You Just Don’t Get It: More Response to Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church

The other day, I shared some of my personal thoughts about the allegations against Father Dan Valentine of St. James Parish in Sewickley on my Facebook page.  I had some back and forth with friends who were commenting on how they would respond if their kids disclosed and how they would never feel comfortable leaving their kids alone with priests after the magnitude of the cover ups.

One friend with whom I grew up had no idea that our parish priest (John Wellinger) was at the center of very serious allegations and court cases. She was stunned, like me, to think that our home parish could generate two monsters. Is it selfish to say that I want Father Dan to be exonerated or just creepy or to have fucked up for my own sake? I certainly don’t want any child anywhere to have been harmed. But I don’t want to keep processing the magnitude of this cover up on MY LIFE.

One person whom I don’t know chimed in to defend priests, stating that they are unfairly maligned by the actions of a few.  To make his point, he said that the data showed that 1/3 of child molestations are perpetrated by “homosexuals” but that doesn’t mean all homosexuals are child molesters.

My jaw on the floor, I asked him to verify his claim. He then posted a link to the Family Research Institute <I’m not linking to them> a hate group that has been debunked repeatedly for propagating false research. Hate group is an official designation by the Southern Poverty Law Center, not just my opinion.

When I shared this little fact, he didn’t care. He said it still proved that people could make the wrong assumptions about “the LGBT” just like they could about priests. Again, jaw on floor, I asked him if he was familiar with the facts of the sex abuse in the Church? He went silent.

I sat quietly for awhile letting this sink in to my heart. I was rather angry that he had to bring up the tired old “homosexuals = pedophiles” meme to defend his position. It was an ugly example that deflects responsibility from those in authority and destroys people’s understanding of pedophilia. And even if you want to slam the gays, you are doing no favors to people who need to protect their children by giving them bad information. Keeping them away from gays keeps them away from gays – it doesn’t keep them from being gay. But keeping them away from pedophiles might actually keep them safe. Not that you can tell when someone is a pedophile, but you can certainly educate your children and make good choices based on facts – not bigotry.

It also reminds me that so many people are hurt by this pandemic – the children, their families, their adult families, the people who trusted the priest/bishop/etc, the vulnerable people who rely on the Church to help them maintain stable lives — good, decent people who trusted as they were taught to do.  When I read the comments on various news articles and see some familiar names popping up to share the data that they have painstakingly gathered over decades … my heart aches for them.

My heart aches because these were my schoolmates. And because there will never be enough answers to satisfy the parents of the child who took his own life or the child who feels guilty for the price his parents paid for trying to hold the church accountable. I feel angry. I’m angry that Cardinal Bevilacqua died before justice was meted out in Philadelphia. I’m angry that none of us can look outward to find peace … we have to find it within our own selves.

We have to forgive and let go.

I’m not there yet, not by a long shot. But I had a “revelation” the other day that put some pieces of my own puzzle together and made me realize that one thing I fear is people assuming I’m a lesbian because of the fact that a child molester was part of my life when I was a child. That I was “made gay” by that proximity. And I wonder if some of the old school folks in my own family think that, too?

I wonder if I think that? Wow. I don’t think that, but I needed to stop and realize the enormity of the “homosexual = pedophile” meme.

For the record, pedophiles are typically not heterosexual or homosexual. Pedophilia is not a “third” orientation – its a perversion, a brokenness in which typically adult men are attracted to young boys. It can be women predators, it can be girls who are victimized. And there’s a distinction, too, between a pedophile who preys on young children and a child molester who preys on anyone weak.  The difference between two grown men finding one another sexually desirable is as far removed from a pedophile as two grown adults of the opposite sex. I know it might be easier to blame gay people. I know that many gay men sought refuge in the priesthood. But those factors are related to the oppressive teachings on sexuality from within the church (deny that human are sexual by enforced celibacy, cure gays, and protect our reputation at any cost.)

The thing is that we don’t talk about child molesters. We don’t talk about growing up feeling “how could they let this person around me?” and what damage that does – the sense of being unworthy of protection, of being abandoned, the sense of shame.

Clearly, I’m still struggling with all of this. I grew up 2 blocks from the rectory – what was going on there?  I still have a bit of anger in my heart and I hope talking about it openly helps me work through it.

I’ve already been contacted privately by one person. Feel free to do that. Maybe be rejecting the stigma and shame, we can undo the meme that threatens our adults lives.

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