Prevention and putting an end to family violence are of key concern for Catholic Social Services Victoria and the wider community.
Earlier this year, Catholic Social Services hosted the Review Reimage Renew Conference which included a forum on family violence, ‘Family violence: a challenge of the church to make a difference’.
The forum brought together experts on the issue of family violence, with panel members speaking from their experience of direct service provision, advocacy and education. A clear conclusion from the discussion was the gendered nature of family violence—that the overwhelming impact of violence is on women and their children.
The panel members stressed the importance of primary prevention—of preventing violence before it happens, by tackling the underlying causes of violence against women, and the attitudes that allow it to flourish. Education, particularly of young men, was seen to be a priority.
The panel members also spoke strongly about the potential role of the church in seeking to make the changes that may one day reduce the incidence of family violence. Bishop Vincent Long addressed the forum on the Church’s response to family violence. He talked about the church having the potential to be a resource or a roadblock for women experiencing family violence. As a resource, it can encourage women to resist mistreatment. As a roadblock, its misinterpretation can contribute to a victim’s self-blame and suffering, and to the abuser’s rationalisations. A correct reading of Scripture leads people to understand the equal dignity of men and women, and relationships based on mutuality and love, he said.
Bishop Long went on to say:
‘The root causes of violence against women have often been found to be gender inequity and rigid gender stereotypes. Furthermore, violent attitudes and behaviours have their root in the same place—the abuse of power and control of one person over another.’
He called on the Church to be a model of inclusion, empowerment and human flourishing, especially for those who are oppressed, asking can Church leaders—who are mostly male—be champions of change on the issue of family violence and its root causes of gender inequity and rigid gender stereotypes?
In April 2016, the report of the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence was released. The report affirmed the importance of faith communities taking on a role in the community response to family violence, through giving solace to those experiencing harm, educating their communities and ensuring their message is one which unequivocally condemns family violence and sends a message of gender equality. In short, being a resource and not a roadblock.
Since the forum, developments have continued within the Catholic Church in Australia. The Rewrite the Story initiative by the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane www.RewriteTheStory.org.au has commenced.
Within Victoria, Catholic Social Services Victoria has been working with the bishops and with parishes. Briefings for the bishops and resource material for the Catholic community are close to completion, for distribution in the coming months.
We are very aware that change will require a sustained response. An ongoing program is being planned to continue raising awareness and developing skills within the Catholic Church community.