Q: Archbishop J, what is your hope for T&T this Christmas?
I hope and pray for peace in Trinidad and Tobago, at the end of a year which has seen a once-in-a-century event—COVID-19. The pandemic has disrupted life as we have known it, personally and in our nation.
On March 13, we wrestled with the stark reality that this was not a passing flu or a medical emergency besetting other nations: COVID-19 has affected us directly. We witnessed the locking down of schools, churches, and the nation. We went home, watched, waited, and prayed.
While this coronavirus has elicited several positive responses, many destructive patterns have also emerged or been amplified. The reports of domestic violence, sexual abuse and incest that have come to the fore over the last few weeks require urgent attention and response.
These abhorrent acts did not emerge because of the pandemic, rather the pandemic laid bare what was always lurking below the surface of our society—a deep despair, ugly violence, and the silent screams of helpless victims.
Domestic violence, sexual abuse and incest have some common roots—a need for domination, humiliation, and subjugation of the victim. The sick persons who perpetrate these crimes betray a need to feel powerful and dominate.
The data for Trinidad and Tobago is scarce, but reports from across the world, including China, UK, USA, reveal a significant increase in cases of domestic violence, in the time of confinement caused by COVID-19. The forced living in a small space exacerbated the disease that was always present.
I believe we are witnessing an unveiling of our society’s dark side, which has its roots in a history of violence, our socialising of boys as opposed to girls, the early sexualising of our children, the over-sexualising of our society, in our move away from our grandmothers’ values and the hedonism and materialism that have become the new social value system of T&T.
This is a big mouthful. But, if we look at our parenting practices, we begin to see some of the root causes of the challenge we are facing.
I have spoken before about the negativity in our parenting styles: we pick a point of weakness and shame children in front of the family and others as for fun or a means of correction.
We believe that by emphasising the negative, we can somehow cause a person to change. This negativity makes for very insecure children who feel the need to dominate others.
It also turns these children into victims who will likely be abused because they have been socialised into this cruel form of love. There is a high likelihood they will abuse others because, as children, they have been forced to feel the horror of powerlessness at the hands of all-powerful parents.
In addition, we socialise our boys to be irresponsible at home while our girls are expected to be responsible for helping around the home. When a boy acts in a sexually irresponsibe manner, he is a stud; the girl is seen as a slut.
Our pornography consumption desensitises our people by objectifying others. This is linked to our Carnival which has become a crude display of sexual immorality on the streets and in our living rooms.
The escalating violence in our nation needs urgent attention. The solutions are not easy, but we must all do what we can to face this societal disease and begin the healing process. We must resist “the globalisation of indifference” (Pope Francis) and stop sitting on the side-lines as passive bystanders.
We all need to become part of the solution and develop/implement strategies to address this evil which threatens to overwhelm us. We need all hands on deck to promote a culture of peace. Domestic violence, abuse and incest have serious health, social and economic consequences for our society.
Building a culture of peace
On this fourth Sunday of Advent, we celebrate Peace as we light the fourth candle. Peace is not the absence of war, it is building right relationships with God, neighbour, creation, and self. We are our brother and sister’s keepers; what affects one, affects all. As a society we need to be more attentive to the cries of the victim and assist when and where we can.
Domestic violence and incest are not part of God’s plan. We are all called to action to stop this evil. We do not have enough safe shelters, counselling, and other services available for victims. This is the first great challenge. Even when an injunction is taken out against a perpetrator, it is not easily enforced and so it is of little value.
To move forward as a society, legislators, NGOs, and faith-based communities need to work together to address prevention, intervention, rescue, and recovery. Mandatory programmes for victims and perpetrators should be instituted. Victims and those at risk need meaningful support systems; perpetrators need treatment and rehabilitation.
We need a new culture of parenting in our nation. How do we give unconditional love for a secure foundation, yet stretch the child to ensure authentic integral de-velopment is ongoing, virtue and morals are clear guiding lights, and compassion and love the driving force in each individual?
Pope Paul VI, in his encyclical Populorum Progressio (on the Development of Peoples), says: “Peace cannot be limited to a mere absence of war, the result of an ever-precarious balance of forces. No, peace is something that is built up day after day, in the pursuit of an order intended by God, which implies a more perfect form of justice among men” (76).
Domestic violence, incest and abuse are not God’s plan. We are challenged to do everything we can to stop it.
Pray and reflect on your experience of domestic violence and of those around you. Ask God to show you one thing you can do.
Rather than give a scripture, I want you to read the AEC Bishop’s Statement on Domestic Violence.