When Home is Hell

Comments on this post about divorce have, as these things usually do, veered off into the subject of abusive relationships in marriage. Here, just for the record is my two cents on that topic.

Wifebattering1

Never can true reconcilement grow where wounds of deadly hate have pierced so deep.

John Milton, Paradise Lost

I chose the quote above because of it’s origin. It comes from Paradise Lost, which is the tale of Satan, cast out of heaven and down to hell because of his hatred.

People who beat and batter their own families seem like that to me. Ditto for the monsters who sexually abuse their own loved ones.

I am talking about people so cowardly that they spend their frustrations on the people who trust them and who deserve their protection because they, unlike the rest of the world, are unwilling or unable to fight back against their real problems.

What kind of monster would hit or batter their own spouse? Don’t they know that their husband or wife is their own self?

You can not harm you’re life’s companion, the person you create other people with, the only one who will be there beside you throughout your days in this life, without also harming yourself.

I repeat: What kind of monster attacks his or her own wife or husband, his or her own children?

Home is refuge, one that, in these increasingly traumatic times, we all need. Home is, as Robert Frost said, “where, when you go there, they have to take you in.” Home is that last place on earth where you can go, where you will be safe, even when the rest of the world is perilous.

Home is also the last place on earth anyone should defile with their violence and abuse of other people.

If batterers are so brave, let them take their rages to the world and try yelling at their boss or talking back to the cop who writes them a ticket. See who lets them in the house later when they’ve been fired, or who empties the piggy bank to pay their bail.

It will be those people no one should ever attack: Their family.

Manly men do not beat up women. Manly men do not rape children.

Womanly women do not batter their kids. Womanly women do not berate and belittle their husbands.

To paraphrase Emily Dickinson, home is meant to be the closest thing to heaven we will know in this life. But, with our propensity to evil, many of us turn our homes into all we need to know of hell.

What should a Christian do when they’ve married what they thought was a good person and find later that they have yoked themselves to a monster?

If there is violence or sexual abuse, you must divorce them. If you have to go to a shelter or take out restraining orders, do it. If they are violating your children, send them to prison. You owe that to the rest of society, so that they won’t do it again to other children.

I do not fully understand the nuances of the Church’s teaching in this regard and I am speaking here entirely for myself. But you and your children have a right to life, the same as everyone else. Physical violence or sexual abuse are threats to that right to life. They are an abrogation of your dignity as human beings made in the image and likeness of God.

There can be no marriage with a monster and people who do things like this to their own families are monsters. I do not know how the Church treats these things, but as far as I am concerned, a person who is so morally deficient that he or she will physically attack their own family is incapable of entering into a sacramental marriage in the first place. They are too morally blighted for the words of their vows to have meaning.

In short, get yourself safe and sort out the finer points later.

As for those readers who actually batter their wives or husbands, you need to go to a priest and, after confession, ask for referrals where you can get help. You also need to move out of the family home until you are safe for them. If you never are safe for them, then realize that you are not worthy of having a family of your own.

If, on the other hand, you have sexually abused your children, you need to turn yourself in to the police. I mean that. You can get counseling and whatever in prison. But you do not belong free.

I don’t know that people who commit these kinds of crimes against their own families ever turn themselves into the police. I have never personally heard of it. However, I do know people who have gone to prison for sexually abusing their children.

That is just the beginning for the children who have been through this. If they do not get immediate help, they will suffer the consequences of what was done to them all the days of their lives.

If your spouse has done this to your kids, you need to consider the best ways to get your children the therapy they need. As always, the Church is a great resource. Here in my archdiocese, the Church offers all sorts of help for families and children in distress, and most of it is free.

If you are the victim of battering or abuse yourself, you need to take care of yourself by getting therapy and assistance for you.

Grief

In the midst of all this, do not forget your spiritual healing. A kind priest can do wonders about helping you through times like this. If you should run into one of the occasional bad priests who are unsympathetic or who try to get you to stay in a situation that is violent and dangerous, just find another priest. You can talk to your bishop about this bad guy later, when you are stronger.

Many times, families who have an abusive member are isolated from other people. You may not have been attending church. Or, if you have, you may not have been able to participate in the guilds and groups that help you meet people and form friendships. Don’t let this stop you from seeking their help now. I would not hesitate to call the parish altar society or Knights of Columbus, and ask them for support and help.

If you’re lonely, say so. If you need a job, ask them for leads. You will probably be astonished by the help they give you and how much it enables you to move forward with your life.

If, for some reason, they don’t respond, try another parish.

Above all, pray, pray, pray. The Rosary is a wonderful prayer for bad times for the simple reason that you don’t have to come up with the words. When you are distraught and can’t think what to say, the Rosary will pray for you.

Ruth Graham once said that if two people are married and never disagree, then one of them is unnecessary. All marriages, even the best of them, have their times when the spouses are at loggerheads over something or other.

In a good marriage, this usually lasts only a few hours at most, then the love the two of them have for one another works its magic. But even the best marriages have times when one spouse is in their private misery over work or feelings of failure or grief and the other spouse cannot reach them. These are tough times. But they are not a reason for divorce.

Love perseveres.

But when a marriage descends into the hell of violence and abuse, that is a sure sign that there is no love there to persevere. Some things are not negotiable. One of them is that anyone who harms their family in this way does not deserve to have a family.

It’s as simple as that: They don’t deserve you.

  • Zeke

    “I do not fully understand the nuances of the Church’s teaching in this regard and I am speaking here entirely for myself.”
    Me too. But from what I know, this is not grounds for annulment. You can divorce an abusing spouse, but it you are still married in the eyes of the Church without an annulment. Seems like something needs to change.

    • hamiltonr

      I honestly have no idea how tribunals that make decisions about annulments judge these things, but in MY opinion, if someone is so morally bankrupt that they beat, batter and sexually abuse his or her own family, they are morally unfit to enter into the sacrament in the first place. I see it akin to someone who withholds the fact that they are gay when they take their vows. I think — again, this is just me — that this dishonesty goes so completely to the heart of what marriage is, that it makes the vows themselves worthless and an indissoluble sacramental marriage never took place in the eyes of God. I feel the same about batterers and child molesters. They are so unfit that their vows were lies in that they could not have made them from their hearts and a sacramental marriage in the eyes of God never happened.

      Again, this is not theology. It’s just what I think, as I said here:

      as far as I am concerned, a person who is so morally deficient that he or she will physically attack their own family is incapable of entering into a sacramental marriage in the first place. They are too morally blighted for the words of their vows to have meaning.

      I need to add something. Are you saying that the Church shouldn’t make decisions concerning annulments? I disagree with this. What I am saying is that I think — and remember, my thoughts on this and $1.50 will get you a cup of bad coffee — are that battering and sexual abuse denote such serious moral deficiency in areas that strike to the heart of whether or not a person can take binding marital vows, as to render the vows themselves meaningless. I think (all caveats in place) that this should be grounds for an annulment.

      • Zeke

        No, I’m saying that it seems that the Church would be better to expand their reasons for granting annulments to include abuse like you have described. Surely there are those who have no “moral deficiency” when they entered into the sacrament, but many years later, for a number of tragic reasons, change and become abusive. Why convene a tribunal (of fallen sinners) to invent reasons why the abuser’s problem pre-existed the marriage?
        Because as it seems to me, a wife can divorce the husband that becomes an alcoholic and beats the crap out of her and the kids, but this is not grounds for annulment. And without that, she is still married in the eyes of the Church and cannot remarry.

        • Dale

          Zeke, are you aware of a case where an alcoholic, physically abusive marriage was denied an annulment? I can’t imagine that happening during the past 30 years. Prior to that, when societal and cultural values were more benighted, I can possibly imagine a woman being counseled to “make a marriage work.” But I think such a lead-plated attitude has gone the way of the dinosaurs.

          • Sus_1

            I know couple who were both Catholic and wanted to be married in the Catholic Church but couldn’t because the man was divorced. His ex-wife was an alcoholic and took off and left him with 2 little kids. He hasn’t heard a word from her in 8 years. He tried for an annulment but was told he would need to pay a few thousand dollars through donations. He couldn’t afford it and now he, the kids and his new wife are Episcopal.

            • hamiltonr

              Sus, in my diocese, money is never allowed to be a reason for not granting an annulment. I know you were told this, but I’m wondering if it’s the truth. I’ve had people tell me all sorts of things about the Church that weren’t true. The Church does not always grant annulments — and it shouldn’t. But again, I know that money is never allowed to be a reason here in my diocese.

              • Sus_1

                It’s all about the money in my diocese. If you have the money and want an annulment, you get it no matter the reason. It is hard to watch.

                I hear you about truthtelling or not about the Catholic Church. If I believed everything I was told about it, I’d run away from it!

              • FW Ken

                My diocese eliminated fees a few years ago, and you can get an advocate to assist you for no cost. However, a friend with two former, highly annulable marriages won’t go through the process and it was never about money. He just wouldn’t have an excuse to not practice his Catholicism anymore.

          • Zeke

            No, I’m not aware of a case personally, or even anecdotally – my only point is that unless I am mistaken (as well as other commenters here) the Catechism does not include abuse as grounds for annulment. If the Church is granting annulments in these cases (which everyone seems to think should be the case), what is the basis for it?

            • Dale

              Zeke, thank you for reply. Personally, I know little about the annulment process, but from what I understand it can not dissolve the sacramental bond which was established at the time of marriage.The question which the annulment process seeks to answer is whether the sacramental bond was ever established.

              If someone has an addictive personality or an abusive personality, this would have made that person incapable of committing himself fully to a sacramental union. What the annulment process would try to uncover is evidence that an addictive or abusive personality existed prior to a marriage.

              • Zeke

                Dale and Ken, I disagree, but of course I am no scholar here. If someone has an addictive personality, this is no way makes them incapable of entering into a sacramental union. If something as banal as this disqualifies them from the marriage sacrament, surely there are millions of Catholic marriages out there that are ripe for annulment.

                This is plainly hair-splitting, and frankly, a bit of a joke. Clearly there are situations where both parties were fully capable of entering into the sacramental union, but something went tragically wrong and the marriage has to end. Yes, pretending the marriage never existed is a fraud, but this is exactly what the annulment process certifies.

                In any event, in the situation at hand, i.e. a husband who becomes abusive, everyone agrees except the Church that the marriage should end. Let’s assume that they are both deemed to have been fully capable of entering into the sacrament and there are no grounds for annulment. Is there really something holy about sentencing the poor woman and children to a life without a husband? Or is this simply the remnants of 1st century misogyny now enshrined in the Catechism?

        • FW Ken

          Zeke, that sounds kind, but is it really? Society as a whole looked at the sad, hard cases of abuse and infidelity, then went on to enact laws that permit no-fault divorce for no reason. Are serial monogamists happier? Is the culture more stable? And what about the kids? We have made up lots of tales about how kids are better off if the parents split up, but is it true?

          First, the Church does not annul marriages, except in the case of the Pauline Privilege (rare). It acknowledges that a sacrament never happened, thus the marriage is “null”. Intention plays a big part: fidelity, permanence, openness to children are the key intentions. Without the psychological ability to make those intentions, can matrimony happen? If a bride sleeps with the best man the night before the wedding, is she intending fidelity? If the husband announces that he only wants one child, how open is that to children?

          But say the couple intends a sacramental marriage and the husband goes crazy 20 years late (it happens), does that mean the marriage was never valid? It doesn’t mean the wife has to put up with abuse. She doesn’t have to live with him, or even maintain the civil marriage. But it doesn’t mean the marriage was never valid. Civil divorce does not dissolve a valid sacramental marriage. You are still married.

          A friend who studies these things notes that in the past, marriages were assumed to be valid, which assumption no longer obtains. That’s a big part of the increase in annulments. In any case, I would expect a society like ours to generate a whole lot of invalid marriages, just because of various cultural influences. My opinion is that a whole lot of “pastoral practice” is just making nice and has little to do with the theology. Personally, I hope the pope does generate a new way of dealing with these things. There are really cases where the evidence is gone, or points to the nullity of the first marriage, but isn’t conclusive. Maybe those cases can be adjudicated “pastorally”.

          This is longer than I intended, but one more story: I’ve been involved with two Anglican Use parishes, and Episcopalians becoming Catholics often need to deal with prior marriages. I’ve heard testimonies of how much closure and healing there was to that process. To that’s to the good, I think. It would be a shame to rob people of that healing in the name of pastoral practice.

          • Zeke

            I’m not sure where you’re going here Ken, I’m saying the same thing. However, you seem to be arguing that it’s fair and just for the abused woman to be denied the right to remarry in the Church, and surely in some cases to have a new father to help raise the children. How does this benefit anybody involved?

            • FW Ken

              I was replying to the earlier comment about expanding the reasons for an annulment. I submit that it does neither woman nor children good to set her up for a adulterous relationship. If the sacrament of matrimony occurred, then pretending it didn’t is fraud. I suppose I’m saying that the Church is not making this up, but it’s accurately reflecting the reality of what makes a marriage. It therefore had nothing to do with justice.

    • Dale

      A few years ago, the Franciscan magazine “American Catholic” published an article which answered common questions concerning annulments. It was written by Fr. Joseph M. Champlin, who spent more than 50 years ministering as a parish priest.

      He notes that grounds for annulment require that the problem pre-exist the marriage. I think this would likely include most abusers, since it seems to be a personality defect which would have manifested earlier in life.

      Fr. Champlin wrote:

      “I begin this formal annulment process at the parish level for about a dozen petitioners each year. My suggestion to them as they approach the multi-page, perhaps daunting questionnaire moves along these lines:

      —As you reflect upon the marriage, ask yourself: Was there something missing right from the start, something radically wrong from day one? Before the wedding, were there warning signals, red flags which you may have dismissed simply as the cold-feet anxieties rather common for couples prior to a nuptial service? Did you suffer deep difficulties early in your marital life and worry about them, but, never having been married before, judged they were merely the expected burdensome part of marriage? Now, perhaps years later, you view them as symptomatic of a much more serious problem, a radical malfunctioning in your relationship.”

      http://www.americancatholic.org/newsletters/cu/ac1002.asp

  • TheodoreSeeber

    “What should a Christian do when they’ve married what they thought was a good person and find later that they have yoked themselves to a monster?”

    A good Christian realizes that the monster is still, like themselves, made in the image of God, but needs treatment for serious mental illness. They do whatever they can to keep themselves and their children safe while getting that person the help they need to become sane again.

    • YesDavisIsMyFirstName

      Priority A. Get safe first, (whether that means divorce or moving towns, or whatever is necessary) Get safe.

      Priority B. Turn over to local authorities like the police (especially if necessary to fulfill A). What would be best in my opinion would be to involve both the police and the local church community so that pressure can come from all sides for change.

      Priority C. If the authorities (Secular or Church) do not assist in this process, report higher up both chains until you get results.

      I understand the need to treat the individual, but the fact remains that treatment doesn’t cure overnight. The individual or children being abused, are NOT responsible for curing their abuser or providing treatment for them and should not be subject to continued abuse until a cure is applied.

      I’m 100% with you Rebecca, These things cannot be tolerated, no matter what community or context. The arbitrary lines of the Law or even the difficulty sometimes in applying church theology should not be in any way an excuse to maintain the status quo. I also agree with your point below that honesty is a fundamental cornerstone of marriage. The minute I felt my faith falter, I spoke to my (still Christian) wife about it. Without that ability to be open and honest, why tie the knot in the first place?

      • hamiltonr

        Thank you Davis. One thing I need to add is that if the local authorities don’t respond, you can always call your state representative. We can do a lot about things like that.

      • TheodoreSeeber

        By treatment: Proper treatment for a person who is a violent danger to themselves or others is to lock them up in a mental institution.

  • FW Ken

    I was referring to this sort of situation when I wrote that divorce is not necessarily a sin. For protective purposes, divorce may be necessary. That doesn’t mean the sacrament of matrimony is null; that would be a separate issue.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    Excellent. Every so often I hear of someone who lives in this kind of hell. They must leave. Of course safety first, so do it discretely and secretively if you must. Get out of an abusive situation. And for God’s sake if you know of a child that is being abused, report it immediately. I do believe you can do it anonymously everywhere in the country. I could be wrong about that, you have an obligation as a human gbeing and as a Christian to help that child.

  • pagansister

    When home is hell, then one should leave! Easier said the done, I know. However, as pointed out in some postings below—-for safety of oneself and possible children, leave—and get help. Just because one is married is never a reason to stay in an unsafe environment.

  • jenny

    Excellent article…. I would have liked to see this point of view years ago…. I could have avoided a lot of disappointment, hurt, abuse…..

  • Linda Kreger

    I don’t know if it’s because I usually come in late on these posts or what, but I can never find a “like” button! Sometimes I can’t find the comments. So glad I was able to do so tonight. This is a wonderful post, and as you know goes hand in hand with my recent Friday Counseling Issues posts on http://www.lindasbiblestudy.wordpress.com.
    I do not presume to know all there is to know, and I’m working on gathering biblical support for the idea of a woman being free to leave an abuser. She doesn’t have to divorce him, but she sure doesn’t have to live with him. Thanks for adding your voice to an issue that’s close to my heart.

  • Maggie Goff

    Here is information from the Catholic Church from two different dioceses about annulments. So we don’t have to guess.

    http://www.archny.org/pastoral/faq—annulments/

    http://www.archbalt.org/about-us/marriage-tribunal/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&PageID=6575


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