JUDY VALENTE, correspondent: Father Charles Dahm has come to a parish on Chicago’s north side to deliver the kind of homily the parishioners have probably never heard before—one which will make some of them uncomfortable.

FATHER CHARLES DAHM: (preaching) How many of you have ever heard a sermon about domestic violence? Raise your hand. See, no one.

Domestic violence is often unnoticed, hidden from our eyes, but actually it is rampant in our society and in our communities. We know, of course, that there are probably women here this morning who have experienced violence in their own homes, and our heart goes out to you.

RITA SMITH (Executive Director, National Coalition against Domestic Violence): One in four women will be abused sometime in her lifetime.

Rita Smith

VALENTE: Rita Smith, executive director of the National Coalition against Domestic Violence, says the problem of abuse also imposes a significant cost to society.

SMITH: Lost time at work, decreased productivity at work, health care costs related to injuries as a result of abuse, response time and cost for law enforcement to go to calls when someone is being battered.

VALENTE: But so often the problem lies hidden.

FATHER DAHM: I’ve been a priest for 48 years. I didn’t see it until I hired a pastoral counselor and one day she said, “Father, you know, almost all my clients from the parish are women who are victims of domestic violence.” And I didn’t know it. And I knew many of those women.

VALENTE: Father Dahm was surprised by the extent of domestic violence within the families he served. When he realized there was no official church outreach to abuse victims, he decided to start his own ministry.

FATHER DAHM: Priests generally do not talk about it. And most dioceses in the United States have no services, or very limited services, for victims of domestic violence.

Father Charles Dahm

VALENTE: He goes to parishes where he is invited. So far he has traveled to some thirty parishes in the Chicago area. He has no budget and a limited staff of volunteers to focus attention on the problem. And pastors have not always been enthusiastic about his message.

FATHER DAHM: One priest didn’t want to do it because he thought it would be offensive to the children who might be in the congregation listening to the homily. Others think we don’t have that problem here. It’s someplace else. We don’t have it. Or that it’s too difficult a topic to talk about and they don’t know how to do it.

SMITH: I would say at this point most churches are not doing a particularly good job with this. It's not that they don't want to. I think that this is just a very, very complex issue.

FATHER DAHM: (praying) We’re here tonight because we want to serve especially those people who suffer violence in their own homes.

VALENTE: After talking about domestic violence at Mass, Father Dahm invites parishioners to meet with him to discuss how their church might help those who are suffering abuse. On this night, six people came. Some had been victims, others simply wanted to help.

MARIA: I come from an abusive home, and it's led me to get into abusive relationships. I'm divorced also because I divorced my abuser, but I was about to marry another abuser. So this is the cycle that continues unless you get help.

JEAN MIRABELLA (Clinical Social Worker): I left a domestic violence relationship almost 35 years ago, myself and my four kids. The sad news is not very much has changed as far as men who batter and women who struggle to get out of the relationship.

JAN BERDULIS (St. Pascal Parish): When he preached at our parish about a year ago, I was sort of surprised because I was unaware at that time of domestic violence and how prevalent it is within all communities, all neighborhoods, all levels, all ethnicities.

VALENTE: Father Dahm tells them a first step is to establish a support group, so that women who are battered know they have a safe place to tell their stories. The parish can then work to connect them with agencies that can help. Parish volunteers also need to be trained so they know how to respond to pleas for help.

FATHER DAHM: Many times victims call and they don’t say “I'm a victim of domestic violence.” They just might say, “I need to talk.” Or “I’m having problems in my home” or “My husband and I are having problems.” So that’s all. So that’s actually a code almost for “I need help.”

LAURA REYES: One day I ended up in the hospital because I had bruises on my face. He kicked me and hit me in my face many times.

VALENTE: Women often stay for years in abusive relationships, for a variety of reasons.

Laura Reyes

REYES: You think you love the person, that God wants you to be in the relationship because it was the man of your life, because he's the father of your daughter. So you belong there.

MIRABELLA: So many of the women I've worked with over all these years are practicing Catholics and they cannot comprehend the idea that it would be acceptable if they were to leave and get divorced, so your message is like something I didn't think I'd be hearing in my lifetime.

FATHER DAHM: What’s one of the worst things you can do for your children is to let them grow up in a home where there’s violence. Because your daughters are learning how to be submissive to this abuse, and your sons are learning how to be abusive and they may enter into marriages that are just like yours. Do you want that?

VALENTE: The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has said “no person is expected to stay in an abusive marriage,” adding, “We encourage abused persons who have divorced to investigate the possibility of seeking an annulment.”

Valerie Yokie is a director with Mary Kay cosmetics. She says she first became aware of the extent of domestic abuse by talking to her customers. At one point, she served on an advisory board to Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George. She brought the issue of domestic violence to his attention—forcefully, she recalls.

Valerie Yokie

VALERIE YOKIE: Your Eminence, we don’t talk about it in our churches, we are not supporting women, and our church would be nowhere if it weren’t for women.

VALENTE: About 25 people showed up for a meeting on domestic violence at Yokie’s church after Father Dahm spoke at the Masses. Yokie believes churches are one of the best settings in which to address the problem.

YOKIE: It’s the one place where you have the perpetrator, the victim and the witnesses, the kids, hearing the message that it’s wrong, that God loves you, we’re here to support you, you don’t have to put up with it.

VALENTE: Men can also be victims of domestic abuse, often in same-sex relationships, but that number is small compared to women. And domestic violence can be other than physical.

FATHER DAHM: Emotional or psychological violence is much more difficult to detect, but it’s also more frequent, the belittling, demeaning, the insults, all the ways in which the woman is isolated from her family and friends.

VALENTE: That was the case with Elia and Roman Carreon. The first twenty years of their marriage were marked by frequent periods of emotional trauma.

ELIA CARREON: The verbal abuse, the silent treatment, the humiliation of the words. He would call me names, he would call me crazy. Every time I would bring up counseling he would say, you go to counseling, you’re the one that’s crazy.

ROMAN CARREON: To me I was a nice man. That’s what I saw about me. I never hit anybody. I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I was just...Actually I thought of myself as actually doing something better than most of my family.

VALENTE: Finally, with Father Dahm’s help, they entered counseling.

ROMAN CARREON: I would hear other men telling their story. And I would say, you know, as they were saying their story, how come you're not expecting to get in trouble with the things you're doing? That's wrong. But then after a little while I realized, jeez, that’s what I do.

VALENTE: (to Elia) How would you describe your marriage now?

ELIA CARREON: Healthy. If I had to choose one word, it’s healthy. Not only are we healthier, are we more in love.

ROMAN CARREON: Now I know that she’s my partner. We’re aiming to grow old together. It’s not about me anymore. Now, if something happens to you, it happens to me too.

VALENTE: Reported incidents of domestic abuse nationwide are down. But Father Dahm says it’s difficult to measure success, because no one knows how many women who need help aren’t coming forward. A woman might leave an abusive partner as many as seven times before she finally makes the break. And the abusers don’t change easily. Father Dahm says they have to be confronted and held accountable.

FATHER DAHM: The good news about domestic violence is that it is learned behavior. It’s not something we inherit in our genes; we learn it from somebody, someplace. That means it can be unlearned.

(speaking to group) I’ve seen it with abusers who’ve converted and now have turned their lives around. They’re super active in our parish. So we have a very strong men's group in our parish that is made up primarily of people who were perpetrators.

ROMAN CARREON: I went twenty years of my marriage without knowing all this. So I did a lot of things that now I regret. But thank God, you know, I can live the rest of my life with my wife without violence.

VALENTE: Which is why Father Dahm will continue visiting parishes, delivering a homily that will be news to some. For others, it’s a message that may change their lives.

For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, I’m Judy Valente in Chicago.


Churches and Domestic Violence

“Priests generally do not talk about it. And most dioceses in the United States have no services, or very limited services, for victims of domestic violence,” says Father Charles Dahm, who is leading a campaign in Chicago to change that.

  • Patricia Morrison

    Thank you for a much needed, clear and insightful treatment of this issue, more
    prevalent than many of us would suspect, also among women and men of faith.

    Would that we had more priests like Father Dahm, willing to address the tough topics and
    reach out in compassion.

    Hopefully the churches are past the “good old days” when clergy would tell women their
    role is to obey, to pray for him, to “offer it up.” Prayer and offering suffering are good things
    in the Christian tradition, but often don’t move victims to the next important step of knowing
    that as children of God they have value and don’t need to “take” abusive behavior or language.

    We have Jesus’ own example: treating women with dignity and respect. Hopefully our churches
    will “catch up” to that model of empowerment and love….

    Thank you again for fine reporting!

  • Peter Day


    A very important and necessary topic to be raised in all churches. As a former pastor in suburban churches, I confess I did not address the subject at all on Sunday morning. I should have. We had a number of abusive relationships in our neighbourhood and amongst the congregation and some direction and admonition from myself would have been helpful. We did set up a support group for divorced people but perhaps some of those relationships may have been saved if there were positive and creative interventions.

    As a chaplain in the military I was aware of much more abuse going on and we developed protocols to help deal with it but it was sometimes an overwhelming challenge.

    In this presentation, while I appreciated much of what was addressed and said, there was a lack of awareness of the abuse men suffer at the hands of women. Research has shown that women can be just as abusive and in some cases more abusive than men. I would like to see a few support groups for men set up and anger management classes for women established to offer a full spectrum approach to family violence.

    Thanks again for an excellent video presentation.

    Peter Day
    Chaplain (Retired)

  • Dolly Marie

    Thank you Father Dahm for taking action; speaking out, doing something wonderful and positive to help resolve this unfortunate world wide unwanted ‘domestic violence’ that happens to good people every day. You have demonstrated that you’re a very good leader in the church; genuinely caring for the well being of others with kindness. Well done. :) My wish is that others will follow your awesome example of goodness all over the world. I’m very impressed. Wishing you a beautiful day. :) ~ Dolly Marie ~


    In domestic Violence situations I think one of the things that get swept under the rug are the children of domestic violence. Here are some statistics that paint a grim picture for children of domestic violence unless they get help – Reaching the children is the thing to do in order to stop they cycle of violence.

  • Gene Henley

    Donestic violence. How is it defined? Is it gender centrist? I ask this because I was a full time taxi driver for years.I don`t quibble about the “men are more apt to be violent than women”. What are the facts?
    Please understand.I support and defend the concept that men are to defend and lead the physically weaker in family and environment. Women are the bearers of life. The loving mother is wonderful to behold, Having said that,had you rode with me those years I did,you see the actual vs. the idealistic.I am a Roman Catholic.When I say PRACTICING,I mean just that.”All mothers are good,and women can do and say no wrong,the mirror images of the Virgin Mary and all women martyrs for the faith,etc.,are the idealistic standards.What has and is happening? How many shelters accept men that are subjected to woman to man violence? Not many. ” We don`t woork your side of the street” I pledge my uncompromised support for opposition to domestic violence.Violent man to woman is absolutely against my principles. PERIOD!Do not,I respectfully ask,deny that there was and IS a rapidly growing practice of violence from women to men(EQUALITY?),and from women to children. Without prejusgement,please analyze with emotions under control of reason and facts.I want our ladies to be viewed as a wonderful gift to all of us. Having said this,all of us are accountable and responsible to our Maker. MEN AND WOMEN.
    I am,
    in Christ`s service
    Gene Henley
    Roman Catholic
    Southern by Grace of God
    Read the Catechism and the Word
    Constitution Party New York

  • Jan of the Rockies

    On women on her way to independence told me her and her two daughters went from sushi two and three nights a week to Mc Burger once a month. Money is one of the anchor’s keeping women with their emotional or worst abuser’s. Shame is one keeping males with females abusers. In my 30 plus years of dealing with the homeless, poverty rears it head as returning to the abuse.

    It is a good thing to get churches hopefully of region involved. Here in Colorado Springs, or Colorado the Catholic church seems to have a battered shelter. I hear the ad on the radio.

    As someone whose has been in homelessness, I have seen straight female and male couples where the women Is the abuser. This happens in women to women relationships also. This hateful way of treating the other person, is something leant as a kid, no matter the gender.

    Many, domestic violence professionals will dispute that money is the number one cause of returns. But among the abused escaping being called worthless or being told through action or deed that their contribution is worthless is the woman is usually kept from working. That homelessness strike 38% of women leaving abuse. That is over 4 times higher than the normal rate.

    I want to meet father Dahm, and talk with him on how our work over laps. I aim at informing the public just how far poverty reaches, as well as how simply it can be ended. Millionaire’s need only to release 10% of there incomes to the right organization facing the cause’s of poverty, perhaps one time to make this a world where all can reach gods given potential.

    Father Dahm or anyone else can reach me at 719-645-7746. Or by mail at Jan Hoag PO Box 63461, Colorado Springs CO 80962

  • Diana Ousley

    This was a great presentation. My husband is a trauma chaplain and sees batter individuals same sex, male, female abusers from all backgrounds. He had been a celery for over 20 yrs and did not really address it outside his work until our daughter was in an abuse marriage and came to our home and her husband wanted to drag her out the house…our daughter went back a few times because her husband said he kill himself until finally she had enough and really allowed us to help her. We had to talk to her and also give her scripture to help give her permission to leave because her husband family was telling her the way she was being treated was the “worst” in her marriage vows. Yet I thank God for the material that is available and resources..Mending the Soul by Steve Tracey and his wife. I took the material and workbook and help not only my daughter but others and my husband makes extra effort to include something about abuse in his sermons when he is a guest speaker..usually he will tell anyone who wants to know more see me afterward and it has never failed that several women and I have talked to a few men who were being abused. Overall this is a subject that most churches do not like to talk about. We started our own outreach after I was laid off my has been a blessing for I have helped connect many to community resources. I myself volunteer with local abuse shelter and sexual assault center. Working together we can make a person at at time. Thanks for the article presentation it will become apart of my resource material to share .

  • earlrichards
  • oyesalways

    God bless you both for your efforts! I am glad your own daughter allowed you to help her. I am a Baha’i, and our writings clearly tell us that while we should be forgiving, patient, and steadfast in trying to preserve marriages, “no husband should subject his wife to abuse of any kind, whether emotional, mental or physical…” (logically, the reverse also applies) and that divorce is permissible “when an irreconcilable antipathy exists between the two parties to the marriage”. My first husband was Christian, and within the first six months he was physically abusive to me twice. The first time, in shock he had become so angry and physical, he begged forgiveness on his knees, saying how could he behave this way, as he had hated his father when he saw him abuse his mother. I told him there could be no second time; that a husband’s role is to protect his wife, not injure her. He promised it would never happen again. Of course, a month later, it did. I put him on a plane the next day. I told him I was willing to wait as long as needed for him to get help with his anger issue, but we couldn’t live in the same house until I felt safe. Two years later, with no sign of any change, his own pastor wrote to me that my husband would not admit he had a problem, and I should go ahead and divorce him and cut my losses. I was very grateful for the pastor’s honesty.

  • oyesalways

    Thank you for your service to our military, Chaplain.

  • GregoryDrambour

    In my practice in sedona we focus on helping clients seeing the connection between their thinking and their feelings and thus their behavior. If their thinking doesn’t change their behavior won’t change. In this case the behavior of violence. Clients come to see that they can question the thinking they are having–“is it true?” if they can see the illusionary quality of their own thinking, they can collapse the behavior of violence. This approach commonly referred to as “The Three Principles” has had great success in prisons over the years. If you can encourage clients to get a deeper insight that they can ignore their thinking–that they are in fact “making it up”–their behavior will shift.