Punishing the Victim of Abuse

Punishing the Victim of Abuse June 14, 2013

By now I am sure that most readers of this blog have heard the story:  a Catholic school teacher in San Diego was fired from her position because she was the victim of domestic violence:  despite a restraining order, her husband showed up at the school, and the school is concerned about the safety of the other students.   (Her four children are also students at the school.)  A detailed news report about the story is here.  Two very thoughtful posts from other blogs about this story are here and here.

I don’t really have much to add to this except to record my own sense of horror and shame:  how could a CATHOLIC school, and a CATHOLIC diocese do this?  Is there some aspect of the story I am missing or not understanding?  How can they possibly justify doing this?

I posted some of these links on my FaceBook page, and one of my FB friends cryptically responded with a variation of “The only thing required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”  Well, I don’t want evil to triumph,  but honestly I have no idea what to do.  Pray, of course, but I want to act in a more temporal fashion.  I suppose I could write to the Bishop, Robert Brom, but I have limited faith in the power of such letters.

What are your thoughts on this affair?  What can or should be done?

UPDATE  (6/18/2013):  It is being reported in the media that she is being offered a job at an unidentified private school in the Los Angeles letter.  It is also being reported that parents at Holy Trinity had a demonstration in support of her firing.  More can be found here.

"Dear MATT TALBOT,It has been ten years since you posted this. I kind of wish ..."

Nationalism is Idolatry
"In a way, you summed up why Trump was elected...but I would add another part ..."

How to Govern as an Autocrat ..."
"Thanks for your writings. i look forward to them"

Woe to you who are rich; ..."
"Julia, a very thoughtful post. To show the complexities of the labels good and bad ..."

The Victims Are Us, and The ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Kurt

    sick. I’m trying to look at this as the actions of a few local, misguided individuals and not the whole church. But as time passes and they remain silent, that is harder to do.

  • I suggest that you do write your local ordinary. Failing a timely and appropriate response, you might want to follow through with a letter to the appropriate Metropolitan (Archbishop or higher) and someone like John Allen Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter. Allen has the ear of the episcopacy in this country.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Not my local ordinary as I do not live in San Diego. I am sure John Allen is aware of this story: I wonder what he will make of it?

  • Ronald King

    Spineless and misguided leaders. My thought is that catholic answers is based in San Diego and they always proclaim that we are all created to be saints, well, my suggestion would be to contact them since they would know those in power there and do have a relationship with them. Saints do stand up for those who suffer, I think.

  • T J Hostek

    I think if enough of us actually write a letter something might register.

  • A public outcry can work. It worked in Phoenix.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Brett, what in Phoenix are you referring to?

      • The bishop’s attempt to remove the cup from the laity. I mean, he tried to cover his tracks a bit, but the outcry did have an impact.

        I’ve also signed several petitions from Change.org that have been very effective.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          Thanks Brett.

  • trellis smith

    It has been proven that the only effective response to domestic violence is a community united against it. The community of Holy Trinity school and the diocese as a whole failed in that response and so in a clear fashion implicate themselves in the continuation of that violence. The fear of the man and for their children has paralyzed then from doing not only the right thing but the most effective thing which is to confront him as a community. The very least that the Church should do now is to continue to pay her full salary and benefits until she can find suitable employment or for her own safety seek to transfer her to another city,

  • This story invites “outrage” but not common sense. Court orders of protection are notoriously unenforceable, and there was a real (demonstrated) threat to the students of the school because of this woman’s psycho husband. The Catholic Moral Theology blog suggests that a just solution would have been to transfer the victim here to a paid position in which she would not be working in a school environment. That makes sense; it protects the victim but also the children.

    • Jordan

      Ron, I agree with your basic premise. The fact that restraining orders often don’t protect victims from disturbed aggressors underscores the probability that the school could not provide sufficient security and legal protection to the victim, her children, and other students. Even so, the diocese’s and school’s decision to fire the victim, especially given the injustice and lack of charity of this action, merely follows in the path of ostensibly irrational decisions dioceses often make when faced with ethical/legal/moral complexities.

      The situation at hand reminds me of the Washington DC Archdiocese’s standoff four years ago over the nullification of the contract between Catholic Charities and the District of Columbia should DC okay same-sex-marriage (c.f. “Catholic Church gives D.C. ultimatum”, WaPo, November 12, 2009) Before the self-anointed ultra-orthodox burst an aneurysm, I realize that Catholic dioceses have often ceased adoption services and foster care simply because the legal implications of SSM cannot be untangled from some of the Church’s social services programs. I realize that the local Churches have to make very difficult decisions in these times. Still, while many prelates, priests, and devout laity see the limitation or closure of Catholic Charities as a justice issue, many less- or non-religious see a church who would rather close soup kitchens and let the homeless go without rather than risk partner benefits for LGBT employees. Refusing bread to the needy isn’t exactly the “face of Christ” in the minds of many of the unwashed.

      “Catholic logic” with regard to the intersection of morality and law often appears just for those who are committed to preserving a veneer of institutional integrity. And yet, so many of the devout cannot see or address the reality that Church decisions are perceived as draconian or even antimoral by many of the “lukewarm”.

      • The issue for the diocese here was not “institutional integrity” nor cover for Catholic moral teachings that are unpopular with liberals. The issue was protection of children from a dangerous individual. Firing the victim was not a just solution, but keeping her in the school would have been an injustice to students placed at risk.

      • Do you or any of the others attempting to justify this horrific treatment of a professional employee understand what it does to a school teacher’s career prospects to be FIRED from a teaching position?

      • Jordan

        re: dismasdolben [June 15, 2013 10:22 am]:


        Not a few of the clergy, having been emotionally castrated and offered up to the service of the cult at a young age, often have little understanding of the tribulations of the laity. The sequestration of the clergy from “life” has resulted in men who often cannot make sensible and realistic decisions. The racketeering-esque scandals of prelates remind us that often clergymen evaluate the material and occupational welfare of other persons squarely on the bottom line of Holy Mother the corporation and not per the guidelines of salus animarum suprema lex.

    • Kimberley

      I am with Ron. Common sense dictates that the teacher needed to be removed from the schoool for the safety of the other children. Hopefully the diocese will step up and offer her an alternate job.

      Instead of making it a fight and just railing aganst the evil powers that be, why not make it personal as Jesus instructed us. Put up a Paypal link and invite your commenters to step up and donate money to her cause. Turn the typical and tired anti-Catholic vitriol spewed by the frequent commenters into love for this woman and prayers for the diocese.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs


    If it were any other sort of job, which means only working with adults who can make their own choices, I would not question your logic here. But any situation that involves those society deems necessary of protection by others — and that mostly means children– the rules are necessarily different. It makes me a bit queasy too, but the school may be in the right on this. And in fact it may reflect an improving attitude for Catholic schools that should be applauded, given their problems in the past. Namely, the desire to put the welfare of the children above everything, including above the tragic situation of this poor woman. of course if they were really kind they could find her a job as a church secretary or something where there was no problem to tide her over. But, well, they’re not that nice. If they are going to run schools involving lots of parents who are themselves teachers there surely should be some other safety net for a person who has been vicitimized like this.

    There are larger questions raised by such stories, ones that I would NEVER interject directly into the maelstrom of the issue, but will raise in the abstract. How did someone end up having four children with such a man??? It is not likely that he suddenly became this way, and more likely that he was this way for a long time, and because her “faith” told her that she should do thus-and-so to “save the marriage” (like having more children by not using birth control) and not treating mental illness as a sickness and instead of looking for religious solutions constantly offered by the RC Church these days, she is in the tragedy she is. Let me be clear, nothing in this is her fault. But looking to religious answers for such issues, which I am betting it behind the whole thing long term, is a mistake. And that is where your Church is really vitimizing people like this…. in the macro sense. Even though proximately, they might be correct on this particular situation…..maybe.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      PPF, as much as you want to raise these questions in the abstract, the problem is that they always apply to real people in real situations. And as soon is that is the case, it sure sounds to me like you are blaming the victim, despite all your protestations to the contrary. The psychology of why women stay in abusive relationships is complex; religion and other social factors play a role, but so do intensely personal factors. These cannot be judged: they simply are, and the correct response is to help the woman work through them and provide the support she needs to improve her life by getting free of this relationship.

      • I didn’t take the latter part of the post to be blaming the victim, It seems that he is arguing that the Church’s teachings, attitudes, and practices are partially responsible for the plight of this poor woman and children. I agree with that assertion.

        • Peter Paul Fuchs


          Exactly, thanks!

      • Peter Paul Fuchs


        I do understand your point of view, and am very sympathetic. Having been the victim myself of unwanted attentions in the seminary, I know what it is like to be blamed, and it is ridiculous and atavistic. But, look, I just don’t agree that these matters should not be “judged”, but I think a better phrase would be “thought through”, and I would add “compassionately”. I am very well aware that conservative religiosity across the world, and regardless of different creeds, always treats “being married” and “having children” as something sacredly and naturally “given” in life. And a mountain of opprobrium and doctrinal ideation is adduced in each faith to explain why these matters really are not choices but something as natural and “complex” to the point of being essentially inexorable. The matter becomes especially acute when things go wrong, as they very often do for people. I worked in a Catholic Marriage Tribunal for a summer, and was frankly aghast for much of the time at the callousness of the clerics reviewing the intimate lives of people in bad relationships. In fact, it was not treated as “complex” but simple in the worst way. Did they meet certain criteria or not?? Is that what a relationship is, “criteria” for a valid marriage.

        No offense David, but I think your emotional response here is, at least in some part, goaded by some more adumbrating sense that your Church’s habitual positions and tactics on these matters is what is potentially the source of the abuse in the first place. Relationships ARE about choices, and in the end rather simple ones. “Am I happy in this relationship?” “Am I made to feel safe personally in this relationship?” “Are those I love happy and safe in relation to this relationship”. But a lot in society, and especially in the social sphere of the RC Church militates against seeing relationships in simple terms. Let me hasten to add that I am not questioning the beauty of “sacramental commitments” per se. But I am question the religious set-up by which these are seen, as with so much else, as part of the “absolute truth”. Pray tell, when you have “absolute truth” on one side militating for your continued marriage, where is a poor hurt woman to go with her very personal issues of neglect, or general irascibility of her spouse, or worse, even violence. And, further, pray tell, how is this Church which for literally 95% of its history on the planet always on the side of the husband’s authority, now a philosophical arbiter of these matters? Like so many claims made for the coherence, it seems an absurdity to me.

        Yet, the moral conundrum which started this discussion is very telling. I hate to put it this way, but if this nasty husband showed up at the school — God forbid!– with a gun next time, would anyone say that the Catholic school administrators were correct to keep employing this lady. It shows a more basic moral realism being used now by them, which is a good thing. Just too bad it took them 20 centuries to find it.

    • “Tiding her over” isn’t the issue, Peter Paul; it’s ensuring that she can go back to work somewhere else as a teacher. That damned diocese doesn’t seem to have had ANY consideration for the woman’s future, in her chosen profession. School employers do not usually take the time, during position-filling, to ascertain WHY a person was sacked from a teaching position; they just move on to the next applicant.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs


        Well, you tell me, because I am not really sure, but I wasn’t under the impression that aly employees of the Roman Church ever were well treated, period. There used to be a couple of videos on Youtube of disgruntled employees of the Bishops’ Conference itself in DC here complaining and and picketing in front of the building behind TC saying they were badly treated. I keep trying to make the point, which I believe is vastly justified by history and contemporary events, that this organization is run principally for the comfort and well-being of the clergy. Period. You all keep expecting that something else would obtain, and I can’t think why. Of course she got a raw deal in the end. No surprise. That is what it is about. Yet I remind you and others here that the interesting conundrum was presented in the post, as to whether this specific case, involving the presence of other children, who cannot make choices to be there or not, and therefore some sort of special legal logic must be applied.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          PPF: you have avoided addressing the question I raised about the woman’s children, who were also expelled from their school. Was this an appropriate response?

        • Peter Paul Fuchs


          You raise a matter which stumps me I guess. I can see some of the same logic pertaining to the children too. But then again, it was the wife that the creep showed up to see. The case is starting to make me a bit sick so I am going to stop thinking about it. You may have a point, and I am not terribly certain about my whole logic here anyways, though I think the question is real. Anyways, I think this woman would have been better off just remembering the great movie Delores Claiborne: As the rich employer advises Delores: “Sometimes, Delores, an terrible accident can be a woman’s best friend.”

          • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

            The Dixie Chicks generated quite a controversy when they told a similar story in their song “Good-bye Earl.”

        • Peter Paul Fuchs


          Well, I am going to check that song out asap, as this is a theme I kind of like, though given that this is the crazy internet, let me hasten to add that I am not recommending it! Pirate Jenny’s Song from the Three Penny Opera is another one in that vein, though slightly different focus, to put it mildly.

          The more serious cultural issue raised is why it is that in terms of, shall we say, extreme practical solutions, most human societies seem to have all the de facto AND even sometimes de jure protections for the male side. I guess what I like about it in a hazy way is that it suggests that if the female side were given more of a — at least potential “wink-wink” there might be a lot less abuse of women across the world, because they would be afraid in fact, more than they are typically.

          • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

            For one way of understanding the de facto protection of male privilege, check out Zizek on the obscene underbelly of the law.

        • Peter Paul Fuchs

          post scriptum: I also thought I should add that my interest in this theme does not come from any desire to be a woman. I have zero against transgender people, or fem guys, it is just not what I am drawn to. But perhaps I am drawn to embracing the “inner bitch”, which I actually think is probably more important for straight guys even than gay guys. And that observation just comes from having known a number of straight relationships where the guy would have been greatly served and happier, if he had grasped the mechanics of bitchiness.

  • This story hits very close to home for me. Yes, indeed, this is outrageous!! The diocese and school should be ashamed. The only thing I can say is that money talks. Maybe if the diocese and/or school are hit in their pocketbooks/wallets and the laity refuses to tithe until they rehire this victim who has been victimized yet again for no good reason maybe that will send a message. I was attending a Catholic college when I was sexually assaulted and victimized again by the school. They scapegoated me just so the school could keep it’s good reputation. Ya know, just let the offender walk because he was a friend of a professor to cover your own butt is what the college did to me. This type of stuff really ticks me off. Why is it that some Catholic schools can’t seem to walk the walk?

  • Melody

    Ron C. makes a good point about providing alternative employment for the woman. One’s first instinct is indeed outrage on the woman’s behalf. But in the light of multiple school shootings in the news, we can’t discount danger to the children. It isn’t clear from the article I read if her estranged husband had threatened to come to the school, but she apparently thought it was a possibility. The Church has come under deserved criticism of late for failing to protect children. However, justice means not throwing anyone under the bus.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    I want to examine more closely this argument in defense of the school that the danger to the children justifies the teacher’s termination. Does it also justify expelling her four children from the school? What if she had not been a teacher there; in domestic violence cases restraining orders usually apply to the children as well. So does this mean that if a child escaping from an abusive situation is attending a Catholic school, and the noncustodial parent violates the restraining order by going to the school, then the school has legitimate grounds for expelling the student for the safety of the other kids? I don’t think this is just, and by extension, I do not see firing this teacher as an adequate response.

    I agree strongly with what Trellis said above: “the only effective response to domestic violence is a community united against it. The community of Holy Trinity school and the diocese as a whole failed in that response and so in a clear fashion implicate themselves in the continuation of that violence.” A restraining order is a legal instrument in a community’s response; they “fail” in many cases because no one takes them seriously, including the police who are supposed to enforce them.

    • David Nickol

      I think the teacher was treated unjustly, but I do have sympathy for those who are concerned that the presence of the teacher puts the children in the school at higher risk than if she were not there. The school did go into lockdown once in response to the presence of the ex-husband. The danger is not in the least imaginary. This is not a black-and-white situation.

      I have tremendous sympathy for the teacher, but unless I missed something, she did not acknowledge the issue that parents might have something quite real to be worried about.

      What is the school supposed to do? Firing the teacher does not seem to me to be the answer. But should the teacher remain in the classroom? If so, is the school going to increase the level of security in the school? How much is it going to cost? Who is going to pay for it? What if the ex-husband shows up and harms one or more of the children? Will people say, “It was worth it all to stand by this teacher?”

      I am not a big defender of Catholic schools and their decisions to fire teachers! But it seems to me this situation is not a “Catholic issue.” It could happen at any small private school or conceivably in a public school.

      In sum, the school definitely had to do something. What, exactly, was the right course of action?

      • Peter Paul Fuchs


        Well put. Another related issue, I believe restraining orders are not a hard thing to get against anybody actually, so one wonders why this whole matter came to crux at the school itself, and not at a home situation. I believe the school may, with some reason, why their campus became the de facto proving ground of this creepy husband’s creepiness in the first place. It seems likely that there is some background to this all, and I bet it is in line with the issue of trying to “save the marriage” because somebody Sr. Penelope or Fr. Ambrose told them they should put God at the center of the marriage, and not their own “mere feelings” like the especially important “feeling” which tells a person they are not safe and not loved. I believe the opposite of the RC church and their theologies of the body. Your feelings are central and crucial. You may find if the relationship is good enough that you can look beyond the inevitable irrationalities of your partner in life that everyone has in life just for being human. But you will do it BECAUSE you are in a good relationship which allows for that higher compassion. Not because God is in your bedroom…..and yes folks God is everywhere.

      • Jordan

        Peter Paul Fuchs [June 15, 2013 4:11 pm]: Peter, I have to go with David on this one. I’m sure that there are nuns and priests out there who would (quite inappropriately, I might add) try to turn this tragedy into a finger-wagging moral example. This prurient behavior reminds me of the Catholic school who fired a teacher because she underwent IVF treatment. What, like the teacher is going to have an AV day and show the students a video on how test tube babies are made? Gimme a break.

        David’s right, however, that bean-counting, and not moralizing, likely is at the base of this issue. Many Catholic schools are strapped for cash as it is. I doubt that few, if any, Catholic grammar schools can hire an off-duty or retired cop for security. The chance that the Catholic school board indeed knew the legal costs of firing the teacher versus enhanced security, and fired the teacher anyway simply because doing otherwise would put a bigger dent in the budget, would indeed be reminiscent of the callous machination of clergy and prelates during the abuse scandals.

  • The true Christian response would be to help the poor woman and children relocate secretly to another city, as well as call the police and press charges against the man.

  • Doc Fox

    I have been a Pastoral Associate, and in an earlier phase of life was a municipal prosecutor with jurisdiction over domestic violence. If this lady decides to move away from this former husband, she’d best choose a community with a very good domestic violence program, namely a prosecutor willing to use imagination, a judge willing to make and then enforce unusual decisions, and counseling programs with the right kind of counselor and program.

    One thing is clear: the victim should not be left to flee and hide, with the offender chided for violating the restraining order, and employers adding to the emotional burdens of the woman. In this case the woman was being effectively told by that particular school to go back to her ex, or suffer in a different way. Choose your suffering.

    The only thing abusers understand is power, for power is what the abuse is all about. Unless and until the abuser can be persuaded that power is not what a relationship is all about, violence will continue unabated with only the identity of the victim changing. Abusers have post-graduate degrees (usually from the university of watching their fathers) in manipulation. The manipulate the woman into a relationship, manipulate her into severing all ties to friends and family, thus isolating her from support, and increase their seemingly irrational deeds until a pretext for violence arrives, punish her violently, then respond to her tears and such after a while by saying ‘if you only hadn’t done [the pretext] this would not have happened” and “I’m so sorry, this will never happen again” – – but it will, again and again until the woman, deprived of any support, is deprived of her will and simply does whatever she can slavishly to prevent more violence. Why don’t they leave? Because they’ve been deprived of every simple way to leave and are in terror of the consequences.

    There are several ingredients for solving these things.

    First, the woman should not have to run or withdraw from life. She should be permitted normal employment and residential peace. The abuser must be confronted with power. For appearing at that school he was properly disciplined. But sticking him in jail 90 days without more will merely result in his re-emergence more pissed off at her than ever.

    The remedy I adopted with abusers was relatively simple, and resulted in a sharp reduction in re-offending. I was doing this in a rural community, but it has also been done in major cities.

    First, the police must take every case as seriously as murder, because murder is what they are trying to prevent; this has the added benefit that the woman’s testimony will not be essential. The first thing I told the Defendant was that I did not intend to call the victim as a witness and she could not stop the case from going forward (to keep him from pounding her into testifying it was all a police misunderstanding).

    Domestic abuse must always result in arrest so as to isolate the parties from each other, period. Then the prosecutor must offer the defendant a deal: I will defer sentencing for up to six months, provided you agree the sentence will be for the maximum time and maximum fine the law allows; you will promptly enroll in counseling with [identified counseling program with a counselor of indisputable masculinity, who uses the Duluth methodology, so-called]; you will keep that counselor happy as evidenced by his reporting to me that you are cooperating, but sharing nothing else with me; and at the end of the six months with a clear record of cooperation, we will dismiss. But if at any point you fail to cooperate in counseling, or if you fail to complete counseling satisfactorily, off you go to that maximum time and now or when you get out, pay that fine. (For the rare female offender, a parallel program should exist with a undeniably female counselor, otherwise the same.) In all situations the counselor must never be a member of the violator’s target class.

    One man smiled, said yes, and promptly failed to cooperate with counseling and re-offended with another woman. The judge enforced the deal and he went off to six months in the slammer. The jungle drums worked, and future defendants cooperated. Of thirty or forty who went through that program, only one completed and re-offended. That was a major change from the community’s past experience with repeated re-offending by virtually all.

    Jail alone does not awaken an abuser, though it temporarily helps the victim. The school this time re-offended for the defendant by kicking her out. They victimized a victim.

    Shame on this school. They revictimized her.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Thank you for this thorough response.

    • Peter Paul Fuchs

      Doc Fox,

      Well your Hobbesian logic about abusers is impressive. But keep in mind this is a blog about Catholicism, and so a lot of people here are convinced that if you go to confession your sins are forgiven forever. That is why a lot of abusers are still in the Catholic Church, as they believe they are washed clean in the blood of the Lamb. I think essentially once a creep, usually always a creep.

      But I remind you that such tragic situations leave people with zero good options. In this case other little children at the school will have their rights trampled to make a point — which in another sense I would agree with — about the plight of abused women, which is all too real. The simple fact is they could step in in a million and one ways to help this lady. and if it meant Fr. So-and-So couldn’t go to rome to finish his S.T.D. which he has been working on because there is not enough money in the diocese, so be it. Big loss.

    • Those are pretty impressive results. Perhaps more cities and communities can, and should, adopt similar practices.

    • MlR

      This is the best response I have seen. All I can say is that my community, including schools, supported me. When I read this story it made me ill.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs


    Finally, for a special context:


  • Ronald King

    Like Trellis stated this is a crisis which calls for the community to respond. There are enough catholics in that area to maintain a vigil at that school. There are enough catholics to maintain a vigil at the victim’s home and also keep watch of the abuser’s movements. However, there are much more important things in life, so do not do anything out of the ordinary and keep complaining about injustice and let women feel isolated and alone while at the same time continue to deny them the right to protect themselves with birth control. It is weak males and fathers who predispose their daughters to such potential harm. Weak male authorities in the church do not know how to protect the vulnerable, especially when they feel their safety is threatened. Somebody must start a spark in that diocese.

  • trellis smith

    in my father’s day, his sister was subjected to an pattern of abuse. He took care of the matter in such a way that the person forced to flee was the abuser. So I understand the use of power as a community response. However domestic violence is complicated and the abuser does not fit neatly or wholly into any of the theories of mental illness or patriarchal dominance built around domestic violence The Duluth protocols were exemplary for the time but alas have been shown not very effective in curbing continual violence. Counseling of the abuser is also fraught with peril for the victim. At best counseling offers only an awareness of the choice of the options for the abuser who only on his own volition can stop the abuse,, counseling does not stop the abuse per se. There are very few carrots and sticks and only the community can provide the shields. I will speak only hyperbolically in agreeing with PPF that once a creep always a creep although it’s a just a tiny bit facile to summarize the theology of being saved and forgiven in the blood of the lamb means one is thereby excused.

    • “I will speak only hyperbolically in agreeing with PPF that once a creep always a creep although it’s a just a tiny bit facile to summarize the theology of being saved and forgiven in the blood of the lamb means one is thereby excused.”

      I agree.

    • Peter Paul Fuchs


      Well, I do agree with you, but I still note that the proverbial “rub” is there. There is profound beauty in the whole notion of forgiveness in Christianity. But I think it needs to be seen in context with what we know about psychology and even more broadly the inexorabilities of practical realities, for want of a better phrase. That means that when we wrong someone else it has an effect, a cause and effect. It if fine later if we seek forgiveness but one should never “forgive” oneself the effect it has caused, in the sense of deeply knowing the real effect. Nor should those in positions of responsibility imagine that forgiveness means that normal practical realities will be superseded. They’re not, ever. AS naturally as a seed produces the plant, there is an effect, though not a good one, like a nice plant, more like a weed.

      It seems to me that the latter is entirely what the RC church has been doing for a long time with its clergy, and continues to do so. The only change is really that they will now put certain safety issues involving minors at higher priority. And that is a good thing, but nobody forgets that they had to be forced to do it in the end, by the law.

      As I have said many times before, the kind of abuse that I and many others suffered in the RC church cannot be compared with the graver issues involving the very young. What I suffered as a young adult was more of the garden- variety creepiness of a type of closeted male generally in society in a position of power, which is not only to be found in the RC clergy by any means. On that note, I notice how even the “liberal” media does not like to dwell on the very peculiar aspect of the US military sexual scandal that more MALES than females are assaulted. yet they only interview females somehow. Curious. And you can bet it is not a “cougar” army captain abusing her young male charge, but some closeted paterfamilias who never came out.

      It is just that if anything trumps the military general’s all purpose Deus ex Machina explanation of “military readiness” , it is ironically the RC notion of “conversion” and “sacramental confession”. Again, I am not arguing against people in any way taking those seriously. Please read this carefully– I am arguing against them expecting other people in society to take it seriously necessarily; that is, seriously enough to accept that explanation trumping other more practical actions……like getting rid of them. In my view, a person in the RC church saying, we didn’t get rid of this manifestly abusive person because he really had a conversion and sought forgiveness, is, from a societal perspective utterly meaningless. Like kissing a unicorn for a cure. (While for the authentic person there may be meaning, surely.)

      The simple fact is most of the abuser types in the RC Church are still there because they did NOT abuse children. They likely abused, emotionally or physically, young men or women in the flower of youth. So all the ones who vexed my young years are still doing ministry. How nice for their parishioners. They never have the simple decency in the institution for a respectful apology. I cannot help feeling that in a perverse way the RC church deserves them, but the unwitting do not. There’s the rub.

      • Thank you for telling your story.

        You are right, when Catholics have, as John Zmirak called it, “a magical view of the sacraments,” it allows dangerous people to continue to hurt others.

      • trellis smith

        I do understand what you are saying and the bishops have said as much in regards to the abuse of children that they were operating out of a dynamic of penitence and forgiveness. But this is disingenuous at best as they know the sacramental theology of forgiveness requires reparation, In any practical sense reparation means jail as certainly as purgatory.Historically the Church did a fine job of obtaining conversion then burning the offender at the stake to ensure his salvation. So whatever they were defending is beyond me for if it was the institution for that alone they should all resign seeing the results of that.
        Take a cue from the half ass resignation of the pope emeritus ( who would have gathered some praise if he had stated that the real necessity of his resignation as obstruction of justice.) if any bishop reassigned a molesting priest reparation means resignation. that is a practical solution the whole of society could understand. i share you observation of the systemic corruption and cowardice that doesn’t let courage and courageous men lead.

        That said it may be a beautiful profundity in Christ’s radical forgiveness and that works itself in ,many practical ways chief among them is those who cannot forgive themselves cannot be forgiven and the obvious realization we make peace with our enemies. but there is equally a profound scandal, a scandal seemingly irrational and against justice wonderfully illustrated in the parodical son which ends without ending, a frozen vignette with the father ever pleading with the elder faithful son to join the feast.

        • trellis smith

          Sorry about typos or punctuation, I’m on a train with intermittent wifi and already have lost much in the ether.

        • Peter Paul Fuchs


          Yes, I agree with you on a lot. And also about the profundity of the meaning of forgiveness. You know, when asked for my religious views, I often give an answer which summarizes a lot of more variegated views, and just say “I am a follower of the Beatitudes.” I get the sense that most are savvy enough here to get how that obviates a lot of other more thorny disquisitions on the Divinity of Christ. Though I always hasten to had that if anyone has to be God, I really don’t have a problem with Jesus of Nazareth,

          For me the the more crucial element is the dynamism of forgiveness, which is literally different in every situation and time period. You can forgive people and still realize that a relationship is impossible, for many reason from mental illness to pure hideboundness. “Blessed are the peacemakers” means in the end, I think, “Look for an alternative to just pure hatred.” After living on the planet for nearly half a century I really don’t think it is possible not to hate some people or things. And sometimes that hatred is a healthful element of justice, related in Chinese medicine as Jesuit Pere Larre made clear to the pushing energy of the Wood Element. It is also related to the Fire element. And again, in Pere Larre’s beautiful image we do need the fire of change and transformation, but if you have a fire that is out of control it burns your house down. What you need is a little “pilot light” that can be used and engaged with strength and humor. That is physically speaking how you can have the balance and wherewithal to actually be a peacemaker. For my own constitution green tea helps a lot for clarity. I couldn’t live without it.

          Lastly, the issue of forgiveness and reparations is an interesting one. My German grandfather was actually the sole German representative as Bundesrichter judge on the Reparations Court that met in Erfurt. So I kind of know of the issue familiarly. But on a more mundane level for the RC church, I don’t believe “reparations” as part of forgiveness is remotely in their mental field or playbook. Nor has it ever been. There are certainly elements in Thomistic moral theology which touch on it. Yet in actual fact in history I can barely think of an instance where the RC church has ever put it into practice. That is, without being forced into it without a court judgment. Their more recent deals to “pay for therapy” can only be seen surely as an epiphenomenon of that desire to avoid future court cases etc.

          It is funny this makes me think again how central the basic notion is to understanding their actions. AS I have said, it is and always was an organization run for the benefit of the clergy. I do not believe a case can remotely be made in the contrary if the general history of the institutions is assayed and not just the “lives of saints”. How else could the “benefice system” be explained which guided the RC Church in its parish system for most of its history but as a benefit for the often non-resident clergy. yes, there have always been some special saints and selfless people, and their were always some busy cures (with accent on the e) who did the real work, but they were just as often dissolute and not engaged either. (Ever wonder why John Vianney is emphasized quite so much for seminarians — precisely because he was a symbolic opposite of what obtained 98% of the time) As I have said before, they have now swept all that under the carpet, and I swear I never heard of the “benefice system” the whole time I was in the seminary. The practical import of this to this case and others, is just that the Cover-Your-Ass motivation will always be pre-eminent. What has changed is that now it dovetails with legal caution about the safety of children. Catholics don’t seem to mind it. If I had not grown up Catholic I would wonder why. Having been raised in the faith I know that the bubble that most priests live in fits the lay Catholic ethos in some weird way. Father Pat is too taken up with his own stuff to really get serious about anything in your life, and that is just fine, *** A weird equilibrium of sorts. Whether they were right or not, in this case, at least the caution is good. Because before they were mostly so self involved as to avoid caution at all

          *** I’ll put this last bit in an asterisk for clarity, and to give practical support for what I am saying. I while ago I talked to a cousin of mine. His dad had died recently, and he was a lovely uncle and I was truly sad by the news. Then he told me of how they had tried to get the priest from the parish that my entire extended family had been associated with since the 1930’s to go and give the Last Rites. he had moved to a less expensive reitirement center condo place. And of course the Father did not want to drive there, Then they tried getting a priest from a closer parish to go, and had great difficulty getting one to go. Finally they complained and so on, and got someone, after pulling teeth. Of course I made some commiserating comments, but it just reinforced what I know from reading a lot of history. Obvious.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    The Dixie Chicks video “Good-bye Earl” was a lot of fun, and so apropos. The best line: “It turns out that Earl was a missing person that nobody missed at all.” Life is the performance, not the rehearsal, and some bad performances don’t just get a bad review, they get the hook.

  • Terry

    Start up a petition. Do anything you can to make your voice heard. I too have my doubts about administration bending. Do it anyway. God Bless you!!!


    What if the abuser feels that the school has already sided improperly with his wife and wants revenge and does not care who he injures: other kids, other teachers, etc., even if his wife and his kids have left the school. Should the dicocese then close the school? That cannot be the right result.

  • Kurt

    I’ve emailed the principal, pastor and chancery. It was a polite email that noted the news reports and respectfully asked that they let me know if these reports are inacurrate in anyway. No respone from any of them.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Kurt, could you share those email addresses with us? Saves me the time of searching them out myself.

      Anyone who writes on the basis of this post, please be respectful.

  • Kurt

    Fr. Hayes, Pastor, Holy Trinity Parish: admin@holytrinityelcajon.org

    Principal Wright, Holy Trintiy School: info@holytrinityhawks.com

    this is the message I sent them and the chancery:

    “There have been recent news reports that you fired a teacher because she had an abusive ex-husband. I would not want to make any judgments about this until I heard from you. Is there any reason why I should not think these news reports are accurate?”

    So far, no answer from any of them.

  • Ronald King

    I’ve sent this to the diocese email.
    Dear Bishop Brom, I am deeply disappointed in your decision to deny a renewal of Carie Charlesworth’s contract to teach in your diocese. It is also extremely sad that her children will not be able to attend Holy Trinity School. As their Bishop I expected that you would step forward as Christ did to protect those who are vulnerable and in danger. You could go to the prison to meet with the abuser and speak with him. You could organize the faithful to protect Carie and her children along with the rest of the children at school. You could model the example of Christ and offer yourself as their protector. Your example of faith will determine how others in your diocese will live their faith. I hope you will read this and pray with all of your heart that Jesus will show you what to do.
    May God protect Carie and her children at this time. I pray that you will step up to protect them.
    Ron King

  • Kimberley

    I suppose we could all keep patting ourselves on the back for the slacktivist approach, instead. how about giving her our cloaks and act like true Christians. Leave the letter writing to St. Paul. https://www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/qrj2/caring-for-carie
    Btw, she was put on indefinite leave not fired.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Thank you for the link. I hope that some of our regular readers will donate. However, I do not think you should be so dismissive of letter writing: it can have an impact.

      Also, she was fired: you can find her termination letter at


      The letter says explicitly “you will not receive a teaching agreement [contract] for 2013-14”.

      • Kurt

        Right. Generally for employers, “indefinite leave” means that if at some future point the employer changes its mind and offers her a contract, she would return with her senority. It doesn’t have much value unless the employer reconsiders.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          Thanks for the clarification. In this case, however, it is a distinction without a difference.

  • David, I have been reading the post and comments, but have refrained from saying much. This situation has horrified me from the moment that I first heard about it.

    My mind keeps coming back to what we have done for “the least of these.” Are the least of these Carie Charlesworth and her own children? Or are they the children at the school? Reading about the parents at the school who protested in support OF the firing has shaken my soul.

    I understand the need to protect one’s children, but Charlesworth and her own kids seem like sacrificial lambs to me in this case. It feels as if one life has been traded for another. The power of the story will likely (God willing) keep Charlesworth safe and her husband at a distance. It will, as it seems might be happening now, yield her another job, which would be great.

    That said, I can’t think of the impact on her own life and the lives of her four children. I speak from experience when I say that kids who grow up in such shaken homes have security issues to begin with. Now how will they view the world? Why is the safety of other children more important than their own?

    Firing her just seems like the most “practical” and “safe” thing to do, but is the common good truly served? I do not see how it is served in this case.

    • brian martin

      We forget that living the gospel, and following the example of Christ is not always safe.

    • With any luck, the publicity will gain her another job, preferably one in another state far, far, away.