Parishes take on domestic violence ministry

A version of this story appeared in the Sept. 25-Oct. 8, 2015 print issue under the headline: Parishes take on domestic violence ministry.

by Heidi Schlumpf

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About seven years ago, Valerie Yokie was serving on the Chicago Archdiocesan Women's Committee, when Cardinal Francis George opened up the meeting to hear the members' concerns and priorities. Yokie raised the issue of domestic violence. 

A fellow committee member spoke up and said she had lived for many years with a man who kept a gun under their bed and threatened to kill her and her mother if she left. Another woman said she had stayed in an abusive relationship because of her children, but eventually escaped. A third committee member admitted she also had stayed too long with an abuser, but left when he became so violent she was afraid for her life. 

"Everybody kind of sucked air," Yokie remembered. That three of the committee's 18 members shared personal experiences with domestic violence likely meant that another three were remaining silent. 

Nearly one in every three U.S. women report having been physically abused by a spouse or boyfriend at some point in her life, according to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That's about the same -- or even more -- than the number of women who will have an abortion in their lifetime. Yet, compare the church's ministries dedicated to abortion to those dedicated to domestic violence and, sadly, domestic violence ministries are few and far between. 

For example, in 2008, the U.S. bishops' Committee for Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth surveyed all 195 dioceses and archdioceses in the U.S. about their domestic violence services or programs: Only 35 responded. 

One Chicago priest is trying to change that. Fr. Chuck Dahm, a Dominican well-known for social justice work during his 51 years of priesthood, began a domestic violence outreach in the Latino parish where he had served as pastor for 21 years. Now as the archdiocesan director of Domestic Violence Outreach, he has preached at more than 50 parishes and helped found ministries at more than 40 of them, including St. Raymond de Penafort in the northwest suburb of Mount Prospect, Ill., Yokie's parish.

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