Fr. Chuck Dahm has created a parish-based ministry to combat domestic violence. A key part of his work is simply preaching about it, he says, because it is a widespread problem that hides in plain sight.
There is an "overwhelming lack of recognition that the problem is more frequent, more common than people think," he told CNA. Many priests are completely unaware of cases of it, Fr. Chuck noted, although "there are people in their parishes who are suffering."
"I have gone to 90 parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago," he said. "And after I preach about it, people walk out of the church and they tell me 'thank you for talking about this. This is long overdue. And my sister, my daughter is in it, or I grew up in it.' And this is so much more common than anybody realizes."
Sometimes, Fr. Chuck said, priests are not well trained and do not know how to handle situations in which parishioners come to tell them about abuse. They may offer inadequate advice and solutions.
Fr. Chuck participated in a symposium on domestic abuse at Catholic University of America in 2016. Since then he's seen the fruits of the conference, spreading awareness of the problem.
"A significant number went home with the plans of doing something in their diocese or their respective organizations," he said of conference participants.
The Archdiocese of Washington held a workshop for priests to learn how to deal with incidents of domestic abuse and 31 priests attended, he said. Two representatives of Catholic Charities in Vermont are starting a workshop for priests there, and the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City held a workshop attended by several priests and a meeting for priests with Fr. Chuck.
Still, sometimes priests do not attend these events, Fr. Chuck acknowledged, and raising awareness about the importance of the problem is key.
Unfortunately, it's been negative incidents that have driven the conversation about domestic abuse, he said. For instance, when surveillance videos surfaced of former NFL running back Ray Rice punching his fiancée, and then dragging her off an elevator while she was unconscious, the "subsequent outrage" after that and other incidents like it "helps create more awareness about the problem."
Then "people feel a little bit more comfortable and required to speak out about this and do something about it," Fr. Chuck explained. "The publicity about negative events or harmful events is quite helpful in raising awareness."
"We're really behind on this," he said of the Church's efforts to combat the problem, but at the same time, "we're making progress."
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An earlier version of this article originally ran on CNA Oct. 24, 2016.