Australia’s bishops have used their annual social justice statement to condemn the scourge of domestic and family violence, saying relationships must be “marked by respect and freedom rather than coercion and control”.
The Church in Australia has published social justice statements each year since the 1940s on a wide range of topics. This year’s statement is titled Respect: Confronting Violence and Abuse.
The document draws on data around family and domestic violence, and gathers the insights of people – especially women – on that data. It also reflects on the words and example of Jesus.
“The teaching of Christ urges us to promote relationships marked by respect and freedom rather than coercion and control,” Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB writes in the foreword.
“The message of the Gospel is not a message of domination of one person over another but a message of mutual esteem and kindness.”
The statement, citing the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, explains that family and domestic violence “affects people of all ages and from all backgrounds”, but notes it “predominantly affects women and children”.
Younger women, women with disabilities, people in regional areas, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and members of the LGBTQI+ community were highlighted as particularly vulnerable to violence, various studies have found.
The statement also points out that “family and domestic violence is a painful and complex reality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities”.
The document’s sections cover the importance of listening to women and children, the drivers and enablers of violence, supporting respectful relationships and the importance of respect, dignity and justice, as well as transformation and hope.
The statement concedes that in some contexts, Scripture has been used to explain or even justify instances of violence against women or children. It rejects such distortions.
Passages used to imply the inferiority of women or children “do not reflect a context in which the equal dignity of every human being created in the image and likeness of God is acknowledged, or in which marriage is based on a relationship of love, mutuality and partnership”.
“The respect due to each member of a family, household or community should reflect the respect and care shown for others by Christ,” the statement says.
The statement promotes programs and agencies that support those who suffer various forms of violence, but also highlights the importance of support for those who perpetrate such violence.
The Catholic Church is a major provider of services for all people affected by domestic and family violence through its dioceses, agencies, religious institutes and other organisations.
Respect: Confronting Violence and Abuse has been published ahead of the Catholic Church’s celebration of Social Justice Sunday on the last Sunday of August – August 28 this year.
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Our diocesan logo is theologically rich and very succinct. As a hand, it depicts our mission as a diocese and as individuals within the diocese, of bearing (bringing, carrying) Christ’s love to one another and to the world around us. In this, we are the hand of Jesus Christ, and we are offering ourselves to him so that he might work through us.
We can be the bearers of his love only as a response to his call and in the strength of his grace. We are reminded of this in two ways—through the symbol of the dove (the Holy Spirit) also present in the logo, and by the incorporation of the cross that segments the logo. The presence of the cross is a reminder that bearing the love of Christ will inevitably cost us if we live it authentically. However, in the way that the Cross is the portent of redemption and life—an echo of the tree of life in the book of Genesis—so becoming bearers of the love of Christ will also bring us to life.
The four fingers of the hand also represent the four regions of our diocese. The first is bluerepresenting the beautiful water of the Shoalhaven. The second is a blue and green combination representing the waters and escarpment of the Illawarra. The third is greendepicting the hills and plains of the Macarthur. The fourth is dark green illustrating the forests of the Southern Highlands.