Conference examines church response to abuse of women

  • September 12, 2008

{mosimage}TORONTO - Living without fear is the theme of Toronto’s first Catholic Conference on Awareness of Abuse Against Women, to be held Oct. 18

Workshops for both youth and adults will provide a chance to reflect and learn about woman abuse and the Catholic Church’s response.

Conference organizer Virginia Koehler told The Catholic Register the event is a day of information for everyone in the community.

“As Catholics, we want to look at how to respond to the problem and how we can help families be safe and heal from abuse,” said Koehler, supervisor of the Violence Against Women program at Catholic Family Services of Toronto.

“This is hard stuff for people to come and speak about — frankly nobody wants to hear about this,” she said. “But no more sweeping (the issue) under the rug. Women and children are affected by this problem in many ways: emotionally, psychologically, financially and spiritually. Tragically, they can even die from this.”

Koehler said two-thirds of the people who come to Catholic Family Services for help in dealing with abuse are Catholic.

“To the best of my knowledge, there is no evidence that the incidence of woman abuse is lower in a faith community than in the general population,” Koehler said. “People in abusive situations, who have their faith, can find their faith a big support and sustaining for them. (But) I have also seen where religion has been used against the woman as a means of controlling her.”

Koehler emphasized that although sometimes men are on the receiving end of abuse, the conference will focus solely on abuse of women.

An opening address by Archbishop Thomas Collins will be followed by keynote speaker Deborah Sinclair. Sinclair is a social worker who has spent several years working with abuse issues related to policy and community development, counselling, educating, writing and research.

After a panel discussion and lunch, conference participants can choose two workshops or attend the youth program portion which divides boys and girls into separate talks.

The adult workshops will deal with legal issues, responding to abuse, effect on children who witness the abuse and men’s issues.

The conference is the fruit of collaboration among, besides Catholic Family Services, Faith Connections of the Sisters of St. Joseph, the Office of Catholic Youth, Catholic Charities, ShareLife and the Office of Lay Ministry, Chaplaincy and Parish Social Ministry.

The cost of the conference is $20, free for youth and students. Pre-registration is required, which can be done online at or by calling Carmela at (416) 222-0048 ext. 235. By e-mail,

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