Victim says Legion lied to police about her abuse

Legion falsely told police the victim didn’t want a criminal investigation;
classified criminal sexual abuse as “boundary violations”

By Damien Fisher
The Legionaries of Christ have published a list of credibly accused priests, and they claim they are open to hearing testimony from more survivors of abuse. But what happens when a victim does contact them with a complaint?  Are the allegations taken seriously? How accurate is their list? Do they tell the truth to law enforcement about allegations of criminal abuse?

Ashley (not her real name) thought she could help the Church when she made the agonizing decision to come forward in 2015 and tell authorities about the sexual abuse she suffered from a Legionaries of Christ priest as a middle schooler in the 1990s.

“I wanted to protect anyone he might still be hurting,” she said.

In September of 2015, Ashley and her attorney, Tom Brandt, met with Legion priest Fr. Peter Hopkins and another Legion priest to formally report that the Legion priest assigned to the Highlands, a private Legion school she attended in the Dallas area, repeatedly groomed and molested her in the confessional. The abuse she suffered, as she described it, rises to the level of a criminal offense. But when the diocese released its list of credibly accused abusers last year, Ashley’s abuser wasn’t on it, and he wasn’t on the list the Legion published in December.

Both the Legion officials we spoke to and the Dallas officials we contacted called the criminal abuse “boundary violations.”

Dallas Diocesan Chancellor Mary Edlund, who used that phrase in a letter to Child Protective Services, was not at the meeting. “The diocese refused to send a representative to our meeting,” Ashley said.  

Ashley thought coming forward would protect other young girls. She thought that reporting her abuse would alarm the Church, pushing them to investigate further, root out corruption, and reform the Legion. She expected someone to pursue her abuser.

“I was an optimist,” she said. 

When Ashley saw the records, she realized the Legion apparently lied to police about her case, and about her alleged abuser. 

“They really are not reformed,” she said.

Ashley agreed to tell us her story on the condition of anonymity. The alleged abuser has yet to be criminally charged, and so we are withholding his identity at this time. He has not responded to our requests for an interview. According to the information we have obtained, he is no longer a priest. He is the subject of an active police investigation, as recently as last month. 

Ashley went through years of self-doubt, guilt, and shame before she finally came forward. For years after her abuse, she didn’t understand that what she had endured was abuse.

“I didn’t realize there was a crime committed,” she said.

“If your mom asks what you are doing in here, tell her ‘spiritual direction,” the priest said.

The priest spent months grooming her when she was a middle school student at the Highlands, mostly in the confessional. The assaults took place in 1993 or 1994, around the time Ashley was 12 to 13 years old, according to the statement she gave to the Legion, to the Dallas Diocese, and eventually to police. The priest was a family relation of school officials, and he celebrated mass and heard the confessions of the students, according to her statement. The Highlands School in Irving is a private pre-K through grade 12 school that is part of the Regnum Christi network of schools. Regnum Christi is the lay apostolate of the Legion. 

Ashley was going to confession every two to four weeks during this time, usually after school. After one confession, she went around the confessional to thank the priest, and that is when he first forced her to sit on his lap, she said in her statement.

“He somehow pulled me down into his lap. He did not verbally ask me if I wanted to sit in his lap, but somehow I ended up there,” she said in her statement. 

Ashley was made to feel she had a “special friendship,” with the priest who obligated her to sit in his lap after each confession. Sometimes he would stand and embrace her, and whisper things into her ear, she said. 

“At one point while embracing me, whispering and nuzzling my hair he said ‘If your mom asks what you are doing in here, tell her ‘spiritual direction,’” Ashley said in her statement. “I assumed that he was telling me the truth, that this was in fact spiritual direction.”

That spiritual direction seemed to be taking a different course during her last confession, she said in her statement.

“The last time I remember confessing to him, afterward while embracing me he pressed his body up against me. I could feel his erection touching me through his cassock,” she said in her statement. “I was very uncomfortable with this and had no frame of reference for what was happening or how to respond. So I did nothing and after several minutes he was done embracing me and I left the confessional.”

Ashley started going to a different priest for confession after that, and her alleged abuser cooled toward her in their interactions outside the confessional, she said. In one instance she tried to give him a hug when there were other people around, and he brushed her off. 

“I was hurt and couldn’t understand why his behavior was so different in public,” she said in her statement. “After that I decided that he must have decided that I wasn’t his friend anymore, and to avoid awkwardness I did not return to confession with him.”

It wasn’t until years later, when she had children of her own, that she realized what had happened, and that her alleged abuser had been grooming her and encouraging her to lie to her mother about what they were doing alone.

Legion and Archdiocese both soft pedal criminal abuse allegation 

When she was ready to tell her story in 2015, Ashley got an attorney and  informed the Dallas diocese and then the Legion that she had been abused. With her attorney she pressed these Church officials to contact police, and to contact the Child Protective Services about the priest. She wanted to see some justice done. 

“I did tell the diocese and then the Legion that a police report needed to be filed, and if they did not file one, then I would,” she said.

A report was made to the Texas Child Protective Services department by Dallas Diocesan Chancellor Mary Edlund. The letter Edlund sent provides only scant details from Ashley’s story, and Edlund downplays Ashley’s encounters with the alleged abuser.

“Although this does not appear to be something which must technically be reported to your office, I am doing so out of an abundance of caution,” Edlund wrote.

A Legion priest spoke to police October of 2015. The name of the priest making the report is redacted throughout the police report we obtained, but he is described as the “head priest” at The Highlands at the time. His account to the police is full of inaccurate statements. 

The head priest also downplayed Ashley’s story when he spoke to police. He said it was some “inappropriate” behavior by a former priest at the Highlands. He also told police that Ashley “recalled within her statement feeling what she thought was an erection.”

Legion falsely claimed victim did not want criminal investigation

Strikingly, the Legion priest making the report told police that Ashley did not want to pursue criminal charges.

“According to [the head priest] during his meeting with [Ashley] she didn’t detail that she wanted to pursue any charges,” the police report states. 

Ashley said after reading the report that she realized the priest didn’t tell the truth to police about her meeting with the Legion. When she reported the abuse to Legion priests, she told them she did want a legal investigation pursued, but indicated to them she was not interested in pursuing a lawsuit against the Church.

“I stated in the meeting with Tom Brandt and the Legionaries that my intent in bringing this forward was justice, accountability, and protection of future victims, and that to that end I wanted to see that things were properly reported on the civil and ecclesiastical side, as well as to know that I had done what I could to prevent future victims at his hands,” she said during follow up questions we asked her.

At no time did she state to Legion officials that she did not want to pursue criminal charges, she said. She told them she wanted an investigation. We have made several attempts to speak to her then-attorney, but he has so far declined our requests for comment.

Legion falsely claims there were no other allegations against priest

Further, during the October 2015 police report the unnamed Legion priest made to police, he told the investigators that there were no other allegations against the alleged abuser. 

“I asked if there were any other allegations against [the alleged abuser], and [the head priest] stated that no other complaints or reports had been made against [the alleged abuser]” the police report states.

Ashley said that’s not true. She said that the Legion priests she met with, along with her attorney, also claimed that she was the only person to claim abuse at the hands of her alleged abuser. She said she knows now of at least one former Highlands student who had been abused.

“That’s what I thought was so crazy,” she said. “I don’t remember their exact words, but they definitely said something to the effect that this is the first that we’ve heard of him having issues. I knew that wasn’t true.”

We contacted Legion spokeswoman Gail Gore last year, and she said that Ashley’s case is one of a “boundary violation” and not sexual abuse. Gore has not responded to our recent request to discuss the specifics of this case, including questions about what the Legion told police. 

Not on any list

Ashley’s alleged abuser is nowhere to be found either on the Dallas list of credibly accused priests, or on the Legion list, because he is considered to have committed a “boundary violation.” According to the Legion’s own code of conduct, put out in 2019, a boundary violation is “an infraction of the Code of Conduct that is significant, but does not rise to the level of sexual abuse of a minor or sexual misconduct with an adult.” 

After she made her report, Ashley never heard from investigators with the police or the CPS as she expected. Instead, a representative with Praesidium contacted her. Praesidium is the outside firm that the Legion hired to conduct a child safety audit and to help develop its code of conduct. 

The Legion, which was founded by notorious sexual predator Fr. Marciel Maciel, claims that there are only four credibly accused priests or brothers in all of North America, following their own in-house investigation. However, the order claimed in December when it released the investigative report that there may be more information about “boundary violations” made public at some point in the future.

“In November 2018 we also asked Praesidium to conduct a full review of all our territorial files, this should be finalized soon. Should new information arise we will update the list accordingly. The list does not reflect unsubstantiated claims, open investigations or boundary violations. We are in the process of reviewing our policy on when and how we communicate about boundary violations,” it said in a statement.

After Ashley came forward, her report apparently hit a dead end. She did eventually get a letter from Fr. John Connor, then the Legion’s territorial director for North America, in May of 2016, six months after the police report. He apologized to her for the “boundary violation.” Connor’s letter indicates the Legion took it upon itself to see an “investigation” was done into her allegation. The Legion apparently concluded that the appropriate response to their investigation was an apology, and no more, because what had happened to Ashley wasn’t technically abuse.

“As you know, the Legion asked the safe environment firm Praesidium to investigate. They found what you said very compelling. They concluded that it was clearly a very sad violation of boundaries, totally unbecoming of a priest,” Connor wrote. 

That would have been the end of it, until May of last year.

Raid on Dallas diocese brings Ashley’s case back to life

Ashley’s case came alive again shortly after Dallas police raided the Dallas diocesan offices as part of an effort to uncover information police say was hidden from investigators. 

According to the Dallas Morning News: “The Dallas Police Department’s Child Exploitation Unit last year (in 2018) assigned Detective David Clark, a 20-year veteran, to the full-time job of looking into cases of sex abuse involving minors within the local diocese.

After Clark felt stonewalled by the diocese and its lawyers for months — issues he detailed in a search-warrant affidavit — police officers and FBI agents seized files from the Dallas diocese Wednesday as part of the ongoing investigation into sex abuse allegations.”

In the weeks after the Dallas raid, Ashley contacted Dallas police with her story. Soon, investigators sought her out for an interview about what had happened to her at The Highlands. The police wanted to know if she knew of other victims. She did.

“They told me they are building a case against [the alleged abuser], and they have met in person with another woman who was one grade ahead of me, but was there at the same time,” she said.

We have confirmed that police were investigating Ashley’s alleged abuser as recently as January and are looking to build a case for prosecution against him. 

Connor is no longer the North American territorial director, but is now the superior for the worldwide order. He was announced as the next superior for the Legion last month, and soon stories came to light in which Connor, as territorial director, allegedly mishandled a case of “boundary violations” involving a Legion priest, according to the Catholic News Agency.

“The Legion paid them off. I’m free to speak.”

Ashley said she throughout the course of the ordeal in reporting her abuse, she has actually met many good Legion priests. She’s also met many victims of Legion abuse, victims who are not willing or able to come forward.

“I know far too many people who have stories to tell, but they can’t tell them because they signed a non disclosure agreement because they desperately needed the money and the Legion paid them off,” she said. “I’m free to speak.”

An Italian court case alleges that victims have been paid off and told to not tell their stories, or in some cases to lie about what happened. The family of a Legion victim was reportedly offered 15,000 euros in exchange for the recanting his testimony against his abuser, according to Crux.

Though there are Legion priests she respects, Ashley knows what a Legion priest did to her, even if the Legion continues to minimize the criminal abuse she survived by calling it a “boundary violation.” Now that she has seen how the Legion seemingly covered up her abuse, she is ready to see the order die. 

“I would like to see the order suppressed,” she said. “I don’t think this is a legitimate order, but some of the vocations might be legitimate. Highlands should not be in my diocese, and I would like to see the Legion not be in my diocese and not be anywhere.”

BREAKING: Fulton Sheen beatification postponed

The beatification of Fulton Sheen has been postponed. Originally scheduled for Dec. 21 of this year after a protracted legal battle over his remains, the beatification has been put on hold “at the request of a few members of the Bishop’s Conference who have asked for further consideration,” according to a Dec. 3 statement from the diocese of Peoria.

“In our current climate, it is important for the faithful to know that there has never been, nor is there now, any allegation against Sheen involving the abuse of a minor,” the statement said.

Peter Jesserer Smith, a reporter for the National Catholic Register, said on Twitter:

“The Vatican will have potentially a year’s worth of lawsuits, with depositions and court findings of fact, to sift through. This is the ultimate test of Sheen’s beatification: either he’ll be stained by the abuse crisis, or the vindication of his holiness will shine like the sun.”

In July of 2019, a blog and some chatter on Twitter referenced an unsourced allegation that Sheen walked in on a priest abusing a female child, but that he merely told the priest to put his pants back on, called the victim a “slut,” and proceeded to help cover up the crime.  My husband and I made a thorough assessment of the credibility the accusation and its sources. We concluded that the allegation and sources, according to all available information, were not credible. In fact, there was considerable reason to doubt that any victim had even actually made an allegation. Essentially, there was a rumor, spread by un-credible sources, that there had been an allegation; there is no evidence of a victim, and there is nothing to investigate. 

The rumor also claimed that the Cause for Sheen’s canonization knew about the allegations and did not respond to them. But Monsignor Soseman, who was delegated by Bishop Jenky to oversee the Cause, told us “no such letter [as the one described in the allegations] ever arrived at the office in Peoria,  nor have I ever heard of any such allegation, in any of the extensive testimonies we took.”

Read our investigation of the rumored allegations

In its statement today, the Diocese of Peoria said:

“the life of Fulton Sheen has been thoroughly and meticulously investigated. At every state, it has been demonstrated definitively that he was an exemplary model of Christian conduct and a model of leadership in the Church. At no time has his life of virtue ever been called into question.”

In the statement, it says that the Bishop of Peoria, Bishop Daniel Jenky, was “informed by the Holy See” that the beatification would be postponed. 

 

The Peoria statement says:

“Since a few members of the Bishop’s Conference have requested a delay, the Diocese of Peoria remains confident that Archbishop Sheen’s virtuous conduct will only be further demonstrated. Bishop Jenky has ever confidence that any additional examination will only further prove Fulton Sheen’s worthiness of Beatification and Canonization. The Diocese of Peoria has no doubt that Fulton Sheen, who brought so many souls to Jesus Christ in his lifetime, will be recognized as a model of holiness and virtue.”

The statement says: “Bishop Jenky is deeply saddened by this decision. In particular, Bishop Jenky is even more concerned for the many faithful who are devoted to Sheen and will be affected by this news.”

Read my interview with Bonnie Engstrom, the mother of the boy who returned to health after his heart stopped beating for sixty-one minutes, and his parents prayed to Fulton Sheen. 

The statement continues: 
[Bishop Jenky] is firmly convinced of the great holiness of the Venerable Servant of God and remains confident that Sheen will be beatified. Bishop Jenky has every intention of continuing the Cause, but no further date for Beatification has been discussed.”

The Diocese of Peoria is not offering any more information at this time. 

 

 

Skip the semantics.The Jeffrey Epstein case is about victimizing girls, not “young women”

Cui bono? Who benefits from squeezing language until it bleeds jargon? The guilty, of course.

But another important question is: Cui plagalis? Who stands to lose? Whose suffering is likely to be minimized if normally careless people suddenly become very careful about their word choice?

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine

Image: by Linnaea Mallette  CC0 Public Domain

Pope Francis’ troubling apology

In a letter regarding victims of sexual abuse in Chile, Pope Francis said, “I ask forgiveness of all those I have offended and I hope to be able to do it personally in the coming weeks.”

His apology comes after months of controversy, during which the Pope first apologized to Chilean victims of sexual abuse by the Church, but then strongly defended a Chilean Bishop accused of covering up those victims’ allegations. Pope Francis called their accusations “calumny” and said he had seen no evidence supporting them.

In the letter of apology made public today, he said that he “fell into serious errors in the evaluation and perception … due especially to the lack of true and balanced information.”

The Pope’s apology is encouraging, but also troubling. He sets an irreplaceable example of how to respond humbly when confronted with personal error, but he also appears to deflect personal responsibility. We look forward to clarification, after he meets with the Chilean victims, about why he didn’t believe the victims’ accusations, why he felt it was appropriate to denigrate the victims publicly, and whether he intends to be more circumspect in front of microphones in the future, since his ill-conceived words caused so much damage.

We also wonder if he is telling the truth about lacking necessary information.

The pope wrote his letter after he read a 2,300-page report detailing a investigation he commissioned in February to study allegations of sexual abuse and its cover-up in the Chilean Church.

On his visit to South America in January of 2018, the Pope was met with protests and outrage over the alleged cover-up of sexual abuse by Chilean Bishop Juan Barros.

Four men accuse Barros’ charismatic mentor, Fr. Fernando Karadima, of sexual abusing them, and Barros of ignoring warnings from parishioners and of covering up evidence. The accusers claim Barros was present during some of the abuse, but continued to protect and defend Karadima. A civil complaint against Karadima was dismissed for lack of evidence. The Vatican found him guilty in 2011 and sentenced him to a “life of prayer and penitence” and to “lifelong prohibition from the public exercise of any ministerial act, particularly confession and the spiritual guidance of any category of persons.” Barros continues to maintain his innocence.

On his South America trip in January, Pope Francis apologized to victims of sexual abuse, saying he felt “pain and shame” for the “irreparable damage caused to children by some ministers of the Church.”

But when confronted with questions about the specific allegations against Bishop Barros, the pope called the accusations “calumny.”

The pope told the press: “The day they bring me proof against Bishop Juan Barros, I will speak. There is not one piece of evidence against him. It is calumny.” The Pope also told an AP reporter on the way home from South America, “You, in all good will, tell me that there are victims, but I haven’t seen any, because they haven’t come forward.”

But an AP Exclusive in February claimed that the Pope did have evidence against Barros, and that victims had come forward. The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors says that they gave a letter from victim Juan Carlos Cruz to its president, Cardinal O’Malley, to be hand-delivered to the Pope before his South America visit. The letter “detailed the abuse, kissing and fondling [Cruz] says he suffered at Karadima’s hands, which he said Barros and others saw but did nothing to stop.”

Two members of the commission say that O’Malley confirmed to them that he did give the letter to the pope.  Cruz says O’Malley told him “he had given the letter to the pope — in his hands.”

On January 10, Cardinal O’Malley took the extraordinary step of publicly admonishing Pope Francis, saying that his comments “abandon those who have suffered reprehensible criminal violations of their human dignity, and relegate survivors to discredited exile.”

Shortly after O’Malley’s rebuke, the Pope apologized for the hurt caused by his words. In February, he sent Archbishop Scicluna to Chile to conduct an exhaustive investigation of the alleged cover-up by Bishop Barros.

America Magazine reports that Scicluna presented the pope with a 2,300- page report based on interviews with 64 witnesses.

According to Catholic News service, in the letter made public on April 11,

Pope Francis apologized for underestimating the seriousness of the sexual abuse crisis in the country following a recent investigation into allegations concerning Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno.

But the Pope says his error was due to “lack of truthful and balanced information”:

The pope said he made “serious mistakes in the assessment and perception of the situation, especially due to a lack of truthful and balanced information.”

According to America Magazine,

He said, “From here on, I ask pardon of all those that I have offended, and I hope to do so personally in the coming weeks, in the meetings that I will have with representatives of the persons interviewed” by his envoys—Archbishop Scicluna and Father Jordi Bertomeu Farnos.

The Chilean bishops will meet with the Pope in the third week of May. Three of Karadima’s victims, including Cruz, will also meet with the Pope then.

Pope Francis’ apology and admission of error are unprecedented among popes, but troubling questions remain. In his letter, he blames his defense of Barros on “the lack of true and balanced information.” But if Cardinal O’Malley did hand-deliver the letter from victims, how can he say there was a lack of information? Did he read the letter? If not, why not? Did he read it but disregard what is said? If so, why would he do so, sixteen years after the Church has been shown to be guilty over and over and over again?

Even those who support and defend the Pope and his approach will find it difficult to understand his behavior in this matter. O’Malley and countless other faithful servants of Christ have been laboring hard to reform the Church, to make it safer for vulnerable people, and to reassure the world that things have changed. But a few ill-conceived words from its visible head have unravelled all their efforts more than once.

To victims, past and present, it must feel as though the Church has learned nothing.  How far can yet another apology go?

***

Image By Benhur Arcayan (Malacañang Photo Bureau) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Why we leave the ninety-nine

Some American Catholics haven’t learned a damn thing from our ordeal. Some American Catholics, when they hear about new victims of sexual assault and abuse by Catholics, are still dragging out all the old defenses:

Well, but look at all the good fruits.
Well, but look at all the energy we waste if we focus on the tiny minority.
Well, but we have to think of our reputation.
Well, but no one will trust us if we admit there’s a problem.
Well, why would you even dare to criticize us? Is it because you hate shepherding and want anarchy?

Well, but it’s just one sheep. It’s unfortunate, but . . . we’re in the fold, and we’re doing all right.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Photo via Pxhere (Creative Commons)

16 things Catholic girls should know about consent

How should Catholic parents teach their kids about consent?

We don’t want to give the impression that we’ll wink at sexual misbehavior, as long as our kids reach adulthood without a police record, a pregnancy, or an STD. We want more for them than that. We utterly fail our children if we teach them only about consent, without any other understanding of what sexuality is for and why they are so valuable as human beings. Reducing sexual health to mere consent is just another form of degradation

At the same time, we don’t want our kids to get a police record, an STD, or a unwed pregnancy. Or a damaged psyche, or a broken heart, or a shattered sense of self-worth. An education in consent is not enough, but we must teach them about consent.

But too often, Catholic parents dig in, just telling kids to save sex for marriage, period. Perhaps they teach their kids to avoid the occasions of sin like the saints, but they’ve never taught them how. They’ve never taught their kids what to do if they have, like billions of teenagers before them, gotten carried away by desire, or what to do if they themselves have good intentions but their boyfriends do not. They’ve never taught them how to navigate that minefield of conscience, desire, and external pressure. They send their daughters out entirely unequipped.

And so girls who want to be good are left to piece together some kind of dreadful “least bad” course of action with almost no information about what they can and should do in actual relationships. Teenage girls often put their own best interests last, in hopes of minimizing damage or offense for everyone else. 

So here is what Catholic parents should teach their daughters about consent:

  1. It’s never too late to say “no” for any reason. You’ve done that thing before, with him or with another guy? You can still say “no.” You’ve done worse things already? You can still say “no.” You’ve done lots and lots of things, but not this particular thing? You can still say “no.” You’ve talked about this thing, even agreed to do this thing? You can still say “no.” You’re right in the middle of the thing and have changed your mind? You can still say “no.” It’s a little thing that no one could possibly object to, but you just don’t want to? You can still say “no.”

If you find yourself in the habit of encouraging sexual behavior over and over and over again, and then backing out over and over and over again, then maybe you’re being a jerk, and should think about how you’re spending your time, and how you’re treating your male friend. But that’s a separate issue that you can deal with later. Even jerks can say “no.”  You can say “no” at any time for any reason, because you have no obligation to turn your body over to your boyfriend. Why would you?

 

2. Yes, he can stop. Of course he can stop. What is he, a defective robot? If he’s all worked up, it may be very difficult to stop, and he may be mad or offended or disappointed, but he has free will and he can stop. If he doesn’t stop when you tell him to stop, that is sexual assault. He. Can. Stop.

You’re not genuinely injuring a guy by stopping after one or both of you are aroused. You don’t have to sacrifice yourself on the altar of blue balls. If he’s man enough to ask for sex, he’s man enough to deal with a little disappointment. 

 

3. There’s no such thing as being tricked into consenting. If you consent, you do it on purpose, consciously. If you didn’t realize you consented, or didn’t mean to consent, then you did not consent, and whoever tricked or coerced you is assaulting you, by definition.

 

4. A hymen is just a membrane. We hear a lot about protecting virginity, but sex is about so much more than vaginal penetration. There are non-PIV acts which feel important and powerful because they are — and they belong within marriage, just as much as intercourse does. You don’t have to let yourself be used for all kinds of absurd and degrading things just to protect that precious treasure of technical virginity. A hymen is just a membrane. You, on the other hand, are made in the image of God, and should not submit to degradation from anyone who professes to care about you.

 

5. Listen to your gut. If a situation feels weird or fishy, trust that God-given instinct and get the hell out. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. A firm “No, thank you, I’d prefer to do x” or “That won’t work for me, how about we do x instead?” is all you need. And if someone throws a tantrum over your alternative plans, you can be reasonably certain your good was not at the top of their list of priorities. A good man will value your comfort as well as your consent.

 

6. There is never any good reason for a guy to mention what his previous girlfriends were willing to do. Whether it’s a compliment (“I’m glad you’re not uptight like she was”) or a complaint (“All the other girls I’ve been with had no problem with such-and-such”), this is pure manipulation, meant to put you off balance, exert pressure, and make you feel like you have something to prove. It doesn’t matter if you’re different from every other girls in the entire universe. You are you, and if he can’t appreciate that, then he can go dangle.

 

7. Love doesn’t manipulate. It’s old school manipulative when he says “If you really loved me, you’d do such-and such.” It’s also manipulative if he turns it on its head by saying, “Let me show you how much I love you,” or “Why won’t you let me show my love for you by . . . ” Love isn’t about putting pressure on people. Love lets people be.

 

8. You never owe a guy sexual favors just because he does something nice for you. If a guy wants to spend time with you and you like him, be nice to him. But a date is not a contract. You’re not chattel, to be traded, no matter what he thinks he deserves.

And if you do hold the line and say no to “big” things, don’t feel like you then ought to compensate by agreeing to smaller things that also make you uncomfortable. Your comfort isn’t up for bargaining.

 

9. An adult man who wants sex or romance with you when you’re underage is a bad man. Full stop. You may be flattered, you may feel like you’re especially mature, and you may very much want what he’s asking for; but, by definition, this is assault. There’s a reason you cannot legally consent when you’re underage. An older man only wants an underage younger girl if there is something wrong with him. He’s very likely gone after other, maybe even younger girls, and will continue to do so. You should protect them by telling someone you trust.

 

10. If you’ve had sex, you’re not automatically in a relationship; you don’t owe him anything; and you’re not fated to be together. Sex makes you feel like there is a bond, but you have the power to break it at any time. It may hurt to disrupt that sensation of being in a relationship, but it may be the smartest thing you can do — the sooner, the better.

 

11. You don’t have to get married to someone just because of your sexual past together. Even if you’re pregnant. In fact, getting married because you “have to” could be grounds for a future annulment, if you got married because of pressure and a sense of obligation, rather than as a free choice. If you did something wrong, like choosing to have consensual sex with someone who’s not right for you, you can’t somehow redeem or erase that past sin by getting married. The past is the past. God wants you to have a good future.

 

12. It’s a bad mistake to have sex outside of marriage, but it’s not somehow more Catholic to refuse to use a condom. Contraception is a sin, and so I cannot in good conscience say, “Yes, if you’re going to have sex, use a condom.” Even if your goal is to prevent the spread of disease and to prevent the conception of a potentially fatherless child, it’s not somehow less-bad to commit two mortal sins instead of one.

But some young Catholics will tell themselves that there is something noble or bracingly honest about refusing to use a condom, even as they persist in seeking out unmarried sex. This is absurd. What are you doing? If you want to avoid sin, because it hurts you and your partner and cuts you off from God, then avoid sin. Don’t play games with telling yourself, “I’m sinning, but I’m doing it the Catholic way!” There is no such thing as sinning the Catholic way.

 

13. You’re not bad for wanting to have sex! Feeling strong sexual desire doesn’t prove that you’re a bad person, a bad daughter, or different from good Catholics. God has given us this desire for a reason. Sex is good, and the desire for sex is a normal, healthy desire. Your job is to figure out how to respond to your desire in a healthy and moral way. And no, it’s not easy. You will probably fail. Try again. But . . .

14. If you find that you cannot make yourself stop seeking out sex, then there’s probably something else wrong in your life, and you need help with identifying, addressing, and healing it. It’s normal and healthy to have a strong, hard-to-control libido when you’re young, but it’s neither normal nor healthy to feel driven and compelled to seek out sex with lots and lots of people. This is self-destructive behavior, likely with deep roots. It will be difficult to talk to someone  about this, but you really do need help — psychological help, not just confession.

 

Some girls will also agree to unprotected sex as a way of accepting some kind of built-in punishment for their promiscuity, not realizing that the promiscuity itself is a symptom of psychological distress. Confession is helpful. It is likely not sufficient by itself.

15. If something bad happens, whether it was consensual or not, you’re not alone. The people who truly love you will not love you less just because you did something you shouldn’t do, and they certainly won’t love you less if something happened to you that shouldn’t have happened. If you have someone who truly loves you, that person will talk to you, or find you someone to talk to, or take you to the doctor, or take you to confession, or take you to a therapist, or do whatever you need so you can be in a better place than you are right now. Having had sex does not make you an outcast. You are young. All is not lost.

 

16. You’re not ruined, no matter what you’ve done or what others have done to you. You cannot be “damaged goods,” because you are not goods. You are a person. Even if you feel worthless right now, and even if other people say you are worthless, you do not and existentially cannot exist for the consumption of any other human being. Not your future husband, not anybody. You are a child of the living God.

 

Yes, your past will affect you. Yes, you are changed by your choices and by the choices of others. But if you have regrets, they can be forgiven. If you have wounds, they can be healed. You are not ruined. You cannot be ruined. As long as you are alive, there is hope.

 

Here’s the kicker. Much of what I’ve said above goes for married relationships, too. You can go to extremes, of course. Some men behave as if their wives can never say “no” once they are married; and some women behave as if their husbands must gain explicit permission for every thought, word, and deed. It often takes couples many years to understand each other well enough to find the right balance. Spouses can reasonably expect to have sex with each other if possible. But there is also such a thing as violating consent in a marriage. Marriage does not give one spouse the right to use the other spouse, sexually or otherwise.

 

So, Catholics, let’s get over our aversion to the word “consent.” Our kids need to know about consent in dating, and they’ll need to know it when they’re ready for marriage, too. It’s one more way to learn to love each other better. 

 

***

Many thanks to my friends M.B., C.P., F.S., R.S., G.H., K.C., C.C., D.M., J.T., A.G., M.E., E.L., S.J., M.D., K.M., R.B., A.H., K.C., for helping me compile and refine this list.
Photo via Pexels (creative commons)

Would your kids know what to do if someone molested them?

Scared_Child_at_Nighttime

 

I don’t care about the Duggars any more than I care about any family in the news. Many Catholics see them as role models, but  they seem to have attitudes about children and women which are antithetical to Catholic ideas. Did their son molest girlsbecause of his upbringing? Maybe, maybe not.  I’m not familiar enough with their parenting style to know. I do know that it’s possible for parents to do their hardest to raise their kids right, and their kids do shitty things anyway. It’s also true that families who look squeaky clean and happy on the outside are hiding a lot of interior darkness. I haven’t followed the story closely, so I don’t have an opinion about whose fault everything is. 

But the story made my ask myself: would my kids know what to do if someone molested them?

There are always going to be predators in the world. Your child is reasonably likely to come into contact with one eventually, and this is true whether you home school or use Catholic or public or private schools, and it’s true if you keep your kids tucked under your wings or let them roam. It’s true if most of your friends are conservative Catholic or none of your friends are even religious. It’s a good world, overall, but there are bad people in it. You can’t change that.

What you can do is give your kids a clue about what is reasonable behavior and what isn’t, and what to do if someone is behaving badly.

This pdf guide for parents gives a reasonable overview of how to discuss keeping kids safe from sexual abuse. It’s secular, and pretty basic, so you can use it as a starting point for conversations.  No one wants to talk about these things, but you must. You must. Don’t assume that they’ll be fine, and don’t assume they’ll know what to do if something goes wrong.

Don’t forget to ask your kids if they have any questions after you talk! Young kids think very concretely, about real-life circumstances, and they always remember information better if they asked about it themselves.

And also: talk to your kids all the time, about everything. If you’re not in the habit of chatting about this and that, why would they come to you when there’s something scary and weird to talk about? I know some kids just don’t like to talk — or, in some cases, they may just not enjoy talking to you. When that’s the case, it’s a good idea to tell them, repeatedly, that they can talk to you, or that they can talk to your spouse, or that they can talk to [trusted adult X]. Some kids need you to open a door a thousand times before they even think of putting a foot through.

 

 

***