Catholic Church drops texts seen as hostile to women


A joint document on domestic violence, published yesterday by two commissions of the Catholic Church in Ireland, has suggested that seven New Testament texts be dropped from future church services because of their comments about women.

And in a foreword to the document, Dr Laurence Ryan, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, and Dr William Walsh, Bishop of Killaloe, said: "A wife or husband has the right and possibly the duty not to stay in a seriously abusive relationship".

Six of the seven contentious texts referred to were written by St Paul, with one by St Peter. According to the Domestic Violence document they were "liable to give contemporary society an undesirably negative impression regarding women".

It suggested that these texts would be better omitted from the new Lectionary, currently in preparation.

"Four of the texts are in the Lectionary [the book containing a list of lessons or excerpts from Scripture to be used at church services] currently in use."

It continued: "If they are quoted, in any context, they should be suitably commented on in the light of contemporary church teaching . . ." It also proposed that "the language of Scripture needs to be explained so that it is not interpreted as being anti-woman".

In a foreword to the document, which was prepared by the Bishops' Commission for Justice and Peace and their Pastoral Commission, Bishop Ryan and Bishop Walsh, respective presidents of the commissions, said that in the past where the church was concerned "within marriage the mutual [their emphasis] submission of spouses was often overlooked, or equated with unilateral dominance".

For such reasons the church was not without its share of responsibility for the suffering "in silence and without redress" of those enduring "the wordless martyrdom of domestic violence".

However, "there is no ground in the teaching of the church today to justify domestic violence. Rape is rape whether within or outside the marriage relationship". The church, "like other sectors, has had its learning curve" on this issue, they said, "and there is still a long way to go".

They said that one of the healthy aspects of contemporary society was that "awareness of domestic violence, its scope and diversity, is now far more widespread".

But "it would be a mistake to presume that all domestic violence is perpetrated solely by one gender against another. Women, too, can be guilty of violence against men," they said.

However, "the underlying principle that violence from any quarter is wrong and sinful remains valid whatever the sex of the perpetrator," they said.

There was no such thing as an acceptable level of violence, they added.

The document estimated that in Ireland only 20-30 per cent of women who experience such violence report it, while 34 per cent of those assaulted were pregnant at the time.

It said that, while not strictly within the category of domestic violence, "violence against prostitutes is very real and is wrong, independently of the moral judgment one makes of prostitution itself".

Trafficking in women also was an act of violence in itself and a serious breach of the most basic of human rights.

Within marriage many women still did not feel they had a choice about sexual behaviour, and it was only very recently that a woman would recognise and confront the reality that she might have been raped within marriage, it said.

But there was still "a cultural tolerance of abuse perpetrated by men against women, not only in the home but also in the wider community and workplace e.g. through sexual harassment". It praised the various women's organisations whose work since the 1970s had resulted in the improved situation.