World

Pope Says High Number of Domestic Violence Cases is ‘Almost Satanic’

ROME — Pope Francis, speaking on a prime-time television program, said that there was something “almost satanic” about the high number of women who had been victims of domestic violence.

The pope made the comment during a show broadcast Sunday on Canale 5, Italy’s top private channel, called “Francis and the Invisibles” that was intended to put a spotlight on people who were struggling in different ways. It featured three women and a man who met with the pope to talk about various issues and ask for advice.

Francis was speaking to an Italian woman named Giovanna, a victim of domestic violence who had left her abusive relationship and found herself without a job and homeless with her four children because of the coronavirus. He urged her to be strong.

“The number of women who are beaten, abused in their homes, even by their husbands, is very, very high,” Francis said on Sunday night. “The problem is that, for me, it is almost satanic, because it is taking advantage of the weakness of those who cannot defend themselves, can only block the blows. It is humiliating, very humiliating.”

Lockdown restrictions intended to stop the spread of the coronavirus have left many women in a vulnerable position, and Francis has spoken out against domestic violence on several occasions since the pandemic began nearly two years ago. He has repeatedly called on society to protect vulnerable women at risk, singling out the victims in his prayers.

In February, he released a video calling attention to the issue, and its many manifestations: “psychological violence, verbal violence, physical violence, sexual violence,” Francis said. These abuses are “acts of cowardice and a degradation of all humanity.”

In his Christmas message last year, he called on people to be “supportive and helpful” to “women who have suffered domestic violence during these months of lockdown.”

And on Easter Monday, in 2020, when many countries were imposing strict lockdown provisions, Francis spoke out in support of the “many mothers and sisters and grandmothers who are confined to their homes” and “are at risk of enduring violence.”

More recently, Francis marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on Nov. 25 by writing on Twitter: “The various forms of ill-treatment that many women suffer are acts of cowardice and degradation of all humanity. We must not look the other way,” the pope wrote on his account, @pontifex.

Many cases of domestic violence are not reported, but according to U.N. Women, the United Nations organization dedicated to empowering women and gender equality, almost one in three women — an estimated 736 million around the world — have been subjected to violence from a partner or sexual violence from someone else at least once.

Last month, the organization issued a report suggesting that domestic violence had intensified during the pandemic, which had also made women feel more vulnerable to abuse, sexual harassment and violence, impacting their emotional and mental health.

The World Health Organization also monitors violence against women and recently carried out a 16-day campaign called #SafeHome with the soccer governing body FIFA to “raise awareness about domestic violence and support those at risk.”

Francis met with Giovanna, the abuse victim, for “Francis and the Invisibles,” a reference to people at times marginalized and unseen by society, a special news program filmed in the Casa Santa Marta, his residence inside the Vatican.

He also met with Maria, a homeless woman, Pierdonato, a man who had served 25 years in prison, and Maristella, an 18-year-old student who expressed the concerns of her generation struggling through the pandemic.

“I knew he put people at ease, but I wasn’t expecting this,” Giovanna said onscreen of her meeting with Francis.

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