CHICAGO CATHOLICS IN DV MINISTRIES
By Rev. Charles Dahm, O.P.
I have been preaching about domestic violence during Sunday services for eight years, visiting close to 90 parishes at least once. The Archdiocese of Chicago Domestic Violence Outreach (ACDVO) now includes ministries at 75 of about 350 parishes in the Chicago area.
When I started visiting parishes, occasionally a priest would push back, usually because he did not understand the dynamics of domestic violence. Sometimes priests resist the idea of my sermon and a DV ministry because they think it is not a big problem or talking about DV will be controversial.
Typically, there are two or three members of the parish who push back. Some very traditional Catholics might consider my sermon as promoting divorce. In reality, bringing domestic violence to light and discussing it, helps those living in abusive relationships come forward and find help. The U.S. Bishops have written very clearly: “We have to emphasize that no one is expected to stay in an abusive relationship.”
My sermon is tough: When I preach about the prevalence of DV and how people struggle with domestic violence, I frequently get applause. I never thought I would hear applause at church after a sermon. Parishioners often tell me: “I grew up with domestic violence,” or “My sister’s in a bad situation,” “I’m a nurse and I see DV all the time.” Or “I’m a police officer and I know this is a huge problem. Thanks for speaking about it.”
As part of my sermon I invite those interested to meet me on Monday evening. At that meeting between 10 to 40 people usually show up. Some say they’re just curious, but when I ask why they are interested, most have a connection to domestic violence: I will get victims in that group meeting, some who are still hurting in an abusive relationship and others who are survivors, who got out and got help. Some grew up in a home where there was domestic violence. Everyone shares a desire to work on the problem.
Together, we create a domestic violence ministry for the parish to work on raising awareness, connecting victims to services and ultimately interrupting the cycle of violence. With the help of Chicago Says No More, we now have a strong outreach network.
Clearly, Chicago Says No More and the international No More movement have contributed to a greater understanding about domestic violence among the general public. I see a marked difference and wider acknowledgement than when I first started preaching.
Rev. Charles Dahm O.P. is a member of the Chicago Says No More Steering Committee and the Director of Domestic Violence Outreach for the Archdiocese of Chicago. Hope at St. Pius at St. Pius V parish in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood is the largest parish-based DV program in the United States.