Friday, December 06, 2013

Thoughts on childhood, sexual abuse, and conscience..




"Do not rouse, do not stir up love, before it's ready ..." - Song of Songs 2:7
 
The recent developments in the sexual abuse scandal as it unfolds in the Archdiocese of MPLS/STP reminds me of my own experiences as a child and adolescent.  I wasn't abused by a priest, although once when I was speaking to a friar at a Franciscan church about vocations, I think I wanted to be.  I was in fourth grade.  Which brings me to the point of my post. 
 
People will hate me for saying this, but sometimes, some kids who have been abused, may desire - albeit mistakenly - some sort of intimacy, attention, or affection from an adult.*  Especially those kids who have been sexually abused as a small child, before the 'age of reason'.  Combined with the experience of some sort of physical/emotional abuse, and/or abandonment/neglect by parents, the child's emotional development becomes arrested and disordered.  Hence, the child often remains vulnerable to ongoing abuse, confusing it as a means for emotional fulfillment through sexual gratification, the child may even act out in a seductive manner, or develop a disoriented desire for sexual contact, which he perceives as something affirmative, as well as affectionate and loving contact.  That said, the child's culpability is always mitigated, if not abrogated.
 
This week I've been reading the lives of child saints in Magnificat, which may help explain why I'm thinking about culpability and conscience, especially in connection with childhood sexual abuse.  As I mentioned in another post, a priest accused of sexual abuse of a young girl in the Archdiocese was also my confessor at one point.  He heard my confession after I had been sexually abused in a theater.  I never received counsel or any advice indicating that I was not responsible.  That was fine with me, since I had deliberately sat down next to the man after he patted the seat next to his.  I was on my way to the bathroom, and he motioned for me to sit with him.  He fondled me, but I did all the work of unzipping and so on - essentially I wanted to be fondled.  I wanted the attention.
 
Kids who are already screwed up by various forms of abuse know - before they are emotionally, hormonally ready - that genital play 'feels good'.  Catholic kids in my day knew sex was 'bad' - only adults who were wedded in Holy Matrimony could taste the fruit of that tree.   I knew it wasn't right when sexual things happened.  I knew it was wrong.  I knew I had to go to confession, and I did.  I was at least 8 or 9 years old at the time.  The priest gave me absolution.  I knew my sin was forgiven.  But I wasn't 'fixed'.

Thus while reading the lives of child saints this week, I came across Kizito, a fourteen-year-old page in King Mwanga's court in Uganda.  Kizito suffered a gruesome martyrdom rather than submit to the king's sexual advances.  Kizito resisted while yet a catechumen.  He was only baptized by Charles Lwanga a day before his martyrdom.  I have pondered over that for hours.  Not too long ago, I posted that I had been raped at the age of fourteen.  The act was against my will, but I had associated with the perpetrator before that.  There had been sexual encounters - not initiated by me, nor did I invite them - but it happened.  He was an adult, I was fourteen. 

I confessed it later.

What is my point?  I'm not sure.  I think I'm offering another perspective on the mystery of iniquity in our lives.  I think what I am suggesting is that there is an element of culpability when there is some level of consent.  (Pretty much talking about pre-teens and teens here.)  I'm not at all blaming the 'victim'.  The adult is always the responsible actor, the power figure in these situations.  Putting the child in the role of seducer is a grave misunderstanding - I'm not suggesting that.  It is something a young person should never be blamed for when it involves an adult.  Though it may legally be a situation of statutory rape, and therefore a criminal act since the victim is younger than the age of consent - and even though the victim might claim he consented - it remains a case of statutory rape.   Nevertheless, I think we have to be accountable for our conduct.  Morally there may have been an aspect of consent.  After all, Catholic teaching places the age of reason at age seven, therefore one ought to know right from wrong.  What I'm saying doesn't excuse the perpetrator, nor does it mean that the abuse may not be criminal.  It just seems to me that the example of the saints - choosing death over mortal sin, is much more than an ideal to be admired.  It suggests to me there is some level of moral culpability on the 'victim's' part.  (Obviously that enters the realm of conscience and I'm not able to examine or judge that in another.  It is an issue strictly between the person and his confessor, the soul and God.)
 
In another post, of which this is a kind of follow up, a commenter wrote:
So its bizarre for a 17 year old to have sex with a 14 or 15 year old? What planet did you come from.
He was referring to this case:
An openly homosexual teenager, who was given a position as an “adviser” to Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and honored by President Barack Obama at a White House “gay pride” dinner, has been indicted on more than a dozen counts of sexual misconduct with a minor under the age of 15.
Caleb Laieski, now 18, was 17 at the time of the alleged abuse. His alleged victim, a close friend he met on TrevorSpace (a social media site for children and young adults aged 13-24 who have an interest in homosexuality), was only 14 at the time. The younger boy said the sex was consensual, but that he felt “pressured” to participate. However, Arizona law says no one younger than 15 is capable of giving consent. - Link

Caleb Laieski is accused under statutory rape laws.  Many people today will most likely see no abuse in the relationship between the teen boys - in fact the younger kid's mother approved of the relationship, until it involved a 43 year old man.  Then the youngest person came forward to report abuse, despite the fact the 43 year old insisted the kid 'came onto him'.  Though the adult and the 17 year old may be legally culpable, there were 3 people involved in a sexual encounter.  Sexually abusive?  Yes.  Statutory rape?  Yes.  Yet at one point, I believe all three said it was consensual.  Morally corrupt?  Yes.  Sinful?  Yes.  And there's the catch.  Today we are so afraid to call a sin a sin.  Homosexuals especially seem to be inclined to reject the idea that homosexual behavior is sinful, which probably explains the comment on that particular post - "So its bizarre for a 17 year old to have sex with a 14 or 15 year old? What planet did you come from."
 
So whenever I suggest the 'victim' (of a certain age of course) may have some moral culpability, that drives people crazy, and extreme cases of sexual abuse are raised up to refute what I'm trying to say.  Every situation is different, and every 'survivor' (I dislike that term as much as the 'victim' terminology) is different.  What I'm trying to express here is decidedly my personal perspective provoked by recent developments concerning the sexual abuse of minors in my archdiocese.  Don't worry about me, I'm fine with what has happened to me, I've also been through therapy about this stuff, and I've dealt with the issue for years.  I think I know what I am talking about as it involves my personal situation and experience, and I suspect others may see it the same way.

 
 
 *Remember how Fr. Benedict Groeschel got in so much trouble saying something similar?  He eventually recanted after pressure, and the interview published was removed, his friars and he blamed his remarks on old age.  It wasn't PC.  I kept my post up - an excerpt I wrote here:
In response to my friend who forwarded the (Benedict Groeschel) article, wherein she expressed incredulity that a 14 year old could be a seducer, I related an anecdote from my own experience:
Absolutely true. I worked in a parish in Boston in my mid-20's, and a 14 year old kid came on to me. I was deeply offended and upset - but more concerned for the boy. I retained my composure, laughed and then led him out of the hallway into an area where other people were gathered for a parish celebration, in the meantime, explaining to him that homosexual acts are sinful and encouraging him to go to confession, speak to a priest, and consecrate his life to Our Lady. I never spoke to him again and he avoided me whenever he was at Church.   And no, the kid was not known to me before this happened - evidently he knew me however. - Source

By the grace of God I have never been attracted to children or boys.  Instead I think I was the one  always looking for a father.  I found God.

That said, I suppose I'm just blogging about this as a follow up to that other post, and for St. Nicholas day - he's the patron saint of kids you know.  All kids, but especially abused kids and adult kids who had been abused.

If you don't understand what I've written, or you do not agree, then it's probably not for you.  Losing readers is what I do best - and it serves me well.  I'm not a popular blog, so I can't do much harm.

Art: Dirk Bogarde, Death in Venice
 
 
 
 

30 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. I liked your comment! You could have left it.

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    2. Thanks..in hindsight I just thought I had no business talking about what I "think" may have happened to someone else.Its not my experience to share. But the thoughts the same and I agree with everyone else you are a brave and honest person.

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  2. "I think quote is a great example of how the Church misses the boat. Instead of telling a 14 year old kid that homosexual acts are sinful and leave it at that, that this person saw that there was much more going on with this kid then "sinful," acts and that he was seriously screwed up and headed for more."

    I was the guy - but I wasn't in a position to counsel the kid - so I told him what I knew for the time - I was still in my 20's.

    But you are right, the kid needed more than what I told him and much better guidance than telling him it's a sin and go pray the rosary. I only inserted the anecdote to show that a kid can come on to an adult - the adult is the one in control, however.

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  3. *phew*. that's a lot, Terry, and I understand it all viscerally, as having had two alcoholic parents, and growing up in the '60s (b.'53), I experienced the....drive for intimacy available to a young girl - while I was not experiencing much sexual desire etc, (only 14/15 when I began) but rather desperately needing attention & "love", I certainly knew the coin of exchange. With the added fillip of having had a 'father' who always used me as his way of getting attention - I learned so very young to be attentive, not give any trouble or 'argue', hang on every word, give, and do virtually anything for a little attention, affection. I was actually pretty terrified most of the time. so much behavior problems originate, I think, out of this....terror and need, intractably linked, perhaps as a way to conquer a host of longings and fears. I honestly do not know. although I have been in some therapy....I never found anyone who was not promoting a party line of everything is great, its all ok to do, etc: or its converse, that I was/am a whore. the thing is: without the cover of the era of the '60's, would any of this stuff have been so .... accepted...promoted.
    I no longer hope to understand the darkness of my life, the mistakes, the errors, the abuse I received, accepted, expected. I leave it all up to God now. He alone knows the real story and I so hope one day to be given to understand it, too. if not....that is just fine with me too. somewhere in my heart I wish I could express something without stirring up misunderstanding or animosity: it's like: without all the pain and suffering, the anguish, the deepness that one enters into when suffering despair and a longing for death....I would not have been...made small enough to lean on God, to be open, to hear and feel His approach and deep understanding/acceptance.
    Oh: and I often think of the line in AA: alcoholics don't have friends, they take hostages. I was pretty happy when my father died.

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    1. Consolata..thanks for your honesty too. You were a kid...you are right to leave it to God..he can make us all wjolev again..peace to you.

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    2. Consolata, what you wrote resonates with me on so many levels. Thank you.

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  4. Sorry Terry, I didn't mean to criticize...you know, hindsight is 20/20 and when something happens like that I would think you would be flabergasted.

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  5. Excellent post. Thank you!

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  6. Terry, your compassionate, thoughtful posts continually inform, educate, and (this too-) entertain me. God bless you for your courage to speak truth. Your faith is evident each time I read your writings. (I also love your sense of humor- always tickles me to see how you've illustrated some of your points- I keep wondering "WHERE does he come up with this stuff?" ) I think you are one of the best bloggers going. Keep on posting. We need your voice.

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  7. Terry this is amazing. Thanks for sharing it with us.

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    1. You are welcome, thanks for reading.

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  8. Thank you, Terry, for your wise and poignant words.

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    1. Thank you Fr. for your prayers and friendship.

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  9. I thought of Father Benedict when I read this. It is sad he had to recant but you are wise to have let yours stand since you had first hand experience. I hope that 14 year old is in a better place spiritually and emotionally.

    Thank you for sharing, Terry. I am glad too, you are better, thanks be to God. ^^

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    1. A lot of people were upset with Fr. Benedict, I felt sorry for him.

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  10. I remember reading an article about 3 brothers who were sexually abused. After the abuse stopped and the perpetrator was sent to jail the boys began to abuse each other. I was horrified. However, your post explains why they began to do that to each other.

    Terry, thanks for writing about this topic. It can't be easy but it's certainly illuminating for me on many levels.

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    1. Thanks Angela - I'm glad if it helps understanding. I have a friend who was abused by his brothers - sounds like a similar situation. I think that happens more than we know. I have two acquaintances - one I suspect abused his brother, another abused his nephew. All are married today - I have no idea if they repeat the behavior.

      Thankfully, many who were abused as children and teens do not grow up to be abusers themselves.

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  11. Thanks Terry for your fearlessness in bringing into the light your many experiences, plus the clear healing you have had. some days I really just need the clarity here, and the responses everybody gives.
    what happened decades ago....today seems to be happening to a 'new generation' in so very much worse ways. for all their faults...my folks had redeeming qualities.....I am still pretty hard-nosed about them, and I do truly try to overcome this.

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    1. I love your comments Consolata, so thank you too. I agree what happened to me is happening on a larger scale today - and media plays a role.

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  12. Thanks very much for this post because of your honesty. What I believe is all abused-children are victims and severely traumatized and as you said even if they "come-on" to the adult, it's the adult who is in charge. Your comment, "I found God" reminds me of the Biblical verses, "And this is the judgement: because the light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light: for their works were evil. For everyone that does evil hates the light, and comes not to the light, that his works may not be reproved." But he that does truth, comes to the light, that his works may be made manifest, because they are done in God." (St. John, 3:19 - 21, Douay-Rheims Bible). The combination of child-abuse and the parental-neglect or abandonment is of course very traumatizing too. Having experienced that up to a certain degree, I believe and agree with that statement totally. Now, being so much-older, though, I can forgive many times and remember what our Lord JesusChrist said on the Cross, "Forgive them Father, for they no not what they do", although some days I may begin to be angry and am angry, it's not as bitter as when I did not forgive, you know. Thanks very much for this post and God bless you Terry and all yr. readers, too.

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    1. Thank you rosaMaria - what you say is true - maturing through these difficulties can make one bitter, but understanding what happened in the light of God's mercy, we're able to forgive.

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  13. So sorry, correction: "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do."

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  14. you know, I look at people today, esp. those I deal with in the nursing home, and I think on the 'universe within each', and have to ponder how very little we ever really see of anyone else's under-the-surface life. but - Our Lord does...and thus he loves each one as He sees and understands. I tried therapy, with no success, while living in madison wis.: I moved, against said dr's strong wishes, to here, where my folks had moved after my Dad was fired from a high-paying, high-flying job, to a small job, and a 'small' life;. I knew I had to face them and see who they were....why it all happened. it was wretchingly painful sometimes. I did indeed learn all about their own lives, childhoods, failures, sins, et al. They were really only Too Happy to talk about themselves ;).
    .... concurrently, I read a fasinating article in...Atlantic Monthly...about Shame, how it forms, and its fruits. and also I read about how Narcissists are 'formed'. really sort of fascinating. and I grew to understand what happened to each of these two people, the disaster of their meeting and marrying (well, to Me, a disaster, I am pretty dark internally).
    It did not change much for me: later, in my 30;s I had an abortion....having been involved with a man Just Like Deal Old Dad - and totally blind to it ! can you imagine ! everyone else saw, I did not. another narcissist, another person willing to sacrifice other(s) for their convenience. as did I !! for the immediate need for belonging...to not displease another, to not suffer the possibility of rejection. Oh, I could go on and on about the bitter fruits of generation upon generation of shortsightedness and the disease of immaturity - I can not look upon any other person, any other sin, any other nicely termed 'disorder' without first seeing my own deep, deep fault, my own huge and fatal sin.
    It can be so very ... gut-wretchingly painful to see ourselves. The miracle of it - That God Still Loves Us...that He can forgive us, even if we do not, can not forgive ourselves.
    what I see today is very simple: follow the Church. Follow Her 'rules', which are not rules....but .... how can I say it....God's instructions, as He made us, for how best to care for ourselves and others. None of the things in my life or my parents, or their parents...would have occured....had any of us pracised simple obedience. well I guess that is all I've got. I had to 'share' (hate that word) with you all. perhaps some of us have to...wound ourselves and others to a great degree before suffering a fatal blow and, like the prodigal, come limping home....

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  15. Consolata..thanks for your brave honesty I am so sorry for the pain in your past..but you triumphed with a loving heart. I disagree with you on obedience.. I don't think God is a schooll marm or a nun.. I think he wants us to beleive his truth not simply act it out. I think that is a diaster waiting you happen. Tho you may have ment that..when I read this blog I feel I am in on the theological short bus. The mensch in me wants to take you all in..hug you and feed you big bowls of spaghetti and meatballs. But your all wiser then I will ever be. But if your ever in Chicago.. I will be happy to feed you..a bit of wisdom from you is the extra.

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  16. Mack, I am not sure what I mean. hindsight and all that. I see myself as just another casualty, perhaps, of the huge change in our culture. I do not mean....follow lock-step orders from God....I guess I mean...had I been blessed to have had parents who were nurturers, not takers...had they and the various nuns, so many of them, taught me about the Love of God, and raised my crushed self up...to know I had value...so many things would have been vastly different. I thing this is why I am so thrilled with Pope Francis....as one can see the love within him radiate outward....and like a true, good shepard, my hope is that he can turn many elements in our world around. If I, who had so very many gifts, so many opportunities, reached such lows in my life....I can't express how often I think about kids out there without anything, or anyone, bad or good, who are thrust alone into the world - with all they are exposed to. oh well - thanks - and you know, I was born when my folks lived right around 53rd and Hyde Park, in South Side Chicago, I was babptised in....St Thomas the Apostle Church, not far from there. the old neighborhood did not look much different, when I was there last. I hope your winter there is not as rough as usual !

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  17. Terry,

    If you haven't seen this, it may be of interest:

    http://veneremurcernui.wordpress.com/2013/12/10/the-push-is-on-the-the-next-sick-thing-abc-promoting-polyamory-again/

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Please comment with charity and avoid ad hominem attacks. I exercise the right to delete comments I find inappropriate. If you use your real name there is a better chance your comment will stay put.