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?
Look, I think you have to look at the intent. I was also brought up in a Christian family. The whole intent of this is to really look at what Jesus would do if he was alive in 2018. And seeing that religion is all about being selfless, you know this is the most selfless act anyone could do.
I wanted to deliberately provoke a conversation in homes around the subject. I thought it would be amusing and relevant to find that the nicest and kindest man who ever lived – Jesus, wasn’t aware that his organ donor status was no longer on his license. Once I started writing I realised that the complexity of the Australian Organ donation could be explained. In the end Jesus donating his organs is exactly what I think Jesus WOULD do.
Christians took to comment sections to express their outrage (all spelling in the original):
I’m not impressed tax-payer dollars were spent on an advert which belittles the excruciating torture and gruesome sacrifice of my Lord Jesus Christ. Why is this mockery politically correct according to your views? It would be politically incorrect if you were making fun of people based on their gender, sexuality or race but Christianity is fair game, right?
To be so casual about Jesus’ crucifixion is taking humour denigrating Christ to a new low. If your aim was to divide opinion over the level of respect Jesus Christ and Christians should be given, you have suceeded. What you have not suceeded in is making organ donation the attractive talking point you had hoped for. I for one, will not give you the controversy you are hungry for. I will not be sharing this video with anyone, but I WILL be making a complaint.
If the intention was to increase awareness of organ donation and provide education on how to register, then it sadly barely achieves that goal. If the intention was to be disrespectful and blasphemous towards Christians and their God – then you nailed it. It is offensive to me as a Christian and I am not sure how the suggestions to denigrate other religions as well is helpful
How dare you mock my Lord Jesus! If this were mocking my race, colour, gender or sexual preference you would be breaking the law, and you think this is ok. Go ahead, keep mocking Christianity, you will surely reap what you are sowing. I am an organ donor, but today without fail I will cease to be until this add is pulled and a public apology given! I ask all my Christian brothers and sisters to do the same! Now when you notice all the Christian donors you are losing, maybe you will see the error of your ways! Just because Christians are taught to forgive, doesn’t mean we should be fair game.
More cowardly degeneracy from the left. Why don’t they mock the world’s other major religion? Oh yea because they are cowards.
THIS AD IS SO BLASPHEMOUS. JUST DISGUSTING AND SHAMEFUL. I DEFINITELY WILL NOT CONSIDER DONATING MY ORGANS DUE TO THIS EVIL AD. I’D LIKE TO SEE WHAT TROUBLE THEY WOULD GET INTO DOING AN AD WITH MAHOMMED, KRISHNA OR BUDDHA IN IT. THE CREATORS WOULD BE PUT IN JAIL OR BLOWN UP. YAHWEH (GOD) WILL POUR HIS WRATH ON THE CREATORS OF THIS ADD.
Jesus is my King and this is disgusting. Thank god he’ll be here soon to sought you lot out.
Mohammed probably would have been more appropriate he actually stayed dead. Gee I guess he was out of the question for some strange reason. Just another clown making fun of Jesus knowing he will only get forgiveness from Christians and not his head smacked in. Lucky Jesus taught forgiveness to his followers so the clowns can get away with this while they are still alive. This is just another nutjob all bent out of shape, triggered over Christianity at the end of the day , nothing more.
You would not dare to mock the Muslim faith in this way or the Aborigines Dreamtime in this way so what makes you think its okay to keep knocking the Christian faith. If you don’t have the creativity to make advertisements without hurting and offending people maybe you are in the wrong profession! This ad makes me want to remove myself from the organ donar list! Where are the regulators and why is this ad still up? Christians are peaceful, respectful, contributors to society, we deserve the same respect that is given to everyone else. It is deplorable that in a Christian country like Australia, the foundation stone of our faith can be so mocked and disrespected.
Dirty atheist dogs, I would love to meet the maker of this disrespectful clip. This is bigger than just disrespecting someone or someones family, this is our dear god the god of the world, Don’t think for a minute 1.3 billion Catholics are going to let this go. In any type of battle you want we will take it all the way, our history speaks for itself , when someone disrespects or makes misinformed lies about the Lord of lords our god Jesus Christ without any evidence to back up their message, they will pay for it. This is larger than life , if you want to make a criticizing attack on a religion and you can back it up with church teaching, religious text , etc , then you are entitled to do so , but this is gross misrepresentation of Jesus . We will not stand by idle and wait.
Disgusting !! The Lord God has long reaching arms and eventually catches up with everyone. I would not donate my organs in fear that people that promote this rubbish end up with them. I will change my consent in the morning to NO. I will not be donating.
More years ago than I care to admit, I read Richard Rodriguez’s Hunger of Memory. Not long afterward, I went through a period when I hated the book because people (or, more precisely, people whose opinions I detested) embraced it. I was young enough, chronologically and emotionally, to get away with things like that.
I’ll confess that, today, at least one of his notions resonates with me, an unrepentant liberal. He exposed the contradictions of Affirmative Action, at least as it was practiced in the late 1970s and early 1980s — and, to a large extent, as it’s still practiced today. He described the ways in which he benefited because, as he says, of his surname. But by the dint of having earned a bachelor’s degree from Stanford and continued his studies at Columbia and Berkeley, he had more in common with his fellow scholars — most of whom were white and at least upper middle-class — than with the poor Mexican-Americans among whom he grew up.
He thus became the darling of William F. Buckley and characters even more odious because there’s nothing they love more than someone who shares their attitudes and whose skin is darker than theirs. It allows them to say, “See, I told you so!” But another part of Rodriguez’s biography has endeared him to me at least as much. And it resonated with me at least as much.
That part of his story is his, and his family’s, relationship with the Roman Catholic faith in which he was raised. At the time the book was published, he still considered himself a member of the church, although, as he says, the modern adaptations of it — prayers in English instead of Latin and folksy guitar music instead of Bach compositions — were at least somewhat alien to him.
Still, he said, he continued his affiliation with the church — in the face of friends and colleagues who chided him for showing up late to Sunday brunch because he’d been to mass — because, in spite of all of its changes, it provided a “liturgy” (which I take as a churchy way of saying “narrative”) to his life. That, and what he feels the church gave his Mexican parents.
Of all the institutions in their lives, only the Catholic Church has seemed aware of the fact that my mother and father are thinkers — persons aware of the experience of their lives. Other institutions — the nation’s political parties, the industries of mass entertainment and communication, the companies that employed them—have all treated them with condescension. In ceremonies of public worship, they have been moved, assured that their lives, from waking to eating, from birth until death, all moments — possess great significance. (pp.90-91)
That, to me, sounds like another “Mother Teresa” argument: Whatever abuses she, or any other representative of the church, or the Church itself — committed on the poor, the sick, the weak — or others in any way vulnerable — is justified by the “good” they or the Church did. That the church itself has been so complicit in conscripting young men (like his father’s forebears) to conquer lands (like the ones in which his parents and he grew up), slaughter the natives of said lands, and to enslave captives brought to those lands — all the while providing said conscripts a standard of living not much better than the natives who were sent to slaughter — seems to have escaped the notice of a supposedly educated man like Rodriguez.
Even if, as he wrote, the Church was aware of people like his parents as thinkers — which I don’t doubt they were—he still gives the institution far too much credit. If you are starving, the person who gives you anything to eat, even if it’s stale or tainted, can seem like a savior or hero. Really, it’s no different from the appeal of any number of despots from Julius Caesar to Mao had for proles and peasants — or that drug dealers have for young people who see no way out of the ghetto or, more important, the moment in which they are living.
One can be forgiven for idolizing a person or institution that seemed to offer charity and solace to one’s poor parents and family. One can even be forgiven for venerating such a person or institution when he, she or it offered a place, however servile, within a world that isolates, rejects and alienates people who are poor, weak or foreign. But if such a person acquires an education, formally or otherwise, that person will see, in time, that the person or institution who took him or her “seriously” or “protected” him or her from bullies or other dangers — or simply provided a meal, room or job—may have had other purposes for such seeming acts of charity. Those acts may have been attempts to recruit the recipient for something, or simply to buy his or her silence.
The latter seems to have had an effect on Rodriguez. While he says he dislikes the “modern” church, he doesn’t dislike it enough to leave it — even after coming out as gay, as he did a decade after Hunger of Memory was published. That, as a gay man, he can still cling to a religion that so blatantly opposes non-heterosexual love — no matter that the Pope says, “Who am I to judge?”— is, at least to me, a mystery even beyond that of the faith itself.
It might just be that he’s been so rewarded within the community of the Church, and by secular as well as religious conservatives, for his apologetics. The conservatives have rewarded him with grants to write, speaking engagements and other things that have allowed him to sustain his life since he left his PhD studies — because he realized he was benefiting from his surname. As for the church — well, I guess it’s what’s made him the commodity he’s become: a gay Hispanic Catholic conservative. Where would he, his talents notwithstanding, be without it?
Perhaps he would have hunger — and his memory would be different.
During his Senate confirmation hearings, Brett Kavanaugh testified about the good and great things he’s done throughout his life: He has “mentored” many female students; 21 of the 25 clerks he hired while a US attorney were women. Why, he even coaches his daughters’ basketball team!
I have no reason to doubt that he has done whatever he can to offer women opportunities in the law, politics, academia and other areas. I also am willing to believe him when he says he is committed to equality or even when he says he’s tried to live an “exemplary” life.
I would also believe such statements from any number of other men. Moreover, I have known many other men who, throughout their lives, gave of their time and resources to help women, as well as men and children, in any number of ways. In fact, I know of one in particular who gave over his life to helping and guiding other people.
He was a priest in the parish where I grew up. Nearly everyone sang his praises: He was a fixture, not only in the parish, but in the community as a whole.
It seems that at that time, a priest stayed in a parish longer than he stays now: Some priests spent most or all of their careers in the same place, hearing the first confessions, offering the First Holy Communion and confirming young parishioners — and their children — and grandchildren. You would also see them on playgrounds, in nursing homes or walking the streets of the neighborhood. They visited the old and sick, sometimes giving of their meager means to help.
Also, in neighborhoods like the one in which I spent my childhood, priests were the de facto therapists and social workers. Most of the men were blue-collar workers and the women homemakers; many were immigrants and few had more than a high-school education. That meant they couldn’t afford, or didn’t know how to access, therapists, and even if they could or did, they never would trust them, or for that matter, social workers, in the same way they would confide in a priest.
The particular priest I’m thinking of right now did such things, and more.
And he sexually molested me.
Now, anyone who doesn’t know that probably knows only what a “good and Godly” man he was to them. Were I to tell them, then or now, what Father did to me, it probably wouldn’t change their perceptions of him. In fact, some would turn on me — or, for that matter, anyone else who might say that he did to them what he did to me.
(I, of course, have no way of knowing whether he abused any other kids — or assaulted any adults. But, given what we’ve seen, it isn’t hard to imagine, for me anyway, that he did: Sexual predators rarely, if ever, prey on only one person.)
So, even though I thoroughly sympathize with — and believe — Christine Blasey Ford, I understand why other women signed a letter of support for Judge Kavanaugh. Most were his high school friends or classmates and said, in essence, that the young man they knew “would never do anything like that.”
Brett Kavanaugh may well have been someone who “has always treated women with decency and respect,” as the letter relates. He may also be the rigorous scholar, conscientious teacher, caring mentor, impartial jurist, loving father — and champion of women’s equality – that he proclaimed himself to be.
That is, he might be all of those things — to people not named Christine Blasey Ford. Or Deborah Ramirez. Just as the priest in my parish was a godly, saintly man to many people in my community — but not to me. Or, perhaps to some other kids or, for that matter, adults who have not yet spoken up.
It’s difficult to understand the complexities of the human mind – what makes people “tick,” what goes on inside them. As a result, none of us ever knows what evil lurks in the depths of those we think we know – even those who are “good people.”
Two years ago, Colin Kaepernick did something that garnered far more attention than any game he played or pass he threw.
Those who disapproved of his gesture said he “refused to stand” during the National Anthem. On the other hand, those who approved, or simply supported his right to do so, said he “knelt” or “took to his knee.”
My response? “Well, at least he was on only one knee.”
From that position, he could leap up and run, if he needed to. Even though he’s a professional athlete, if he were on both knees, he’d have a hard time springing up and darting away.
That, of course, begs the question of why he would need to do such a thing. As an NFL quarterback who was, arguably, one of the best at his position for a couple of years, he almost certainly has the strength to fight off a would-be attacker, as well as the speed to run—and the reflexes to do either, or both.
Still, I was relieved not to see him on both knees for the same reason that, to this day, I cannot bear to see people in such a prone position — and why I never kneel.
The last time (that I recall, anyway) I knelt for any period of time was also the last time I had to see someone I love kneeling.
Even though she had to genuflect for only a moment, and I knelt only for a few more, I could barely keep myself from screaming. I couldn’t keep myself from crying the rest of that day.
It was an unusually hot day for May and, in spite of the air conditioning, everything seemed to be happening in the kind of haze that precedes storms and terrible, violent acts.
On the side of the aisle opposite from where I sat, a line of boys stood in their dark suits, almost none of which fit. On the side nearest me were a line of girls in loose white dresses that, on some, looked like oversized doll costumes.
They took one step down the aisle and stopped—except for the boy and girl at the front. It took them three or four steps to reach the altar. The boy, and the girl, knelt. The scream started to roil inside me.
The boy and girl turned their heads up. The priest mouthed the words. Even though I couldn’t hear him, I knew what they were: “Body of Christ.”
The boy whispered, “Amen,” and the priest placed a small round wafer in his mouth. He repeated this ritual with the girl. Then with the next boy and girl who came to the altar, and the ones after.
Some people made the sign of the cross for each kid receiving his or first communion. Others held their hands as in prayer. I cupped my hands in my best imitation of Durer’s sculpture—over my mouth. It was all I could do to keep the howl, the curses, I’d held from my childhood to that moment in my middle age.
Then she and another boy knelt in front of the priest. I nearly bolted out of that church. The reason I didn’t: My family, her family and all of their friends would be upset and demanded an explanation I couldn’t give them.
Truth is, even if I could’ve given it, I wouldn’t have. The words would not come until a few days later, after we had all gone back to our homes, some of us far away.
At that moment, I was never as afraid for anyone’s safety as I was for that girl — my niece — and the boy, whom I never knew, kneeling next to her. I had never seen the priest, either, before that day, and would never see him again. But I simply could not bear to see my niece, or that boy, kneeling — vulnerable — in front of him.
Even though her face wasn’t between his knees.
She and the boy rose to their feet, crossed themselves and walked back to the pews. Even though the priest did nothing to harm her — or him — I felt as if I had failed . . . to protect them . . . to save them . . . to protect and save myself.
After the mass, we all went to my brother’s house. Spreads of salads, sandwiches, chicken wings and breasts, burgers and other foods filled the tables and counters. I excused myself to go “to the bathroom” but snuck out the back door and across the yard into the woods, where I let out a long, howling wail and cursed out someone I hadn’t seen, or even thought about, since I was a child. Like my niece. Like that boy.
A few days later, my then-partner was talking about a wedding we would attend a few weeks later. In a church, of course. My partner — an atheist — noticed anger and bile rising through my face when she mentioned “church.”
“Hypocrites and pedophiles,” I grunted.
“What are you talking about?”
Then, as if — for lack of a better word — possessed, I sprang to my feet, stared past her, past everything and everyone and hissed, “Get your fucking hands off me, you motherfucker. God let you do it to me. But this time, I won’t.”
At least she knew I wasn’t talking to her — and that I wouldn’t attack her — which is probably the one and only time I can recall that she seemed not to know what to do.
Or maybe she did. Nothing. She did nothing. And I talked, for the first time, about the way a priest in my parish got me to kneel — between his legs.
I’ve talked about it only with a few other people since then. But I still haven’t gotten down on my knees — not for God, country or anything else.
In a previous essay, I wrote about the conservative blue-collar community in which I was raised. Although it was in one of the world’s major cities, it very closely resembled, in many ways, a small town or village.
For one thing, everyone knew everyone else—or so it seemed. Also, nearly all of us were living at the same social and economic level, and our parents and grandparents had similar backgrounds. Most of them even came from the same places: the grandparents, and in some cases the parents, of just about every kid I knew, were immigrants. They came, not only from the same country, but from a group of towns and villages within a circle of 100 kilometers or so.
That meant we shared the same culture and, if we didn’t speak English at home, we spoke the same language—actually, the same dialect. In my earlier essay, I mentioned that nearly everyone had the same attitude about the Vietnam War, which claimed young men from my neighborhood. Well, there also wasn’t much diversity of opinion when it came to other issues of the day, as well as political figures and other famous people. Even someone like my uncle, who regarded Martin Luther King Jr. as a hero, believed—like most of my family and neighbors—that “Hanoi” Jane Fonda was a traitor or worse.
One more way in which my community resembled a small town in the South or Midwest (or even in the more rural areas of my Northeastern home state) is that on Sunday, nearly everyone went to the same church. While the churches in those far-flung villages and hamlets were, as often as not, Baptist or Presbyterian or of some other mainstream Protestant denomination, ours was Roman Catholic. But the effect it had on us was not unlike that of those small-town denominations on their congregants.
For one thing, going to the same church inculcated us with attitudes and values that some of us still hold to this day. (So, for that matter, did attending the Catholic school I attended along with many of my peers.) Perhaps even more important — at least for a child, especially the sort of child I was — it gave me a sense of belonging that I could find nowhere else. I made some of my first friends in the church, and being an altar boy was really the first experience I had of male camaraderie: not only did we practice and prepare together for the masses, weddings, funerals and other ceremonies in which we served, we also went on picnics and other outings, including ball games, together. It was, I just recently realized, my first attempt — however doomed it was to fail — to forge some kind of male identity.
You see, in the neighborhood in which I grew up, there weren’t many other ways to meet your peers while engaging in positive (or, at least, socially approved and legal) ways besides church. For that matter, it was difficult for people a bit older than myself to meet potential dates or get any sort of guidance about life without going to church, or someone connected with the church. And for adults, there weren’t many other things to do after a day or week of work, paid or unpaid, besides going to the church—or a bar.
That means, in such an environment, that if you are not part of the church, you are not part of the life of your community. It means that you will probably have few or no friends, and may find yourself alienated from family members. Ironically, not having the relationships most people take for granted — or, purely and simply, people to talk to — is just as detrimental to someone who is different and who is bound to leave one day as it is for someone who could, and wants to, be wholly integrated and raise his or her children in such a place.
I came to understand the way alienation — caused by sexual abuse from a priest — affected my own development as a transgender woman only recently, when by chance I found myself talking, for the first time, about my abuse with other survivors—and hearing their stories. One is a gay man from an insular community deep in the center of America. He told me that because he couldn’t talk about the attacks he endured from his parish priest, he essentially couldn’t talk — or learn — about his mind or body. He therefore couldn’t understand, until many years later, why his body reacted as it did even though, as he said, he didn’t feel any sexual attraction to the priest. And it took him even longer to know that there was no contradiction between feeling repulsed by that priest and being attracted to men. Why, even his first therapist told him that because he didn’t enjoy (or consciously elicit) what that priest did to him, he couldn’t possibly be gay.
It took him two more therapists and a failed marriage to understand, finally, that he is gay. Not coincidentally, he came to terms with it only after he was able to talk about his experience with that priest with someone who understood.
As you can imagine, I cried while listening to him. I finally started to clarify, for myself, my own gender identity and take steps to live by it after I told someone about my abuse. Until then, I couldn’t make any sense of how my body responded, involuntarily, to his, and how it — or his actions — had nothing to do with whether I was a girl or boy, or gay or straight, or anything else. Until then, I’d gone through my life trying to live as a gay man — something unsatisfying to me — or asserting a kind of masculinity some would call toxic but which, deep down, wasn’t any more mine than a same-sex attraction to men.
Of course, in the place and time in which I grew up — and in the world in which I’ve lived until recently — sex and gender identity issues weren’t discussed as openly, much less understood as broadly, as they are now. But even by the standards of my schools, communities, workplaces and other environments, I did not talk freely (actually, at all) about my own identity or inclinations. Because the priest who abused me swore me to silence — and because I knew that even if I could talk about it, I wouldn’t, because I would probably be disbelieved or blamed — I learned that talking about such things was not merely taboo: it could end my life. Or so it seemed.
So I kept quiet and, probably as a result, had a roof over my head, food in my mouth and the opportunity and means to an education. But I lived in isolation from all of those people who could talk with their friends, families and others about the issues that, as it turns out, almost everyone faces at some time or another. They learned what it was like to meet people, to form bonds and to support, and be supported, emotionally. Or, through interacting with other people, they realized how and why they were different and figured out what they needed to do before embarking on courses of study, careers, marriages and other relationships — including relationships with themselves — that were bound to fail.
In brief, when your church is the center of your community’s social life — whether in a rural village or an urban enclave — being alienated from it (even when you’re still participating in it) makes it much more difficult to define yourself, whether by or against or outside of it. For people like me and the gay man I’ve mentioned — and, I’m sure, many others who grew up in church-centered communities — that is what is so damaging about being abused by priests or other authority figures — or, more precisely, being sworn to silence and secrecy about it.