by Mary Valle
I don’t think that men and women are the same. I think we have a lot in common, being humans. However, if you look around, you’ll agree that there’s a big difference between us and that difference is testosterone. Skyscapers. The space program, with its great missiles impregnating the silvery, virginal moon. Football. War. The Washington Monument, for Pete’s sake. Guns, archery, race-car driving. Fireworks. Abrahamaic religion, with its cold, lordly sky-gods and “pure” “untainted” virgins. Agriculture. Mono-anything. New cars, and that “new car smell.” Breaking seals on bottles of shampoo and ketchup. Beer caps popping off, and the foamy explosion running over the lip of the bottle. Synthetic pressurized whipped cream products, and anything having to do with them. Onward, into infinity. These are all the byproducts of testosterone, which can really change a person, since we all do start out female.
Now, the testosterone-laden Abrahamic lordly sky-gods who rule quite a bit of our planet tend to favor their own. The Catholic Church, which we’re all quite familiar with at this point, voted for men and men only in their little power club. But, in an interesting twist, said men are frequently clad in dresses or at least wear a little notched collar, which, unlike the long tie of laymen, announces: I don’t use my penis.
Celibacy can be an amazingly honorable lifestyle, a totally countercultural choice, a testament to one’s sacrifice of self in favor of others. A celibate, that is, one who is not bonded to another person or busy making a human family, can be available to other people in ways that the rest of us cannot. And a good-looking priest in a collar is some kind of cosmic ray of sunshine: all this, ladies and gentlemen, but I’m giving every inch of me to Heaven. I have known such men: men with great heads of hair and gorgeous chins and excellent posture, supernaturally clad in black, laughing, smoking cigarettes, joking with the ladies at parties, counseling the troubled, visiting the ill at all hours, jogging, praying, then solemnly holding up the wafer and changing it into the Body of Christ. It’s all rather impressive. If it works.
It’s a difficult thing to expect grown, testosterone-laden men to be completely celibate. They are not even supposed to masturbate, which is just silly. One would assume that, at least, there would perhaps be discreet liasons with each other and/or other willing adult men and women; touch is an important part of being human. But it hasn’t been working out quite right for a lot of priests. Children and adolescents have been raped and molested in great numbers. This information has come out over the past few decades as adult victims have come forward to report what happened to them as children.
According to a new report issued by the Church, the “sexual abuse crisis” – or what I like to call “Pontifigate” – was caused by:
- Priests who were poorly prepared and monitored
- The “social and sexual turmoil of the 1960’s and ‘70’s”
So concludes a five-year study commissioned by U.S. Bishops. The good news is that gays are off the hook: take that, Tom Donohoe. Also off the hook? Everyone else. Apparently, priests who had graduated from Catholic seminaries and lived in an explicitly hierarchical structure had been “poorly prepared.” Did that “poor preparation” not include “Don’t touch the children?” Apparently, they had been improperly briefed on the meaning of “celibacy.”
Let’s get this down for the record. Celibacy not only includes not having sex with other adults or even masturbating. Celibacy prohibits preying sexually upon children. In perhaps the biggest “ew”-inducing detail of the report, great pains are made to divide up minors into “prepubescent” children as those age 10 and under. Using this cutoff, the report found that “only 22 percent of the priests’ victims were prepubescent.” (The use of this definition of prepubescent conflicts with that of The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which defines prepubescent as 13 and younger.)
“Twenty-two percent prepubescent” doesn’t make y’all look so good. Neither does trying to excuse the rape and molestation of minors by noting that some of the victims had reached the age of sexual maturity. “If there’s grass on the field, play ball” is not an excuse for adult men to rape or molest young people in their care (or under their authority). Let’s blame the children, shall we? OK.
Or, let’s blame the culture. I’m going to imagine myself into the plain black shoes of an average priest in 1972. Maybe I’ve just watched something very sexy on TV, like Love American Style. Or seen an ad for Deep Throat in the newspaper. I’m so sexually frustrated I’m about to freak out – argh! The miniskirts! The tight pants! Everyone is having the greatest sex all the time, ever, and it just started now and I’m missing out ‘cause I signed off on this whole priesthood thing before all this fun started happening! Do I A) masturbate myself into oblivion? B) Sneak off to an X-rated theater or massage parlor? C) Find another adult to have sex with? (not too difficult — bars are everywhere) D) Quit! (most of the nuns did) or E) Rape an altar boy or schoolgirl in the rectory?
Was the “sexual abuse crisis” confined to the 1960s and 70s? I doubt it. Has it not occurred to the report’s writers – or the Church hierarchy, for that matter — that perhaps reports of abuse increased because victimized young people grew into adulthood in a culture that made them realize that something utterly wrong had happened to them and that they had a right to redress? Was there less abuse before this point? We have no proof. Yes, most likely abuse was just underreported. The rape of adult women continues to be underreported today for a host of reasons. Children, or adults who were abused as children, are no more forthcoming, for similar reasons: shame, fear, manipulation. Nor are there more people who want to believe them.
Nonetheless, it is confirmed that the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests has happened worldwide, systematically, for decades. What are we looking at? A global hierarchy that keeps God-men at the top – who don’t get fired because they are “supernaturally” endowed, part of a very special elite – and children at the very bottom – who are silenced and victimized by abuse.
I say systematically because it has become evident that the problem lies in the very structure of the Roman Catholic Church itself. Organizationally it is a top-down hierarchy whose leader is an absolute monarch, living in a gilded city-state, wearing fabulous garb and apparently talking to God on all of our behalf.
I don’t know. I don’t have God’s ear (being a lady, I don’t have much of a chance, officially, anyway) but I sort of doubt that God would look the other way or cover up the abuse of children, but these God-men think they’re more special than mere humans, and if little humans get caught in their workings, well, only “22 percent” of them were “prepubescent.”
Since the Catholic Church is the only religious entity with a nation-state and a seat at the United Nations, I think that international action should be taken against them. First, legal. Then, if nothing transpires, fire up the testosterone and bring war on the Vatican. We Americans have attacked for far less – like a sunken battleship or imaginary weapons; sometimes physical means are the only way to get through to sociopathic, God-deluded, staff-bearing child-abusers. The Swiss Guards or or that little Papal umbrella wouldn’t offer much protection against Tomahawks, I’m afraid, and testosterone’s iconic creation image – that of the man-God creating man by touching fingers – would crumble in a mere blink of a child’s eye.
Barring any of that, our God-endowed friends might do well to consider that whole first-being-last-and-last-being-first thing, but, since “the Kingdom of God” won’t be passing judgment for some time, I for one, would prefer some earthly justice right now.
Mary Valle is a freelance writer living in Baltimore. She is contributing editor at Killing the Buddha and a contributor to Believer Beware: First-person Dispatches from the Margins of Faith. Her poems and drawings can be found at Instant Poetry.
This article is part of The Revealer’s series on the John Jay report, “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010.” Read additional commentary by Frances Kissling, Elizabeth Castelli, Amanda Marcotte, Scott Korb, Mary Valle and others here.