Today, I’m feeling less hopeful than ever that the Catholic Church has learned her lesson about believing abuse survivors.
My friend Mindy recently had the courage to leave her abusive marriage to a drunk. Her situation was so severe that social services changed the locks on her doors for her. He has twice been charged with making death threats.
Mindy blogged about this, because that’s what she does. Since she is a former Catholic and was married in the Catholic Church, Mindy wrote some excellent food for thought on the teaching of the Catholic Church and how it can enable abusers here at Patheos Catholic, because here at Patheos Catholic we talk about Catholicism. That’s what Patheos Catholic is: a channel of the Patheos network of blogs where all things Catholic are discussed. It is not an echo chamber for the meticulously obedient, it’s a place where Catholic things are discussed. Sometimes they are discussed from a position of orthodoxy and obedience, and sometimes not. It wholly depends on which bloggers you read and what day you show up. Mindy talked about Natural Family Planning and how it doesn’t work when one spouse is an alcoholic, which is certainly a topic of interest that’s to do with Catholicism; she also wrote a heart-wrenching piece about the day her husband raped her when she was recovering from childbirth.
Many people, myself included, thanked her for her honesty.
However, quite a few vocal public Catholics attacked her.
They chided her for not trying hard enough, in all the years and years that she was married. They suggested marriage counseling as if she hadn’t tried that. They claimed she was lying about the abuse so she’d have an excuse to shack up with her current housemate, who helps her care for her disabled children.
Now, it was not publicly known that Mindy was divorcing her husband until she said so; it was also not publicly known that anyone else was living with her and helping her with childcare duties. If Mindy really wanted to get away with abandoning her husband to commit adultery, or just to get some free childcare since I have no way of knowing for certain she’s sexually active with her current housemate, she could have just gone on not talking about it in public. She could have discussed much safer things on her blog. Instead, she spoke out about it, and she got swatted hard by the Giant Internet Hand of Spanking. She put herself at personal risk in order to open up the discussion. And the More-Catholic-Than-Thou Internet Inquisition is certain she took this risk in order to get away with committing adultery.
One of the least sharp tools is the extremely reverend Deacon James Russell, who is apparently on some kind of leave of absence from the Archdiocese of St. Louis. I know he’s on a leave of absence because when my friend Scott tried to report him to the archdiocese for harassment the archdiocese said he didn’t currently work there. I’d like to be a fly on the wall. Jim Russell tends to get obsessed with male and female Patheos bloggers and antagonize us, hoping for a reaction. He’s accused me of being a “dingbat” and a “more demure feminist;” he is also the deacon who screenshotted me to chuckle about me a week or two ago, as I’ve already mentioned. I usually don’t stoop to mentioning him by name because he alarms me, but I’ll make an exception. Even demure people have our limits.
Jim snatched a few of Mindy’s profile pictures off of Facebook and cobbled together an article all about her for the tabloid Church Militant, where he obsessed over her announcement that she’s leaving the Church and her supposed sins of adultery, bloviated that he was “praying for her family,” and acted like it was somehow inappropriate and suspicious for my boss to allow Mindy to blog about Catholicism at the Patheos Catholic Channel where people are paid to blog about Catholicism. Anything, one supposes, to give him an excuse to publish one of my boss’s profile pictures and complain about her again. I hope he remembered to ask permission to use the photos, otherwise I’m pretty sure it’s copyright infringement.
This is how Catholics are currently dealing with rape and abuse– not back before the Second Vatican Council, not before the shameful revelations in 2001, not before the Sex Abuse Summit a few weeks ago, but now. Right now, with all the bad publicity the Church is rightfully getting and all the posturing the clergy has done to tell us they’re so very sorry and going to get it right this time. They see a woman talking candidly about why she feels she cannot both be Catholic and be safe from rape and emotional abuse, and they chide her for not trying hard enough. They accuse her of lying so she can have sex with somebody else. A cleric– and even if he isn’t currently serving, he remains a cleric– publishes an article ogling her photos, gossiping about her and clutching his grubby pearls about her sex life. Oh, and “praying for her,” of course, because we like to imagine that prayer cancels out bad acts.
Nothing is going to change if we go on like this.
If we’re not willing to believe, support and help survivors, people are going to keep getting abused and the Catholic Church is going to keep enabling it. More people will feel that they can’t be safe from abuse while following Catholicism, and they’ll be right. If we’re not willing to listen humbly when someone explains how she was betrayed by the Church, we’ll only go on being enablers of more and more horrendous crimes. If our public stance is not one of charity, mercy and reaching out to help, we’re not imitating Christ but rather His enemy.
Nothing will ever get better if the Church is not willing to be a refuge rather than a prison for the abused.
(image via Pixabay)