My head is still spinning like everyone else’s in the wake of the horrific findings of the Pennsylvania report. Just yesterday, I dropped my youngest son off for his sophomore year of college, where we stopped at the student union to get his dorm key and then proceeded to his dorm – and both buildings are named after bishops who made that horrible list.
I saw a painting of one of those bishops and I felt angry. I want it removed. (And we’re not Catholic, by the way.)
But something was haunting me. Is. Something IS haunting me: While the coverup that has gone on within the Catholic Church is unfathomable and unspeakable, I think they just happen to officially represent a larger issue. I, too, find it especially despicable because they’ve done so while “representing” God, but there are others who do that and will never get caught. There will never be a large scale investigation or massive report. I realized as I felt angry at the portrait of a bishop I have no personal connection to that my anger at him was merely representative of a deeper anger. While he and the rest of those within the CC who have colluded in the irreparable harm of children absolutely deserve my/our anger, I think it’s also a good repository for the anger (and the harm) that never gets addressed for so many; families cover up abuse, too.
Family systems are just as guilty of covering up abuse and protecting abusers. It’s human nature to tell ourselves the stories we can live with, and this can happen anywhere from the school pickup line to the national headlines; we believe what we need to believe in order to feel safe, or powerful, or to survive.
It is absolutely abhorrent to me that any church system – the great Roman Catholic empire or the tiny little clapboard church on the corner – minimizes or covers up abuse. Any authority, really, but I feel like there are a colossal amount of extra “points” when it’s done under the banner of “God” in some way. This ruins people’s faith, which many times ruins their lives. We can talk another time about the problem of wrecking someone’s faith. Right now I just wanted to take a poke at something I haven’t heard anyone say yet – and it’s not because I’m brave, I’m not. It’s because, while we’re compartmentalizing people/institutions that participate in cover-ups (Hollywood, The Church, workplaces, etc.), I think we need to take a look at the elephant in the room and address the fact that everyday people participate in cover-ups every day. And I do think it’s worse when the people participating in the abuse or the covering up are people who claim to be in direct connection with, or representing, God.
Kids and adults alike muster up the courage and override their shame and embarrassment to tell someone they trust that someone is hurting them, or did way back when. And right there in that moment that can (does) change a life forever, too many people default to what they can live with instead of dealing with what’s true.
“You must’ve misunderstood”
“Boys will be boys”
“Your dad/mom love you. Why would they do something like that?”
“What did you do to egg them on?”
“Think of how much it would hurt them if you told anyone else this”
“We don’t want to do anything to harm _______ . This could make them lose their job, and _______ depend on them.”
“We wouldn’t want to cause a fuss – think of how many people would get hurt by such an accusation. Not only X, but their kids, their wife, their bowling league, their church friends, their t-ball kids, their nonprofit. You need to just let it go – forgive them.”
“I’m sure they didn’t mean it”
“It can’t be as bad as that”
“What were you wearing?”
“Were you drunk?”
“Did you make them angry?”
“Did you fight them off?”
“Did you tell them No?”
“Why didn’t you tell anyone then?”
“Surely, if this was happening, someone would’ve known”
“If we tell anyone else about this, it will really anger/upset/devastate _____________ (perpetrator) and we don’t want to do that”
“I find it hard to believe that _______ is capable of something like that”
“Why would you say that after all they’ve done for you?”
I could go on for days and so many of you could add to the dialogue.
I don’t know any solid statistics, but I know that every day there are people – young and older alike – who try to tell someone about something that is happening to them now, or that happened to them as a child, and the person they tell either minimizes it, dismisses it altogether, or admonishes the teller to keep it quiet for the sake of protecting the guilty. Or the person is acting out, and somewhere in the back of someone’s mind, they know there is something wrong, but they “don’t want to interfere” (don’t want to get involved). This is especially prevalent in family systems.
I get it. Just a few weeks ago, I learned that someone I (had) deeply respected and admired had some serious allegations against them. As a survivor, I am not quick to dismiss it when someone says something happened to them; coming out about sexual abuse is one of the hardest of all mountains to climb – because of paralyzing self-doubt and shame, and because human nature is to blame (or doubt) the victim. Another post for another day. But when substantial allegations came out about this person whom I had gotten a lot from as a leader, I did not want to believe it was true. Possible.
‘That just can’t be right …..’
I heard this notion first on TV and then in books, but have learned it the hard way too many times in actual life: anyone is capable of anything when the circumstances are right. Anyone. And I think part of why we as humans tend to default to protecting the guilty and blaming/discrediting the victim is because if we have to face the fact that anyone is capable of anything, then we have to face that we ourselves are never above doing something unthinkable. It is way easier to lump people into categories of Good/Bad, Wonderful/Monster, than to accept that most of us are only ever one choice away from the grey in-between that’s a slippery slope to the darkest version of ourselves. I think we embrace hate because it’s easier than embracing the truths about human nature. I think we stereotype and categorize and judge and blame because it removes any personal responsibility or ownership of our own shortcomings and/or complicitness.
I think some subconscious part of our collective mind is relieved when a worldwide mogul becomes a target, because it lets us turn a blind eye to the fact that we ourselves may be guilty of similar things.
I haven’t, to my knowledge or memory, ever colluded in protecting someone who’s abused someone else. I’m still basically protecting my own perpetrators, though. (Ridiculous, right? But don’t judge me, you’re not and never have been in my specific shoes.) There are a zillion reasons victims of sexual (and other) abuse never tell, or tell but don’t name who hurt them. There is immeasurable shame, and fear, and doubt involved. There is the fact – the FACT – that people in your circle will make judgments based on what they can bear to believe and not on facts, meaning that a potentially sizable group will not believe you. Instead, they’ll blame you. Ostracize you. Accuse you of making things up, or of lying. Defend the guilty because it’s easier. It’s human nature to be lazy and to try to do things the easy way. It’s also human nature to try to keep horrible things at arms’ length, because any closer and you have to see/own if you somehow participated in the event, or the perpetuation, or the covering up. Who wants to live with that? I have had multiple friends commit suicide over the years, and one of the most painful aspects of the aftermath is digging through rubble to see if I somehow contributed or failed to intervene. We don’t like looking at our failures to act, or at the fact that we judge, or that we perpetuate wrongdoing because we aren’t paying attention.
I don’t have a neat opening, middle and closing for this post. It’s just been gnawing at me because I think it needs to be addressed as we shout for the crucifixion of church systems and individual figureheads like Harvey Weinstein. I’m not saying they don’t need to be held accountable and to the fullest extent of the law; they absolutely do. I am saying we also need to look closer to home. We need to look inward. If you haven’t yet been faced with a situation where someone confides in you something you don’t want to believe about someone you love, you likely will. If you haven’t yet faced a situation in your extended family where you suspect something is going on, or has, with someone in that unit, you likely will. If you turned your head, or – worse – literally minimized or dismissed whatever it was, you need to own it. If none of this has come up yet, you need to really think about who you want to be when the moment comes. Do you want to protect the reputation of people who’re guilty and absolve them of the consequences of their actions? Or do you want to do what’s right? Not what’s more comfortable, and decidedly easier, but right. Just. Do you want to do comfortable, or do you want to do justice?
I know who I want to be. I also know who I continue to be in my own little vignette, and it doesn’t line up with what I would want or counsel or do if my situation were someone else’s. This is what I’m talking about, though – we have to look at the HARD and sit with the gritty and do the work.
It isn’t just the Catholic Church that protects the guilty…….