I woke up to find that it was the feast of Saint Maria Goretti once more.
I can’t stand this feast day, for reasons I’ve been open about. I am a survivor of a rape. I have many friends who were raped. And the story of Maria Goretti has been exploited to shame us in alarming ways.
In case you’ve never heard the story, Saint Marie Goretti was an eleven-year-old girl. She wasn’t a young woman or a teenager, she was eleven. Most girls don’t even have breasts or get their period when they’re eleven (some do). She was a child, legally and psychologically unable to consent to sexual intercourse in any way. The neighborhood pedophile attempted to seduce her, and she said “no.” She knew she wasn’t supposed to do that, because she was a devout Catholic, and I’m not saying it wasn’t virtuous of her to keep saying “no.” I’m saying, she was an eleven-year-old girl who was being sexually harassed by a pervert, and she tried to resist the pervert.
And eventually, the pervert stabbed her to death while she screamed “No, no, it’s is a sin, you will go to hell!” and it took an excruciatingly long time for the poor little girl to die. On her deathbed, in the hospital, she forgave her murderer and would-be rapist. Years later, in prison, the rapist had a dream about her that inspired him to go to confession, and after his sentence was over he joined a monastery which he shouldn’t have been allowed to come near. He said gross things about having “committed a crime of passion in my youth” as if he’d run away with his friend’s wife like a soap opera character or something. In fact, he was just a dirty pedophile who murdered a little girl. There was nothing passionate about it. I’m glad he was sorry for being a pedophile who murdered a little girl, but he never seemed to understand.
Maria Goretti is a saint. She is an abused and exploited little girl who gave a good example of how to love your neighbor: love him enough to try and stop him from committing this horrible sin. Love him enough to forgive him even if he murders you. Love the teachings of the Faith so much that, even if you’re not really old enough to understand what’s expected of you, you’ll fight to obey them. That’s admirable.
It’s beautiful that, by her intercession, the pedophile who murdered her began to understand that he was wrong– though, as I said, he doesn’t seem to really have gotten the point.
What is done with her hagiography is not beautiful.
When you’re a Catholic girl, going to youth group and taking catechism classes and the like, Saint Maria Goretti is used to shame you. You get told the story of how she resisted rape and it’s dolled up to make it look like the fact that she wasn’t raped, is the reason that she was virtuous. You’re told she was a young woman who valued purity, not like slutty girls today who give away their virginity for fun. As if she was sixteen and not eleven. As if the person trying to molest her was the same age she was. As if she was stabbed for refusing to do something she could actually have voluntarily consented to, instead of being nothing but a tragic victim. As if, if she hadn’t fought the pervert off and he’d raped her before killing her, she’d have died “impure” and guilty of unchastity. As if, if he’d reached up her skirt one day without asking, she’d be guilty. As if, if he’d tricked her into holding still because she was too little to know what sex was, she would not be virtuous.
That isn’t true. Nothing anybody can do to you, can make you un-virtuous. Only your sins can make you sinful, and being a victim is not your sin. If that poor little child had been forcibly raped by the pedophile before she was stabbed to death, or while she lay dying after she stabbed him, she would not have sinned. But we get told that if only we were like Saint Maria Goretti, we would be pure. If only we’d fight hard enough, we’d be pure. If only we died with our hymen intact, that would be a saintly death. Girls who get forcibly penetrated by knives until they bleed to death are saints, but girls who get forcibly penetrated between the legs by something else are sluts.
That’s not Catholicism, you understand. It has nothing to do with the actual Catholic teaching on sex. It’s propaganda and bad catechesis. But it happens so often, it’s hard to remember that.
Some girls, and some boys, get raped when they’re too young to understand what’s happening to them, and that’s not their sin.
Some girls, and some boys, get predated by teachers or priests or other authority figures who tell them it’s all their fault, they’re bad for letting it happen, and if they resist or tell anyone they’ll go to hell. Those children didn’t sin.
Some girls and boys, and some women and men, get tricked into being penetrated, and they don’t sin. Some get held down and forced, and they don’t sin. Some are drugged, or they have a medical emergency, or they didn’t realize how strong their drink was, and they don’t realize what’s happening to them until they wake up hours later. That’s not their sin either. Rape is the rapist’s sin. Sexual abuse is the abuser’s sin. It’s never the victim’s sin. It’s only the rapist’s sin.
Personally, my rapist didn’t give me a choice between getting stabbed or raped, or I would have gladly chosen the former. She tricked me, and I didn’t know what was happening until it was over. It hurt to go to the bathroom for nine months. And when I talked about it, people chided me and told me not to use her name because I might hurt her reputation, which would be a sin.
I bring this up every year. And every year, people attack me and accuse me of slandering a saint. They accuse me of unchastity and encouraging unchastity. They accuse me of blasphemy and of just not having fought hard enough. They tell me I’m trying to cover up my own sin.
My sins are as numerous as the sands of the sea, but I didn’t sin when I was raped. And if you were raped, neither did you.
Rapists are the ones who sin when they rape. They sin gravely. They sin mortally. If they don’t repent and receive absolution, they will go to hell and it will be all their fault. And, personally, I don’t think it will go very easily for those who defend rapists and shamed victims in the next life either. Those of us who were raped won’t be accountable for that rape.
I’ve said this every year that I blogged for Patheos, every sixth of July when the feast of Saint Maria Goretti rolls around. I usually say it more eloquently. But this year I’m particularly exhausted and I wanted to talk about something else.
Still, I’m just going to say this one more time: if you are a victim of rape, you are innocent. God doesn’t see the difference between Saint Maria Goretti and you. He suffers with you, not with the one who did this to you. The one who did this to you is going to have to look upon the face of God and see you– that you were made in His image, and that whatever that rapist did, he did to God. And then there will be consequences. You did not sin.
If you are a Catholic educator, stop it. We’ve suffered enough.
Image via Pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross.
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