Forgive 70 x 7? Let’s 86 That!
Could two communities be more different than Catholics and the Amish? The grandeur of richly embroidered robes versus plain cotton clothes in dark solid colors. Elaborate stained glass windows in magnificent edifices designed by the world’s greatest artists versus simple wood or brick structures for homes, barns, milking sheds. Jet-setting cardinals versus horse and buggy-driving bishops. And yet. Both communities bar women from access to power. Both have rigged the system where men are forgiven any excess while women and children are blamed for their victimhood at the hands of said men.
The Amish shocked many in the nation when they offered condolences to the family of a shooter who had walked into a one-room schoolhouse in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. He let the boys leave. He killed five of its ten schoolgirls before shooting himself. Their real-life exhibition of what is sometimes called “radical forgiveness” seemed a wondrous example of grace in an often graceless world.
But this grace can take on a grotesque hue. Little by little, some of the “Plain People” are plain tired of the old-school victim shaming associated with childhood sexual abuse, including fondling, rape, and incest. The mothers of the targets, (targets are mostly girls, some as young as one-month-old — yes, a father tried to put his penis into the mouth of his baby) are frequently asked to forgive the men who have abused their children and take them back into the marital home because of, by Church interpretation, the Bible verse where “Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’” and then “Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times’” (Matthew 18:21–22). Later in Colossians we are told, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (3:12–13).
The problem is that the compassion and gentleness are all too often aimed to the benefit of the male abuser, as opposed to the child victim or the victim’s parents. In fact, the father who had abused more than one of his baby daughters believes that being sentenced to jail is worse for him that what he did to his daughters was for them. He also thinks that the fact that his wife moved away when their Mennonite community pressured her to take him back into their home with their four children, means she may not get into heaven.
Yes, that’s his reasoning. He confessed, so he should get his wife and abused children back before he heads to heaven; she moved away to protect them from future abuse, so she should go to hell. Sounds like she’s already been there.
I’ll admit I was sorry, but not surprised, to hear that some of the people who value modesty, simplicity, humility, and honesty were harboring rapists. I guess I hoped there was sanctuary somewhere. After all, their clothes represent modesty; their homes, simplicity. Their humility is seen in an unwillingness to take individual credit for jobs well done; the honesty in the fact that many of those eventually reported (as is legally required) to the police, confess, can be a double-edged sword. In the past, Plain communities required public confession, punished with short-term shunning, then demanded that the incident never be spoken of again. No long-term accountability for the abusers, but those who spoke of it or reported it to authorities could be excommunicated. Now, where have we heard that before?
There is hope on the horizon. With increasing information on the psychology of child abuse within the communities and with increasing insistence on the law of the land outside the communities, more of these men are being brought to justice, which includes therapy for some and family counseling for others, not to mention jail. But like the Catholic priesthood, many in the community rush to support the accused man, while many scorn the child, leaving some children to remain quiet or leave the community as soon as they could.
Some believe that retracting legislation that allows the Plain to stop education for their children at eighth grade with no understanding of their basic biology might make a difference. But many Catholics have college educations and know what a vagina is, yet the abuse continues. No amount of education should be required to know that you shouldn’t hurt others, especially your own children, especially when you espouse a religion whose leader clearly exhorts you to “suffer the little children to come unto me, for such is the kingdom of heaven.”
Three of us, a colleague, a former professor of mine, and I were on our way to a university event. I’m not sure how it came up . . . No, I remember. We were looking at a poster of an upcoming event featuring vocal compositions by my retired professor. The colleague commented on how “Voices” would be pronounced more like “Vices” among Newfoundlanders. Turns out, he’s a native of Newfoundland. I mentioned this piece I was writing about the child abuse scandal and he immediately said “Mt. Cashel,” recounting the feelings of people there, especially his father, who was a police officer. We made plans to talk later . . .
Two weeks before the next semester, for which I had already been assigned classes, I learned that I was not to be rehired. My adjunct income plummeted by sixty percent. The talk never occurred. I never saw or even considered a connection until two years after the fact when I was still trying to find closure for this project.
Speaking of Newfoundland, in nearby Nova Scotia, more specifically Antigonish in Cape Breton, a tiny community with only coal, steel, and fishing industries, all failing, the secrets of its own Mt. Cashel were festering. The director of the 2010 documentary Betrayal: Abuse in the Catholic Church in Nova Scotia applies the unusual device of victims’ silent faces while their voices are overlaid as if by separate narrators. This feature projected the silent victims of Wisconsin back onto the screen of my consciousness.
Charles Latimer, a strong-featured ruddy-cheeked man in a white-trimmed, dark blue baseball cap, with down-turned eyes, clinches his lips above a tiny soul patch and five-o’clock shadow. A bit of plain white ribbed undershirt peeks out of a dark blue henley shirt. When he speaks on camera, his mouth barely opens, as if something horrible would happen if he let all his words out, or something repulsive might be pushed in. “I hated myself,” he mumbled. “All my pictures, I scraped the faces off them.” I had to gasp for breath, imagining a child feeling so forlorn, so abandoned.
This documentary came to my attention as the YouTube algorithm placed it next in line as I was watching the sentencing stage of Cardinal Pell’s trial. Hosted by internationally respected, award-winning journalist, and Nova Scotia native, Linden MacIntyre, this forty-minute work was produced as part of The Fifth Estate, a long-running Canadian Broadcasting Company series of documentaries on topical events. But MacIntyre does more than host. As a Native who spent part of his professional life as a reporter in Nova Scotia, he makes use of his personal attachment to his home and his personal knowledge of some of the people involved, infusing the documentary an even stronger sense of betrayal.
Part of the appeal Betrayal shares with Mea Maxima is the lovely scenes of the natural scenery, except in this case it’s not verdant countryside, but the sparkling waters of a seaside community. In each case, bright nature’s beauty forms an unnatural counterpoint to the shadowed secrets of rampant abuse. This time, though, the result headed in the right direction. For once, the Church responded appropriately and with uncommon alacrity.
Bishop Raymond Lahey, immediately took responsibility on behalf of the Church and worked toward a settlement. He made what sounded like a sincere apology, promising to “right past wrongs.” Ron Martin, brother of abused suicide victim, David, thought Lahey was “decent,” feeling “really at peace in signing that settlement that day.” At his urging over 140 victims came forward, undoubtedly feeling varied levels of closure approaching. Then Bishop Lahey himself was arrested. Child pornography. Oh my lord.
Some of the nearly 600 images and over 60 videos found when he was stopped at an Ottawa airport included bondage while boys were wearing crucifixes and rosaries. Two years later in January 2012, Lahey admitted to a child porn addiction, was convicted of such, and sentenced to fifteen months, but released on “time served.” If that weren’t bad enough, the Catholic Church did not remove him from active duty as a priest until May of that year. Apart from the inexplicable delay in removing this menace, here’s my favorite part of the stated decision:
This will mean that he will no longer function as a cleric, will no longer have the rights and duties of being a cleric, is not permitted to exercise any ecclesiastical offices or functions and is not permitted to preside at any of the sacraments or religious services. However, any sacraments that he performed prior to this decision continue to be valid and effective.
So, while he was criming, his sacraments were valid, but now that he’s been stopped, they’re invalid. Alrighty, then. I mean, I get it. People came to him in good faith to marry and bury, so it’s not their fault that he was a pervert and certainly the faithful wouldn’t want their marriages and their children’s legitimacy invalidated, but still…, still, something feels wrong about this.
Unlike so many American journalists more impressed with access than information, McIntyre goes in hard. Polite, but hard. When he asks the more recent bishop, Brian Dunn, about the practice of moving pedophile priests from parish to parish rather than calling the police, Dunn tries to evade the question with the well-worn passive tense: “Certainly mistakes were made” as if this were past and no longer active practice.
But McIntyre is not having it. “Is it really accurate to say it was a mistake? I mean, this was policy.”
Again Dunn tries to evade, tries to deny it was policy, but McIntyre has done his homework. Father Doyle has schooled him on the history and current edicts from the Church hierarchy on the omertà required when a priest is a pervert. Still courteous, but still firm, McIntyre states facts: “There were directives from the Vatican.”
Dunn, still with the deer-in-the-headlights look admits: “That might have been one of our faults.” Might have been. Might have been. Lord.