Among the unique aspects of our Faith is our belief that marriage is a sacrament, an indissoluble union between two souls, an avenue of grace as real and powerful as the Eucharist or Baptism. When one member of the couple joined together in this sacrament chooses to inflict violence and harm, it is a profane offense. It’s a desecration of a sacrament, a violation of vows made before God, the intentional dehumanization of another person and, uniquely, the abuser’s own soul, who is ontologically bound to the person they abuse.
As Catholics, our response to domestic violence (physical, emotional, and psychological) should entail horror and swift action. However, we are too often conflicted; our belief that sacramental marriage endures for a lifetime runs against the brick wall of human failing, and we mistakenly assume that our duty is to remain mired in abuse in the name of protecting marriage. We prioritize protecting the image of the marital institution above individual human dignity and safety of women and children.
This is wrong, full stop.
If you are in an abusive marriage, you have the right to seek safety and shelter. The fact that you, a woman created in imago Dei, have the right to safety and protected dignity is reason enough.
If you have children, their right to a home free from violence and abuse is reason enough.
You are enough.
No one deserves to live in fear of violence. At the same time, reconciling with such a situation when we never intended to divorce is difficult.
Consider how you would react if you knew that your spouse regularly pocketed the Eucharist on Sunday morning, to then desecrate the Body of Christ at home that evening. How do we respond when we learn of a priest using his position of authority to abuse people in the community?
We strive to protect the victims, seek justice, and prevent the abuser from doing harm to anyone else. As Catholics who believe that justice and mercy are equal partners, this includes preventing the abuser from further harming their own souls. The grave evil of abuse in marriage is just as much an act of sacrilege as is the perversion of other sacraments. By removing yourself from an abusive marriage (whether your situation demands that removal be temporary or permanent), you are not failing your sacramental vows. You are upholding the sanctity of the sacrament by refusing to allow it to be trampled upon.
At FemCatholic, we join the universal Church in praying for the day when women and families everywhere are free from the threat of violence in all areas of society. We want couples to thrive in strong, committed marriages. We also know that we have a long way to go before we see that day. If you find yourself in an abusive relationship, or you fear that your marriage is heading down that path, we want you to have the help you need. It’s our hope and prayer that this resource guide helps you kindle hope, seek help, and find healing.
A Word of Caution:
We are not mental health professionals or trained domestic violence advocates. The resources compiled in this guide are not meant to be substitutes for professional help or legal advice. This is a sister-to-sister map to navigate the resources available to you. Please use your own judgment and seek the advice of professionals in your community.
“What is Domestic Violence?” (The National Domestic Violence Hotline)
Relationship Spectrum (The National Domestic Violence Hotline)
"Forms of Emotional and Verbal Abuse You May Be Overlooking" (Psychology Today)
Domestic Violence (For Your Marriage)
Safety Planning (Domestic Violence Resource Center)
"What is a Safety Plan?" (The National Domestic Violence Hotline)
Safety Planning (Partnership Against Domestic Violence)
"Find Help for Yourself and for Others" (WomensLaw.org)
"How To Recover From Emotional Trauma of Domestic Abuse" (Healthy Place)
"Recovering from Sexual Violence" (RAINN)
"Life After Abuse: Helpful Books to Check Out" (The National Domestic Violence Hotline)
When Your Friend is in Danger
"Supporting Survivors" (No More)
"A Note for Friends and Family of Domestic and Sexual Violence Survivors" (Jess Fayette)
"Help a Friend or Family Member" (The National Domestic Violence Hotline)
"Self-Care for Friends and Family" (RAINN)
"Women Healing the Wounds: National Council of Catholic Women Responds to Domestic Violence Against Women"
What the Church Says
“A spouse who occasions grave danger of soul or body to the other or to the children, or otherwise makes the common life unduly difficult, provides the other spouse with a reason to leave, either by a decree of the local ordinary [e.g., bishop] or, if there is danger in delay, even on his or her own authority.” (Code of Canon Law 1153)
“As pastors of the Catholic Church in the United States, we state as clearly and strongly as we can that violence against women, inside or outside the home, is never justified. Violence in any form—physical, sexual, psychological, or verbal—is sinful; often, it is a crime as well. We have called for a moral revolution to replace a culture of violence. We acknowledge that violence has many forms, many causes, and many victims—men as well as women.
The Catholic Church teaches that violence against another person in any form fails to treat that person as someone worthy of love. Instead, it treats the person as an object to be used. When violence occurs within a sacramental marriage, the abused spouse may question, ‘How do these violent acts relate to my promise to take my spouse for better or for worse?’ The person being assaulted needs to know that acting to end the abuse does not violate the marriage promises.” (USCCB, “When I Call For Help: A Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence Against Women”)
“In some cases, respect for one’s own dignity and the good of the children requires not giving in to excessive demands or preventing a grave injustice, violence or chronic ill-treatment. In such cases, “separation becomes inevitable. At times it even becomes morally necessary, precisely when it is a matter of removing the more vulnerable spouse or young children from serious injury due to abuse and violence, from humiliation and exploitation, and from disregard and indifference.” (Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia 241)