[CN: church-based sexual trauma, some brief description]
It’s getting hard to keep quiet about the cynical gamesmanship going on amidst the far-right cardinals in the latest iteration of the Roman Catholic sex abuse scandal. As a survivor of church-based sexual trauma, my blood has boiled to see the anti-Francis conservatives trying to leverage a scandal in which all of their hands are filthy to force his resignation.
No matter what Francis is personally guilty of in terms of covering up abuse and even if the attempt to push out Francis were not breathtakingly opportunistic and hypocritical, forcing a high profile resignation is a superficial public relations stunt that does nothing to address the culture that created the abuse. The installation of Francis as pope was itself a public relations stunt that the same cardinals approved in response to the same scandal.
What happened to me in a shower at a church basketball lock-in in the late 1980’s was caused by the same patriarchal authoritarianism that is the root cause of the Catholic sex abuse. And it is that patriarchal authoritarianism that is the chief heresy which needs to be exorcised from the church today. It is not simply a matter of policy; it is a theological issue.
The man who humiliated and emasculated me at that basketball lock-in was the most conservative, authoritarian Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher I ever had. He was also my church basketball coach and the church scoutmaster. All the dads loved him because he was such a hard-ass authority figure.
There wasn’t a gay bone in his body. In fact, it wasn’t until I was in a 12 step recovery process decades later that I was able to recognize what he did to me as sexual abuse. He had each member of the basketball team shower individually in front of him after our workout. While I was showering, he talked to me about my genitalia and pointed at it. And for several years after that happened, every time I went into the bathroom to pee, I thought about that moment and my penis felt small.
The thing is he wasn’t pleasuring himself through some kind of pedophiliac practice. He was letting me know that he had control even over my naked private parts as my omnipotent, omnipresent basketball coach and Sunday school teacher. I know that the rapist priests did far worse things than I suffered, so I can totally respect a survivor of that trauma saying that every religious authority figure in the whole Roman church enterprise needs to resign so that it can be rebooted from scratch.But the important thing to name is that the problem is not lust. Lust doesn’t become rape in a church except where patriarchal control is absolute. If Coach Mills had not had absolute authority over his basketball team members sanctioned by a patriarchal (though moderate) Southern Baptist church, we would have been able to stand together and say no thank you when he told us we were taking individual showers in front of him. Rape is about control, not just carnal desire. A theology that is formed by people who love their own patriarchal authority more than they love Jesus is of course going to warp its sexual ethics in a way that is commensurate with this heresy.
For example, there is an absolute, categorical difference between the physical intimacy of two gay men whose souls have been brought together through a process of turning towards each other with compassion and a priest who orders a child to help him masturbate. Those who see these two scenarios as the same or even in the same category reveal the degree to which their heretical authoritarian theology has corrupted their plain common sense.
I think a much better idea than making the pope and every bishop resign would be for every Roman priest to renounce the title “Father” for a season of penance to last at least forty years. And for representatives of the Roman church to refrain from making any public comment about sexuality for at least the same season of penance.
John Paul II’s theology of the body is often held on a pedestal as an exquisitely beautiful expression of conservative Catholic sexual ethics. Perhaps it has elements of beauty, but it was that theology of the body that presided over the rape of thousands of children during John Paul II’s actual tenure.
The correction that is needed in the Roman Catholic Church is not simply to shuffle the old men in pointy hats around and substitute a few dozen patriarchs with a few dozen more. The rotten fruit of this tree requires theological correction. A sexuality based on patriarchal authoritarianism rapes children, no matter how many papal bulls and bible verses have established it. So it’s time for Catholics to discern what a holistic, non-patriarchal sexuality could look like.
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