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US bishops tell battered women not to stay in abusive marriages

Women who are victims of domestic violence should not stay in abusive marriages, and anyone who tells them to grin and bear it is a "false prophet", the US Catholic bishops declared yesterday at their annual autumn meeting in Washington.

Condemning the ways religion has aided abusers and frightened wives into submission, the bishops overwhelmingly approved a church policy statement instructing clergy and lay ministers to put the safety of abuse victims ahead of efforts to restore the marriage.

"As pastors of the Catholic Church in the United States, we state as clearly and as strongly as we can that violence against women, in or outside the home, is never justified," the bishops said.

The historic statement, approved by a 249-2 vote, says violence and abuse, not divorce, break up a marriage.

The statement encourages abused women to talk to someone they trust, such as a relative, friend or parish priest, and to find out about resources that help battered women and their children. If the woman chooses to stay in the abusive situation, the bishops advise her to set up a safety plan that includes hiding a car key and money and finding a safe place to go in an emergency.

For those who are divorced, the statement encourages victims to seek an annulment. Domestic violence can be grounds for an annulment, or declaration that the marriage is invalid, and allows people to remarry in the church.

The bishops' document also holds out hope for restoring the relationship, but said the church's first two priorities must be the safety of the victim and her children and holding the abuser accountable. The bishops encourage abusers to admit the problem is their own and not their partner's, and to seek help.

US bishops first spoke out against domestic violence 10 years ago, but decided to return to the topic this year out of concern that religion be seen as a resource rather than a roadblock for abused women. In "When I Call for Help: A Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence Against Women," a document developed by the bishops' Committee on Women in Society and in the Church, the bishops say biblical passages that say women should submit to their husbands have been twisted to help abusers rationalize their behavior and frighten women into staying in violent marriages.

The Plain Dealer/

November 2002 Bishops' Meeting (US Conference of Catholic Bishops)
Sex abuse crisis threatens to cut church funds, says national study (Catholic News Service)
Catholic bishops seeking to reclaim their authority (International Herald Tribune/The New York Times)
Access to Bishops Limited: Survivors of Abuse Note Contrast With Meeting in Dallas (Washington Post)
Sex abuse victim advocates try to sway bishops on eve of vote

14 Nov 2002