More generational cycles to break…

I’ve lived and researched and thought about breaking unhealthy generational cycles of sexual abuse in families. Now another wave of abuse in the Catholic Church has surfaced, this time in Pennsylvania (warning: graphic sexual content). I’m a convert (RCIA ’99) and still new to the Church when it came to light in Los Angeles around 2002. While shocking and disgusting, I did not find it particularly surprising. When attacked for my faith and/or decision to join the Church, I kept asking, “Where did you think you’d find them?” They will always be found among the most trusted people in society, in positions of contact with minors. That is how they get access. That is how they get away with it. What I did not stop to consider is that, as with families, there are generational cycles in seminaries as well, passed down through the years from one group to the next.

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The effects of childhood sexual abuse are lifelong. It returns with these kinds of revelations whether from politicians or priests. Triggers are real and they remain, whether or not the source of one’s own abuse was the same. The act is the same or similar and the body knows it. These priests not only committed one of the most heinous acts against the vulnerable and powerless, they did so as representatives of God. That is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. That is an unforgivable sin.

There is a saying that the pain continues through families until someone decides to fully feel it. However it happens, it takes a conscious decision to stop sexual abuse.

Here’s how one priest addressed being abused when he was 15 and what he did to stop his molester.

Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

We can put an end to most childhood sexual abuse if we make up our minds to do so. One of the main obstacles is denial. Confronting evil is messy and scary and once again – despite the lessons of the past (and they weren’t that long ago) – we see men who are supposedly trained in good and evil making excuses. Bishop Thomas J. Tobin told the press that the abuse was outside his responsibility. He is no different from my grandmother who looked the other way as her second husband molested her daughter for a dozen years. Tobin, now in Providence, RI, was Auxiliary Bishop in Philadelphia while the Church was covering up the abuses:

“My responsibilities as Vicar General and General Secretary of the diocese did not include clergy assignments or clergy misconduct, but rather other administrative duties such as budgets, property, diocesan staff, working with consultative groups, etc. Even as an auxiliary bishop, I was not primarily responsible for clergy issues,″ Tobin said in an email to The Providence Journal.

When my mother told her mother what was going on she was accused of stealing her mother’s husband. When she went to her grandmother, she was slapped and warned against saying such awful things about such a fine man. Versions of what too many bishops and priests are saying this week.

The common attitude: Nothing to see here, move along. We must preserve the status quo. Don’t rock the boat.

The bishops would do well to repent publicly in sackcloth and ashes. Yes, literally. My sense is that the All Patient is losing patience. Their time to declare a Holy Hour of Reparation, A Year of Penance, to donate their ornate robes to make First Communion clothes for children in favor of a cilice, is running out.

Photo by Aron on Unsplash

what is truth?

What do James Frey and Pontius Pilate have in common? “What is truth?” was Pilate’s famous question. Neither one is clear that truth exists. Frey’s opinion is not surprising given his opinions as related in a recent New York magazine article (which caused a lot of outrage among my writer friends for his factory):

Frey delivered his opinions on the memoir genre (“bunk,” “bull***t,” a marketing tool that didn’t exist until several decades ago); fact and fiction (there’s no difference); truth (it doesn’t exist, at least not in the journalistic sense); Europe (where he turns for validation); America (which is obsessed with honesty and raises people up only to tear them down); the best writers (Mailer, Vonnegut, Hemingway, Baudelaire, Henry Miller, Cormac McCarthy); documentary (“a thesis on truth that hasn’t been proven yet”); Oprah (“I should have never f***ing apologized”); the kind of writer he wants to be (the most controversial and widely read of his time); making literary history (he’s in it to “change the game” and “move the paradigm”; he won’t write anything that doesn’t change the world)…

Given his ‘is it fiction or is it memoir’ history, it’s not surprising that he doesn’t believe there’s truth. It’s also remarkably convenient. He won’t write anything that doesn’t change the world? Well, I hope he’s studying Solzhenitsyn.

There is a difference between fact and fiction. I’ve run into it lately. I don’t write memoir, I don’t write what happened to me. My writing is informed by emotions I’ve experienced and something that seems to be increasingly rare: imagination. In addition, I’ve heard from several people who read Willful Ignorance that it was really close to their own experience. One was an orthopedic surgeon, one a dentist, one the girlfriend of a cardiologist. All three situations were very different, but each saw themselves in the book. When fiction connects emotion and sensory detail to story, that’s when you do touch on something that might speak to a number of people. When you’re a master, that’s when your work lasts; those are the works we keep returning to from Shakespeare to Dostoevsky, even if they are distant from our time and setting.

In the past week, I’ve had two very different conversations with one big thing in common: an increasing awareness of a dearth of imagination. Television, electronics, video games? Maybe. Or maybe it’s always been a problem. Artists have long complained of their patrons’ lack of vision. We tend to think people think the same way we do and see the world in the same way (despite evidence to the contrary).  But if that were true, why have stories? Stories – not a string of facts. We need strong stories, full of imagination and truth, to entertain and encourage and connect us.