Fr. Luke Reese loses court appeal after savage beating; still calls himself priest in good standing

Fr. Luke Reese’s wife-beating conviction stands. Reese, Indiana’s first married Catholic priest, has lost his court appeal to overturn his conviction for confining and beating his wife in a jealous rage. Reese’s priestly faculties are suspended, but as of January this year, he is still referring to himself as “a priest in good standing,” according to court records we obtained.

A.G. Stockstill, Business Manager for the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, which ordained Reese, stated in an email on Tuesday that Reese’s faculties were suspended in 2017, soon after his arrest. 

“Father Luke Reese was removed from ministry in the Ordinariate by Bishop Lopes on September 27, 2017, at which time his faculties were suspended.  Any further or permanent determination of Father Reese’s status as a priest is the competency of the Holy See,” Stockstill wrote.

But in recent court documents we obtained, Reese still describes himself as “a priest in good standing, although he is not active at this time.”

Reese was an Anglican priest who converted to Catholicism with his family and was ordained as a Catholic priest in the Ordinariate in 2016. He served as Parochial Vicar of Holy Rosary Church in Indianapolis until September of 2017, when he was placed on leave after assaulting his wife.

Reese was employed by the church as a priest for another six months after the arrest, until his conviction in March of 2018, according to court documents. In August of 2018, the Ordinariate said in a statement that “steps are being taken to change Reese’s status as a priest.” Parishioners of Holy Rosary said on social media that they believed Reese had been “defrocked.”

There has been no public announcement regarding Reese’s canonical status. The Ordinariate, which functions like an archdiocese, does not have a legal or canonical obligation to report or publicize the status of a priest. There may be an exception if a laicized priest is not complying with the requirements set out in the decree of laicization — for instance, if he is dressing as a priest or publicly celebrating sacraments after he has been barred from doing so. In that case, the bishop would probably inform the parish that the priest has been barred from functioning. 

The Ordinariate did not confirm or deny that there is an ongoing canonical penal process against Reese.

Reese is currently working as the manager of a seafood restaurant, according to court documents.

Reese was found guilty of one felony and two misdemeanors: One count of criminal confinement with bodily injury, one count of domestic battery, and one count of battery resulting in bodily injury. He appealed his conviction, and the appeal was rejected on May 22 of 2019.    

“The whole thing is my wife’s fault.”

In his appeal, Reese argued he was only trying to protect his wife because he thought she was suicidal. According to court documents, “Reese asserts that he was justified in committing the offense because he was simply protecting [his wife.]”

In other court documents we obtained, Reese stated, “I have never been
violent or abusive in any of my relationships or to my wife.”

Reese argued in his appeal that the court denied him due process by not preserving “photographs and text messages as evidence” that “could have been used to impeach [his wife’s] testimony as to the causes of her injuries and credibility in general.”

According to various court records, the photographs and text messages were on his wife’s phone, which he confiscated during the protracted assault. He gave the phone to his superior, Fr. Ryan McCarthy, pastor of Holy Rosary, when McCarthy visited the couple in their home after the assault, according to the appeal. McCarthy reportedly returned the phone to Reese’s wife a few days later. 

In his appeal, Reese argued that that the court “failed to establish that he had committed the offense knowingly.”

During the course of the assault, which lasted over twenty-four hours, according to court documents we obtained, Reese hit his wife in the stomach and head and punched her in time to heavy metal music while he drove her to her grandmother’s house to make her confess to wrongdoing. He hit her in the eye, confiscated her keys and phone, drove her to a cemetery, pushed her onto her knees on the marble floor of the sanctuary of the church, violently pulled her hair, applied pressure to her neck and threatened to choke her while they were in front of the altar, and shoved her against the church wall, according to the documents. He reportedly continued to punch, degrade, threaten and otherwise assault her when they finally reached their home.  According to court documents we obtained, Reese’s wife sustained permanent eye damage from the assault. 

Reese asserted in various documents we obtained that he was merely defending himself from aggression by his wife, and attempting to protect her from herself. Shortly after the assault, he stated, “This whole thing is my wife’s fault,” according to the documents.

Reese also argued in his appeal that “the State failed to present sufficient evidence to support his conviction for criminal confinement” and”failed to prove that his actions were done without [his wife’s] consent” and “failed to prove that he had caused any bodily injury to [his wife].”

The court rejected his appeal and affirmed his conviction on May 22, 2019. Reese was sentenced in August of 2018 to three years of home confinement with electronic monitoring. Two years of his sentence were suspended, and he will be on probation for one year.

Reese filed for divorce from his wife on December 19 0f 2017. The Reeses have been married for 26 years and have seven children, four of whom are minors.

Reese’s lawyer, Oliver Younge, did not respond to my call or email. 

How did the church respond to Reese’s behavior before and after the assault?

According to documents we obtained, Mrs. Reese said that, some time before the assault, Reese shared a website containing pornographic and white supremacist material with his then-teenaged son, and directed him to share it with his friends. The church responded by sending Reese to counseling. It’s not clear whether the Ordinariate, which is based in Houston, was informed of Reese’s behavior, or whether Holy Rosary of Indianapolis made decisions about how to manage Reese before the assault.  

According to the court documents, his wife says he psychologically abused her and their children and sexually abused her throughout their 26-year marriage. Mrs. Reese said her husband has been ousted from three churches due to his behavior. She said that he holds white supremacist, racist, and misogynist views which he has attempted to pass on to his older children, and she submitted to the court “letters from other individuals who supported these concerns about Mr. Reese’s character, beliefs and temper,” according to court documents.

According to the same documents, Reese had a long history of hitting his wife, making his children sit alone in a dark basement as punishment, threatening them with hell for not praying the rosary correctly, and subjecting the family to constant harsh criticism and ridicule.

According to court documents describing the assault, Fr. Ryan McCarthy, the pastor of Holy Rosary where Reese was Parochial Vicar, went to the Reese house the day after the assault and saw Mrs. Reese’s black eye and swollen mouth. In response, McCarthy “recommended that [Reese’s wife] stay somewhere else.” He also accepted the phone that Reese had confiscated from his wife. Days later, he returned the phone to Mrs. Reese.

After Reese was arrested, Fr. McCarthy announced in the church bulletin that Reese would go on “leave” that would last “at least a few months.” He admonished the parishioners, “mind your own business.” Although he had  seen clear evidence of a violent crime against Mrs. Reese, he announced “I am very grateful for Father Reese’s service to our parish. He will be greatly missed during this leave.” The day Reese was convicted, his parish offered Mass to commemorate the anniversary of his ordination. Reese’s name was not removed from the parish directory until after we broke the story of his arrest.

Although he defended Reese during and after his criminal conviction, there is no evidence that Fr. McCarthy faces sanctions by the diocese of Indianapolis or by the Ordinariate for his response. Parishioners on social media referred to McCarthy as a good and holy priest and called him a hero.

What has the Ordinariate learned?

The Ordinariate can ordain its own laymen as priests, but it primarily receives former Anglican priests and then forms and ordains them as Catholic priests. This was the case with Fr. Reese.

If an Anglican priest wants to join the Ordinariate, it’s not clear whether the Catholic Church does its own vetting process, or if it relies on the vetting the Anglican Church has already done. Because there is a dire need for priests, and perhaps as a courtesy to the Anglican Church, the Church may be tempted to hurry through the process. 

According to court documents we obtained, Reese’s wife asserts that, before he was ordained in the Ordinariate, “he has been ousted from three different churches due to his behavior.”

According to those document, “Ms. Reese reported [to the court that] Mr. Reese holds white supremacist and misogynous attitudes and that he is racist … Ms. Reese submitted letters from other individuals who supported these concerns about Mr. Reese’s character, beliefs and temper.”

I asked the spokesman for the Ordinariate whether the Ordinariate vets or screens candidates for the Catholic priesthood who have already been through the Anglican seminary, or whether it relies on the Anglican Church’s vetting process. 

I asked whether, in order to avoid future debacles like the Reese one, the Ordinariate will change its standards or process.

No one from Ordinariate responded. 

 

***

Our previous coverage of this story:

 Why the Fr. Luke Reese scandal is everybody’s business.

Will Holy Rosary be reconsecrated after desecration by Fr. Luke Reese?

Bishop Lopes’ statement on abuse fails to mention Luke Reese

No jail for Luke Reese after wife beating conviction

Luke Reese, married priest, convicted of beating his wife

Indianapolis priest charged with beating wife inside church

****
Image: Mug shot of Luke Reese courtesy of Fox 59 News; Coat of Arms of the Personal Ordinariate of the Seal of St. Peter via Wikipedia Alekjds [CC BY 1.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/1.0)]

Your boyfriend is not your husband

I’m not saying we should hold out for the perfect spouse; and I’m not saying you should flee from a relationship the first time conflict crops up. It’s very good to test how well the two of you can work through problems together. And every human being brings a certain amount of imperfection into a relationship: Bad habits, personality flaws, unsavory pasts, immaturity, selfishness, and so on. Everyone’s got something — probably several things — wrong with them; and every good relationship will have conflict at some point.

But there are some flaws that should make us pause, think hard, and possibly back away before we make any vows. 

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image: Skedonk [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

 

Mary who stays

My daughter is drawing at church. She handily sketches in a crucifix: Top, bottom, one arm, then the other. She’s drawn it many times, over and over. Lately, she’s adding more detail, and at first I didn’t know what it was– some kind of ghost, a formless lump.

Then I saw it was Mary, swathed with robes and veils. Jesus on the cross is sharp and angular, and he turns his face up to the heavens in his agony; but Mary’s head is down, almost crushed into the ground as she bows under the great grief of his innocent suffering. She is utterly helpless. She can’t rescue the child she brought into the world.

In her grief, she is almost unrecognizable, and why not? Why should she be her same self, since the crucifixion is so outrageous? It never should have happened. How could it possibly have happened? This is God we’re talking about; actual God, that than which nothing greater can be thought, and here he hangs, bleeding dry.  Ripped into shreds. Extinguished. Thwarted by some thugs wielding a hammer.

Never mind the veil in the temple, it should have been the entire planet, the whole fabric of the universe that was ripped in two when he died. I don’t know how the world was held together through the crucifixion. How did everything not come apart?

I do know. It was held together through Mary, who stayed.

Under the intolerable weight of the suffering of her son, she was helpless, almost crushed. But she didn’t leave. There was nothing she could do, but she stood by and let it happen to her with him. Sometimes this is the only action of love: To stand by and not leave.

The suffering of innocents is what tears people away from the Church, away from God: When we have to stand by and watch the innocent suffer, and no one will rescue them. It tears us apart. This is why the abuse crisis has been the breaking point for so many people: The Church was supposed to be where children were safe, but instead it was where there they were ripped into shreds. Extinguished. Thwarted by thugs wielding a crosier.

It is not tolerable.

But it is nothing new.

The split, the rift, the gap, the unravelling: This has been the story of man since we left Eden. God the Father made His children for wholeness and delight, and what did they do but leave, tear themselves away from him; tear each other apart. Even when there is no ill will, this is the duality of the human experience of love since the Fall: We always live through love and loss at the same time. Never love without loss. From the moment we give birth, we prepare our children to leave us. From the moment we marry, we take on the burden of preparing our spouses for death. This is nothing new.

But Mary is something new. She holds in her heart the making and the unmaking of her beloved, and she does not come apart. She is strong enough to make the son of God and strong enough to stand by and watch him unmade, and still she does not leave. She is steadfast like no other.

Our sorrows are the first part of the story. The long story, the whole story, is that the world is all knit back together again in the womb of Mary. If Penelope wove and then unravelled a shroud, over and over again while she waited for the king to return home, then Mary weaves . . . what should we call it? The swaddling clothes that somehow bind up eternal life itself. And every day, death tries to unravel it, and every night she knits life back up again, day after day, over and over again. She does not leave her island. She is waiting for the king to return.

There are times when we all flee from the foot of the cross. It is too crushing. It hurts too much to be so helpless. We are perhaps willing to suffer, ourselves. But how willing are we to stand by and watch the ones we love suffer? That is the thing that feels intolerable.

But leaving the foot of the cross leaves the world unravelled. Running away from injustice, and staying away, leaves injustice as the final word. If we want to meet Jesus, we must meet him in suffering, in injustice, on this island world at the foot of the intolerable. That’s where he is right now. That is where love is. There is nowhere else, no other place but this temporal island called suffering. We will not be here forever, but we need to be here ready to meet him. To try to escape is to leave the world unravelled.

I can hear that I sound like I’m saying, “Don’t leave the Church, or you will betray the world and betray God.” I am not. I know I have said things that sound like that, and I am sorry. I don’t know what I would do if it had been one of my children abused. I don’t know what I would do if I were a reporter or a district attorney who talked to hundreds and hundreds of victims. When I do write about how the Church has betrayed the innocent, there always comes a time when I close my computer and put my head down and cry. But this is not my life’s work. If it were, I don’t know what I would do.

I am only thinking of Mary, and how glad I am that she didn’t leave.

Jesus was crucified for our sins, and Mary stayed at the foot of the cross for our sorrows. She stayed there for us, waiting on that island called suffering and death. She stays with us still. With her son she will make the world whole again; and then there will be love without loss.

 

The Virgin In Sorrow by Simon Marmion. Photograph by Rama, Wikimedia Commons

 

The Church is someone, not something

The internet will teach you how to turn a “no” into a “yes.” The phrase  appears in tutorials designed for salespeople, but also in more sinister contexts.  In militant men’s rights groups, there are forums and even study guides that teach men how to manipulate women and extract the sexual goodies they want from them.

They understand that, in these whacky times, women may pursue legal prosecution for rape or assault if you don’t listen to their “no;” so men who consider sex a right coach each other on how to pressure, manipulate, disorient, confuse, and guilt women into yielding a reluctant but legally watertight “yes.” Rather than being ashamed of this gross display of inhumanity, these men preen themselves on their skills. They know that, if they are challenged for their behavior, they can point to their victim’s coerced consent, and then she will be blamed for what happened to her.

Healthy men would vomit at the very idea of approaching a woman this way. No man enjoys rejection, but they do understand that women are human, and shouldn’t be treated like an object whose body and will can be forced into whatever position you like. No means no. You don’t have to like it, but you do have to accept it.

I’ve heard this approach before, in an entirely different context. I’ve heard this refrain of “I hear your ‘no,’ but I refuse to accept it, and I even feel proud of my persistence. So I’m going to keep chipping away at you with everything I’ve got in hopes that you’ll give in and let me have what I think I’m entitled to.”

Here’s what I hear:

“All the other churches go along with this stuff, so why won’t you? What’s wrong with you? Why are you so uptight?”

“Of course I love you, Catholicism! That’s why I want to see you change.”

“No one can possibly love you, you Catholic Church, if you keep on acting this way. I’m the only one who could put up with you, and you better give in, or I’ll leave, too.”

It’s the language of Catholic dissenters — including myself, at times, to my shame. It’s the language of people who have heard her say “no” very clearly — “no” to contraception, “no” to women priests, “no” to gay sex. But they love her, they say, so they just keep chipping away, threatening, negging, pressuring and wheedling, priding themselves on their persistence in trying to wear her defenses down, to turn her “no” into a “yes.”

When we hear pressure and threats from a would-be rapist who clearly despises women as much as he craves their companionship, it’s easy to see these tactics for what they are: Abuse. An abuser allows himself to speak this way because he doesn’t really recognize the humanity of his victim. He sees her primarily as something that could potentially deliver what he wants, if only she would know her place and cooperate with his demands. He sees her primarily as a thing, and not as a person.

I am here to tell you that the Catholic Church is a person. It is the Body of Christ. And the Body of Christ has a right to her bodily autonomy. She is not here to assume whatever position will satisfy our current appetites, whether they’re intellectual or spiritual or psychological or social. The Church is Someone, not something, and she has the right to say “no.”

Now let me make some disclaimers, because I know I’ve said something tough to hear.

When I talk about people pressuring the Church to change, I’m not talking about people who are sincerely struggling, even angrily struggling, bitterly struggling, fearfully struggling with some of the hard teachings of the faith. Healthy relationships have struggles. I struggle, sometimes angrily or bitterly or fearfully, with some fundamental teachings of the Church, just as my own beloved husband almost certainly struggles with some of the things that make me fundamentally me. It’s not always easy being in love. So I’m not saying that struggling with doctrine is abuse. Struggle is normal, and struggling with the Church does not make us abusers.

And more importantly, I’m not saying that the Church is not in need of change. God knows it is badly in need. Sometimes there are things about your beloved that ought to change, and insisting on that change sometimes truly is an act of love. Many loving spouses will eventually find occasion to hold their beloved to account for intolerable behaviors which must be changed if the marriage can survive; and so it it is with faithful Catholics and the Church. Wanting to reform what is wrong in the Church does not make us abusers.

Does the Church need reform? Oh literally sweet Jesus, yes. The hierarchy and much of its pastoral authority is deformed almost beyond recognition. They don’t even seem to realize that they have lost our trust and need to work to regain it. There are abusers in power. There are structures in place that make it impossible to hold abusers and their enablers to account. There are too many ways to keep horrible secrets; too many places for abusers to hide. God’s word is used to shout down victims and their defenders and to amplify hypocrites, opportunists, and predators. This is the state of the Church today. These are the things that must, please God, change.

But these grotesqueries, these deformations, are not who the Church herself is. They are like parasites living off the Body of Christ. They fight like mad to preserve their host, not because they love her, but because they need their daily feeds. They must be scoured away so that the body of Christ can be pure again. I don’t know how, but I see it must be done.

But there is change, and there is change. If we want to preserve our loving relationship with the Body of Christ and not unwittingly fall into patterns of abuse against her, we must learn to make the distinction between who the Church is, and what her members and her representatives do — what they have done, in fact, to her. The latter must often be changed; the former is inviolable.

We can learn who the Church is by what she teaches, what she says. And sometimes, what she says is “no.” This is inviolable. She is inviolable.

Lately, we have perhaps become used to thinking of the Church as the abuser. So many people have been maligned, mistreated, guilted, shamed, or literally raped by those who call themselves the Church. But we must see clearly. Those who abuse and enable abuse in the name of Christ are not the Church; they are to the Church as a pimp is to a sex slave. They will defend her, not because they love her, but because she brings them power and money. They are the ones who must repent and reform, not her. She is the victim. She is not the one who needs to change. The Church is a person, and she has the right to say “no,” both to those who abuse her outright, and to those who want to blame her for being abused.

We will not purify the Body of Christ by attacking what and who she is, and that includes what she says. No means no. Like anyone whose demands have been rejected, we don’t have to like it, but we do have to accept it, especially if we say you love the Church. She is someone, not something. When she says “no,” she means “no.”

 

Image: detail of photo by Stefano Merli via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Does Francis know he sounds like an abuser?

Shall I tell you the most charitable, least rash explanation I can muster for Pope Francis’ recent words and behavior? It’s that he’s surrounded himself with yes men who are shielding him from understanding the depth and breadth of institutional sex abuse and its cover-up in the Church.

He’s appointed, or left in office, no one but men who tell him that the world is chock full of false accusations, that the whole scandal thing is overblown, that it’s all in our past — oh, and that right now would be a good time to talk about litter in the ocean. The few who will tell him the truth, like Cardinal O’Malley, are so outnumbered that even their dire warnings can be dismissed as local problems.

That’s the charitable answer, and it’s not great. If he’s in a bubble that protects him from seeing the true state of the Church, it’s a comfortable bubble of his own making. The servant of the servants of God is not supposed to be in a bubble.

But the other explanation is worse. Here it is:

I have a number of friends who have escaped abusive marriages. They tell me that Pope Francis is sounding more and more like the men who abused them. He’s sounding like the men who hid that abuse from the world, who taught their victims to blame themselves, who used spiritual pressure to persuade them and their families that it would actually be wrong, sinful, to defend themselves.

Just listen to him. After responding to a question about Vigano’s very serious accusations, he said point blank, “I will not say a single word on this.” Several of the faithful speculated that he may have had this or that logistical reason for putting off responding to that specific question; fine. But for the rest of the week and more, he kept up an unmistakable theme of calling for silence, equating silence with holiness, and painting himself as a Christlike victim in his silence. Then he says it’s “ugly” to accuse others of sinning.Then he suggests that healing and reconciliation will only come if we take a hard look at our own flaws.

These statements are all true. They all reflect Christian thought. They would be reasonable at any other time in recent history. But coming right in the middle of our ongoing agony, they land as heavily as a fist on a bruise.

To the victims of the Church, and to those who love them, it sounds like he is saying, “Who do you think you are? I don’t have to explain myself to you. You’re the guilty one. You brought this on yourself. If you want to be loved, then know your place. I’m the victim, here, not you. If you know what’s good for you, keep your mouth shut.”

This is how abusers talk. They’re not content with power; they have to keep their victims doubting and blaming themselves constantly, so they don’t become a threat. Whether Francis knows it or not, this is how he sounds.

I know that we hear what gets reported, which isn’t necessarily everything he says. I know that the pope isn’t required to say everything we want him to say. I know that whatever is going on in our own diocese or our own country isn’t the whole of what goes on in the Church. I know that there are eternal truths that need to be told no matter what is going on in the current moment.

But even keeping all these things in mind, it beggars the imagination why the pope keeps talking the way he does. It’s clear he intends to keep on talking, despite his exhortations to be silent. This is what he chooses to say. The very best possible explanation is that his context is pure bubble, and he simply doesn’t realize that much of the Catholic world is transfixed with horror over the sins of the clergy. He simply isn’t aware that, with his words and with his silence, he’s turning his back on so many suffering priests and bishops, including my own, who tell their flock that they have not been abandoned — only to hear their spiritual father override their efforts with a huge, unmistakable message of “NOBODY CARES.”

Maybe he simply doesn’t realize that his cozy little aphorisms are coming off as a passive aggressive threat, as chilling as an abuser who smiles warmly at the world while secretly showing an open blade to the victim who stands faithfully at his side.

I do remember his gentleness, his compassion, his direct and sincere kindness in the past. I don’t believe that was false. You all know I’m not a reflexive Francis-hater. I don’t have any ideological reason to want to bring him down. I have defended him as long as I could, up until the Chile debacle.

And so I am working as hard as I can not to assume the worst, not to believe that this man who promised so much fresh air is really so intent on slamming doors shut before we find out even worse things hidden inside. But he is not making it easy. I am not saying he is an abuser. But he sounds like one.

Coming up: radio spot, FB live chat, and conference in Burlington, VT

Busy busy! Tomorrow at 1:30 eastern, I’ll be on America This Week (Sirius XM Catholic Channel) talking with Fr. Paddy Gilger, Fr. Eric Sundrup and America Senior Editor J.D. Long-Garcia about my July cover article, How the church can help (or hurt) women in abusive marriages.

What priests say to women in abusive relationships can be life-changing.

Many women in abusive marriages struggle to share their experiences with anyone. Women of faith turn to priests who often do not know how to advise them. What options are left for women in these situations? How can the church be more helpful?

In this week’s Behind the Story, Senior Editor J.D. Long-García speaks with Simcha Fisher, author of “How the church can help (or hurt) women in abusive marriages,” from our July 9th issue. They’ll be happy to address your questions during the conversation. Please comment below, send us a Direct Message or if you’d rather remain anonymous, please email behindthestory@americamedia.org.

No one wants to admit they are in an abusive marriage, but there are options available for those who are ready.

Thursday at 12:30 eastern, I’ll be on Facebook Live to discuss the topic again, and you can participate in this chat by commenting on this Facebook thread or emailing behindthestory@americamedia.org. You can click on the link to get a reminder for the live chat.

 

Finally, I’ll be at the Year of the Family Conference in Burlington, VT, on August 25. I’ll be giving the afternoon keynote address: The Family as Icon, and also an interactive breakout session: Supporting couples who use NFP: How to help, and what to avoid. The breakout session is intended for those directly involved in teaching and supporting the use of NFP. There are ten breakout sessions, and attendees may choose two. Register here ($30).

My kids have been busy, too. Here is what they did yesterday. My only contribution was to say, “No, you may not use caramel sauce and red food coloring for blood.”

How the Church can help (or hurt) women in abusive marriages

When she went looking for help from the church, she was still susceptible to the idea that everything was her fault. One priest said it was a shame she was suffering, but all she could do was offer it up. Another told her she had a demon in her.

But a third priest listened to her story . . .

Read the my latest for America Magazine.

This is one of the most important pieces I’ve ever written, and I’m very grateful to the courageous and honest women who shared their stories with me.

Photo by George Hodan (Creative Commons)

Is it technically abuse? Does it really matter?

A child who is told he is stupid will always believe he is stupid. A child who is told she’s a failure will always believe she’s a failure. When these insults and hostility come from the very heart of the family, they take root.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Image by George Hodan (Creative Commons)

Guest post: I was the perfect Catholic wife. It didn’t fix my abusive marriage.

[ADMIN: Today’s post is by a friend who wants to remain anonymous. I am grateful to her and to so many survivors of abuse who want to help protect others who are suffering and who feel so alone.]

“The first affairs were only about sex,” he said. “It was the last one, where he thought he was in love, that really caused him trouble.”
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The man who said these words to me had been a confidant of my late husband. I had reached out to a number of his friends after my husband’s death to better understand what had happened to us, but I was stonewalled, and on this day I didn’t expect to learn what I did. I knew there was one affair, although I was still reeling from finding the hotel receipts as I tended his affairs (pardon the pun). He had admitted that his relationship with a coworker was “too close,” but denied, for years, repeatedly, that any sex had happened.
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Things I found in my house indicated otherwise. This man I married in a Catholic Church 25 years earlier, who told me early in our marriage that he simply could not tolerate it if I ever broke our vows, who went to Mass and presented himself publicly as a good Catholic husband and father, was a serial adulterer.
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An online support group for victims of adultery proposes that all adultery is abuse, because it requires lies, diversion of time, energy, funds, and devotion, and it exposes innocent spouses to potentially deadly diseases without their knowledge. In reading the shared stories, I saw wide patterns of abuse – ones that were more familiar to me than I had previously been brave enough to admit to myself.
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I was a Catholic wife, you see – a good one, one with steely determination to stay married no matter what. I never missed Mass, prayed for my husband every day . . . I was pleasant, cooperative and loving to him, supportive of his career and never demanding or critical. I started buying “How to have a good Christian marriage” books before the ink was dry on our wedding license. If there was a “How to be a good wife” article, I had read it and tried to followed it. We had been through terrible times including him moving away for an extended time, but I thought we had weathered the storm. It wasn’t until I admitted to myself – in the surreal safety of new circumstances – that I had suffered abuse for years.
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I am safe because I am writing anonymously and because my abusive marriage is unequivocally over, but I remember what life was like before. I was never physically beaten, although he said I deserved it. He told me that he (who was trained in hand to hand combat) could snap my neck in a second. The fact that he was holding my head in a wrestling lock at the time, and I saw nothing odd in that interaction, is eerily telling of how accustomed to abuse I was. There was rage and verbal abuse, rage driving, manipulation, and threats to abandon or divorce me. When I learned of the serial adultery, I had to reprocess twenty-five years of memories, realizing I was being lied to and betrayed the whole time.
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Why write about this? Because I believe that Catholic culture creates a dangerously optimistic expectation for marriage, encouraging people to strive and not give up, as if their effort can make any marriage thrive. For many many people, that is the best advice; but some of us live (or lived) in situations where covert abuse masked the hidden truth that one of the spouses in the marriage is too disordered (by sin, mental illness, addiction or other issues) to function in a Sacramental Union. Very often the faithful spouse suffers in isolation, feeling compelled to endure more abuse to be faithful to their marriage, family, Church.
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They need to hear that they aren’t alone, that they are loved and that they need to make hard decisions based on the situation they are actually living, not based on who they hope their spouse might turn into.
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Do you have to leave, once you recognize that your partner is incapable of being in a Sacramental marriage? I don’t think so, but I believe you are in for the discernment task of your life. There were many reasons why I never left – some of them reasonable and some of them (namely my hope and optimism) were horribly misguided and not reality based. I go from being really proud of myself for doing exactly what I vowed to do (literally until death did us part) to being very angry with myself for not being brave enough to see what was right in front of me.
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In some ways my now adult children benefitted from an intact family, but in other ways, my late husband’s negative influence on their adult personalities is much worse than I feared it might be.
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What can the Church do to help people in this situation?
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–Priests and deacons need to look for signs of adultery, abuse, mental illness and addictions when people come for counseling. A number of them missed huge red flags in our case.
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–Folks with long, loving marriages could be humbly thankful, rather than prideful, almost shaming other people who you assume “give up so easily.” You might be surprised how much it hurts the widowed and abandoned to hear bragging about how long you have been married.
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–Create safe places where your friends can share confidences about adultery. There is a lot of victim-blaming. Although forgiveness is a good goal, pressuring people to offer it up immediately allows adulterers to avoid the natural immediate consequences of their sin, and it doesn’t help real healing; and it burdens the victim more than it heals the situation.
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–If you have any influence at all in media, Catholic or otherwise, please (and I beg you from the deepest depths of my broken heart) never ever again publish anything akin to “How to Affair-Proof your Marriage.” In reality, even the very best most faithful and loving person cannot remove from their spouse the free will that God gave them. You cannot control if your spouse breaks their vows. Only they control that. Articles like these imply that we have control that we simply don’t have. I know that is frightening, and I’m sorry for that, but it’s true.
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–When people show you repeatedly who they are, believe them. The biggest long term mistake I made was believing if he fully understood how much he hurt me, then he would stop. We often think if people have the right data, they will make the right decisions. I wrote him letter after letter after letter, begging him to treat me with a baseline level of decency that he would not violate, and he simply refused.
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So I gave my whole heart to a man who abused me, lied, cheated and manipulated me, and then he died and left me to finish raising our children.
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Did I despair? Am I mad at God and resent the years I gave? No. God walked with me and guided me and helped me heal, and I have chosen to live the best life I can. In the depths, I felt great reassurance that God would bless my faithfulness. I remember saying “I wonder if God will restore my marriage or I will live as a contented single or if I will find love again.” Oddly enough, I actually received all three things (with the caveat that my “restored” marriage was lived without all the details I later learned, so it was not properly informed).
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How could I ever trust again? I decided that a willingness to trust was not something I would let my abusive husband take from me.
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For the suffering, please know that God hasn’t abandoned you, but ask Him His will and try to not be afraid of His answer. He might tell you to flee.
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Protect yourself. Protect your children. I know the horror of realizing the one you trusted the very most is your greatest danger. Be strong even when you live awful moments when people blame you. Know that what you lived scares them, because they want to feel immune from it, and distancing themselves from you helps that process. Know your Father in Heaven treasures you and you can still be a good Catholic despite life not turning out as you had hoped.

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ADMIN NOTE: Here are some resources that might be helpful to you if you think you may be in an abusive marriage.  Not all abuse is physical. Please do not assume it’s “not really abuse” if it’s not physical.
When I Call For Help: A Pastoral Response To Domestic Violence Against Women. An overview from the USCCB on the Church’s teaching about abuse within marriage, with some resources for what to do next.

What is domestic violence?

Catholic role models who escaped abusive marriages: Rose Hawthorne, founder of the hospice movement; Catherine Doherty, founder of Madonna House; St. Margaret of Cortona.

“Has he really changed?” (source unknown)

Image at top by Crosa via Flickr (Creative Commons)

 

Married to an angry man: An open letter to the Synod Fathers (GUEST POST)

This is a guest post written by the friend of a friend. The writer goes by Monica More, which is a pseudonym. I have bolded some passages for emphasis. Priests, especially, please take heed.

 

sad woman

 

Dear Synod Fathers,

 

Thank you for your prayerful consideration of how the Church can offer better pastoral care to a world in which so many families are broken, and in which so many have lost sight of the true nature of marriage. I wish to offer my voice as a reminder of why you are here, and plead for you to show the faithful the care of the Father that we so desperately need.

 

I am not asking you to change one iota of Church teaching. Marriage as reflection of Christ’s love for the Church, marriage and family as an echo of Trinitarian love, family as a domestic church and first school of sanctity – it is all beautiful to contemplate, and it shall not be taken away from anyone.

 

And yet, I want you to know that, even for those who fully believe, these images can seem a cruel illusion of an oasis. Even though we strive with all our feeble strength to reach it, we still have not been able to grab hold of any soothing water from the sacrament of marriage.

 

Marriage in my experience has been a cross, and nothing but a cross. It is a white martyrdom that stretches past a terrifying long horizon of time. Yes, marriage requires all of us to lay down our lives for our spouses and our children. But when one spouse won’t do that, when one spouse never says “please” or “thank you” or “sorry” as the Holy Father has exhorted, then there is never any joy of resurrection at the end of the Passion.

 

When I married my husband, I was full of joy and hope because I believed the Church’s teachings about marriage, and my husband professed them too. He was chivalrous and faith-filled and a true friend when we courted. But as soon as we were married, all thoughtfulness and self-giving from him ceased, and a burning anger took hold instead.

 

Bewildered, I looked for answers in spiritual direction and Catholic books. Time after time priests turned me down for spiritual direction, saying they were too busy or wouldn’t meet with a woman, so go to the confessional or counselling instead. In the confessional I was told go to counselling. But my husband did not want to go to counselling—it was too hard to make the time with us both working, and it was so expensive we could never afford to attend more than a few sessions. Those few times we went to a Catholic counselor did not change anything.

 

The Catholic books told me to love more, to sacrifice more, to give him affection and build him up with words. All these things I tried to do, but his temper kept burning a hole in my heart and in the heart of our children. I tried to tell him time and again how his words were hurting us, but he ignored me or simply excused himself as “only human” or accused me of thinking I was perfect to shut me down. I asked what he wanted me to change and he said “nothing.”

 

Over time “love” came to mean praying for his conversion and rejecting hate or revenge, continuing to sacrifice my own desires for him and our children. But it could not possibly encompass respect or admiration or enjoying his company, and certainly not feeling affection. I do not withhold my body from him but every intimate touch is a crucifixion for me.

 

I have come to the point where I find only harsh measures get his attention and quiet the rage, at least temporarily. A threat to leave; a slap on the face. I feel horrible doing these things but at least they buy a little space of peace, and the children thank me for “calming” him.

 

I think if we had aggressively treated the cancer of his rage when it was still “Stage 1” it would not have gotten to this point. But no one recommended that. They only recommended a healthy diet of kindness and sacrifice and all would be well. No one offered affordable “healthcare” for our souls in case that didn’t work. Instead it has festered into Stage 4, and threatens to spread to the souls of our children as well.

 

We have also been failed by the preaching and teaching from our parish priests. My husband does listen; he does not want to go to Hell. They say pornography is a grave sin and he does go to Confession when he falls into that temptation. They say you must attend Mass every Sunday and he goes to Confession when from time to time he decides he’s angry at God and stays away a few weeks. They say homosexual activity is a sin and he cut off his friendship with his childhood best friend after he “came out of the closet.” They say abortion is a sin and he votes Republican.

 

But I have never heard one priest preach against temper. I have never heard one reproach from the pulpit for fathers who would curse at or in front of their children. I have never heard one say in Sunday homily, “Men, how are you laying down your life for your wife and children? If you can’t answer that, you are sinning and failing as a father.” Or speak likewise to the women. I have never heard one put urgency behind the words of Pope Francis: spouses must say “please” and “thank you” and “I’m sorry” or you are sinning against the gift of marriage, just as surely as when you look at porn.

 

I will never leave the Church, I will never seek succor in another man. The Eucharist is my strength and my life to continue on with this great cross on my shoulders. I can’t even imagine how those who do not have recourse to the Blessed Sacrament can walk along this path. But to the pastors I ask you please, be Simon the Cyrenian for me and help me carry this a while. Hold my hand and help me get over that terrifying horizon, whatever lies beyond. Be John taking me and my children under your care. Exhort my husband again and again to “feed my lambs.” I have the flesh and blood of Christ—please be His voice and hands.

 

I know I am not alone in this. Please, don’t forget to treat your many sick sheep in the fold.

 

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Note: I have closed comments on this post. It was only up for a few minutes before people started criticizing this woman for her behavior. Please pray for her family instead of telling her what to do.