ROME – Pope Francis says violence against women is “an almost satanic problem.”
His comments came on a television program broadcasted on Sunday by Italian Canale 5.
The program was a dialogue between the pontiff and four “invisible ones,” who have been forgotten, discarded or humiliated by society.
One of those was Giovanna, who told the pope about having to leave her home with her four children, because of the ongoing domestic violence.
“It is already humiliating when a father or a mother slaps a child, I always say don’t do it, because dignity is the face,” the pope said, and then gave this woman as an example of “dignity” and “resistance to calamities.”
“I perceive dignity because if you don’t have it you wouldn’t be here. Because your dignity is visible in your face. A face of suffering but also of one who carries on with life, yours and that of your children. You are on your way… you are still standing,” Francis told her.
“It is very large the number of women assaulted and abused at home, also by the husband, it is a problem that for me is almost satanic because it means taking advantage of the weakness of those who cannot defend themselves, who can only [try to] block the blows, it is humiliating,” he said.
The pontiff also noted that the number of women who are beaten and abused in their homes, “even by their husbands, is very, very high.”
Throughout his pontificate, Francis has spoken against domestic violence, and particularly, violence against women. In 2018, Francis said in Peru that “violence against women cannot be treated as ‘normal’, maintaining a culture of machismo blind to the leading role that women play in our communities.”
“Machismo” is a word widely used in Latin America to refer to chauvinistic attitudes towards women, as well as a broader dismissal of women’s voices and experiences.
The statistics on domestic violence have only grown worse with the pandemic, forcing women and children to be locked with their abusers during lockdowns. Numbers released last month in Italy showed that there are about 90 episodes of violence against women every day in the country and that 62 percent were cases of domestic violence.
The numbers are even worse in Latin America, where over 4,000 women were killed last year, which comes to an average of a women every two hours. According to the United Nations, one woman in three suffers domestic violence, perpetrated by a spouse, a parent, a stepparent or a close relative.
Francis also had words for Maria, a homeless woman who now resides in Palazzo Migliori, a shelter near St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican.
“You speak of cruelty, and this is society’s hardest slap in the face for you, when someone else’s problem is ignored,” he told Maria. “We are entering a culture of indifference where we try to distance ourselves from the real problems, the suffering caused by homelessness, the lack of jobs.”
The pontiff then turned to a problem common in Italy: Loan sharks, who are often connected to organized crime.
Despite people trying to turn away from the problems of others, Francis said, they “have increased with this pandemic because those who offer money on loan are knocking at the door: Usurers. A poor person, a person in need, falls into the hands of usurers and loses everything, because they do not forgive. This is cruelty on top of cruelty, I say this to draw people’s attention not to be naive; usury is not a way out of the problem, usury brings you new problems.”
In his opinion, “the hardest blow of society is that of ignoring the problems of others, indifference,” he said, listening to her testimony.
“We are entering a culture of indifference in which we try to distance ourselves from the problems, from hunger, from pain, from lack of work… and with this pandemic the problems have increased,” he said.
Francis also heard the stories of Maristella, an 18-year-old scout whose youthful joy has been lost due to the pandemic; and Pierdonato who served 25 years in prison.
Pierdonato asked the Pope if there is hope for those who desire change, and the pope told him that, as the Bible says, “hope never disappoints.”
“God is there, not up in orbit, but right next to you, because God’s way is closeness, compassion and tenderness,” he said. “God is with each one of those in prison, with any person who goes through difficulty. You may not say it, but you know in your heart that you are forgiven, and you have the hope that does not disappoint. That’s why I can tell you one thing: God always forgives.”