7: Domestic Violence Parish-Based Ministry | Fr. Charles Dahm


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Show Notes patticc.com/7 Notas del Programa patticc.com/s7

In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Fr. Charles Dahm shares how parishes can help victims and their families.

Recommended Resources:

US Bishops’ Pastoral Letter – When I Call for Help

National Domestic Violence Hotline – English / Spanish

Funding available through VOCA (Victims of Crime Act)

VAWA – Violence Against Women Act

Hope Family Services at St. Pius V

Archdiocese of Chicago DV Outreach Program

Contact Fr. Chuck

Catholic Spanish Translation Services


Greetings Gente Puente! In today’s program, Fr. Charles Dahm shares his model for starting parish-based ministries for helping raise awareness about domestic violence, accompanying victims and directing them to resources that can help.

Si prefieres español, puedes leer un resumen del episodio en las notas del programa en patticc.com/s7. El Padre Carlos Dahm explica cómo empezar un ministerio en la parroquia sobre la violencia doméstica.

I’m Patti Gutierrez from Patti’s Catholic Corner. Our team strives to serve ministries like yours from behind the scenes. We provide best practices & encouragement with this podcast and our Facebook group, as well as Spanish translation services from a team experienced in Catholic ministry.

You can find all the resources mentioned in today’s episode and a summary of the episode in English and Spanish, in the show notes found at patticc.com/7.

If you want to be part of our online community, just look for Gente Puente on Facebook and join the group.

As I said, today we are going to hear from Fr. Charles Dahm. He is a Dominican priest who served as the pastor of St. Pius V, a parish in a mostly Hispanic neighborhood in Chicago for 21 years. He is now the Archdiocesan Director of Domestic Violence Outreach. Now let’s listen to my conversation with Fr. Chuck.


Welcome! Opening Prayer. Thanks for being here! Tell our audience a little about yourself and how you got connected to Hispanic Ministry?

Sure. I grew up in Chicago. I decided to become a priest when I was in college and I joined the Dominicans. My first assignment in 1965 was in Bolivia. So, I learned Spanish. After 5 years I came back to do a Doctorate in Political Science and came to Chicago to do research for my dissertation and ended up creating a peace and justice center with some religious sisters where I worked for 12 years. In 1986 I became pastor of St. Pius V parish which was a predominantly Mexican immigrant parish in the inner-city Chicago. I was able to develop a ministry with a lot of involvement from the community. We grew the staff from 5 people to 28 full-time people. That required finding a lot of funding outside of the parish since it was a pretty poor parish. We had a youth center, counseling program, soup kitchen, food pantry, second-hand store, and 6 Masses on Sunday and about 5,000 coming each Sunday. I was pastor for 21 years. After that I stayed on as associate pastor another 7 years.

When I was a pastor I hired a pastoral counselor in 1996 and she told me that almost all her clients were women and were victims of domestic violence. I had no idea and I had referred them to her. I asked her to teach me how to recognize this because the women weren’t telling me that part. She taught me and as I learned more I began mentioning it and preaching about it. The more I talked the more people came. We needed more counselors. We found some federal money to help us hire more counselors. Soon the women asked us for help for their children who were also traumatized. Then they wanted something for their husbands to help them change. We hired a male counselor to work with perpetrators who really wanted to change, not just to get a letter for court. We ended up with 7 full-time counselors.

How did you get the federal funding? Is it still available?

Yes. One of the grants is called VOCA – Victims of Crime Act which is funded through VAWA – Violence Against Women Act. VOCA came to us through the state. Most states have a way to apply for it. Now in Illinois it’s through the Illinois Coalition against Domestic Violence. You could find out from your state. New funding is coming in the Spring. New programs can apply every two years.

Why parish-based? Why not with community organizations? Have more agencies started helping?

Exactly. There weren’t adequate services. I still feel there aren’t adequate services for the Hispanic community but they have increased considerably – like Catholic Charities

St. Puis V continues to provide counseling also?

Yes, although the pastor decided to make it a non-profit. I think it was a mistake because people trusted the program as part of the parish. One of the benefits was being able to treat people in a holistic way. That’s one reason we were so successful. We did not push them toward divorce. We worked with their families holistically.

It’s still faith-based. It’s now Hope Family Services and is part of The Resurrection Project.

In 2005, the program was so active that we received a new Spanish-speaking victim every day of the week. We had tremendous outreach which was done basically by word of mouth and the parish.

Now you have developed a model at the Archdiocesan level, can you tell us more?

Before that, I want to say the reason that we developed this is because domestic violence is a huge problem in the Hispanic immigrant community. Most priests do not see it. I didn’t. I had to be educated. Then I saw it everywhere. I know it’s in the Hispanic community. I would urge parishes to start talking about it and to connect their parishes to agencies that can help them.

I started knocking on the doors of other parishes to see if I could help them do this kind of ministry. I would ask to preach at all the masses then invite volunteers to form a ministry. The model couldn’t cost money or be a drain on the pastor’s time. It had to be run by volunteers. Basically, it is raising awareness of the problem. The Catholic Church rarely speaks about domestic violence. I have preached at 133 parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago. I would ask people to raise their hands if they had ever heard a sermon on domestic violence and maybe 5 people through the whole weekend would raise their hands. People almost always applaud at the end of the homily because people are so happy to hear about it. But the pastors don’t think it’s a problem.

Talk to your pastors, ask about having a homily and form a ministry. This ministry is simple things to raise awareness. Put cards in the women’s bathroom, posters, something in the bulletin saying here’s where you can find help, articles related to domestic violence. Raise awareness that the parish is against domestic violence and is ready to help anybody who needs help.

Who do you refer people to? Are they parish volunteers answering or already established community agencies?

In Chicagoland there are many agencies working with victims of domestic violence. I know it’s not the same everywhere, but at least in the metropolitan areas it is. And these agencies want to be connected to the community. They are delighted to be connected to the churches. It’s a feather in their cap to help them with funders because they’re expanding their outreach.

This volunteer group needs to find local agencies to connect to?

Yes, first raise awareness that this is a problem and that we want to help. Then have a speaker come in and orient the volunteers about what services are available and how to access them. Create a mission statement, a brochure like other ministries in the parish, create visibility. Throughout the year have a couple of things – a prayer service, speaker, panel, movie – simple things, even if not a lot of people come, it helps get the word out that your parish is against domestic violence and it’s ready to help victims. That’s the message. Have a way to channel them to services.

Do you have a story about a parish where the leadership wasn’t enthused and have had a change of heart?

Yes. There is a very popular parish with a lot of young adults in downtown Chicago. He wouldn’t let me come. He is very open, but he didn’t think he had the problem of domestic violence. I pestered him for 4 years. Finally, he let me meet with the parish staff and in the meeting, he asked his staff person in charge of spirituality if it was a problem. He said I see it all the time. After that he invited me to come preach at all 8 masses. He said do you always get applause for your sermons? I said no, only when I preach about domestic violence. People are so happy to hear about it. He was converted.

Could you share a story about changes you’ve seen in a parish community?

There is a video on our website where a pastor tells about how this group of volunteers has completely changed the face of their parish. They do so many different things, super active, raising other related questions and family issues.


We will continue with my interview with Fr. Chuck in a moment, but I want to share a little more about my company, Patti’s Catholic Corner. We are a team of experienced pastoral ministers who understand what it’s like to wear many hats and not have a team big enough to do all that you want to do in ministry. We want to help you focus on your ministry while we handle your Spanish translations. Since we have years of experience both in Catholic ministry and Catholic translations, you never have to worry about whether your translation is true to the message. We know Church lingo and we have a heart for reaching Hispanic Catholics. To get a quote head over to patticc.com today!

Now we continue with the conversation with Fr. Chuck.

You’ve given us a lot of good, concrete ideas. Could you give us some advice or common pitfalls for someone who might want to try this ministry at a parish or diocese?

At the diocesan level it is difficult because of the resistance of the clergy and the Bishops. They just don’t know about it. There is a beautiful pastoral letter which was just reissued in January 2018. It explains the position of the church on domestic violence. But very few people know it exists. They are not teaching about this in seminaries. When I call for Help.

The first paragraph the Bishops say that violence against women inside or outside the home is never justified, is a sin and is often a crime. They conclude by saying that no one is expected to stay in an abusive marriage. Those are words of liberation for many women and many men. People are shocked to know that it’s the position of the Catholic Church. We have to get the word out.

Tell us more about that. I think the majority would say you have to stay because marriage is for life. Can you expound on that a little?

Unfortunately, there are still a lot of priests today who are saying this. You have to stay because you made a solemn promise before God and you can’t get out of it. It’s not true. The Church recognizes that when some marriages are performed lack the conditions necessary to make sacramental marriages. For example, lacking freedom, maturity, sincerity. Those marriages are not valid, sacramental marriages. People should not stay in them, not only for the victims, but also the impact on children. Children who grow up in homes where there is domestic violence are at a much greater risk of being victims or perpetrators when they grow up. Or abuse drugs, alcohol, attempt suicide and drop out of school.

Can you give us an example?

Yes. I want to encourage people to go to our website www.domesticviolenceoutreach.org. You’ll find my homily to watch in English or Spanish as well as a video from Cardinal Cupich, the testimony of the priest I just mentioned, and also a video of Denise Murray who is a survivor who tells her story about why she stayed and why she finally left after 17 years with 2 children. She stayed for 1) finances, 2) didn’t want to separate the children from their father, 3) respect for the sacramental marriage. She went to a priest after several years of abuse and the priest told her there was nothing he could do for her. A couple years later she went to another priest who said you shouldn’t stay in this abusive marriage, that’s not the position of the Church. She started the process of separating and getting counseling and heard my homily. She finally concluded she was actually the main breadwinner, she realized the kids were being abused by him as well and she found out that she probably didn’t even have a sacramental marriage. So she separated and got a divorce and is a very happy person.

You said that at St. Pius V there were several perpetrators who reformed their lives. Can you share the common triggers you’ve seen to help them get to that point?

There’s not a lot of good research about perpetrators. Most of the attention has been on victims. Now that’s changing. That’s good because we have to be able to respond to perpetrators and help them change their lives as well as help young people not become perpetrators. Generally, they have a low view of women and suffer from low self-esteem. They tend to blame their wife for any problem they have. They have to realize they have to take responsibility for their abusive behavior and say it’s my fault and I have to do something. It’s not about anger management. He controls his anger outside of the home without becoming abusive, except with her. He uses his anger to exercise power and control. It’s not about conflict resolution. It’s about power and control. Pastoral ministers need to know that marriage counseling is not the solution either. I remember a story about a woman who had been going to counseling and her psychiatrist only gave her drugs. Most victims do not need drugs for their depression.

It’s not a chemical imbalance, it’s the situation they are living through.

If they are in a pit where they can’t sleep or they’re having suicidal thoughts, then yes they need medication. But most of them aren’t at that extreme. This woman was afraid to bring up the abuse because she knew that the emotional and verbal abuse would get worse if she did. If you go to counseling you have to ask if they have been trained in domestic violence, because not everyone has been.

How do the programs respond holistically? You’ve mentioned directing people to services and counseling. What are some of the other aspects that you cover – pastorally or spiritually – how have you met those needs?

One important thing is to invite them into participation in the parish community. A lot of victims are isolated by their perpetrators. Having a support group is a great way to address this. You can hear from other victims how they got out or how they’re struggling to get out. You learn a lot and you also find friends. We have several at St. Pius V. People find jobs, housing, etc. The second thing is that the parish has activities. By becoming involved that is socialization that can be very helpful for victims.

Are there any spiritual resources besides general involvement in the parish?

That’s where we’re lacking. We have given a few days of spiritual renewal for victims, but not enough. I tried a diocesan level retreat but it wasn’t terribly successful. Only 5 survivors came. That’s one thing on my agenda is to develop a retreat ministry where at least twice a year we can offer a retreat. There’s no question that victims and survivors of abuse very much need the spiritual strength that they give. Many are doubting God’s love for them. Why did this happen and why has God not answered my prayers? They have to dig deep to understand and reaffirm their faith that God didn’t abandon them.

Thank you. We are going to need to wrap up. Can you give some words of encouragement to those who are listening?

I think it’s important to reach out to victims and hear them. It’s important to listen to them and respond in a reassuring way. Words like you don’t deserve to be treated this way, it’s not your fault, you shouldn’t blame yourself, I’m so sorry for what you’re experiencing, I want to accompany you and help you find some freedom. Giving those words of encouragement you can connect. Don’t be surprised if they don’t leave right away. It’s going to be a process. But your role in that journey is important. And once a victim does free themselves from abuse they are extremely grateful to everyone who helped them along the way. That includes the local parish. At St. Pius V if you look at those in active ministry, the vast majority of them are survivors coming to give back to the community.

Could you close us in prayer?

Loving and gracious God we give you thanks for being a God of life and a God of love. You want us to live in peace and in happiness. You have given us hearts capable of loving like you love. We want everybody to experience your love so help us to reach out to people who are experiencing abuse even in their own homes. Help us to show them the compassion of Jesus. That they don’t have to stay in that abuse. They can free themselves and enjoy your peace, your love and happiness. And this we pray through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thank you Fr. Chuck! I’m sure everyone listening has learned a lot!

If anyone wants to communicate with me, I’d be happy to talk to you. Link to info.



Fr. Chuck is so inspiring! Here are some key takeaways:

  1. So few people know what the Catholic Church teaches about situations of domestic violence. As pastoral ministers we have a duty to learn the teaching and not be afraid to talk about it in our ministry. There is a link to the U.S. Bishops pastoral letter on domestic violence, When I Call for Help on today’s Show Notes.
  2. Most ministers do not realize what a big problem domestic violence is in their community until they learn the warning signs and start raising awareness.
  3. A group of volunteers in a parish can raise awareness with simple activities spread throughout the year that can help get the message out that the Catholic Church is against domestic violence and we are willing to help victims.
  4. Working with local community organizations can be a win for both the church and the organization. There are also national organizations. You can find a link in the Show Notes for the National Domestic Violence Hotline which has information, online chat and a hotline in English and Spanish.
  5. Involvement in parish life can provide much needed socialization for the victims of domestic violence.

I hope you also received a lot from this interview and that you will consider starting similar ministries in your parish or diocese.

Don’t forget to visit www.domesticviolenceoutreach.org to find out more about Fr. Chuck’s ministry and you can even make a donation. You can find the link and all the resources mentioned in this episode at patticc.com/7.

Do not forget to join the Gente Puente Facebook group to be part of our growing family of Catholic leaders who share their experiences and encourage each other! Right now, we’d love for you to come share how you have celebrated Our Lady of Guadalupe, Posadas, and Christmas in your Hispanic ministry. We’d all love to find out about new ideas and resources! You can find us at www.facebook.com/groups/gentepuente or simply look for Gente Puente on Facebook.

In the next episode we will hear from Dina Beach, Associate Director for Latino Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. She will be sharing about their program to form Hispanic catechists. The program uses a mix of live presentations with online learning in conjunction with the University of Dayton.

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Thanks for listening today. May God bless you and your ministry as gente puente!

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