Sex Abuse and a FOCUS Missionary

Sex Abuse and a FOCUS Missionary July 9, 2019

I don’t usually write when I’m this angry.

Healthy ways of dealing with anger is something I’m working on in therapy. But you know what? I don’t give a flying fuck right now because if I don’t write this down now, I’m going to be raging the rest of the day. Not good for my home life and not good for my blood pressure. Oh, and if you didn’t realize that fucks fly, you’re probably too sensitive for this article.

I gave a FOCUS missionary some choice words after Mass today, and I’m not done.

Because I’m the joyful parent of a toddler, most of my experience of Mass is now spent running and dragging my screaming offspring out of the sanctuary. After the regular announcements, our pastor invited the resident FOCUS missionary to share his usual spiel at the ambo. I didn’t catch most of it – because I was making sure said toddler didn’t eat another kid’s crayons – but I did hear mention of the typical statistics of why Catholic young people leave the Church. He ended with an invitation to come speak with him in the narthex afterward. Before my toddler tried to pop me in the eye, I considered that.

Should I go talk to him? There will probably be other people congratulating him on saving Western Civilization from secularism. Hmmm. 

Lo and behold, the opportunity presented itself. While my husband was chatting with a friend and holding our son, I saw that the missionary was standing by himself. I took a deep breath and approached him.

Take a deep breath. What was the lesson in therapy this week? GIVE. If you want to show respect for people, be Genuine, Interested in them, Validate, and be Easy mannered. Ok, I’ll try.

I gave him a small smile and asked, “What is FOCUS doing to reach people who leave the Church because of the sex abuse crisis?” 

A young guy, not much younger than me but with a beard to attempt to appear closer to thirty, smiled in return, albeit nervously.

I’ve been on his side of things. I understand that when you work for the Church, you have a target on your back. Anytime someone has a personal beef with Holy Mother Church, staff and people in ministry are the ones who take the heat. But, I’d run into way too many “ministers” who feel that the crisis isn’t really that big of a deal. I wanted to hear this missionary’s response. 

He started by explaining how important it is to be transparent and honest about the crisis and transitioned to how he and his fellow missionaries focus on healing and friendship to reach people. Then, he went on to say that this crisis isn’t really anything new in the Church’s history, so it’s not anything we can’t get through.

I told him that seemed very dismissive of victims’ pain because they are experiencing it NOW, not in some bygone era. He tried to backtrack and state that, of course, we need to be sensitive to the victims, but this doesn’t change the Truth and Grace found in the Church. I countered him, asking what he says to people who can’t go to Mass because of the hierarchy, because of the abuse. He said that this wasn’t an “us vs. them” situation. In order for healing to happen in the Church we all need to work on our individual conversion. 

For a split second, I was completely shocked. In essence, he said that in order to stop priests from raping kids, I needed to pray more.

Jesus help me, but I couldn’t keep my mouth shut in the face of such stupidity and ignorance.

I asked him how victims typically respond to those words. He looked unsure and asked for clarification. I repeated my words, adding that it’s very hurtful to hear that the laity just need to pray harder to make up for the sins of the clergy. He still didn’t understand, so I made it more plain.

“I’m a victim, and it hurts me to hear that.”

He became incredibly embarrassed and apologized, whining, “I had no idea! I didn’t know!”

Through clenched teeth, I told him obviously you never know when you’re talking to people if they’ve been a victim of abuse in the church. He continued to apologize profusely. I smiled quietly, because therapy says that’s how you show that you’re “genuine” and “easy mannered,” and reminded him to keep victims first. And then I got the hell out of there before I started shaking.

Putting the blame on everyone (which is code for laity) doesn’t stop rapes and assaults.

Whether Mr. Missionary wants to admit it or not, the hierarchy of clergy in the Church have the most power. A good comparison would be like the upper management and CEO of a company. Laity, then, would be the workers who are on the lower end of the corporate ladder. If some of the lowly workers find out that the managers are doing something illegal, the best plan of action would be to alert the civil and criminal authorities. It would be idiotic for them to suggest that those corrupt managers will cease their illegal activities if the workers simply worry about themselves and work on their own behavior in the workplace.

That has absolutely no effect on what the corrupt management will do. And in truth, if the managers notice, they’ll be relieved that their corruption is still hidden from public view. Business as usual.

It’s the same in the Church. Evil priests and bishops aren’t going to stop raping children and covering it up just because we work on our individual holiness. 

Everyone should always strive to be better, but I don’t think my struggle with binge-eating tortilla chips is on the same level as child rape. That should be abundantly clear to anyone with half a brain.

For us laity, it is “us vs. them”, and anyone who argues the alternative doesn’t understand how damaging this crisis really is. Please, for the love of God, stop victim-blaming us. 

Yes, the clergy aren’t the only ones to be predators in the Church. In my first parish job, my abuser was a fellow lay person. What’s more, stories are just beginning to come out of religious women abusing children. This scandal is far from over, but pushing the blame on the laity does nothing but further the abuse and its terrible ramifications.

Demand better.

Demand accountability.

Demand transparency and justice, for once.




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About Veronica Roltgen
A budding writer in the Minnesotan north woods, Veronica Roltgen creates stories and poems when she isn’t chasing after her toddler. She enjoys passionate discussions of feminism, Catholic theology, Tolkien nerdom, Spanish mysticism, Star Wars, and cheese. You can read more about the author here.
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  • Spinosaurus

    It’s strange how you are completely misinterpreting the guy’s words, and this is *your* account of what he said! He should have probably advised you to seek counseling and therapy, and to contact law enforcement if you hadn’t already.

  • Nathaniel

    Ah, the calling card of the abuse dismisser. “Obviously you aren’t someone who was abused, or you’d have gone to the police. I can therefore ignore everything you have to say.”

    Bonus reading comprehension points for you, as you somehow missed her mentions of what her therapist told her, meaning she has in fact gone to the therapy you condescendingly told her to do.

    I’ll also note you said she misinterpreted the guys words without actually saying what the proper interpretation is.

  • RAnn

    So, what would have been the right answer to the question? If you could tell FOCUS what to do to reach people who have left the Church because of the abuse crisis, what would you tell them to do?

  • Spinosaurus

    I’m not dismissing her abuse. I simply gave my idea of what the guy should have told her. He obviously was out of his depth, though maybe if he had known from the beginning the actual context of the conversation (he was speaking with an abuse victim) things might have gone better.

    From the OP:

    “In essence, he said that in order to stop priests from raping kids, I needed to pray more.”

    Not the essence of what he said. Misinterpretation is the charitable way to look at her conclusion. If she can’t talk about these issues in a reasonable way, which is understandable, she needs more help on it.

  • Nathaniel

    “In order for healing to happen in the Church we all need to work on our individual conversion. ”

    How is that not victim blaming? Somehow ordinary parishioners who “didn’t work on their individual conversion enough” made priests rape69 children. Uh huh. Or hey, lets be charitable. Maybe he just meant that the trauma of being preyed upon should be cleared up by a few Hail Mary’s and a smattering of Our Father’s, and anyone who still has pain after that he no one to blame but themselves.

  • Spinosaurus

    Right. I’m sure that’s what he meant.

  • Nathaniel

    Well, what do you think he meant?

  • Naters

    She is not misinterpreting anything he said. He talked to her as though she wasn’t effected by the crisis.

  • Ame

    It’s because no one is really trying to meet the needs of victims other than a couple of lay movements like Voice of the Faithful that their desperation for the Church to show a little bit of genuine concern and care may be interpreted by ministers as a bitter and hostile response.

  • Naters

    Compassion and healing. That’s the only answer. All that talk about the Church being the Truth has to wait for later.