In response to an increase of interpersonal violence during the coronavirus pandemic, a Catholic lay women’s group has published a booklet on raising awareness about domestic abuse, and has included LGBTQ relationships in the discussion.
Designed to educate both clergy and the laity, the publication illustrates how to identify the complex forms of domestic abuse as well as assist victims. According to The Tablet, the National Board of Catholic Women (NBCW), an advisory group to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, authored a booklet entitled “Raising Awareness of Domestic Abuse.” The document is electronically available on the bishops’ conference website, and has been scheduled for hard copy dissemination to local parishes in England and Wales.
This updated resource replaces an outdated document published ten years ago.
While the resource acknowledges the church’s opposition to same-gender marriage, it also applies the bedrock principles of Catholic Social Teaching–the dignity of all God’s creation, care for one’s neighbor, and protection of the most vulnerable in our society– to LGBTQ people and relationships impacted by domestic violence:
“Whilst recognising the teaching of the Catholic Church on same-sex relationships, there will be parishioners who identify as LGBTQ+. As a matter of pastoral compassion, it is important that our priests and parishioners are aware of domestic abuse issues within these relationships. Figures from Stonewall [the U.K.’s leading LGBTQ+ equality organization] show that one in four lesbian and bisexual women have experienced domestic abuse in a relationship. Almost half (49%) of all gay and bi men have experienced at least one incident of domestic abuse from a family member or partner from the age of 16.”
“There is limited research on how many trans people experience domestic abuse in the UK. However, a report by the Scottish Transgender Alliance indicates that 80% of trans people had experienced emotional, sexual, or physical abuse from a partner or ex-partner.”
Margaret Clark, president of the NBCW, commented on the booklet’s comprehensive understanding of domestic abuse:
“Besides new sections on emotional, coercive and spiritual abuse, in which no physical violence takes place, the booklet includes sections on the abuse of men and of members of the LGBTQ community for the first time.”
The booklet provides concrete examples of non-physical abuse within and specific to LGBTQ relationships, like a same-gender partner believing the abuse they suffer will not be perceived as real because they are not in a heterosexual relationship. Especially significant in these examples, however, are the examples given for transgender people:
“With specific reference to trans persons, the following abuse may take place:
“–Withholding medication or preventing treatment needed to express victim’s gender identity (e.g. hormones, surgery).
“–The abuser might use pejorative names and ridiculing persons’ body image (body shaming).
“–The abuser might convince their partner that nobody would believe that they’re being abused because they’re transgender.”
The document also requests that parishes list on their websites and local parish directories the contact information of LGBT groups, such as Stonewall, so that parishioners and clergy can assist victims.
Church officials have both praised and criticized the NBCW’s initiative.
Norbertine Abbot Hugh Allan, an apostolic administrator of the Falkland Islands, who is a member of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, and an episcopal liaison to the NBCW, commented that the booklet is ‘an excellent resource for all of us.’
He also applauded the resource for its multidimensional perspective, stating:
“‘[The booklet is a] source of information to help clergy and parishioners who encounter domestic abuse in its many different forms.’ . . .
“‘I know as a parish priest that I would find the booklet helpful,’ he added. ‘I hope others do, too.’”
Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth criticized the booklet by underscoring that the resource lacked scripture citations, referred victims to non-Catholic organizations for assistance, and contradicted Catholic doctrine on anthropology and the human body. He stated:
“‘I was very disappointed. It never once referred to Jesus, to the Gospels or what Jesus teaches about the care of the vulnerable and Jesus’ advocacy of the poor and the marginalised.’
“‘I am surprised and disappointed, too, that it signposts vulnerable people and victims to organisations which are fundamentally opposed to Christian anthropology, and I think specifically to the Catholic Church. It doesn’t point people to equivalent Catholic organisations.’
“‘We do and should reject any violence and discrimination against those struggling with their gender or sexual identity,’ the bishop said. But to define abuse as withholding hormones and surgery was ‘surprising in a Catholic document because it’s implicitly against Catholic anthropology and the theology of the body.'”
In her conversations with The Tablet, Clark highlighted that biblical and theological citations of gender complementarity were removed from the final version due to concerns that those references would be manipulated to refute the authenticity of LGBTQ identity and relationships.
Robert Shine, associate director of New Ways Ministry, affirmed the document’s importance, specifically on questions of gender identity which are evolving rapidly in the church’s life:
“The National Board of Catholic Women’s booklet on domestic abuse is particularly important because the document classifies opposition to gender transitions and affirmations as abuse. Presumably, this principle would also apply to church officials who denigrate and deny these life-saving procedures to transgender people.”
The NBCW’s updated publication on domestic violence represents a powerful example of how lay leadership and organizations can initiate social change within the church. Their advocacy efforts to articulate how domestic abuse applies to LGBTQ relationships demonstrates a progressive approach that is highly compassionate, nuanced, and data driven.
When pastoral ministry and lay leadership meets Jesus’ salvific love, social science research, and the lived experience of LGBTQ persons and relationships, a robust, healing, and innovative approach can take form to aid those who are suffering.
—Brian William Kaufman, New Ways Ministry, September 9, 2020