Laura Yeomans, the program manager for the Parish Partners Program of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, presents a domestic violence workshop at an Eastern Regional St. Vincent de Paul Conference on June 23. (Photo courtesy of Laura Yeomans)
Laura Yeomans, the program manager for the Parish Partners Program of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, presents a domestic violence workshop at an Eastern Regional St. Vincent de Paul Conference on June 23. (Photo courtesy of Laura Yeomans)
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington recently released a domestic violence pastoral resource packet titled Listen with Love, aimed at equipping parishes to recognize and respond to people experiencing domestic violence in their communities. Domestic violence affects one in four women, and in the past few years, a group of priests in the archdiocese have been working together to find ways to educate people about the issue.

“In our pews, in our parishes, people do deal with this and deal with it in ways that are very, very hidden (and) secret,” said Msgr. John Enzler, the CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington. “It is a terrible burden to bear to be so afraid of your partner.”

A Catholic Charities Priest Advisory Committee, led by Msgr. Enzler, worked together to create this resource packet that includes pastoral aids, such as homily tips and pastoral guidelines for responding both to victims and to abusers; information about resources in the District of Columbia and each of the five Maryland counties in the Archdiocese of Washington; worship and outreach materials, such as bulletin announcements, prayers of the faithful and fliers; and group study materials for the USCCB’s 2002 document on domestic violence, When I Call for Help.

The other members of the advisory committee included Msgr. Mike Mellone, pastor of Annunciation Parish in Washington; Father John Dillon, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Derwood; Franciscan Father Kevin Thompson, parochial vicar of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Washington; Father Joseph Calis, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Silver Spring; Father Jim Boccabella, pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish in Silver Spring, and Father Rob Maro, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Church in Newtowne.

Msgr. Enzler said the committee picked the title Listen with Love, in order to “focus on how we should be treating each other.”

“The key thing is ‘Are we really loving toward each other? Are we really treating each other with the respect and devotion we deserve?’” he explained.

Inside of the document, one of the pastoral tips that is emphasized repeatedly is the importance of listening to survivors of domestic violence, which the USCCB defines as “any kind of behavior that a person uses to control an intimate partner through fear and intimidation. It includes physical, sexual, psychological, verbal, and economic abuse.” The packet encourages people to affirm survivors by listening and responding with things like, “I believe you” and “you are not alone.”

“People really appreciate that Church is starting to step up,” said Msgr. Enzler. “They feel validated and they feel loved.”

Laura Yeomans, the program manager for the Parish Partners Program of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, emphasized that each parish domestic violence ministry will look different depending on the needs and skills of that community. When Yeomans goes to a parish, she works with them to train their parish leaders and then discusses what would be the best path forward given that parish’s needs.

“Because this issue is so complicated and the danger that families experience is very high, it is not the type of ministry where you can just jump in and run and start helping people,” explained Yeomans. “You have to jump in and study, do training first.”

The long-term goal, she said, is “to create protective environments in parish and schools where they know how to recognize and respond to people experiencing domestic abuse.”

Yeomans also said she would point parishes toward Catholic Charities’ program called Matthew 25, which provides staff and financial support for new ministries serving families in need, including people experiencing domestic violence.

“Many abused women seek help first from the Church because they see it as a safe place,” said the USCCB in When I Call for Help. “Even if their abusers isolate them from other social contacts, they may still allow them to go to church.”

Msgr. Enzler noted St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring and Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Potomac as two parishes in the archdiocese that have already begun domestic violence ministries, with homilies and workshops on the topic. On Oct. 14, Our Lady of Mercy hosted a workshop about healthy relationships for teens, given by the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse.

October is both Respect Life Month and Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and this year, Catholics for Family Peace, an organization based out of The Catholic University of America, is encouraging everyone to join them in prayer for family peace every day at 3 p.m.

In a homily given at a Mass for family peace at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception last October, Msgr. Enzler said domestic violence is an issue that is not always discussed in the Church, and suggested that it should be elevated to the level of discourse that other life issues – such as abortion, capital punishment and assisted suicide – receive.

“This is an issue that involves all of us in the Church,” he said.

For more information about Catholic Charities’ domestic violence resources, visit https://www.catholiccharitiesdc.org/familypeace/. Parishes who are interested in starting a domestic violence ministry can contact Yeomans at l[email protected] for more information about how to do so.