Domestic Violence Victims Turn Toward Faith This "Behind Closed Doors" segment explores how Catholic parishes should respond to domestic violence. Guest host Tony Cox speaks with the Rev. Charles Dahm, an associate pastor of St. Pius V Parish in Chicago, and domestic violence survivor Elia Carreon.

Domestic Violence Victims Turn Toward Faith

Domestic Violence Victims Turn Toward Faith

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Some churches, including St. Pius V in Chicago, are now finding ways to make confronting domestic violence a part of their ministry. hide caption

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Some churches, including St. Pius V in Chicago, are now finding ways to make confronting domestic violence a part of their ministry.

Tell Me More goes "Behind Closed Doors" to explore issues that many people discuss only in the privacy of their homes. Domestic violence is just that kind of issue.

Women who have survived domestic violence are significantly more likely to than other women to develop mental disorders, according to new research in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Experts say the study highlights how important it is for doctors to talk to women about their histories with such violence.

But for many women, a pastor's words can be more comforting and persuasive during times of crisis. Some churches are now finding ways to make confronting domestic violence a part of their ministry, including St. Pius V in Chicago.

The Rev. Charles Dahm, associate pastor of St. Pius V, tells NPR's Tony Cox that he did not see the extent of domestic violence in his community until he hired a pastoral counselor. He says that several women in the congregation who had not approached him for help did reach out to the counselor. That inspired him to talk more about domestic violence, and that drew more abuse victims to seek the church's help.

Elia Carreon is among those women.

She explains that she had been in a relationship for 18 years and knew that something was wrong, but she didn't realize it was domestic abuse at the time.

Carreon says her husband often called her names, ridiculed her weight and legal status, said she was crazy, and destroyed or trashed her personal belongings.

Her experience is an example of violence that extends beyond the physical.

Dahm describes domestic violence as a pattern of behavior focused on power and control, which takes four forms: emotional, physical, sexual and economic.

He says most men deny that they are abusers, reject change, and believe the women are at fault. They also may separate from the woman and search for another victim.

Initially, that was true in Carreon's family. She says that her husband grew up in an environment where domestic abuse happened every day. Therefore, she says, it was very difficult for him to recognize the emotional harm his actions caused her.

Carreon says that his behavior affected their children, too.

"They were always questioning us about our arguments. And at points, they felt that they were the reason why we were arguing. My son constantly asked me if at some point they would have to choose who to live with. He was very young at the time — about 7 years old. That's when I realized that the lifestyles that we were living weren't only affecting us, but also our children," says Carreon.

So to keep the family together, Carreon sought the help of some agencies. But she didn't receive the kind of help she was looking for.

"As my final resort, someone suggested I should visit St. Pius because they had a really good program. So as a last attempt to save our marriage, we went there, and what I found there was exactly what I was looking for," says Carreon.

Dahm says the women themselves must be the ones to break the cycle of abuse. His parish offers a program for women to strengthen themselves, so they can better understand the dynamics of domestic violence and recognize that they are victims. Then the women can decide how they will confront their circumstances at home.

Carreon says St. Pius V's main goal is to keep families together, leading healthy lives. The program offers therapy sessions — for individuals, couples and the entire family — that promote healing.

She describes the different methods she learned to help her end the abuse in her home and improve communication in her marriage, including journaling, having daily conversations or taking walks — solutions that she found helpful, she says, in contrast to what she found at other places where she sought help for the abuse.

"When I first visited another agency, before long, I was given the choice of antidepressants," she says. "I was also advised of the possibility of a need of a divorce lawyer. Honestly, more than feeling hope, I felt fearful and confused."

But because of St. Pius, says Carreon, her family is now healthier and happier, and communication has increased tremendously.

"As a matter of fact, other people around us have come to us for advice because they see a change," she says.