A very courageous reader writes:

I am 49 years old.

at the age of 19 I was a Sophomore in college. I was a college seminarian, studying in a Philosophy program for a Religious Community, not the one to which I belong now.

I was naive and vulnerable. I found philosophy difficult, but not insurmountable. The teachers, the priests, the rector, all meant a great deal to me. I had to impress them enough to be able to pass and to be moved on to novitiate.

I remember finding it odd that celibacy was just assumed. It was never discussed in any academic or spiritual context.

Monthly meetings with the rector for spiritual direction were mandatory.

At some point in this sophomore year his attention to me crossed a line which I found very uncomfortable. I did not have the ability to realize that this was just any man. It was the rector, and he held my future in his hands (not to mention a few other things.) To endure this for two years was to live a deeply conflicted and dual life, and by the end of it I was living in sheer terror.

When I finally got the nerve to inform a confessor, I was told to be quiet. When I told the Provincial, I was told to be quiet. I eventually made it to Novitiate, but trusted no one, and was living in a black hole.

When the Novice master told me it was my fault, I left. I fled, I did not darken the door of a church for nearly two years.

It is a miracle I am a Catholic, let alone a priest.

When you are raped by a priest it is spiritual incest. I would invite you to read this talk:

It has been nearly 30 years. At the age of 35, after teaching for several years in Catholic schools and working as a Lay minister I returned to the seminary, to an order whose charism has everything to do with reconciliation.

I was brought back by some loving people. I have had more than 10 years of therapy, and I have the same spiritual director for the last 25 years. In many ways I am more than a victim, and even more than merely a survivor.

But I still have sleepless nights. I still have problems with trust. And I am much better at working at issues of intimacy. This whole six months of reading this daily in the paper has caused me to re-live it all over again. When the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome showed up again, I got back into therapy and have been going for three months now. All of that helps to view things objectively and move on with my life.

Most of my friends now do not know my whole story. I tell part of it on Retrouvaille weekends, when I am working with troubled couples in their marriages.

The hard part of this is hearing persons like yourself who seem to defend the perpetrators. Reading the New York Times yesterday made me very sad and very angry, that people could defend him. There is no defense.

I do not think we are wasting a priesthood. That this happened in Fr. Devito’s first year of priesthood indicates that there was poor discernment and faulty training, and he probably should never have been ordained. I would like to hear him describe how he has remained celibate for the last 24 years if that was his formation. There is a sense of trust that is gone. What kind of witness can he be?

Reconciliation is one thing, Mercy is free and very generous. He should be accepted as a weak and broken human being as are all sinners, and allowed to take his place among the communion of saints. But a priest?!

I am sorry Mark. I want you to have a higher standard for what a priest is to be. It is more than a function.

In many ways I do not ever expect the bishops to “get it.” You never really get it until you have lived yourself in that black hole and come out alive. That is the impression I get from reading your posts on this matter, that you really don’t get it either. I am amazed that I get to write this to the author of one of my favorite books, one I have used for adult education classes and RCIA (This Is My Body). I even refer to it in missions that I preach, and I was always asking the Daughters of St. Paul to carry it in their store in SF. So in some sense you do get it. But I was just wondering if you had ever heard the victim’s side.

To be honest, reading your posts on this topic are like hearing the Provincial tell me it is nothing, I should just move on, and not talk about. It still hurt that much. I am not holding you responsible for that, just letting you know how I feel. Just once, I want to hear from you an understanding of the Victim’s point of view, and understand the questioning of how this priest could ever be a witness.

Thanks+

I really deeply appreciate you writing and I am particularly pained if you think I am taking the victimizers side against the victim. My profound apologizies for any salt I’ve poured in the wound. Your note moved me to tears. For what it’s worth, I have several friends (one of whom is seriously grappling with whether he can remain Catholic) who have been the victims of rape. Most of these people are essentially struggling with the issues you discuss and I in no way intended to belittle that in my discussion on HMS blog. Rather, my point was precisely that, as one who has not experienced rape, I had always assumed that every victim must be scarred for life and that there was no point in even discussing any other outcome. In short, I applied a one size fits all template. Then, I met my friend who was raped as a child and find, to my surprise, that in her case, it left no particular scars. She is happily married. Has a healthy sex life and is, in a word, just fine. Not denial, really fine. That surprised me and taught me that such matters have to be handled on a person by person basis, not simply stamped into a template. And that, in turn shoots to pieces the notion that a penitent priest who has lived a life of holiness since his repentance must still be punished in order to somehow atone for the endless suffering of his victim, since it is not at all a given (as I discovered) that every single victim is most assuredly enduring endless suffering. That was all I was getting at. I in no way intended to suggest that (I’m guessing) the huge majority of victims aren’t suffering for decades.

I repeat here what I said to Fr. Paul in the comment box below. My point is not to go to the mat for Fr. DeVita. He may well be the narcissist denier that some suggest. He might be the fully penitent guy Fr. Johansen describes. I don’t know and in any case it’s not my place, nor is it possible, for me to decide. My point is that *if* Fr. Johansen were right, and if (very hypothetically) his victim was “just fine” like my friend, Zero Tolerance has no shades of distinction, no human means for weighing this, or the question of his victims’ suffering and desire for redress. 20 years of serial rape (a la Paul Shanley) and a backrub in a summer camp 20 years ago (a la Fr. David Jaeger) are dealt with in exactly the same way (by the Church, not the civil authorities). Fr. DeVita’s crime (and it was a crime, a despicable one, not a “mistake”) is being punished in a way that is entirely just. My question is simply whether the Church should confine itself to simple justice or take mercy (and the form it should take) into account. I (like Fr. Richard John Neuhaus) regard Zero Tolerance as simply the attempt by the bishops to send a machine to do a human person’s job of accurately discerning the real unique human situation of each case. I regard the policy as simply another form of abandonment of pastoral responsibility by bishops that does not help victims while doing no justice to the accused in some cases either. While still essentially neglecting victims (just ask SNAP how seriously they think the bishops are taking them now), the bishops now compound that neglect with draconian neglect of the accused as well. It strikes me as a compromise bandaid that helps nobody and hurts even more people. What I want to see are holy bishops who take seriously the spiritual condition of both the victims and the accused. Should all future abusers be told to hit the road after one offense? Yes. I don’t want to gamble with my kid’s safety in an experiment to find out if they are really penitent. But with long-penitent abusers, I can’t shake the conviction that there’s more involved. It is precisely because I do believe that the priesthood is more than a function that I think this. As I say, removing someone from the priesthood is like a compulsory divorce. Sometimes it’s necessary, but I tremble at it. As to how a penitent abuser priest could be a witness, I don’t know. That would be for God to decide. If he is truly penitent, he might be a witness just as former drunks at AA are witnesses to people in the grip of alcohol. In short, he might have a work to do with to other abusive priests or other abusers. But again, that’s not for me to decide.

I want to thank you for your terrific courage in telling your heartbreaking story. Again, please forgive me for the salt I have poured in your wounds. I’m trying to think with the Tradition here, not oil institutional machinery. But that is a very tentative process and not at all cut and dried. Sometimes I blunder, for which I am sorry. My goal is that the Church identify and implement a process that takes seriously the human person in all his or her particularity and avoids the constant bureaucratic desire to make the human person fit into the machinery.


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