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Those who have been abused by an intimate partner (spouse, dating partner) often grapple with spiritual issues related to the abuse, their role in the relationship, the importance of forgiveness, the meaning of suffering, and their relationship with God. These issues may affect the individual's understanding of sin—the victim's or the abuser's—and the need for reconciliation.
Violence can destroy a person's faith in God or their sense that God loves or cares about them. At the same time, it leads victims to wonder how someone who loves them can do such horrible things to them. Those who live with abuse are often filled with guilt or anger toward their partner or toward God who allows these things to happen.
Religious beliefs can be a reason victims stay in abusive relationships. They may feel that the church or their faith requires them to remain with an abusive partner regardless of the level of violence.
They may also be embarrassed or ashamed of what is happening to them or fear the negative judgments of others in their church if they bring the abuse to light or decide to separate themselves from their abuser.
Domestic violence is not an issue of anger. It is about the use of force or fear to control and intimidate another person in a relationship. Those who have been abused have lived with someone who has used different means to control their life. It is important for the confessor to be sensitive to this issue of control; the confessor must resist the temptation to tell the victim what she must do or to insist that she act in a way she may not choose or before she is ready. This may be interpreted as another form of control.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation offers an important opportunity to address these issues.
There are limits to dealing with issues of abuse in the confessional.
First, the person who chooses to reveal their abuse in the Sacrament of Reconciliation does so for a reason. It may be because of the security the seal of confession provides. It may be because they are not ready to address the issue in a more public forum yet, even if that forum is at the parish office. It may be because they are wrestling with a misplaced guilt or belief that God is punishing them or has abandoned them. As these issues are addressed and they feel the confessor is sensitive and trustworthy, they may be more receptive to addressing these concerns outside of confession.
Second, the limits of the sacrament should be respected. It is not intended to be, nor is advisable to make confession into a counseling session or crisis intervention. The sacrament is an experience of the healing, hope-filled presence of God. What may better be addressed outside the sacrament should be. Encouraging a victim of domestic violence to bring these issues to another forum will be helped if the following things are done first in confession.
Reprinted with permission from the
Department of Marriage and Family
Ministry, Catholic Diocese of
Cleveland, 1031 Superior Ave,
Cleveland, OH 44114.
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