Saturday, June 11, 2011

Saints like us.






Wanting someone to understand our pain.
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I've been thinking about Dawn Eden's new book on the lives of the saints who were abused as children.  I thought I'd try to find a few she may not have heard of and send their stories her way to consider for the book.  I'm sure she would appreciate input from others who may know of saints who suffered sexual abuse as children.  For instance, Melody, one of my readers reminded us of St. Germaine Cousin, whose childhood was filled with all sorts of abuse. 
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What is difficult to know for sure however, is which saints may have endured some sort of sexual abuse or sexual violation as children, because before the mid to late 20th century, cases of abuse were rarely ever discussed or reported outside of the confessional.  In fact, as the Oprah Show demonstrated, no one told anyone if they had been sexually abused - until Oprah had them on her show.  Likewise, rapes were not always reported, frequently out of shame.  God only knows what actually happened to the martyrs of the many social upheavals since the French Revolution, or the mass persecutions of Christians in pagan countries throughout Asia.  Thousands were martyred - so how many were not only tortured but sexually violated?
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Secrets of the saints.
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In my research, I have yet to find a saint who had actually been raped and survived, and as for the martyrs of purity, none of the documents I have found say that the martyr was actually raped, although the victim was killed while resisting the attacker.  In an early account of the life of Blessed Pierina Morosini, I seem to recall reading that the saint had been raped, although the fact seems to have been expunged in later biographies.  (I may have been mistaken in my perception.)
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In the process of looking for these saints I've reflected on the very human need we all have to understand the bad things that happened to us in life, as well as the desire to have some one understand our pain.  That said, our good fortune in finding a saint who went through the exact same terrible things we may have endured, seems to me to represent a sign of hope for us that good really can come from evil.  That through the blood of Christ virginity is restored, sanctity triumphs over wickedness, and so on.  Hence our desire to find saints just like ourselves.  Maybe.
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Yet the question remains:  Is there no saint who was actually raped and martyred?  No saint who was sexually abused and survived?  Does the Church hold virginity to such a lofty position that heroic virtue some how doesn't count if the victim was actually violated?  Are we Christians like the Muslims who blame rape victims for the crime?    No, I don't think so, despite the fact I am unable to find a saint who was sexually abused.  To me it seems reasonable to conclude that most likely matters concerning sexual abuse and rape, if known, were not revealed or frankly discussed in a process out of a sense of justice, since the victims were not at fault.  Likewise prudence and discretion may have been strictly observed for the sake of modesty.  I'm only speculating of course, although it is more likely the victims themselves kept it secret.  Outside of martyrdom, saints are made saints on the basis of their heroic virtue.
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Pious narcissism.
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For a variety of reasons, homosexual persons have long looked for a saint who was 'gay'.  Gay activists speculate about many great souls, insisting they were gay.  Their conclusions are based upon 19th and 20th century understanding of homosexual behavior and culture.  The modern concept of homosexuality did not exist before the late 19th century.  In this case, I think looking for 'gay' saints represents a kind of 'pious narcissism' - with the aim to canonize same sex attraction.  
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I once asked a monk if he thought any of the saints had been gay, and he answered that he did not know of any.  He went on to explain that the temptation to homosexual acts was likely to have afflicted some of the saints, but it wouldn't have been any different from other temptations to lust.  Before the 20th century non-sexual same sex friendship would have known and preserved boundaries, especially as regards that sin they used to say was too awful even to name.  We today can't even imagine that kind of discretion.
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Now days many people want to claim this or that saint was gay.  Even very good Catholics do this.  Not a few insist Blessed Cardinal Newman was gay because of his extraordinary friendship with Fr. Ambrose.  Others speculate that the Carmelite Fr. Hermann Kohen was involved in intimate same sex relationships, yet there is absolutely no evidence for such a claim, especially as it is well known that before his conversion he had love affairs with women.  Such speculation demonstrates the human desire to have saints be just like ourselves.  There is nothing wrong with that, although in some cases it opens the door to validating immoral inclinations or acts, and leads to what I mentioned, a 'pious narcisissm'.  Wishful thinking is nothing but a deception and a trap.  But I digress.
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The penitents.
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Though we may not find actual evidence of virginity deflowered, I think we might assume certain saints may have been sexually abused as children by the direction their lives took later in life - especially as concerns penitents.  For instance, before her conversion, St. Margaret of Cortona was the lover of a young nobleman, to whom she bore a son.  It was only after discovering his murdered body that Margaret repented of her sinful lifestyle.  She eventually became a great mystic of the Franciscan order.
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You may protest that victims of sexual abuse are not culpable for what happened to them and that unlike innocent victims, Margaret deliberately consented to a sinful lifestyle when she moved in with her Count.  Yet today we know that some children, boys and girls, who had been abused end up being promiscuous later on - often in adolescence, others cohabit with a partner rather than getting married.  My theory regarding Margaret of Cortona is based on that assumption.  Hence the penitents, perhaps more numerous than the martyrs of purity, might well be considered part of the group of patrons for the sexually abused as well.
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We are all called to be saints.
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Having said that, all of the saints are powerful intercessors and models for the faithful for a variety of needs, thus it is good to look for those with whom we have some affinity and can identify with.  Yet even the most pure and chaste, such as Therese of Lisieux knows and understands the suffering of souls, her sensitivity for the weakest amongst us surely makes her one of the greatest helps and models for survivors of all kinds of abuse.  Of course, it is the Heart of Jesus who understands the suffering, wounded soul the best - he alone knows the most hidden recesses of our hearts and descends into depths of our misery to redeem us in his Blood.
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I think in our day and going forward, we will get to know of candidates for sainthood whose intimate lives are very well known.  I'm sure we will be hearing of saints who were raped and died, or those who survived to become saints, as well as survivors of abuse.  And undoubtedly, there will be saints who had been former sex workers, as well as former active homosexuals, who repented and abandon those lifestyles.  Perhaps some of these will even be martyrs.  
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Art:  My special patron, St. Peter Martyr.  I chose him as a kid because he grew up with heretical parents and later died for the faith, writing the credo in his blood. 

20 comments:

  1. Anonymous3:04 PM

    I think I read somewhere that St. Joan of Arc was sexually assaulted while in prison.

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  2. Very smart piece, Terry, and full of wisdom. We forget that the subject of sexual abuse was never a topic of discussion, really, until the 1980's. I think that this is probably why, as you said, that we don't know of any Saints who were sexually abused. At least I don't.

    This discussion, and your reference to penitents, make me wonder about all the endless scrutiny and requirements of religious life today ( age, mental health etc) . How many Saints would never be admitted today? I bet many, who lived lives of sin and entered religious life to repent, would never be admitted today.

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  3. "Are we Christians like the Muslims who blame rape victims for the crime? No, I don't think so, despite the fact I am unable to find a saint who was sexually abused."

    Let's not jump too quickly on some Muslims- until very recently most Christians believed the same way about rape. (Some still do, whether explicitly or implicitly.)

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  4. Maria--good topic..I just learned to day that one of our young ladies going into the Carmelites is required to pay $1000 "dowry" plus $250 noviate fee. Pretty steep methinks..

    I guess you come up with that kind of dough by selling all of your stuff at a garage sale..

    Thom--good point..at my military base where I work we constantly have "Sexual Assault Awareness", posters and presentations and people being encouraged to report. There's still a BIG BIG stigma out there, plus the mindset "Well she deserved it..she shouldnt' have gotten so drunk/worn those clothes/danced that way/worn that makeup/reminded me of my mother/exwife/exgirlfriend/dog etc etc"

    Just after 9/11 I was attending classes on campus and came upon a situation where a Pakistani girl was being "circled" by a bunch of white males, scared to death that at any second something was going to happen. and it was..they were going to teach "All f**kn Arabs a lesson." She not even Arab. A bunch of people just stood by and watched. I broken in the circle and basically told the young men they would have to get past me first. Soon security arrived but they just kind of shrugged. I bet that happend to alot of Terry's saints--got "Taught a lesson."

    Sara

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  5. Anonymous7:34 PM

    There is ample evidence that St. Joan was repeatedly subjected to the threat of sexual assault. But whether or not she was actually raped is disputed. Part of technique used to convict her, was to use repeated rape attempts to get her back into male clothing, so that she could be convicted as a relapsed heretic.

    According to her trial testimony she was quote as saying:

    "Alas! Do they treat me thus horribly and cruelly, so that my body, clean and whole, which was never corrupted, must be this day consumed and reduced to ashes!"

    For those interested, here are some excerpts from her trial.

    http://archive.joan-of-arc.org/joanofarc_male_clothing.html

    Pax,
    john

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  6. Thanks John - that is very helpful.

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  7. Hi!

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    ReplyDelete
  8. Mr. Paulo,

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    pablo

    *

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  9. Thom, you're right. That is how things were seen, even in the Christian world, until recently. But, then again, even St. Augustine wrote about how the virgins who were raped were not guilty for it.

    Saints like Maria Goretti and others creep me out, not them personally really, and not because I doubt they are saints or full of great virtue. It's because one cannot help but draw the conclusion that a virtuous girl, when confronted by a rapist, would be better off in God's eyes letting herself be killed than raped. I cannot see how it does not lead to this conclusion, nor can I imagine that that would be anything but unhelpful to children who've suffered sexual assault.

    And I will say it - the Church has historically had a problem with sex, and the endemic prudery we find among some Catholics has nothing to do with them 'musinderstanding' anything. I don't mean She should lighten her teachings and admit fornication and sodomy as unobjectionable. Just that the long chain of saints who considered even marital sex (when not for the explicit purpose of procreation) somehow tainted is long indeed.

    So it really does sem Catholic tradition values virginity so high that it's seen as more virtuous to die resisting a rapist than to lose one's virginity by force (it's apparently even a great loss to lose it in marriage). I cannot imagine how a mother or father would tell thier children the stories of these young martyrs without giving the impression that they'd rather see them dead than raped.

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  10. Terry, I think you are right that we don't know what may have happened to some of the saints because that stuff was just not talked about. Maybe we talk about it too much now, but at least the victims don't have to suffer alone and in silent shame.
    Mercury, I share your concern that in the past there have been some pretty warped attitudes toward sex in the Church; and that all the emphasis on physical virginity is not helpful to victims of rape.
    The thing that bothers me about the stories of saints such as Maria Goretti that the manner of their death is emphasized so much that we forget about their lives. Maria was such an incredibly loving, brave, selfless kid in the way she lived.

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  11. Not just in the past, Melody. One finds it alive and well in the present. And personalism is more confusing than helpful. I get just as scrupulously worried and confused reading Pope John Paul II as I do reading St. Augustine.

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  12. I know, Mercury. And sometimes the blogosphere just makes the confusion worse. Take Natural Family Planning, for instance. To read some people's take on it, one is only allowed to use it for a "serious" reason; otherwise it's a sin. What constitutes a "serious" reason? How about, "I would go stark raving bonkers if I had ten kids!"

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  13. Even worse than that, they say "grave reasons", which is more serious than serious to an English speaker, and which was present in the original translation of Humanae Vitae as a translation of Latin "gravis".

    I think serious just means "not selfish, not frivolous, justifiable". Certianly psychological conditions can play a factor in that, and some people really would go nuts.

    What I've been having trouble with is the later "personalist" line of thought that claims all acts must be directed at "giving love and affirming the unique personness of the person of the other" or something like that. By that logic, thinking about sex with one's spouse, looking at the spouse with desire, etc. is "using" the spouse. since everything must be other directed, does that mean that a woman who is very upset should not approach her husband for comfort and expect it, since she's doing it for her reasons and not his? That where the logic seems to go, and if that's the case, it's very strange indeed.

    But you won't fond any consolation about any such matter in anything written before the 19th century. Sure, St. Franc de Sales says sex us holy, but he also implies spouse should be like elephants and almost never do it, and also that they should not do it oo much, too long, or enjoy it too much. Oh, and not be "immodest" in the marriage bed, whatever te heck that means.

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  14. I had to chuckle at St. Francis de Sales' answer to the question of whether sex was a sin on Sunday. It was something like, "One shouldn't collect a debt on Sunday, but it's okay to pay one."
    Which seems to say, if your spouse starts something, it's okay for you to go along with it. Seems pretty legalistic!

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  15. Never knew that one ... I'll add it to my bag of scruples, haha.

    I simply do not see why the church has such a long tradition of sex being per se a bad thing unless otherwise excused. Why is it so hard to understand that it's per se good and helpful to spouses if they don't use one another, and if they always maintain it's orientation to life? Why did it take so long to get that idea? Why do almost all the saints, who are so open to God's will, who intimately understood the value of chasity, why can none of them in all those hundred years tell us anything more than that it's okay to make children or "pay your debt" when it's demanded, but otherwise it's suspect.

    That's why I worry that te positive attitudes of the past 100 years or so are an aberration and that soon things will swing back to the way they were. It's impossible for me to understand the enjoyment of sexuality between spouses as God-given and good if almost none of the saints thought so. It was always dangerous, and always aim obstacle to sanctity. I really wonder and struggle with the idea that maybe that really is true.

    How would St. Francis de Sales I've even gotten the idea that sex on Sundays was a sin unless he considered it an act unworthy of the Lord's Day?

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  16. In that last line I meant "have gotten" not "I've gotten". Anyway, I have to stop rambling. My only point us that prudes who see the enjoyment of sexuality (or freedom of expression as long as the moral ends are respected) between spouses as morally dubious are much more in line with Catholic tradition and the saints than any of the good things we hear today. And it's hard to prove otherwise.

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  17. Mercury--along the lines of what you are speaking about..when I was in Turkey I rented an upstairs aparement from a Turkish Muslim family....interesting layout of the apartment. Their houses are designed so that husbands and wives have their own individual bedroom and their own individual bathroom..so that way each has their own privacy and modesty--ie women are not forced to dress/undress or bath etc in front of their husbands,. My turkish landlady thought it was very strange that Americans husbands and wives would share the same bedroom..she thought the lack of personal privacy very immodest...but too there is still a very extreme separation of the sexes due to traditional roles of men/women...and although arranged marriages are not allowed there are still many "encouraged" marriages...

    Of course separate bedrooms is in of itself it's own form of birth control.. :)

    Sara

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  18. I'm sure lots of Catholics in the past and today would welcome something like that. Sometimes I wonde if it wasn't the case throughout history, as it seems spouses were encouraged only to have sex in order to procreate, and since one could so easily venially sin it seems just about any time they made love. When I read the older saints talking about marriage and how spouses were expected to behave, it seems like it would have made sense to marry someone you're unattracted to, since mist times you'd have sex was somehow a sin, so why not "reduce the temptation"?

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  19. A couple of thoughts about "the older saints talking about marriage"; these people most likely weren't married, and so had no personal experience of what married life was about. If the only thing sex meant to them was temptation, then why are they considered an authority on the married state? Another consideration is that maybe the ordinary people-in-the-pews of the distant past did not aspire to a greater degree of holiness than just going to Mass, maybe saying the rosary, and following the ten commandments the best they could (and how many of us today do any better than that, or as well?) They may have just reconciled themselves to being sinners, figuring that they wouldn't be able to live up to the theologians' counsels of perfection, anyway. There may have been a divide between what was preached and what was practiced (kind of like today?)

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