A Catholic psychologist who recently met with the Pontifical Council for the Laity says violence between partners is still a massive problem globally — and it's gaining more attention from the Vatican. “Domestic violence, currently called intimate partner violence (IPV) in professional literature to distinguish partner violence from child abuse, is still a very common problem in the U.S.,” Dr. Christauria Welland, Psy.D. told CNA Nov. 7. “This is so despite more than 30 years of intensive awareness and intervention on the part of federal and state lawmakers, law enforcement, victim advocates, therapists for victims, perpetrators and children exposed to IPV, the media and educators of every kind.” Each year in the United States more than 12 million women and men are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, she revealed, adding that in the course of their lives 33 percent of women and 28 percent of men in the U.S. report at least one incident of IPV. IVP includes physical violence, sexual violence, stalking and psychological aggression, the psychologist explained noting that the impact of these on women is three times greater than on men. “By any measure, these are enormous and troubling numbers,” she said, explaining that what damages the self-esteem and mental health of the victim the most, as well as her ability to parent her children, “is the frequent, crushing emotional and psychological abuse of the abuser.” Welland is a Catholic clinical psychologist in private practice in Solana Beach, Calif., with a hospital practice in the rehabilitation unit at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas and Paradise Valley Hospital in National City. She is also an adjunct faculty member at Alliant International University in San Diego, where she teaches a licensure course on domestic violence. The psychologist was in Rome during the recent extraordinary synod of bishops on the family, where she had her second meeting with Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family Archbishop Jean Laffitte to discuss possible initiatives designed to bring greater attention to the issue of IPV. While in Rome she also met with Dr. Karlijn Demasure, who works in the Centre for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University, to discuss similar initiatives as well as the possibility of teaching a seminar study course on IPV at the university. Welland noted how although there is a lower rate of IPV in Catholic families, they are not excluded from the problem, and tend to have equal numbers to couples from other religious practices. Often cultural beliefs play a role in the situation, which are difficult to distinguish from religious beliefs in a culture which is strongly impacted by religion, she said. However there is “obviously so much in Catholic teaching that promotes respect, love and human rights, and that serves as a positive force for families affected by violence.” Although there are not many diocesan-wide pastoral responses to the issue of IPV, many domestic violence shelters are run by Catholic organizations. Despite the fact there is still much work to be done, Welland said that knowledge of appropriate and compassionate responses to the situation have improved in recent decades. Some dioceses collaborate with other religious groups to address the issue, which sends a strong message that violence “is not acceptable in any family,” and that “our religion stands against violence and with the victimized,” she said. In her meeting with Archbishop Laffitte in Rome, Welland said the pontifical official expressed a “deep interest” in the effects of IPV on victims and children, particularly regarding the issues of physical and sexual violence throughout the world. In addition to giving her various ideas on helpful resources for her work with families affected by IPV, the archbishop also expressed his interest in giving the topic a specific focus at next year's World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, she said. The topic of IPV was also on the “instrumentum laboris” — working document — of this year’s extraordinary synod of bishops on the family, and will also be discussed during next year’s ordinary synod, which is set to take place right after the Philadelphia encounter. Although discussion on the topic is far from over, the psychologist expressed her hope that the final synod document next year “will express an accurate understanding of IPV, as well as outline a plan of action that can be put into place throughout the Catholic world.”
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