This is the two hundredth and eighth installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.
[Chorus] Catholic school girls rule Catholic school girls rule Catholic school girls rule Catholic school girls rule
[Verse 1] In the class she’s taking notes Just how deep deep is my throat Mother Mary don’t you know She’s got eyes like Marilyn Monroe
[Chorus] Catholic school girls rule Catholic school girls rule Catholic school girls rule Catholic school girls rule Catholic school girls rule Catholic school girls rule Catholic school girls rule Catholic school girls rule
[Verse 2] From the cross she’s raised her head This is what the sister said Give no love until you’re wed Live no life until you’re dead The good books says we must suppress The good books says we must confess But who cares what the good books says Cause now she’s taking off her dress
[Chorus] Catholic school girls rule Catholic school girls rule Catholic school girls rule Catholic school girls rule Catholic school girls rule Catholic school girls rule Catholic school girls rule Catholic school girls rule
[Outro] Lead us into temptation We are pure divine creation Talking about my generation Injected with the seed of emasculation Catholic!
The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.
In March 2018, Robert DeLand Jr. a Catholic priest in the Saginaw, Michigan area and one time pastor of St. Agnes Church in Freeland, Michigan, was accused of sexually assaulting children.
Michael Kransz, a reporter for Michigan Live, wrote at the time:
Investigators say nearly half a dozen people have come forward with stories of alleged sexual abuse, attempted or otherwise, at the hands of a Mid-Michigan priest charged this week with sexual assault.
Some of the new allegations against the Rev. Robert DeLand Jr., 71, date back nearly three decades, and all of them involve people who were minors at the time and accessed through DeLand’s role as a priest, said Tittabawassee Township Detective Brian Berg.
Apart from one female, most of the alleged victims are male, Berg said.
“We want to encourage these victims to know that we’re going to hear them, we’re going to listen and we’re going to leave no stone unturned,” Berg said. “No one is going to stand alone in this anymore.”
In addition to victim statements, Berg said police are receiving “dozens and dozens” of tips about the Freeland pastor since his arrest Sunday night, Feb. 25, at his Saginaw Township condominium on Mallard Cove.
“We’re trying to get our hands around the enormity of it and put it into some kind of logical order,” the detective said.
Saginaw Township Police Chief Donald Pussehl said his office has since received five calls regarding DeLand’s “questionable behavior” in the past.
“Throughout the years, some of the things he would do with young boys, such as inviting them to his home, was somewhat strange,” Pussehl said, relaying the callers’ concerns.
Chris Pham, a spokesperson for the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, said the diocese is unaware of any past accusations against DeLand.
DeLand’s arrest, and subsequent charges of sexual assault, came after Tittabawassee and Saginaw townships finished their months-long investigations into allegations of sex crimes involving alcohol, drugs and underage boys.
Separate cases, similar situations
Although the cases were separate, one involving a 21-year-old man and another a 17-year-old male, they were similar in DeLand’s alleged predatory tactics, said Saginaw County Assistant Prosecutor Mark Gaertner.
“There was a number of grooming techniques that were used to befriend the victim, to prey on the victim’s weaknesses and to lure the victim to the residence on Mallard Cove,” Gaertner said Monday. “That was quite similar to the same techniques used in the case where he was arrested last night.”
That incident involved the 17-year-old victim.
The alleged criminal acts involve attempted or actual, unwanted sexual contact.
DeLand, known to some as “Father Bob,” held a variety of positions at numerous parishes and Catholic schools in the Saginaw and Bay City areas since he was ordained in 1973, according to Pham.
DeLand’s tenure at St. Agnes in Freeland began in July 2011. Before that, Pham said, he served as pastor at St. James Parish in Bay City from July 2005 until July 2011. During that time, he was chaplain of All Saints High School.
Following the criminal accusations, DeLand was placed on administrative leave, according to a diocese statement.
Saginaw Township’s investigation began after a 21-year-old man reported in August that DeLand made unwanted, sexual advances on him while the pair were together at the pastor’s Mallard Cove condominium.
“Because of alcohol use, it did go further than what the victim had ever thought it would go,” Pussehl said.
Pussehl said the pair became acquainted through secular circumstances.
In November, parents of a 17-year-old male doing court-ordered community service with DeLand voiced concerns about the pastor’s behavior to Tittabawasee Township police.
“His parents were very concerned that he was grooming their son and touching him inappropriately and buying things for him and spending a tremendous amount of time with him,” Berg said.
Some of the alleged instances took place at the condominium, and others in DeLand’s residence in the church rectory, Berg said.
Berg took those concerns to the Saginaw County Prosecutor’s Office, where he learned of the Saginaw Township investigation. The 17-year-old agreed to help investigators by going undercover, ultimately leading to DeLands arrest.
DeLand was charged with attempted second-degree criminal sexual conduct and gross indecency between males in the Saginaw Township case. Both are five-year felonies.
A teen is suing a Saginaw-area priest, accusing him of “grooming” the high school student with gifts and invitations to his condo, leading to inappropriate contact including back rubs, groping and suggestions to view gay porn.
The Rev. Robert DeLand was charged last month with criminal sexual conduct following accusations from two males, ages 17 and 21. Police say they have received other complaints since his arrest.
The 71-year-old priest is on administrative leave from St. Agnes in Freeland, where he has had been pastor since July 2011, the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw reported. The suit also names the diocese and its leader, Bishop Joseph Cistone, claiming steps weren’t taken to stop the cleric or look into allegations about DeLand’s conduct.
DeLand allowed the 17-year-old he met last year to perform community service at the church that the youth was ordered to complete over six months, according to the lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court.
When the youth returned to school that fall, the pastor was a volunteer “greeter” there, participated in school events and “engaged in a systematic pattern of ‘grooming’ behavior …, targeting the minor child, gaining his trust and/or providing him with gifts and favors,” attorney Todd J. Weglarz wrote.
Over time, DeLand took the student out of class to talk; bought him an expensive “vape” machine; invited the teen to his home to smoke; and “made inappropriate physical contact … during the school day, including back rubs, hugs and groping of the buttocks,” the court filing read. The priest also allegedly paid for his therapy to help deal with a friend’s suicide, texted or called him up to 17-20 times a day, then encouraged the student “to view large quantities of gay pornography,” according to the document.
DeLand invited the teen to his Saginaw Township condo last month to “party,” but that day, the cleric touched him “inappropriately, groping and fondling his crotch and buttocks, feet and toes,” the suit asserts.
The priest was charged Feb. 26 with one count each of second-degree criminal sexual conduct and gross indecency between male persons. He also was charged with one count of attempted second-degree criminal sexual conduct/personal injury for an incident involving a 21-year-old, 70th District Court records show.
DeLand, who has been ordered by the court during the Feb. 26 hearing to wear an electronic tether and have no contact with anyone under age 21, could not be reached Monday.
His attorney and diocese representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit, which seeks at least $75,000 in damages, contends DeLand abused his position while Catholic Diocese of Saginaw leaders failed to properly investigate allegations he abused the teen as well as others, “which created a climate whereby boundary violations and inappropriate sexual misconduct directed towards children and were permitted, condoned and encouraged,” Weglarz said.
Earlier today, DeLand entered a no contest plea on charges of criminal sexual conduct in the second degree, gross indecency between males, and imitation of a controlled substance manufacture and distribution. DeLand was sentenced to 2-15 years in prison, and 5 years probation.
There is no scientific or medical evidence that proves “reversing” a medication abortion is possible: There are no clinical trials and no objective or credible data. It is only a theory that has been introduced by anti-abortion activists and politicians to further attack access. When misinformation spreads, it affects the patients who seek care in my exam room.
Medication abortion involves using an FDA-approved regimen of pills to end a pregnancy prior to 10 weeks. Two medications are included: mifepristone and misoprostol. Used first, mifepristone blocks the hormone progesterone and prevents the pregnancy from growing. If taken alone, mifepristone will end the pregnancy in about half the patients who take it. Misoprostol is used six to 72 hours later to soften and dilate the cervix as well as cause uterine contractions to remove the pregnancy. Together, the medication abortion regimen is 98-99 percent effective.
In theory, it could be possible to stop the effect of mifepristone with high doses of progesterone, but this has never been proven. In medicine, we do not expose people to potential risks for no medical benefit, so we would never recommend this as an option for patients. In the unlikely event someone did not want to take the misoprostol, what healthcare providers would suggest is that there is a significant chance that the pregnancy could continue. If the patient wanted to continue the pregnancy after taking the mifepristone, we could advise to not take the misoprostol, and we would support a patient with that decision as well. Anti-abortion lawmakers have used very unethical and flawed research conducted by one anti-abortion doctor to push laws that require doctors to mislead their patients by telling them of this so-called option.
This series of cases studies from 2012 that was completed at a Catholic university where a few women who had taken mifepristone, changed their mind about the abortion and then continued their pregnancy after receiving progesterone. The report was not supervised by an Institutional Review Board (a committee which protects the rights of human subjects) which would have raised ethical concerns. Second, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology (ACOG) found that there is not enough evidence from this report to say that the pregnancies continued due to the progesterone. The ACOG called abortion reversal “unproven and unethical.”
The same researcher did another study in the same year with more participants and claimed that he confirmed that progesterone can reverse the effects of mifepristone. But again, his research methods were found to be flawed and there is rigorous systematic review to show that pregnancy continuation was not more likely with progesterone administration. The ACOG, the National Abortion Federation, and Planned Parenthood do not recommend administering progesterone if a patient tries to continue their pregnancy after using mifepristone. There just isn’t enough data to support this.
Dr. Mitchell Creinin, an OB/GYN at the University of California, Davis, who has done significant research in family planning, decided to put this issue to rest. He is currently enrolling patients in a study to determine if progesterone can block the effects of mifepristone and increase the chance of pregnancy continuation. He doesn’t believe that that it will and he’s hoping that his findings will be used to prevent lawmakers from mandating physicians from providing patients with misinformation about medication abortion reversal.
Within the past forty-eight hours, two news items related to the Catholic Church caught my attention. One saddened me; the other left me furious but not surprised.
Les francaises sont tres choqués wrote a friend of mine who lives just outside the City of Light. Tout le monde est tres choqué, I responded. Indeed, the French were shocked at the Notre Dame Cathedral fire, and so was the world. I have divorced myself from the Catholicism in which I was raised, and my friend is a non-believer of Jewish heritage. But we both love art, architecture, history and Paris itself, so we feared the loss of one of the monuments Sir Kenneth Clark all but defined as civilization itself. Even in a country that prides itself on laïcité, the Notre Dame is the very epicenter of the nation: distances between Paris and other points in France are measured from the Cathedral.
It seems, thankfully, that the main structure of the Cathedral, and its iconic rose windows, were spared. But as the spire burned away, a leader of the Roman Church was igniting controversy—and re-inflaming old wounds some of us have suffered at the hands of the church’s entrusted servants.
I am referring to a letter from Benedict XVI, the Pope Emeritus. He’d written it several days before the Notre Dame conflagration, but it was going viral right around the time when les pompiers were expressing uncertainty as to whether the 850-year-old house of worship could be saved. Even in an age defined by an American President whose explanation of “the crisis at the border” might be confused with a porn movie script that was rejected because its plot was too unbelievable, Benedict’s explication of the origins of sexual abuse by priests would be seen as disingenuous or simply dishonest if it weren’t so bizarre and discombobulated. Not surprisingly, he blames an “egregious event”: the “collapse” of “previously normative standards regarding sexuality” in the 1960s:
The matter begins with the state-prescribed and supported introduction of children and youths into the nature of sexuality…
Sexual and pornographic movies then became a common occurrence, to the point that they were screened at newsreel theaters [Bahnhofskinos]…
Among the freedoms that the Revolution of 1968 sought to fight for was this all-out sexual freedom, one which no longer conceded any norms.
So far, nothing is surprising. Benedict is simply employing what seems to be the Church’s “go-to” explanation: Sexual permissiveness is to blame, and it started in the ‘60s. Francis himself has said as much. But, from there, Benedict seems to be taking his cues in critical thinking from our Porn Connoisseur-In-Chief:
The mental collapse was also linked to a propensity for violence. That is why sex films were no longer allowed on airplanes, because violence would break out among the small community of passengers. And since the clothing of that time equally provoked aggression, school principals also made attempts at introducing school uniforms with a view to facilitating a climate of learning.
Part of the physiognomy of the Revolution of ‘68 was that pedophilia was then also diagnosed as allowed and appropriate.
Now, maybe I haven’t flown enough, but I never knew that “sex films” were shown during flights. Sure, I’ve been on transatlantic flights where the likes of Léon the Professional and La Femme Nikita were shown. And, yes, Europeans are less squeamish than Americans or other people are about seeing some skin in their movies, but I would hardly label those two films, or any other airline cinematic offerings, as “sex films.” Moreover, while there has been some violence among passengers, I don’t recall hearing of any that was provoked by the showing of anything on an airborne screen.
Some school principals indeed made “attempts at introducing school uniforms.” But, as far as I can tell, any “aggression” provoked by students’ attire wasn’t a result of its sexual provocativeness; rather, it was a result of kids trying to impress each other with designer labels or being enraged by seeing the colors of a rival gang.
And, I’m no expert in the field, but to my knowledge, nowhere has pedophilia been “diagnosed” as “allowed and appropriate” except, perhaps, in NAMBLA literature. Certainly, no one approves of it: Almost any time a teacher, priest or someone else is accused of inappropriate contact, the cries for his or her removal are all but unanimous among parents and others in the community.
So, the former Pope is either seriously deluded about the phenomenon of priests taking advantage of the young people entrusted to them—or he, like too many other church officials, is trying to deflect blame away from those who deserve it: the perpetrators and those who enable and, worse, fail to penalize them.
While the original look and “feel” of the Notre Dame’s spire cannot be replicated, and artworks and artifacts lost in the blaze cannot be replaced, at least most of the cathedral’s grandeur can be saved and/or restored. The same cannot be said for the trust and faith many people had in their priests and church as long as the likes of Benedict offer up explanations for the real crisis in his church that are no more credible for than the ones the American President offers for the Trumped-up “crisis at the border.”
The above comic, drawn by Don Addis, was recently featured on the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s website. I thought it nicely summed up attempts to outlaw abortion by Evangelicals and conservative Roman Catholics. These zygote worshiping zealots will not rest until abortion (and birth control) is outlawed and criminalized.
Are you a member of the Freedom of Religion Foundation? If not, I encourage you join with over 30,000 other freethinkers as they support and defend the separation of church and state. For more membership information, please go here.
He was a student in the yeshiva where I taught for a year. For months, he circled around me before he asked whether we could talk. We did, and he complained about the restrictiveness of his community. Finally, in despair, he revealed that a rabbi in his synagogue was sexually abusing him.
I expressed sympathy—or, more precisely, I channeled my anger into words of understanding. I asked whether he told anyone else. He shook his head: “He made me promise not to tell anybody.”
Were my words coming out of his mouth? I felt as if my lips were moving in sync with his. If they were, I don’t know whether he noticed.
He didn’t ask me not to tell. At least, I don’t recall that he did. But there was no way that I would, even if I could. Perhaps he understood that; I understood his fear because it was my fear.
At that time, I had not told anyone about the sexual abuse I’d experienced at the hands of a priest. Even if I had the language for it—which no kid of my age in that place and time had—I couldn’t have described it for anyone.
For the same reasons, Moishe didn’t talk to anyone besides me. Even if I’d had the words, it would have been my word against the priest’s. Moishe had the words in spite of his community’s and school’s effort to keep him from knowing them. Still, it would have been his word against the rabbi of his synagogue—and the rabbis who ran the school and surely would have sided with Moishe’s abuser. And my word, as an outsider, would have no more weight—actually, probably less than—Moishe’s.
That, of course, is another reason why he told me. He knew I wouldn’t tell, because I really couldn’t. Because I was afraid, as he was.
Here in the United States, we have the same problems you find everywhere: drug abuse, domestic violence, you name it. One of our problems, though, is that we sweep it under the rug.
Such an admission would be unusually forthright, if not startlingly frank, in almost any place or time. But I recall it so clearly, more than two decades after I heard it, because of the person who uttered it.
He had hired me a week earlier—to work with children from some of the families he was talking about. It wouldn’t take long for me to realize that those problems, and others, had much to do with the very existence of that school.
The boys in that Orthodox yeshiva had been kicked out of other Orthodox yeshivas, almost invariably because of their behavior. I’d heeded the warnings of the man who hired me—the school’s head rabbi, whom I’ll call Halphen—about the “games” the boys might play. They played them, and I wasn’t surprised. (After all, I was a teenaged boy once!) I soon realized, however, that most of the boys would do no better in that school, in part because the main tool the school had for helping the boys was Halakhic law. More important, though, the boys—at least one, anyway—had problems even more serious than the ones Rabbi Halphen mentioned, and “the community,” as he liked to call it, was a cause.
Being a non-Jewish teacher (and a Catholic school alumnus) in an Orthodox yeshiva was, to say the least, an interesting experience. So was being a transgender woman—who was still living as a man—in an all-male environment. Of course, the boys didn’t know about my identity, though some thought I was gay. In any event, I was an outsider.
That meant the boys both looked down on, and even expressed hatred for me, but looked to me for what they couldn’t find from their rabbis and parents, or the other adults in their community. I think now of a dynamic James Baldwin described: whites who saw blacks as their inferiors went to those same blacks for love when no one else was watching them. When groups of boys were together, they mocked my goyishness, but when they encountered me one-on-one, they wanted to talk.
Naturally, they wanted to talk about wishes and dreams that were taboo in their community. One confessed his crush on a Puerto Rican girl. (As someone who’s dated Hispanics of all gender identities, and was married to one, I sympathized.) Others thought they might be gay or simply didn’t want the kind of family life their community proscribed for them: “You get married, start a business, have a bunch of kids, double your weight and get a heart attack,” as one boy mused. Still others wanted careers that weren’t part of the Orthodox menu. And there was the junior who wanted to know what I thought of Allen Ginsberg’s poetry.
One boy, though, haunts me to this day. I’ll call him Moishe. He seemed to circle around me for months before he finally asked whether we could talk during his lunch break. I agreed. Moishe expressed some of the usual complaints about the restrictiveness of his community. All along, I had a feeling he wanted to say something else, but not what he asked a few days later: Could I adopt him?
I explained that I couldn’t which, of course, he knew—but as I suspected, his question was a pretext to talk some more. Which we did, several more times over the weeks. Then, one sunny Spring afternoon, he came to me in tears. “I want to die!” he exclaimed.
“Have you talked to anybody else?”
He shook his head. “I can’t,” he sobbed. “They’ll never believe me.”
I knew that “they” meant any authority figure in his life: his parents, his other adult relatives, the rabbis in the school and the ones in his synagogue. Nor would anyone else in his synagogue. “They’re all in on it,” he cried.
My spine tingled. This was years before I talked about my own abuse, but I knew he wanted to talk about his. “Who?” I asked.
Moishe then told me about the rabbi in his synagogue who was always calling him in to help with one thing or another. My guess is that his parents thought the rabbi knew he was a “problem” child and they were grateful for the interest he showed. The rabbi took advantage of that trust and use the pretext of errands and chores to make contact with the boy. I am not talking merely about “face time;” I mean, literally, contact—in areas that should be touched only by medical professionals with gloved hands.
Although I would not talk about my own abuse, or name the priest who abused me, until many years later, I had an overwhelming, physically aching, sense of déjà vu. So many things I experienced felt the same way, as a Catholic school alumnus and transgender woman who was still living as a man, during the year I taught in that Orthodox yeshiva. And when I hear about sex abuse in the Catholic church or any other religious institution, I think of Moishe—and the words of Rabbi Halphen, who hired me to teach Moishe and other boys who were living with the issues that were being “swept under the rug.”
The Roman Catholic Church sex-abuse scandals have been centuries in the making. They were first reported in the US media in 1985 but didn’t garner widespread attention until 2002, with the Boston Globe exposé. Since then, media coverage and public awareness of the church’s “dirty little secret” has snowballed, turning into an avalanche with the “Me-too” movement.
It doesn’t surprise me that it took so long for the problem to come to light. After all, decades would pass between the abuse I suffered and the day I finally talked about it. Many other people have similar stories. Also, as we have seen from the church’s own reports, individual parishes, not to mention dioceses and the Vatican itself, did everything they could to keep knowledge of wrongdoing “in the family,” if you will.
In this matter, church officials were like the proverbial Dutch boys with their fingers in a crumbling dike: They could hold back the tide of truth, but only for so long. Now the dam is breaking and the revelations are flooding in, not only from the Roman Catholic Church, but from other religious organizations.
Then again, it probably won’t be long before we learn about such things, because nearly all religions are built on hierarchical power structures. The most orthodox or fundamentalist, or the most institutionalized, have the most rigid hierarchies. All such power structures present ample opportunities for the powerful—who are usually, but not always, male and of at least some degree of privilege—to use sex as a means of controlling the less senior or more vulnerable members.
Naturally, such things can be said about a corporation or university, or the military or a gang, as well as a church. There are, however, two things that make religious institutions particularly fertile ground for sexual exploitation. One is that clergy members’ and other officials’ authority is amplified by their putative relationship with God, or whatever they call their supernatural authority. The other is that everyday worshipers, volunteers and other members of the church, synagogue or other house of worship tend to bring their vulnerabilities to the forefront to a greater degree than they would in a workplace, classroom or platoon. In other words, they are looking for acceptance they might not find in their communities or stability that might not exist in their families. Members of the clergy, whether by inclination or training, are very good at finding those vulnerabilities.
I am, of course, talking about my own experience. One of the reasons I became an altar boy (how odd it is for me to say that as a transgender woman!) is that I was looking for (and found) a circle of friends, or at least peers, that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Also, I was frankly looking for something that would keep me out of the house, away from an emotionally and mentally unsupportive family. I spent more time with the Fathers in black collars than with my biological male parent. That gave one of the Fathers his opportunities.
And those opportunities for a predatory cleric or authority figure to prey on a vulnerable child or lay person come, not only in the context of in-church activities such as being an altar boy or acolyte, but also in camps, retreats and other off-site gatherings. Even more exposed are those who are sequestered in a convent, seminary or other place where they are preparing for what they believe to be a life of service to God and humanity but which, too often, turns out to be a life of servitude to an institution. While such people may genuinely want to give of themselves to their fellow humans and give themselves over to God, they also see being or becoming a priest, nun, minister or even a deacon as their purpose, even their raison d’etre, to an even greater degree than people who are, or are training to be, accountants or lawyers or other professionals or tradespeople.
That is why, in the weeks and months ahead, I fully expect to hear more revelations of sexual abuse from other churches, and from religious entities outside of Christianity. I can’t say that such revelations will make me happy, but I can at least be satisfied that some victims will find some measure of justice, if not peace. Still, I can only wish that others could have had the opportunity I’ve had to name my abuse and abuser. It is for them, as much as for anyone else, that the truth about sexual exploitation in religious entities—wherever, whenever and however it was perpetrated, and by whom—must, and will, continue to come out. The only question is: Which church or religion will be exposed next?
When you go to France, people expect you to complain about the French. On the other hand, if you go to Italy, they expect you to rave about Italians.
Well, I confound both expectations. I have been to France several times, and lived there. Yes, there are rude and arrogant French people, particularly in Paris. But I live in New York, so I am rarely put off by other people’s attitudes. And I have encountered many French people who are helpful and generous, including some who have become friends.
Moreover, as someone who loves history, the arts and bicycling, there seems to be no end to what France can offer. Oh, and they sure know how to do food!
Of course, I can say the same for Italy. Now, I will grant that, on the whole, Italians are, if not warmer, then at least more emotionally demonstrative than the French are. I’ve met some who are generous and truly wonderful in all sorts of ways. Oh, and dare I say this? I prefer Italian coffee.
Still, on my most recent trip to Italy — the summer before last — I didn’t enjoy myself, at least for part of it. In fact, I was depressed enough that I didn’t even want to taste gelato.
You might have guessed that part of my trip was in Rome. Don’t get me wrong: I was happy to see the Forum and Coliseum, and to wander through ancient streets on foot and by bicycle. But, even in the seemingly endless sunshine of Roman summer days, I felt as if were enveloped in a gray rain.
At first, I thought I was just feeling guilt over leaving Chairman Meow, my aging cat whose health took a turn for the worse after I booked the trip. I called my friend, who was taking care of him. She assured me that he was okay, and I had no reason not to believe her: She rescued him and nursed him to health before I adopted him.
Still, I could not shake the gloom that gripped me. That I couldn’t fathom any reason for it made it all the worse.
It finally made sense when, as you might have guessed, I visited the Vatican. It’s one of those things you’re “supposed” to do in Rome; mainly, I wanted to see the Sistine Chapel again. I did, but even seeing one of the greatest accomplishments of one of my artistic heroes couldn’t lift my spirits.
I felt as if I were being crushed, and it wasn’t because of the crowds of tourists that surrounded me. And it wasn’t just the stifling heat and lack of space that made it difficult to breathe. Rather, I felt more like I was stuck in a vise-like pair of giant scissors. I just wanted to get out. The last thing I wanted was to get sick in that place: I might’ve gotten the best medical care available, but I felt as if I would never get out of the grip of the pincers I felt around me.
Later, I realized that those levers I felt at my sides; the crush I felt against my chest, were human legs and another human chest. Except that, even in that crowd, no one was that close to me: I would not allow it. In fact, I also wanted to get out of there because I did not want to end up in the hands of the Carabinieri if I kicked or punched — or in an asylum, in a foreign land, if I screamed.
What I realized, later that night, was that for the first time in years, I was re-living the sexual molestation and abused I suffered, as a child, from a parish priest. And, although I didn’t verbalize it, I understood that I was in the world headquarters, if you will, of the very organization that enabled my abuser. Even so, I would never get to say anything to the old men—priests—who run the organization, any more than I would have the opportunity to confront my long-dead abuser.
I also understood why I visited the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore — one of the major Papal basilicas and the largest Marian church in Rome — just once, even though it stood less than a block from the hotel where I stayed. Although I was awed by the mosaics as well as the other artwork — It was fabulous, even in comparison to other artistic and historical treasures of a city so full of them! — I couldn’t wait to get out of it and away from the piazza that rings it.
At that moment, the enormity of the place, and its close association with the Papacy, was enough to make me want to scream. But the following night, I was looking for something else on the internet when I came across an article about the basilica — or, more specifically, the cardinal who was its archpriest from 2004 until 2011.
He was none other than Bernard Francis Law. Although he wasn’t involved in the diocese in which I grew up, I couldn’t see him as anything but someone who covered for priests like the one who abused me.
After he resigned as Archbishop of Boston, Law moved to Rome. Shortly thereafter, Pope John Paul II appointed him to his post at Santa Maria Maggiore. This move made Law a citizen of Vatican City and, thus, immune to prosecution by US authorities.
When I looked at the domes of Santa Maria Maggiore again, all I could see were golden parachutes. That there were beggars around the church didn’t surprise me; I could only wonder how many other functioning but broken people — people broken by the priests shielded by Law and others like him — shuffled past the church on Esquiline Hill every day. For a few days, I was one of them.
The rest of my trip to Italy — which I spent in Florence — was better. But I needed to get home: I had much work to do. And, I confess, when people asked whether I had a good time in Italy, I nodded and mouthed the usual platitudes about the food and culture and history.
Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? 2 Corinthians 6:14
During my years as an Evangelical Christian, I heard many sermons warning Christians not to be “unequally yoked” with unbelievers with regard to marriage, friendship, or owning a business together. The illustration was always of two animals that were not similar in size or strength being yoked together to pull something heavy. A picture was always painted of two animals walking in circles or the transport going awry in some way.
As teenagers and young adults, we were warned to never date unbelievers because that would lead to disastrous outcomes. Our pastors and teachers would give anecdotal examples of Christians marrying a non-Christians in which the Christians were bullied or convinced to give up their principles. Often the non-believers in these stories would mistreat the believers and lead them down roads of debauchery. Or the non-believers would lead the believers away from Christ, only to abandon the believers, leaving the believers’ lives in shambles (for Jesus and the church to swoop in to rescue and rehabilitate them). The pictures painted were quite bleak. The reasoning behind this advice was that a Christian and a non-Christian supposedly have completely different worldviews and sets of values guiding their choices.
I met the man who became my husband through some friends. My close college friend was dating a guy who was the fraternity brother of my husband. In the early 1990s at our university, it was still customary for fraternity brothers to dress up in a suit jacket, khakis, a button-down shirt, and a tie to attend football games. Female students would dress up as well, typically in a nice dress (usually black) with nice shoes and jewelry. A fraternity brother would ask a female student to be his date to the game, meaning that they would meet at the fraternity house for cocktails, go to the game for a while, then return to the fraternity house for more cocktails. Later in the evening, after everyone had changed clothes, there would be a party at the fraternity house, typically with a live band. It was the South, after all, where traditions died hard. However, it was a lot of fun. (Our daughter attends our alma mater, and apparently the formal dress and the game date part has changed, but the pregame cocktails and postgame activities remain the same.) My fraternity friend set me up with his dateless fraternity brother for a football game. I figured that I wouldn’t have to actually spend much time with the guy; that we would both just hang out with our respective friends with the respectability of having a date to go to the game remaining intact. Instead, we hit it off and ended up dating. The rest, shall we say, is history.
When we met, I was in the process of leaving Evangelical Christianity, but as deconverts know, many deeply-held ideas are difficult to shake. My husband was a nominal Catholic, meaning that his family attended mass on Christmas and Easter, along with the occasional wedding or funeral. When we met, he said he was Christian and seemed confused when I asked him “what kind?” He seemed to think “Christian” covered everything. Au contraire, mon ami! I explained to him that there were many different denominations of Christian, each with its own doctrines and practices. As we became more and more serious, I knew that we were an “unequally yoked” couple. He would alternately refer to himself as “Christian” or “agnostic”, but he respected all beliefs or lack of belief. He had a strong set of values, stronger than those of many Christians I had encountered, so I knew he wasn’t a bad person. I knew he wasn’t “saved,” but I was having doubts about the necessity of Evangelical salvation, so I let that go. We got engaged, and while the concept of being unequally yoked nagged at me a bit, I continued to push those thoughts away. I had no intention of converting him to Evangelical Christianity; first, because I was having doubts myself, and second, because I realized it would sound ridiculous to an outsider.
Oddly enough, my family barely questioned my husband’s Christian beliefs. They knew that he had been raised Catholic, but they really didn’t ask us many religious questions. I don’t know if it was because they trusted me to vet a marriage partner or if they were afraid to have an argument with me. Many of my family members are afraid of me for some reason (probably because I am not afraid to speak my mind and to disagree with their ideas). In any case, we were married in our university chapel by a Methodist campus minister. We had our wedding reception, complete with a full bar and a DJ, at the fraternity house. I warned my Southern Baptist grandma before the wedding that we would be serving alcohol and having dancing at the reception, and she told me that it was between me and my husband and that she would stay for a little while. Grandma was a complementarian, after all. After dinner was served, my uncle drove my grandma home while the rest of us partied.
During our early years of marriage, we tried a variety of churches including Catholic, for a while. We ended up at a Congregational United Church of Christ for a few years while our children were little. It was an open and affirming church, with a husband and wife team of pastors. I became a deacon and joined the choir while my husband joined the finance committee. After a few years, each of us had our deconversion experiences for different reasons. He openly called himself an agnostic and then an atheist, while I spent several years saying I was “taking a break from religion” while I sorted out the details. Our children were so young that they do not remember much about our church-going years, and both consider themselves to be nonreligious and will occasionally use the term “atheist” to describe themselves, depending on the company present.
We are equally yoked atheists at this time. Because I was raised in such a hardcore Evangelical environment, I am more anti-fundamentalist than my husband is. He considers most religion to be benign, a way to teach people love and morals and to give comfort during times of suffering or heartache. I witnessed and was a part of the ugly side of Fundamentalist Christianity. I did not talk about it for many years, mainly because the memories were often painful and my embarrassment regarding the anti-intellectualism was too intense. As my daughter began exploring universities in the Bible Belt, I started talking with my family about my experiences so that they could understand the Bible Belt culture. I wanted them to understand a bit more about why mom reads books about evolution, about the history and archaeology of the Bible, about deconversion experiences, and about atheism. Each of my personal stories is met with looks of “WTF”. They are even more stunned to hear that many of our family members still believe these things.
I suppose an Evangelical pastor could use my story as a sermon illustration of why unequal yoking is detrimental to one’s “Walk With The Lord.” While I did not enter a life of total debauchery or divorce, I did deconvert from Christianity. I am an apostate. Though the pastors of my background (and some of my relatives and friends from my past) would consider me in the “once saved always saved” crowd, I am well outside the world of the True Christian®, and in their estimation I have led my husband and children to the eternal fires of Hell. In my estimation, for one to remain in Evangelicalism with beliefs at odds with the findings of history, archaeology, and science, it is vitally necessary to insulate oneself (and one’s family) from outside influences that reveal the tenuous nature of religious doctrines. Therefore, it makes sense that Fundamentalist leaders would urge their flocks to avoid becoming entangled with nonbelievers or to attend secular educational institutions.
Do you have a story regarding the concept of being unequally yoked, either your own experience or the experience of someone you know? If you were or are part of an unequally yoked pair, did you experience any trepidation? Please share your story in the comment section.
Not so long ago, rape was seen merely as a “sex crime.” I say “merely” because its “sexual” designation made it, at best, less worthy of attention or, worse, something the victim brought on herself. (Rape was also, for all intents and purposes, defined as something done to a woman by a man.) Thus, it could be seen as something that happened because a woman was out at the wrong time or wearing the wrong clothes — not a way in which one human being violated another.
But then a shift occurred. As someone who is not a criminologist or a scholar in any related field, I can’t tell you what caused the changed. What I know, however, is its result: policy makers and law enforcement officials are, increasingly, treating rape as a violent crime. While there are still police officers and departments, as well as public officials, who treat victims with condescension or even hostility, increasing numbers are doing what they can to give rape victims the same sort of attention and avenues of redress afforded people who have been mugged or suffered other random assaults — which, of course, is what they deserve.
Thankfully, I see a similar sort of change in the winds for people who have been sexually molested by priests or other authority figures, including employers, teachers and directors. One result is that more of us are coming forward, whether in the days or weeks after the incidents — or even decades later, as I finally did.
This is not to say, of course, that coming forward is easy or without repercussions: why do you think I’m writing under a nom de plume? But the fact that I, and others, have been able to speak up, in whatever ways and to whomever (I’ve told a few good friends as well as a therapist and social worker) shows that at least some people have a different, and more accurate, perception of sexual harassment, molestation, abuse and assault from the ones they had just a few years ago. And, of course, people who hadn’t been paying attention are now focused on the issue.
The change I see is this: people are starting to understand that when a priest takes advantage of an altar boy who doesn’t yet know the names of the parts of his body the priest is touching — or a director demands sex of an aspiring actress — or a coach or trainer forces him- or herself on an athlete whose life plans depend on staying on the team and keeping a scholarship — it’s no more a mere “sex crime” than the attack of a waitress on her way home from the lobster shift — a work shift that covers the late evening and early morning hours — or forced intimacy by a spouse, shift partner or paramour. Instead, the abuses I’ve described are abuses of power imbalances — and, perhaps even more important, abuses of trust.
That last point cannot be overstated. People usually enter marriages trusting each other. Employees go to their jobs trusting that their supervisors or employers will treat them with personal and professional respect. And, every day, parents entrust their kids with — and teach their kids to trust — teachers and coaches.
And priests. In communities like the one in which I grew up, priests were trusted more than anybody else. That is one reason why abuse and molestation from them is so traumatic and alienating: The faith parents and other adults have, and teach their children to have, in their priests—whom they see as representatives of God — makes it difficult, if not impossible, for kids to speak up, even if they have the language to do so.
That implicit, unquestioned trust in priests makes abuse from them all the more egregious: violating that trust is worse than almost anything else that can be done to a vulnerable child — or, for that matter, to adults who lack the confidence to speak with other kinds of professionals. Very often, people like the ones with whom I grew up could confide in almost no one else, and they and their kids don’t have much else in their lives besides work, school, family and the church.
People are outraged over sexual abuse from priests, as well as other authority figures, because they’ve come to understand what I’ve described. My closest friend, the widow of a blue-collar worker, “gets it.” So does another friend who grew up without religion and says she never experienced abuse from anybody. So does a male friend who has practically no formal education.
Lots of other people get it, too. Sometimes it seems everybody does — except for Church officials. Rather than seeing sexual abuse by priests as an exploitation of trust and power, the church blames other things. Like the Sexual Revolution — never mind that victims have been reporting abuse they incurred decades before the SR supposedly corrupted us. Or homosexuality — forgetting that nearly all men (including priests) who sexually molest boys never have any sort of sexual experience with adult men, or any desire for it.
That last fact about the proclivities of pedophiles is something that I knew even before I had the language for it — or for my own body or desires, for that matter. I suspect most people these days understand as much, even if they’ve never read the research that corroborates it.
I understand. They understand. Everyone, it seems, understands — except for church officials — that priests preying on vulnerable young people is, more than anything, an abuse of trust. Perhaps it’s just not in their interest to understand. In the meantime, if not the sexual revolution or gays, they’ll find something or someone else — including the victims themselves — to blame.
Recently, a very angry man took out his frustrations on me because of pedophile priests in the Roman Catholic Church. I don’t blame him for being angry. His language would curl your ear hair, but I certainly felt his pain. He was frustrated because I was preaching in California, seemingly unconcerned that these robed vultures were perched in this religious institution and were swooping in on the most vulnerable among us.
He wanted me to stop preaching in California, and instead go to Rome, talk to the pope, and tell him to clean the filth from the Catholic Church.
I told him that I hated what was going on even more than he did. What I didn’t tell him is that there’s a reason that the Catholic Church is filled with homosexuals and pedophiles who molest little boys (most of the thousand known cases just in Pennsylvania involved boys). This is happening because the institution denies the necessity of the new birth. Jesus said in John chapter 3 that every one of us must be born again or we will not enter Heaven—which happens through repentance and trusting alone in Jesus. They believe that this happens at baptism.
The Bible speaks of this throughout the whole of Scripture—Old Testament and New Testament—where God says that He will forgive us and transforms us so that we love righteousness rather than sin.
If we let people into any religious institution without the new birth, they’re going to take their sinful heart with them, whether it be homosexuals molesting boys or heterosexual priests peering at pornography.
Another contributing factor is that the Roman Catholic Church denies the biblical revelation of the sinful nature of mankind; they claim that even atheists don’t need God’s forgiveness—that they will make it to Heaven without the new birth. They also embrace the unscientific theory of evolution—despite the fact that the Scriptures say that in the beginning God made us male and female.
Roman Catholics don’t allow priests to marry, when the apostle Paul made it clear that it’s better to marry “than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:9). The Bible also tells us that Peter was married (Matthew 8:14), and that when he and the apostles traveled they took their wives with them (1 Corinthians 9:5).
Yet this monstrous institution has lived on, hiding these criminals from man’s justice for all those years. Every one of us should be as outraged as my foul-mouthed and furious friend. But we should also look at our own sinful hearts, come to the cross, and be born again.
Memo to Ray Comfort: Clean up your own back yard first. Evangelicalism has a huge sexual abuse problem. Evangelicalism also has a problem with preachers preying on congregants, using them to fulfill their wanton sexual desires. It’s easy to attack the Catholic church, and quite frankly they deserve it, but you ignore the growing sexual abuse/sexual misconduct scandal in his own back yard. Are all these offending Evangelical preachers, youth pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers, college professors, and parachurch leaders “unsaved” too? Have they all followed after a “false” gospel?