Today I saw three tweets that enraged me, and then they made me sad.
I was enraged because they comparison they were drawing was so ridiculous. And then I was sad, because the error made plain to me so much about what caused the priestly sexual abuse crisis in the first place and why I have little hope that it can be stopped any time soon.
These tweets were composed by the famous apologist Patrick Madrid, of which a friend of mine said “He came to prominence in the 90’s, when mustaches were all one needed to convey authority.” And I must admit, he does have an ambitious mustache.
Madrid was apparently intending to mock the notion that sexual abuse by priests has far more to do with clericalism than with homosexuality. Considering how many homosexual people never abuse anyone, and considering how many thousands of female victims there are in this crisis, I would say that that’s a pretty good bet, but Madrid disagrees. He decided to publicly tweet some captions on pictures, substituting the word “clericalism” for “homosexuality,” to make fun of the idea.
The first tweet was a picture of Saint Charles L’Wanga and his companions, with the caption “they resisted clericalism and won the crown of martyrdom.”
For those of you who don’t know, the companions of Charles L’Wanga were page boys who were victims of molestation by the king. According to his hagiography, L’Wanga counseled them to resist the king’s advances instead of just meekly tolerating the abuse, and he and the boys were burned alive in punishment. The youngest victim was fourteen.
Next, Madrid tweeted a photo of Oscar Wilde, with the caption “Oscar Wilde, notorious for his clericalism, repented, and was received into the Catholic Church shortly before he died.”
For those of you who don’t know, Oscar Wilde was a gay man who spent time in prison for homosexual acts in the 1890s when it was illegal in England. A string of salacious accusations brought against Wilde involved paying for sex both with adults and teenagers older than the legal age of consent for that country at the time. Wilde was convicted of “gross indecency;” he was posthumously pardoned under the Alan Turning Law in 2017.
Finally came a tweet with a photo of Wladziu Valentino Liberace, with the caption “Liberace, whose blatant clericalism was well-known in the entertainment world, was Catholic and received the sacrament of extreme unction the day before he died in 1987.”
Liberace did not sexually abuse anyone, ever, to my knowledge. He was a gay man who never officially came out of the closet, but it was all consensual; his partner, though younger, was an adult.
Those were the three people that Madrid chose to equate in his tweets, in order to make an uninspired gay joke and mock people who think clericalism is a problem. Apparently he couldn’t think of anyone more contemporary than Liberace.
I found myself ready to spit nails.
Madrid was comparing a gay man who never sexually abused anyone, with a gay man accused of all kinds of horrible things at a Victorian media circus of a trial and later pardoned, with a pederast king who unquestionably molested boys and burned them alive for saying “no.” And he was doing this in the context of the priestly sexual abuse crisis. He meant to mock the sensible idea that clericalism is one of the reasons that so much sexual abuse has been covered up and instead pin the whole thing on men who desire sex with other men, but along the way he accidentally revealed that he apparently sees no difference between a man in absolute authority abusing his power to commit a sexual assault as in the case of Saint Charles L’Wanga, and a closeted gay man having consensual sex with his adult partner.And then I realized that he was onto something. In spite of himself, he may have stumbled upon one of the main reasons for the shameful prevalence of sexual abuse among priests in our church: Catholics who ought to know better, Catholics who pride themselves on their knowledge of all things Catholic and seek to make a career out of teaching Catholicism to others, do not know the difference between sex and violence.
So many times in the past year, I’ve heard people referring to priests having committed “unchastity,” “indiscretions” and “sins against the sixth commandment.” Fewer people have said anything about the fifth commandment, “thou shalt not kill,” which prohibits attacking and abusing a fellow human being in any way. Sexual abuse is supposed to fall under that category. But people talk as if this is about the sixth commandment, “thou shalt not commit adultery.” They do not understand the difference between a consensual sex act, however much that might violate Catholic moral teaching, and an act of violence against somebody. They don’t see how a priest violating his vows by having sex with another consenting adult is different from that priest violating somebody else, using sexual contact to abuse someone who doesn’t consent or a child who can’t consent.
Of course, then, the instinct is to pretend it never happened and move the priest somewhere else. If it’s just adultery, an indiscretion, a good man losing control of himself with a willing partner who led him on, he can repent and be reformed. You couldn’t reform a violent man, a sexual abuser who traumatizes his victims and destroys their emotional well-being for life. Of course victims are paid off or otherwise silenced. They don’t deserve help for their trauma; they couldn’t possibly be traumatized. This wasn’t abuse. It was sexual and therefore unchastity. And if it’s merely unchastity, the recipient of the sexual contact must not be a victim of violence.
According to this topsy turvy way of thinking, if a priest abuses somebody, that person is an accomplice, not a victim.
And, by this line of thinking, a king who has page boys burned to death for resisting molestation is the same as a person who has sex with another consenting adult. The priest who grooms and impregnates a teenage altar server or rapes a nun or molests a penitent in the confessional, is the same as a priest who has a secret tryst with a consenting man or woman.
This makes me sadder than anything I’ve read about priestly sexual abuse so far.
I am certain that our church will never reform and heal, nor will the victims ever receive justice, until we can tell the difference between sex and violence– between consensual sex, however wrong it may be and however it may violate Catholic teaching, and sexual abuse.
And ridiculous men like Patrick Madrid, who claim to be professional apologists and pride themselves on knowing the faith, are the ones spreading this error.
As a Catholic, I don’t know what to do with this except to condemn it in no uncertain terms. Madrid has made a fool of himself and put victims in further danger. Everything that adds to the culture of victim-blaming puts victims in danger.
May God have mercy on him, and all of us.
(image via Pixabay)