I draw your attention to an article by Jenn Morson, the follow-up to her article from several months ago, where she interviews alleged victims of sexual assault who tried to get help through Student Life as recently as the 2017-2018 school year. These testimonies point to a systemic pattern of ignoring sexual assault and gaslighting victims which is sickening and inexcusable.
The article, entitled “Franciscan University Vows to Stop Sexual Assault, but Victims Need Convincing,” particularly details the actions of the assistant vice-president of Student Life, Catherine Heck. Heck seems to have regularly gaslit victims, painted them as the true source of the problem, and demanded they undergo counseling not to cope with their trauma but to make them prove they weren’t hysterical. She talked people out of going to Law Enforcement. She had alleged assailants put in therapy instead of punished. In one instance, she is reported to have asked a victim if she had an orgasm when that victim was assaulted during a Rosary Walk near the Portiuncula chapel. She then told her that if she experienced an orgasm while her assailant was biting her and forcing his hands into her trousers, it didn’t count as a sexual assault.
You can sign a petition to have Catherine Heck removed from her position here. I am given to understand that another such petition was circulated in 2014, but the university did nothing.
I also draw your attention to a beautiful poem written by Jennifer Riley on my friend Marie’s blog, “The Shoeless Banshee.” It expresses my horror at these events much better than I ever could. I’ve been stammering to think of something to say about this article since it was released, but it’s so intense, so familiar and true to everything I’ve known about Franciscan University, that I am too upset to find my own words. I only echo hers.
The day the article was released, I happened to be in conversation with one of the victims who spoke to Jenn Morson. She publicly stated she was the victim and told me she didn’t mind if I talk a little on my blog about our conversation.
It came up, as we were chatting, that we had another thing in common. Both of us had been emotionally abused by the same priest. He’s the priest I have referred to as “Father Reginald” here on the blog, and I refuse to use his real name because he is not the point. This woman makes the third or fourth person I’ve spoken to who independently told me they endured the same behavior from that priest. He pretends to be a young woman’s close friend and ally, the one trying to help and protect her. And then he gets her into his office and starts yelling. He yells, insults and verbally attacks her until she is sobbing in horrified tears; then he uses the tears as an excuse to claim she’s unwell. Then he may also sabotage her social life by forcibly removing her from her “Faith Household,” which is similar to a Catholic-based prayer sorority, if the victim is in a Faith Household. In my case, he told me that I couldn’t tell my Household sisters the real reason why I was leaving Household in my farewell letter because that would be “gossip” and not “virtuous.”
I don’t know why he does this.
Maybe just because he feels he’s entitled to do it.
I chatted with this woman some more. I found that she’s graduated now, and works at a parish. She has been back to Franciscan University one time and attended Mass there. While she was at Mass, by pure coincidence, “Father Reginald” was the one distributing Holy Communion. This was frightening, but she was able to walk to the front and receive Communion anyway. She even looked him in the eye when she said “Amen.”I was overwhelmed.
Does she have any idea how courageous she is?
Anyone reading this who has been spiritually abused: do you have any idea how courageous you are?
Spiritual abusers, people who use God as a cudgel to beat up their victims, are the worst abusers. They disguise themselves as the most trustworthy people, people who follow Christ the meek and humble of Heart and speak for Him. They disguise themselves so perfectly that sometimes they, the abusers, have absolute conviction that they are, in fact, acting in Christ’s name. And then they project this conviction onto others until a whole community believes it. Then, they select a victim– that’s you, that’s us. They take the deepest part of you, your soul, and they hold it hostage against you. They hurt you as hard as they possibly can and they are experts at making it look like your fault.
They might manipulate you into thinking that you weren’t really raped, and that it was all your dirty fault for experiencing an involuntary muscular contraction when it happened.
They might take away your support system and isolate you from your friends, and convince you that honesty is gossip.
And here you are, seeing the lie for what it is.
Here you are, still alive, still fighting.
You are a hero.
I think we all are.
This is the way they treated so many saints. And I’m not saying that any of us is a saint. Lord knows I’m far from it. But all the baptized are making our way toward Heaven, through the intercession of the Communion of Saints, eventually by the grace of God to be drawn up into that Communion if we remain with Him, and we’re supposed to look at the examples of the saints we know, to see what the spiritual journey is like. And look at them. Look at John of the Cross getting tortured and locked in a closet. Look at what they did to Joan of Arc. Look at so many others, far too many to name here. Respectable spiritual authorities who believed they spoke for Christ hurt them as hard as they possibly could. These saints were spiritually abused. Their abusers are not canonized saints; the victims are.
I think that, so very often, we feel ugly and unloved by Christ because of what spiritual abusers did to us. I know I do. I feel like Christ doesn’t love me, He loves them.
And He does love them. He loves everyone. He doesn’t condone sin, but He keeps inviting sinners to repentance and He loves them.
But we have a cloud of witnesses to show us that being spiritually abused doesn’t mean you’re a bad person unloved by God. It’s something that happened to saints.
More than that, it even happened to Christ.
Christ was abused until He died, and the people who did it to Him were the spiritual authorities who were absolutely convinced they were acting in the name of God.
When Christ became man, He did not choose to become a person who was like spiritual abusers were. He wasn’t born a Levite or a priest’s son. He wasn’t an authority; he was a manual laborer. He wasn’t even from Judea but Galilee. God became someone whom spiritual authorities would torture to death, to show you that He stands with you and not with them.
He stands with us.
I want you to know, right now, here wherever you are in your spiritual journey, that He loves you and stands with you. As do I, though I’m a much less impressive friend to have. We stand together.
He’s not standing with the one who did this to you. He invites that person to repentance, but He’s not on their side. Christ is not on the side of any person, or any university or other man-made institution, that victimizes others. He promised those people that a millstone and a long walk off a short pier would be for their souls than what they do.
And I thank you for being alive, after everything you’ve been through, and being the face of Christ for me today.
(image via Wikimedia Commons)