Thursday, April 15, 2010

It's Not About Sexual Abuse

Listen to the Rhetoric

There is a great hue and cry around the world, about the sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church.  That there has been sexual abuse by clergy in the Catholic Church should not be in dispute. It is documented pretty well.  That one Catholic priest abused a young person should have been enough to bring about better empathy for the youth, and protection for them in their formation to adulthood.

I personally have known at least peripherally, and know well some women who were sexually abused in their youth, and I have been further shocked to know more than a few men who were violated as well.  However, in all the people I have met, remembering that I was raised in the Catholic Church, I can honestly say that I have never met one who was abused by a priest or nun or other religious.  I know it happened.  I am not trying to deny it, but it has been a small portion of an epidemic that has occurred in our society.

So, when our society decides to play rhetorical games, and attempt to bring infamy to the person and office of the Holy Father of the Roman Catholic Church, there are other things at work here.

First, let me state that the people I know who were sexually abused have had their lives damaged seriously, some ruined by the shame and revulsion that they have felt at their own violation.   "What is it that I did wrong to cause this?", they all say.  As over 75% of all abuses reported happened at the hand of a family member, or close relative, or someone close to the family, and then since, only a small portion of the abused had their lives stolen from them at the hands of a religious of the Catholic faith, where do the rest of them turn to for the financial assistance to get the emotional and spiritual help they need to rebuild their lives?  In fact, on behalf of them all, I say: "Shame on you who would try to minimize their pain and suffering, and focus on one aspect of this horrendous societal ill."

My recent posting on the main stream media attacks on the Pope here, generated only one comment, but that comment rather than being unique echoed some of the things that seem bothersome to me.

The writer of the comment is a thoughful person, though she has her own agendas, and I confess they are not the same as mine.  She quoted something I said in the post and then added her own thoughts, as follows:
"The last thing that sexual abuse victims want typically is to have the shame they felt, and the sorrow they live with daily brought into a public forum. It is humiliating to them, and is an act of further victimization."

You're right, and it should not be that way. Being a victim of abuse should be no more shameful than being a victim of robbery or arson. But the very reason for that shame is centered in the teaching of your church -- that anything to do with your genitals is your own sinful fault unless it takes place within the confines of marriage. The shame needs to be removed. But the members of your faith are the only ones who can do that, and they will not.

You really do bring it on yourselves -- not the crime, but the shame of its having happened. But there is nothing anyone can do to help you because y'all will not allow it. "The faith" and its teaching are deemed to be more important than the feelings of mere victims of abuse that has been facilitated by the secrecy of system in which they live. What I don't understand is why you can't see this for yourselves...
I confess that I was shocked by this response, as I sometimes am at her thoughts.  Yet, it is an interesting one, and as I told her I would do, when I saw the comment, I have had to take it to heart and digest it, and see what it means to me.

aS I stated above, only a small number of the abused I have encountered over the years were of the Catholic faith.  Yet, my commenter wanted to lump the shame that they universally feel (in my experience with them) as something that was the fault of Catholic Church teaching on sexuality.  That is a disingenuous comment, and frankly not worthy of her, nor me, and especially not worthy of all the men, women, boys and girls who have had their lives turned upside down by sexual abuse.

But, it is part of the onslaught that is going on against the Catholic Church.  Why should she be any different. She is merely echoing the words of others.

What I do happen to agree with her on, (which is now somewhat tangential to her own thesis), is that to a certain extent, the Catholic Church has brought this scandal on itself.  Men who should never have been ordained into the priesthood were, and some of them have made up the ranks of the Church.  They have provided the excuse that many need to discount the Catholic Church and its faith in Jesus Christ.

On that, Mark Mallett, who writes the Spiritual Food for Life blog wrote this section in his blog posting on The Scandal:

And so, anti-clericalism is reaching a fevered pitch in our world. Ignoring the fact that sexual abuse is not a Catholic problem, but prevalent throughout the world, many use the relatively small percentage of abusing priests as an excuse to reject the entire Church. Catholics have used the scandals as an excuse to stop attending Mass or to minimize or absolve themselves of Church teachings. Others have used the scandals as a means to paint Catholicism as evil and even attack the Holy Father himself (as if the Pope is responsible for everyone’s personal sins.)

But these are excuses. When each of us stands before the Creator when we have passed from this life, God isn’t going to ask, "So, did you know any pedophile priests?" Rather, He will reveal how you responded to the moments of grace and opportunities for salvation that He provided in the midst of all the tears and joys, trials and triumphs in your lifetime. The sin of another is never an excuse for our own sin, for the actions determined through our own free will.

The fact is that the Church remains as Christ’s mystical body, the visible sacrament of salvation for the world… wounded or not.
 I remain convinced that this is a time that can be thought of as an end time, that good and evil are lining up against each other, and that many otherwise innocent people will lose their souls, because of the lies that they are told, and believe as true.

People of faith cannot stand by and let this happen.  We must be active in bringing the faith to all, so that none may be lost.  Above all, let none be lost at your own hand.  We must seek the truth, and when we have found it stand on it to our own death.

Jesus Christ is the same today as yesterday, and tomorrow.  He is the author of our faith and our salvation.  In Him we must place our trust, and our hope for our own salvation, and that of our loved ones.


Janus Bellator said...

"Yet, my commenter wanted to lump the shame that they universally feel (in my experience with them) as something that was the fault of Catholic Church teaching on sexuality. That is a disingenuous comment, and frankly not worthy of her, nor me, and especially not worthy of all the men, women, boys and girls who have had their lives turned upside down by sexual abuse."

Apparently, I wasn't making myself clear. I wasn't "lumping" anything with anything -- I was actually trying to clarify a point about the shame that is often felt by some victims of abuse. Let me try again...

The feeling of shame is not something with which we are born. It is something we are taught. Ditto for the concept of sin and forgiveness and wrongdoing and all those other emotionally driven negativities with which some of us beat ourselves up (mostly 'cause we're also taught that if we don't beat ourselves up, then somebody else will).

The Church teaches that sex outside the confines of a proper marriage bed is a sin, and that you need to be ashamed of your sins! It makes no exception to the rule.

So...what happens when a bigger, stronger person -- especially one with authority and knowledge on his side -- subjects a smaller, weaker, meeker person to an ordeal that the smaller person knows is sinful. He's not consenting, but he cannot refuse. He has been taught that such things are sinful, but he has no choice. And so he becomes ashamed -- shamed by his inability to prevent his being abused as well as shamed by the nature of the abuse itself.

I've known people who were severely depressed about their past as abused children who were told to "offer up their pain" and pray.

That. Does. Not. Help.

Abusers depend heavily on the victim's shame to keep him silent. Shame wounds the victim further and helps the abuser get away with his crime. That needs to stop.

But it won't stop until the Church's teaching on sexuality changes (and first and foremost, it must start teaching that sexual abuse is not about sex -- it is about abuse!) It has changed in the past. It needs to change again.

Michael Brandon said...

Dear Lady Janus:

As your comments are worthy of deeper thought and communication than just a return comment, I shall endeavour to present a cogent response in the morrow.

Having been cut to the quick (well maybe to the slow) by your comment to my article about your previous comment, I shall write about your current comment in a subsequent article, thereby perpetuating (I hope) the cycle, as we continue to grow in understanding of each other's minds.

Thank you for sharing, Registered Witch Lady Janus.

Michael Brandon said...