by Michael Raitt -
SGN Contributing Writer
The Catholic Church is facing a crisis regarding how it is handling child sexual abuse cases perpetrated by those in positions of power within the church. It is a crisis on many fronts for the church.
In my opinion, from the perspective of the GLBTQ community, there are three areas that are important for our community related to this crisis. The first two issues I address are of great importance, yet they are of lesser importance than the last.
Too many leaders representing the church continue to state as fact that the sexual abuse cases are "Gay issues" rather than pedophile issues. Gay DOES NOT equate to pedophile. It never has! A pedophile is an adult who uses power, control, threat, and intimidation to act out sexually with children. Straight pedophiles do act out sexually with children of the same gender when they have an opportunity to do so. Pedophiles have impulse control issues, and if you are a straight pedophile in the church and your only opportunity is to prey upon young boys, you will do that. It is horribly misinformed to suggest that because it was a male adult abusing a male child, it is automatically a "Gay issue." It is an issue of opportunity and predation, not sexuality.
Sexuality is about identity - not an act of sex. Statistically, there will be more straight priests than Gay. Therefore, statistically, there will be more straight pedophiles than Gay pedophiles. Regardless, Gay or straight, pedophilia causes great harm and is unequivocally wrong.
It is also wrong for leaders of the church to represent the pathology of pedophilia as a representation of the pathology of our GLBTQ community.
Related to this is the impact this crisis is having on the GLBTQ members of the Catholic Church. It is well known how the church (and many other religious organizations) has shamed and rejected members of the LGBTQ community. Yet, spirituality and religion are still crucial components of many GLBTQ people's lives. Their religious practice provides them guidance, extended community, and peace, which all lead to good mental health. It is something these men and women want in their lives, but they are now questioning deeply where and how to get their spiritual/religious needs met because of how the church is handling this scandal and slandering our community. Even more abhorrent than this is how people feel about what has happened to the victims. Gay or straight, everyone I talk to feels for the victims and strongly detests the predatory priests and others who protect them.
I understand the very difficult place this puts men and women in. I don't have a clear answer as to what to do. I do recommend that people not give up their belief systems regarding religion/spirituality. It is important to work with peers, professionals, and religious leaders in dealing with this. It is hard work to do. As hard as it is, though, figuring out how to work through it might be more beneficial than leaving something that is as important as your religious/spiritual belief system altogether. It would probably behoove the church to combine pastoral knowledge with professional skill to help people deal with their issues and concerns over this problem so they can re-engage in a positive way with their religious/spiritual practice.
By far, of most importance are the victims - men and women - of sexual abuse by priests. For victims, this is a complex issue that involves fear, shame, deceit, confusion, anger, resentment, loyalty, love, devotion, and issues of betrayal. These issues are confounded by the need of individuals to have the church in their lives when the church leadership has caused such harm and has abandoned them.
If you are the victim of sexual abuse by clergy, with skilled professional - and, if/when appropriate, skilled pastoral - help you can gain an accurate perception about what happened to you. An outlook that takes the blame, shame, and responsibility off of you and puts it where it squarely belongs: on the shoulders of pedophile priests and the religious culture that protected them. A perspective that invites and embraces you for who you are and that does not condemn you because of what happened to you.
Any professional or religious leader who shames you, blames you, or suggests in any way that what happened to you is somehow reflective of something wrong with you is not someone who will help you! These are people who are grossly misinformed about sexual abuse and have an agenda that will perpetuate harm on you and pain in your life.
Skilled pastoral and professional help can give you a healthy outlook about yourself in light of what happened and will allow you to integrate religious belief and practice into your life in a way that brings you guidance, peace, and healthy, affirmative community. Professionals and clergy can work together in service of healing what has been done to victims. Complete healing will never come until the church takes responsibility and makes significant changes. It has never been, and never will be, acceptable for the church to put the responsibility of change for healing to occur on the victims and community. The church has to change!
Many GLBTQ men and women want and need their religious/spiritual practices and community. It contributes to our health and wellbeing. Our sexual identity does not make us a threat to children, nor should it be a reason to exclude us from a community and practice that contributes to our wellbeing and the wellbeing of the world.
There is much hard, painful work to be done as individuals, and, for the church, as an organization. Leaders have to avoid focusing on fear and perspectives of the past. Change can occur when the real issues are addressed honestly and the priority is about the church fixing what was wrong and religion/spirituality contributing to making the world a better place for all of us!
Michael Raitt, MA LMHC, is a therapist and a contributing writer to the SGN. He writes a bi-monthly column in the SGN. If you would like to comment on this column, ask a question you'd like him to write about, or suggest another topic of interest, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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