Jonathan Ryan/Weyer still Pastoral Associate of Evanglization at Lafayette parish

This article is the third in a series of investigative reports covering allegations of spiritual and sexual abuse by Jonathan Ryan, a.k.a. Jonathan Weyer, co-founder of Sick Pilgrim. Part I is here; Part II is here.  This series is a collaborative effort by Simcha and Damien Fisher.

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After revelations that Sick Pilgrim co-founder Jonathan Ryan has been accused of committing a series of exploitative and spiritually abusive acts against several women, St. Alphonsis Liguori Church in Zionsville, Indiana, which employs him as Associate Pastor of Evangelization Pastoral Associate of Evangelization has not responded to inquiries about his status at the parish. The Diocese of Lafayette and the Bishop’s office have also not responded to inquiries. Ryan’s name was removed from the parish website on Monday.

Donna Provencher, who recently revealed her allegations of harrowing spiritual abuse and sexual exploitation at the hands of Ryan, said on Monday afternoon that she sent emails to the HR department of the Diocese of Lafayette, but they declined to give her any information about whether Ryan will be dismissed.

“The diocese called me today and they informed me he is being investigated but still employed there,” Provencher said.

She says the HR spokesman told her there will be no way of victims or the public getting answers about his employment because “we won’t be allowed to tell you.” Provencher says the HR spokesman said that Monday morning was “the first she was hearing of [the situation].”

“I’m horrified,” said Provencher.
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“Remember that time when [the Catholic Church] buried a sex abuse crisis and shuffled perps around from diocese to diocese and we all realized that was a terrible idea and they made a whole movie about it? Maybe let’s not do that again.”
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“I’ve heard from two women now who he met in the very early days of the group who had similar experiences [of sexual and spiritual exploitation]. It’s possible it was going on at this rate all along.” The Sick Pilgrim blog was launched in 2015.
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Griffith says she believes his behavior has been escalating, “becoming sloppier and more erratic.”
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Griffith has rediscovered a post Ryan wrote for Sick Pilgrim in February of 2016, titled “Dark Devotional: The Devil Inside.” In it, Ryan says that, when he was younger, he deliberately cultivated a “man of God” persona to become more attractive to girls.

“Because, let’s face it, there is nothing more erotic to Christian girls than a guy who loves Jesus. I spoke in tongues and used my tongue,” Ryan wrote.

Ryan, who sometimes uses the name “Jonathan Weyer,” continues:

“When I reached my twenties, my thirst for spiritual recognition and power led me to becoming a Presbyterian minister (when, in my heart, I just wanted to be a history professor and writer). That was a disastrous decision that eventually blew my life apart. I got divorced and started my life over again at 41 years old. All because of choices I started making in high school: to value my reputation, to grab for power and to allow a deep-seated spiritual arrogance to rule me. I failed all three tests because I failed to remember one simple thing: when religion offers power, control and manipulation, it’s always a very, very bad thing.”

Griffith says she rolled her eyes at the time, thinking he was “trying to be some kind of sexy bad boy,” but now she considers this essay a strong clue about why he was removed from ministry. The behavior he describes as in his past is precisely the behavior he is accused of as recently as Friday.
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Provencher notes that, at the bottom of Ryan’s post is a link to the Rolling Stones song “Sympathy for the Devil.””He was actually outing himself while pretending to be repentant,
Provencher said, “and thumbing his nose at everyone while he did it.”
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Near the top of the website for the Diocese of Lafayette is this message:

“The Diocese of Lafayette and the Office of Safe Environment are pleased to announce that we have been notified by the auditing firm appointed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that we are again in full compliance with all data requirements for the 2015-2016 charter audit period.  The Office of Safe Environment has met all requirements since the inception of the Safe Environment Program and will continue to carry out all that is needed in order to protect our youth throughout the Diocese.”

Ryan was responsible for hiring and overseeing the St. Alphonsis Liguori youth ministry coordinator, according to an ad posted August 29, 2017.

Provencher says the Zionsville local newspaper has contacted her about her involvement in the story, and she hopes this will encourage the church to dismiss Ryan promptly.

 

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Image: Jonathan Ryan, detail of photo by Michelle Sterling, used with permission
 EDIT November 21, 12:34 a.m.: Ryan’s title at Alphonsis Liguori is Associate Pastor of Evangelization, and not Pastoral Associate of Evangelization.

Is Vatican II to blame for the sex abuse scandal?

The Catholic Herald UK reports

Mgr Peter Smith, former chancellor of Glasgow archdiocese, said the Church accepted conventional wisdom of the 1970s that it was “better to repair the [abuser], to fix them or to redeem them”, than punish them. In that era priests accused of abuse could be sent for therapy rather than face criminal charges.

The paper is reporting Mgr Smith’s words with the strong insinuation that Vatican II is to blame for the scandal. I’m not sure if that’s what he really meant, or if his comments might be taken out of context. But I have most certainly heard other Catholics say outright that we can pin the sex abuse scandal on the laxness, the sloppiness, and the psychological sentimentality of the 70’s and Vatican II’s implementation. Vatican II, at least the way it played out in many places, was all about letting go of mean old rules and regulations, and doing what felt good, they argue. Of course we had abusers.

But they are forgetting one thing: Almost 70% of the abusive priests were ordained before 1970. They weren’t formed in feel-good Vatican II seminaries. These were old school guys. They are the ones who were molesting kids, and their world was the world that allowed it to happen.

The sex abuse scandal has three components:

1. Priests abusing kids;
2. The Church knowing about it, and letting it continue; and
3. Various people either not believing kids or parents who reported abuse, or being too in awe of priests to do anything about it, or blaming the kids for the abuse.

This third one has absolutely zero to do with any touchy-feely spirit of Vatican II, and everything to do with what Vatican II set out to change in the Church, because it needed changing.

Priests did not suddenly begin to abuse kids in the early 70’s (although the reports of alleged abuse peaked then; which is not to say that there was necessarily more abuse, but only that more people reported it). Many of the victims who came forward to report childhood abuse, after the Boston Globe‘s work started to gather steam, were children in the 1950’s. At that time, it was unthinkable to criticize a priest, unthinkable to believe that Father could do wrong, unthinkable to go over a priest’s head. There simply wasn’t any precedent for doing such a thing, other than, like, Martin Luther.

Sex abuse by clergy wasn’t a problem of loosey-goosey, post-sexual-revolutionary perverts infiltrating an institution that had heretofore been utterly chaste and holy. This was a problem of a horrible marriage between two deadly trends in the Church and in the country as a whole: the nascent sexual perversions that pervaded 1950’s American culture, and the institutional perverted understanding of authority and respect.

Where do you suppose the sexual revolution came from? Out of nowhere? It never could have happened if things weren’t already rotten underground; and it was just as true in the Church as it was everywhere else in the country. It’s a lie that things were wholesome and pure in the 50’s. But that grotesque artifice of happy, shiny exteriors worked exceedingly well together with the “Father knows best,” mentality. If Doris Day had to smile and have perfect hair no matter what, good Catholic families had to be respectful and obedient to their pastor no matter what. There was no room for going off script, even when lives were at stake.

Children who were molested were too afraid to speak up, because it was Father.
Parents who knew their kids were being molested were too afraid to speak up, because it was Father.
Parents who reported abuse were not believed, because it was Father.
Kids were rightly afraid that no one would believe them. Parents were afraid that their reputations would be ruined. Parishes were afraid that their reputations would be ruined. Bishops were afraid that their reputations would be ruined. And so this horrible carapace of silence was formed to cover up and cover up and cover up, shift the blame, shift the responsibility, and never look at the person at the heart of the problem.

And yes, the errors of the 70’s perpetuated the problem. It is very true that in the 70’s, the 80’s, and beyond, the Church and the rest of the country believed that one could simply see a therapist, attend a few classes, and not be a real danger to kids anymore. That was horrible. But it was no worse than the attitude it replaced, which was that Such Things Never Happened, and if they did, we Simply Don’t Talk About Them.

Of course, dreadful to say, the abuse scandal almost certainly goes back further than the 1950’s — centuries further — but those victims aren’t alive to give their testimony. But at very least, we can put to rest the idea that this hideous stain on our history came about by means of the Vatican II-style “Church of Nice.”

It’s always tempting, when we see gross behavior, to blame it on those who speak of mercy, of forgiveness, of healing. It’s tempting to think, “If we just clamped down and got tough, like we did back in the old days when everyone wore hats, then we’d have none of this nonsense!”

But the real lesson here isn’t that mercy is an error. The real lesson is that mercy and forgiveness can be abused just like innocence can be abused, and that evil is endlessly adaptable. It will grab hold of whatever weakness, foolishness, and wickedness is popular in any age, and it will put it in the service of sin.

Hell is overjoyed when we learn all the wrong lessons from suffering. Violation of innocents was horrible enough. Let’s not compound the outrage by trying to root true mercy, true forgiveness, and true compassion out of the heart of our Church.

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Photo by Milliped (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Living in a panic room: Virtuous pedophiles?

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“Eternally hunkered down in a panic room.” That’s how one psychologist describes  the interior lives of people who are sexually attracted to prepubescent children.

Who could pity a pedophile? Of all the crimes in the world, child abuse rightly seem unforgivable.  “It would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” That’s what Christ said about people who hurt little children.

But that’s how we feel about people who actually commit these unspeakable crimes. What about people who, through great effort, don’t?

Say you feel sexually attracted to children. You don’t want to feel that way, but you do, and you have felt that way your whole life. You’ve never acted on your attraction, but you’re afraid you might. What are you supposed to do? How are you supposed to live your life?

I need to speak to a therapist because I don’t think I can get through this on my own. But if I talk to a therapist he could report me, because I have to talk about my attraction to young girls. I don’t know whether he would or not and don’t even know how to go about getting more information. Even the friendships I have are in danger of falling apart because I can’t just keep saying ‘I’m fine’ and I can’t talk to anyone about my problem. I think about suicide a lot.

This quote comes from a website I came across the other day. It’s called Virtuous Pedophiles,  and its goal is not to normalize pedophilia but to “provide peer support and information about available resources to help pedophiles lead happy, productive lives.” They say,  “Our highest priority is to help pedophiles never abuse children.”

From what I can see, the approach is in keeping with how the Church understands temptation and sin: there is a difference between being tempted to do something, and actually doing it. People who are tempted are not sinners simply because they are tempted — but they do need help. It is possible that our extreme and fitting repugnance of crimes against children is actually making it harder for pedophiles to avoid committing these crimes, because there is no structure in place to help pedophiles who have never acted on their urges. People are, in effect, punished for admitting that they need help.

A few years ago, the American Psychological Association printed a new version of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and for the first time, it classified pedophilia as a “sexual orientation.” The nation responded with horror, and the APA quickly retracted what it called an “error.” In a statement, the APA said:

“Sexual orientation” is not a term used in the diagnostic criteria for pedophilic disorder and its use in the DSM-5 text discussion is an error and should read “sexual interest.” In fact, APA considers pedophilic disorder a “paraphilia,” not a “sexual orientation.” This error will be corrected in the electronic version of DSM-5 and the next printing of the manual.

APA stands firmly behind efforts to criminally prosecute those who sexually abuse and exploit children and adolescents. We also support continued efforts to develop treatments for those with pedophilic disorder with the goal of preventing future acts of abuse.

In other words, pedophilic disorder means that you are attracted to children, not that you do abuse children. If you have this disorder, you should be able to speak about it with a therapist, to help you avoid acting on your involuntary attraction. It is neither a sin nor a crime to be tempted, but it is treated as both.

It is possible that the APA briefly used the term “sexual orientation” because they were attempting to classify non-abusive pedophiles in such a way that they could more easily speak to their therapists about their urges without triggering mandatory reporting.

I am not sure if this was the reasoning behind the choice to say “sexual orientation” (and Virtuous Pedophiles does use the term “orientation” in its site, which is disturbing).  There is most certainly a push, in some quarters, to normalize the sexual abuse of children, and to call pedophilia just one more shade in the rainbow. Goodness knows that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, as well as in nearly every other organization that comes into regular contact with children, has been criminally slow to recognize and crack down on abusers and the structure that enabled them, even while condemning the sin itself; and some Catholics are still speaking as if the sex abuse crisis was some overblown, media-created hit job instead of the deeply scandalous tragedy it was and continues to be.

But as it is, people who are attracted to children are told that they cannot get treatment unless they’ve actually already preyed on a child! Part of the reason for this dearth of preventative treatment is, according to the NYT, because all the studies about pedophila have been done on pedophiles who have succumbed to temptation.Many psychiatrists believe that pedophilia has a neurological origin; but people who feel an attraction to children but do not act on it are not included in studies because they are afraid of being charged with a crime they have not yet committed — and so the information about pedophiles is all information about criminals, whose brains, psyches, behavioral patterns, and family histories may be very different from people who successfully resist temptation. It’s a vicious cycle.

I believe very strongly that society shouldn’t do anything that even suggests that attraction to children is within the normal range of sexual experience, and I believe that our laws should prevent child abusers from living and working near children. But refusing to acknowledge the existence of “virtuous pedophiles,” who are struggling against their attraction, is the wrong response.

The longer we refuse to acknowledge the existence of “virtuous pedophiles,” the less likely these suffering souls are to find effective treatment to help them remain virtuous.