First I want to say that in no way do I think the right thing to do is to have a sexual relationship with anyone because they are blackmailing you. In my last blog, I said that at one point I felt that it all would have been easier if I had gone along with things and not “made my boss angry”. But believe me, it would not have been easier. More on that next time. This time I wanted to talk about the obstacles that those abused by clergy face once the abuse is over. And by “abuse” I mean, the actual face to face sexual abuse with the clergy person.
As I have said, I was abused as an adult. And I have felt that there are obvious differences between my abuse and those who have had to face the horror of sexual abuse as children. But there are similarities as well.
It may seem mind boggling, but the fact is, children have been raped….many by more than one priest….sometimes for many years….and coming forward and getting justice via compensation and putting the perpetrator behind bars….is not that easy. You would think it would be. Seems like we hear all the time about people coming forward and accusing priests of doing nasty deeds and churches going bankrupt due to all of the allegations and those couple of pervy priests are taken away in handcuffs and the problem is solved. Right? Because nobody would allow such a thing to go on if they knew it was happening….right? And surely those who were suspected of harming children would not be allowed to roam freely among the righteous priests….so what’s the problem and why do we have to keep hearing about this anyway? Where are all these people coming from and why are they coming forward years after the fact and they must be just after money or taking advantage of the church. Right?
I may sometimes sound like I am repeating myself but I think there are so many layers when it comes to abuse by priests. And I am saying priests but I mean all clergy and religious representatives.
The thing is, even if you think you know why or how this happens, you may only be looking under one layer. I used to think that, sure, sexual abuse happened but it happened to other people. Like rape only happens to woman walking alone at night dressed suggestively and who are pulled into a dark alley by strangers. That kind of “other people” kind of thing. No gray area. There were just either priests who were turned on by boys or priests who were so repressed sexually that it just kind of spilled out into an act of need and relief and then penance. Or perhaps there were secret girlfriends. I’ve spoken before about how nobody really wants to look too closely at the sex lives of priests. Kind of like nobody wants to see their Uncle George naked or imagine that their parents ever had sex. Kind of feels incestuously icky.
So let’s go there. Let’s talk about sex and the single priest. There, I said it. What are the obstacles to be faced that make it harder to get the justice and respect for survivors of abuse?
Where do I even begin? I guess we begin with the obvious….you can argue logic all day and say that you know that a priest is just a man and blah blah blah, but the truth is, if you have been raised Catholic, logic only goes so deep. Emotion goes to the bone and beyond. Emotion goes deeper than logic. The church and priests represent all that is good. They are the ones you turn to when life goes off the deep end. That is their job and more importantly, they work for and represent God.
I can pretty much stop right there with that statement….emotion goes deeper than logic….especially when religion is woven into the tapestry of your life since birth and priests and religious leaders seems to carry the emotional power of granting salvation or damnation. You can say….shucks, they are just men but those men carry a power of casting mesmerizing spells over many people…..including their victims. Especially their victims.
I’ve said that I used to work in the Tribunal Office. I used to process dispensations that allowed people of different faiths to get married in the church. And I used to process what is called a “Lack of Form” which allowed people who had married before but not by a priest, to be excused from that marriage so they could now be married in the church.
You might not think it’s such a big deal, but boy is that white wedding in the church and walking down the aisle a big deal to people….sometimes numerous times…..so much so that although they may only see the inside of a church on Christmas, they will spill out all kinds of personal details to priests just so they can book a church for their next nuptials as soon as possible.
That’s the emotional control the church has over people. Baptize your baby so he/she won’t go to Hell. Book the church for the fairy tale wedding. Be sure to leave a good chunk of your money to the church when you die to ensure you will go right to Heaven. The more money you have, the less time you have to spend in Purgatory.
Another emotional hold the church has over people is the sense of belonging to and being supported by, family and friends. To belong to the church is to have people know your face and your name and to belong to a sense of community from birth until death. If your name is on the parish registry, you will belong to the group. The rules of the group are love and forgiveness. Any talk of anything outside of the rules is cause for disdain and rejection from members in the group. So you wear your Easter hat and keep your game face on. And you bury anything unpleasant so that it does not show on the surface.
Last time I mentioned my mother and her reaction when I told her what had happened to me. I would say that my mom, represents a different age and time. I mean so much has changed since I have been on this Earth as far as women’s rights and such. Go back thirty years further and you reach an age where women were expected to get married and take care of the house and their family. If they wanted money, they got an allowance from their husband, who determined what the money situation would be and if the wife could get anything for herself. If the wife did work outside the home, the money she made was called “pin money”. Her money was used for extra things like holiday shopping. It was hardly enough money for a woman to use to support herself or her children or to receive her own retirement income of any substance. This was all within the last 100 years. Women basically were raised to go from father to husband…at the alter….with the priest’s approval.
So my mom has quite a different view of the world. To her….to both of my parents, I learned that men were supposed to chase after women. And that if women were fools enough to get caught, that was totally on them. Logically priests being men, that would include them as well….throw in the fact that emotionally they sit on a high tower of virtue and that sex is a man’s right and a woman’s problem…well..old fashioned as it may seem….again, we can talk about how enlightened we are but what we learned at our mother’s knee is what is deeply ingrained in us…and what we pass along to our children.
So my mom said that my boss had some mental issues and just let it go and don’t stir things up and have him come after you….but she is still giving money to the church when she passes away because….it is not to the “church” per se, but to our parish…..and that priest is a good guy.
My mom is used to men having the power and woman having jobs to bring in money that is just used to buy something pretty and not to pay bills or feed the kids….or dogs in my case…and a bad priest just happens like anywhere else. It’s like Monica Lewinsky, my mom said….which made no sense to me except for the oral sex reference meaning the type of sex that was being requested. He is a sick priest….just one in a barrel of saints. Let other people take care of themselves if they have a problem with a priest. That is how my mom’s generation sees the issue. To my mom, sexual harassment is a quid pro quo and rape is something that is done in an alley by a stranger if a woman is out alone walking at night wearing something provocative.
I don’t fault my mom for her views. As I said, much has changed in my world since I was young, but it does show part of what the problem is when a victim tries to tell others that something is not right.
What people listening to victims of abuse may not understand is….the very trust they put to the clergy….the very belief…..or want of a belief…that sin or crime cannot exists without instantaneous purification and forgiveness once the blessing and entrance into priesthood has occurred….that is the very trust and want of belief that makes potential victims vulnerable….be they 10 years old or 80.
Times are changing slowly and painfully. The trauma of sexual abuse of children by priests has so many layers of evil that infiltrates the mind and the bodies of innocents who are painfully introduced to sex confusing it with an act of love and of God by a trusted and powerful adult. Painful memories are sometimes blocked out. Children who have tried to tell ended up punished and ostracized by their families and their church. I cannot begin to imagine what that does to a person at such a tender age. I cannot imagine a child going through what I as an adult went through….the pain and confusion and the fear and the feeling of being trapped…..and then not believed.
More and more people are speaking out about childhood abuse at the hands of priests. And the church is beginning to have to answer for cover ups and moving abusers so that they can continue to abuse other unsuspecting children. These people need and deserve love and support and the deserve to be listened to and believed. Because as children they did not have that chance.
As an adult who was abused and then abused again by ignorance…mine as well as others, I think we need to come together and support one another….but I also think that we need to support those abused as children and their movement towards justice and visibility as we break through old barriers and prejudices that have held onto our emotions for so long. Because we all face similar hurdles and our abusers used similar techniques and they all used their positions to commit heinous acts of inhumanity against the very people that have been taught since birth to obey without question.
We have to stop teaching our children that it is noble to suffer and to love thy neighbor and to turn the other cheek and that the pope is infallible and that priests have super human powers without also teaching them more about how to say no and to listen to their own feelings.
Teach the children, educate adults and heal the wounded. Oh, and the ignorant? Report them when it is appropriate to do so because they are hurting instead of educating and healing.