by guest writer
Quotation from Bishop Walker Nickless homily for a confirmation mass on Mother’s Day 2019:
“Maria Goretti protected her purity. That’s a foreign idea to us today. Her attacker said he’d kill her, and she still said no. She didn’t take the easy way out…”
I had to have heard that wrong. I wanted to have heard it wrong, but the bewildered expression I found upon those around me confirmed I had indeed understood the Bishop’s words.
I closed my eyes anticipating the heavy, creeping feeling that I knew would descend on my skin. My stomach seared with a burning weight, as I was cast back to the moment in my adolescence when I was Maria Goretti.
Shaking, with streams of tears flooding my face, I tried to flee my attacker, but I did not succeed—not fully, though I had fared better than some.
I buried what happened that night beneath self-blame and shame, believing I had something to hide, that I could somehow be at fault.
NOTHING about what happened to me nor millions of other women was the easy way out – and you do us further violence to us with your egregiously flippant characterization of these atrocities. Perhaps, considering sexual assault “the easy way out” is why the church has so failed to be Christ to the victims of church scandals.
Is this what you think of them? Is this what you think of me?
Did I not fight hard enough? Was I less pristine for my failure? Was I better off dead, in the eyes of the church, than sexually assaulted?
Perhaps, at another time in my life, I would have stayed silent, but holding my daughters, I knew I couldn’t. I must speak now, so that one day they don’t hear the fallacious and diabolic message I heard, that women are only valuable in mint condition, that a woman is holier dead, than alive, that I failed in failing to escape my attacker.
For their sake and for the 1/3 of the women in the congregation who, like me, have been assaulted, I shall stay silent no more.
Purity is not a physical reality. Purity is a spiritual reality. Women are not objects in shrink wrap, best offered in mint condition. We are living, feeling humans—equal in dignity and value. Purity cannot be taken. It can only be given because purity is not the mileage on a woman’s body, but the moral conviction of her soul.
I fervently pray that you had no idea the way your words would sound. I pray you didn’t see the victims all around you who inferred they had failed to die, in defense, though many of us felt it was a fate worse than death.
The true virtue of Maria Goretti wasn’t that she died at the hands of her enraged murderer who stabbed her to death when she refused him. The true virtue of Maria Goretti was that, even as she lay slowly bleeding to death in the hospital, she forgave her attacker before she died. That is her legacy. Whether her attacker succeeded or not is immaterial. She would not be less laudable if he had.
It is through the true virtue of Maria Goretti, her heroic forgiveness, that I know I must forgive you now, too. I must forgive you because you know not what you do.“
n.b. the author of this piece prefers to remain anonymous
image credit: www.flickr.com/photos/wmandrade/5322389046