An Interview with Father Charles W. Dahm, O.P.

Updated: Feb 18

By Gordon Nary

Gordon:  I wanted to open this interview with belated congratulations for the 50th anniversary of your ordination in 2014  and share with our readers   your reflections in your anniversary   in this great video .     


The challenges of priesthood have substantially changed over the past 50 years and there are less seminarians studying for the priesthood. What can parishes and parents do to encourage new vocations?


Father Chuck: Vocations are born primarily in the home. So the faith and involvement of parents in the life of the church are the principal influences.  Most priests would agree with that being the case in their own vocations. Other than that, the respectful and joyful service of priests needs to inspire our youth.


Gordon: In your video, you discussed many social justice initiatives.  What recommendations would you suggest to parishes who may be considering launching social justice initiatives?


Father Chuck: This is a huge question. Establishing a social justice ministry is multi faceted.  There is a need to prioritize the issues and select the ones to focus onbased on the context of the parish.  But social justice should permeate all ministries, including religious education, youth ministry, and parish schools.


Gordon: What are your primary responsibilities as Director of Domestic Violence Outreach for the Archdiocese of Chicago?


Father Chuck: It is to promote awareness about domestic violence as a serious problem in families in every community, and forming a ministry to victims in each parish. The parish should raise awareness, and when victims come forward, know how to refer them to appropriate services.  Furthermore, parishes need to promoted prevention among youth and in marriage preparation. The Director reaches out to parishes, pretty much one by one, showing them how to do this and building a network of parishes for support.

We have to spread the word that the U.S. bishops declared in their pastoral letter of 2002, When I Call for Help: “No one is expected to stay in an abusive marriage.” Most Catholics don’t know that is the position of the Catholic Church and we have to get the word out, especially to those who are suffering abuse in their own homes.


Gordon:  Violence has become endemic in our society.  What, in your opinion, are some of the factors that contribute to violence  in general, and what can we and our parishes do to reduce these challenges?


Father Chuck: We need to talk about and describe what violence in families looks like and how to resist it. This has to be in sermons, school and religious education. We have to teach the young about what are healthy relationships and how to identify unhealthy ones. We have to spread the word that the When I Call for Help “No one is expected to stay in an abusive marriage.” Most Catholics don’t know that is the position of the Catholic Church and we have  to get the word out, especially to those who are suffering abuse in their own homes.

Gordon: Based on your experience, how should parents address domestic violence challenges with their children?


Father Chuck: Parents need to model healthy relationships both between father and mother and then parents and children and among siblings. Language, attitudes and behavior that are unhealthy of healthy have to identified and responded to accordingly.     


Gordon: What is the Catholic Church’s teaching on leaving a marriage when one is a victim of domestic violence?


Father Chuck: The Catholic Church teaching on domestic violence is clearly explained in the US bishops' pastoral letter, "When I Call for Help."


In the first paragraph, the bishops state, "We have to state as strongly and clearly as we can that violence against women inside or outside the home is never justified, and it is a sin and often a crime." They conclude the letter stating: "We emphasize that no one is expected to stay in an abusive marriage." That is the position of the Catholic Church and many people don't know it. We have to get the word out, especially to those suffering abuse in their own homes.

Many people, including priests do not know that a victim of domestic violence is able to obtain an annulment of his or her Catholic marriage. There are certain essential conditions for a marriage to be a sacrament, such as free will, maturity, and commitment to love and respect one's partner. If one of these or other necessary conditions is not present, the marriage is invalid. That is the reality and victims can reflect on that with their own conscience and conclude their marriage was invalid. However, in order to remarry in the Catholic, the Church requires that a person request an annulment, which is a legal process to verify that one of the essential conditions was lacking. None of this has anything to do with going to communion. A victim who leaves his or her spouse and even obtains a divorce can still receive communion.


Gordon: In counseling, is forgiveness discussed?


Father Chuck: Yes, forgiveness is discussed. Many survivors of domestic violence struggle with forgiveness. They want to forgive because they know it is the Christ-like thing to do. But they have trouble forgiving because their wounds are so deep and unhealed. They are often not ready to forgive.


Forgiveness is a good thing obviously, but survivors of domestic violence should not be pressured or even urged to forgive. They know they should and will do it when they can. They need time to heal.


Some priests mistakenly address forgiveness when survivors come to them, whether in confession or elsewhere. My experience is that survivors know about forgiveness and they are working on forgiving. Give them space and time. Don’t create more guilt for them.


Gordon: You have a powerful video on Domestic Violence Outreach which may the the perfect way to end this interview.



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