Gina de Vries

Praying for compassion compassion compassion, dammit

Filed By Gina de Vries | June 25, 2008 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living
Tags: accountability, Catholic church, Catholic sex scandals, child molestation, homophobic behavior, misogyny, prayer, priests, prison, protection, safety, sex offenders

I work part-time at a queer non-profit that does activism and outreach around issues of spirituality, religion, ministry, and LGBTQ communities. I'm the receptionist/secretary/office monkey, so the work is not super-glam, but it's a groovy job. I love the people I work with, and I love that I get to do work around issues that really matter to me. But sometimes, working at an organization that does work at the intersection between queerness, sexuality, and spirituality brings up issues that hit really close to home. Issues that feel uncomfortable, complicated, and sad. That happened today -- when we got a request in the mail for information about LGBTQ clergy and LGBTQ prisoners from a gay prisoner who says he is ordained in the Dutch Old Catholic Church.

I googled Dutch Old Catholic Church, because I was curious -- my dad was raised Dutch Calvinist and my mom was raised Roman Catholic, and I'd never heard of the Dutch Old Catholic Church. I guess I mistakenly thought most people of Dutch descent were raised in Protestant or Jewish traditions, because that's all I'd ever heard about before. So, I read some vaguely interesting stuff on wikipedia about Dutch Catholics... and I knew as I did it that I was stalling.

I finally googled the prisoner's name, nervously, wondering if I should do it, because I just, well, had this hunch -- any Catholics or ex-Catholics reading this will probably know what I'm talking about. I wanted to know. But I also didn't, because I didn't want my compassion for this man to be lessened, because prisoners are people too, and why should it matter? Maybe the reason he is in prison is simply none of my business. But I did look, and my hunch was right: he's serving a long sentence for many counts of child sexual abuse, including child porn with a kid he adopted from Romania.

Clergy abuse of children is something that shakes me up. I'm a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, first off, so information about adults abusing children in general tends to squick me. (I'm sure it would even if I wasn't a survivor, but it hits particularly close to home because of my history.) But clergy abuse has a particular effect on me.

While I'm not a survivor of clergy abuse (my perpetrator was a stranger to me), I am not at all exaggerating when I say it was a rampant problem in the Catholic churches and schools I grew up. Everyone talked about it, within the community -- Dangerous Molesting Priests were an open secret. Everyone's parents knew not send their kids to this or that parish school, because of the "Funny Priest" there, who the kids had been "having problems" with.

Yes, those were real euphemisms we used.

I heard my parents and parents' friends and grandmother and aunts say things like that frequently growing up. Everyone was sad about it, but what else could you do but have a network of gossip and prayers? Only the bravest people went to the police, and it's not like they helped most of the time. The priests were never arrested. They were just sent off to other parishes to do it all over again.

The fact that faggots who have sex in parks are still getting arrested and called sex offenders for engaging in a public consensual sexual culture, while priests who abuse are shuffled from church to church -- it just disgusts me to no end. I was so relieved when all the "Catholic sex scandals" started surfacing -- duh, this has been happening for years, guys, let's talk about it, please!

I wasn't happy with the ways that both the Church and mainstream media too often conflated queerness with being a child molester. I wasn't happy that both the Church and mainstream media painted the abuse as particularly terrible and tragic because the majority of the survivors were boys and not girls. The message was clear: girls should basically expect sexual abuse; but when it happens to boys, it strips them of their masculinity, and that's the real crime. The sexism, misogyny, and homophobia in the uncovering of all the scandals disgusted me almost as much as the actual abuse cases.

But I was also just so glad that the secrets and lies were finally ending. You pigs, your smugness and piety do not protect you. Confession does not protect you. The Big Names and Titles shuffling you around from parish to parish to hurt more people -- they do not protect you. Your religion of lies does not protect you. Fucking finally.

And yet -- and saying this does not discount my rage -- I don't believe, intellectually, that abusers and rapists deserve any less compassion than I do. As much as what he and other people have done turns my stomach, I fundamentally don't believe that the man who wrote to my organization deserves to be abused in turn. I don't believe prison, which is a fucking terrible place for anyone to be, is really the answer -- I don't know what the answer is, frankly, but prison isn't it. The whole system is a bloody mess, and I don't believe that two wrongs make a right.

As much as reading the articles about what this guy did disgusted me, as I put together a manila envelope of brochures and pamphlets for him, I prayed: Let this help him find a way to make amends. Let this help him do no more harm. And let me be compassionate to all of God's people, even if I hate what some of them have done.


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"let me be compassionate to all of God's people, even if I hate what some of them have done."

Excellent words.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | June 25, 2008 11:22 AM

Gina,

The only possible place to leave off a priest of this type is either a restriction to a Senior Citizen home residency or a sealed monastic retreat.

I am so sorry for what happened to you Gina and your ability to forgive is commendable, but there just must be no more victims of a known sexual predator. And it is not even sex over the weaker person, it is power over the weaker person that they crave.

Forgive, of course, but don't forget.

The child-abusing priest is in a good place for ministering - no children around, lots of adults, many of whom might like praying with another person, and the obvious no-bullshit-allowed culture of a prison where everyone has done something nasty. Plus, there isn't a lot to do in prison, making amends is not only a good thing to do, but relieves the endless days.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | June 25, 2008 2:20 PM

As a former catholic who was NOT abused, this topic is hard for me to write about. Even more so for someone with your experience. Great post, Gina!!

As I said in an email to you Gina, I'm so with this. It's hard to have compassion for people we hate, especially if we know they've hurt someone weaker.

Good for you, Gina. You're a very honorable woman. I'm proud of you.