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