How the Church can help (or hurt) women in abusive marriages

When she went looking for help from the church, she was still susceptible to the idea that everything was her fault. One priest said it was a shame she was suffering, but all she could do was offer it up. Another told her she had a demon in her.

But a third priest listened to her story . . .

Read the my latest for America Magazine.

This is one of the most important pieces I’ve ever written, and I’m very grateful to the courageous and honest women who shared their stories with me.

Photo by George Hodan (Creative Commons)

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15 thoughts on “How the Church can help (or hurt) women in abusive marriages”

  1. As a matter of fact, I found your response to me rather insulting too. Why assume, as you apparently did, that I was a stickler for a husband’s right to be abusive in marriage, or a woman’s duty to tolerate it, when I had said quite specifically how much I liked Ms Fisher’s article? Yet your questions implied that I was in fact “rigid” in that particular way. And in your second response you did so again. Isn’t it rather worse to be presumed tolerant of abuse than to be called silly?

    1. LFM,
      Chill. I didn’t think *anything* about you in particular, or your clearly positive response to the article. What I take umbrage with is the “Pope Francis has sowed confusion” crowd. (Crowd). They are obsessed. Otherwise known as:

      “Mr. and Mrs. Whiner”–Pope Francis

      I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that you’re not one of them. 😉

      Happy Friday! How’s Canada these days? I hear it can get really hot there in the summer. Must be beautiful. I’ve only stepped a toe in over there (Whistler) It’s stinkin’ cold here in Santa Barbara. Poor tourists look bewildered when they come here in June. San Francisco was ten degrees warmer last week than here.

      I hope you have a fun weekend. 🙂

  2. Just brilliant article Simcha. If only an abuser realised that he is modelling his behaviour to his children, I think it would be a good mirror to what God thinks of him. And I suspect he would shrivel in shame. I guess common sense tells you that it benefits nobody to stay in an abusive relationship, and God gives us our common sense. I just think priests need to be educated by proper counsellors how to handle these situation when they encounter an abused lady. And I would like to add there is a sense of hypocrisy which exists in the Church where annulments have been granted to couples on grounds far less serious than spousal abuse. Lets be honest here.

    1. I have know a lot of wife-beaters in my day, and not a bleeding one of them ever had a moment’s shame about it. They all think she deserves it, and a few of them reeeeeallllllyyy get off to hearing her scream. So no, prayer is a waste of time. The only thing that helps a battered women is a restraining order, if not a shotgun.

  3. Priests or others advising people to stay in abusive relationships for any reason also does an injustice to the abuser. I had a friend who abused his wife and he never would have gotten the help he needed if their priest hadn’t advised his wife to keave him. Furthermore, by doing so, the abuser continues to be at risk of eternal damnation. The most important thing my friend learned is he had no idea what love was (true self love, which allows you to love others as yourself) and how can you possibly know God then, since God is love..

    1. Pray for abused women, suffer them to come crash in your apartment to escape their abusers, offer them all the help and support you can find.

  4. Expletive deleted !!!
    This is so much easier to read and relate to than your last article. I think you’re now on track into a better place for all your readers. Most decent Catholic humans couldn’t find a thing wrong with this and it’s full of the gentle human kindness that I love about your work. The last article had to be written and I now realise I had to read it, but this feels so much better.
    I don’t usually have any problem signing off a piece of my writing but in this case I want to get it right.
    Thank you Mrs Fisher, I will pray for you with a happy heart.

  5. Wow. Thank you for this.

    We seem to be at a tipping point in history where the true meaning of marriage–what it *IS* and what it is *NOT* is finally being scrutinized in a spotlight.

    I’m thankful to Pope Francis for the supposed “confusion” he has caused. If anyone is “confused” by what you just wrote, or “confused” about others that are still struggling to exist in “irregular” situations, maybe they should consider that they themselves are irregular for not getting what is OBVIOUS.

    Institutional abuse –and the accompanying enabling of abusers that goes with it–* is a mystery of iniquity*.

    Lists of publications (like CRISIS) and institutions that aid and abet this monstrosity, should be circulated for all people of good will to *beware*. They do the work of evil with traditional Church trappings.

    No more silence. No more ugly pride. No more trying to save face. Enough.

    1. It is quite possible to be confused by Pope Francis’s pronouncements on marriage and yet find this article wise and thoughtful.

      1. What confuses you? Do tell! A footnote in chapter 8?

        How about people with legally recorded Catholic marriage certificates that are being abused by their spouses, AND receiving Holy Communion.

        Should we protect Jesus from them because for all intensive purposes it’s clear they are NOT in a valid marriage? (Does the tribunal magically wave a wand which changes her valid marriage to an invalid one?)

        If the abused “wife” stuck with the marriage for ten years “a la Monica/Rita” and received communion for those ten years, could those communions be considered sacrilegious if she was sexually active with their abusive partner?

        Was she not only abused, but sinning sexually, and against the body of Christ for taking communion while in an invalid marriage? Hmmmm?

        This article states that two of the women were not only abused by their “spouses”, but were abused by their Churches as well. Is it not understandable that they might have left the Church considering so many wounds?

        Now let’s suppose the poor woman met another wounded Catholic soul in a divorce support group, and civilly married that man with whom she is profoundly in love –a man who treats her body like the body of Christ–They go on to have two beautiful daughters that they adore. The love is palpable.

        Do you believe that it is *possible* that they are *married* in the eyes of God? If they return to Church to have their daughters baptized, should they be barred from Holy communion if they haven’t started the annullment proceedings due to the fact that the very thought of such a thing triggers PTSD?

        1. Anna lisa, you have a marvellous talent for putting words in people’s mouths. Didn’t you get that I said I liked this article? Did you not notice that I made no attempt to quarrel with anything it said?

          I think it is very possible that a husband who abuses his wife is not validly married to her, since he clearly does not understand the nature of the marriage bond.

          Your questions are intentionally silly, based on what you think a literal interpretation of Catholic strictures against divorce would mean. Stop addressing me as if I were a “traddy”. I have already told you several times over (on Mark Shea’s website) that I’m not.

          1. K.

            Do you always insult people when you are being unspecific about what confuses you?

            I haven’t felt silly for days and I miss it.

            It didn’t enter my mind that you are a Traddy, but now that you mention it…

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