Belfast Telegraph

Victims of domestic abuse can find refuge in church: Primate

By Alf McCreary

Victims of domestic violence could find refuge in churches, the leader of the Church of Ireland has suggested.

Churches in the Armagh Diocese could become "safe places" for people experiencing abuse at home, according to the Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke.

Addressing his church's annual General Synod in Limerick yesterday, Dr Clarke told delegates that the PSNI responded to an incident of domestic violence every 19 minutes on average, day and night, seven days a week.

"In Northern Ireland, one in seven women and one in 17 men experiences severe domestic violence," he said.

"Domestic violence may also be more subtle - economic or psychological - but nonetheless devastating in its impact."

"In the Republic, one in five women in a relationship has been abused by a present or former partner.

"Globally, at least one in three women, or up to one billion women, has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused."

The Archbishop also stressed that much domestic violence went unreported.

"People who suffer in this way must be encouraged to seek help," he said.

"One of the possibilities we are investigating in the Armagh Diocese is how churches can be designated as safe places for those who are experiencing domestic abuse.

"For many people, the church does not have a reputation as being a place of safety - far from it.

"Surely we can work together to reverse this notion of what we are?"

In a wide-ranging speech, the Archbishop, also spoke about identity and the international refugee crisis.

"Northern Ireland is taking very few refugees, but there is an indication of good organisation for those who will be allowed into this jurisdiction," he said.

"The Republic has agreed to take a far larger number proportionately, but there is little sign that an infrastructure is yet ready for this."

The Church of Ireland has established two refugee working groups, one on each side of the border.

Their purpose is "to work with other Christian traditions and other faith groups and to liaise with governments and organisations that are organising aid in some way for those entering here as refugees".

Today, the General Synod is also debating a report from a committee set up three years ago to consider sexuality and Christian belief.

The Synod will consider a motion to make "sensitive local pastoral arrangements for public prayer and thanksgiving with same-sex couples" at key points in their lives, including matrimony.

The vote could once again reflect the deep divisions in the Church of Ireland on the topic, despite several attempts to come to an agreement. The issue is also causing strife in other mainstream churches.

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