the near future. There is a growing need for good advice to be available to women who are victims of domestic abuse and for safe refuges for them.

In the churches and other faith communities, if we’re honest, there is a rather bad history of how women who suffer domestic abuse are supported. Often our churches have not been safe or places where people can find comfort and support. Too often a woman who has been beaten up by her husband or partner has been told by a priest or a nun to bear the suffering, pray for the perpetrator and not even think about escaping from her violent marriage or partnership. Often those who suffer have feelings of guilt, blaming themselves for the violence meted out to them;  disastrous pastoral responses from people in authority in the Church simply make this worse. Moreover the issue is simply not talked about (particularly in more affluent communities); often clergy or sisters will have had little training in how to respond properly. They might themselves have been taught that a marriage should be ‘saved’ at all costs, even if a wife is being constantly beaten up, perhaps in danger of her life; children might also be endangered.

It is worth remembering that violence and other forms of abuse are never acceptable in marriage or in similar partnerships. The only person morally responsible is the violent partner (usually a man); his wife or partner and their children have a human right to be safe; a right not to be endangered within a destructive relationship. It is totally irresponsible to collude with this sin of violence by excusing it or minimising it. The Church has a responsibility to give people good advice and help – that is why sessions for those training for ordination, and for others in pastoral ministry and parish life, are important. In our pastoral ministry all of us – clergy, sisters, teachers, catechists and others – have to respond properly to this; it is a matter of life and death.

This affects all of us: we may know a woman who is a victim of domestic abuse; some of you reading this  may yourselves be victims. The Catholic Bishops Conference has produced special small flyers – which ordinarily we would make available in church – giving details of the Freephone 24 hour National Domestic Violence Helpline (0808 2000 247)

A lot of work is being done in faith groups to build up networks of support, to provide training and raise awareness in churches and faith groups. If you wish to know more visit the website Standing Together against Domestic Abuse . You can also through this make a donation towards this important work.

This Monday, the feast of St Josephine Bakhita, is a special Day for Victims of Trafficking, a terrible form of violence, often against women. Please pray alongside our Holy Father this month for all women who are victims of violence.