Monday, July 31, 2017

A Family Story: When "Pro-Life" Catholic Trump Voters Confront Sexual Abuse of Minors by a Priest — In Their Own Family Circle

I have a story to tell you this morning. It's a story with a question embedded in it. The question is one with which I am personally struggling. This story is about a specific family and family situation, but it also seems to me a parabolic story, in that this specific family in some ways mirrors many white Christian (to be specific: white Catholic) "pro-life" families who voted for Donald Trump, claiming that he is "pro-life," and who continue stoutly to defend him even as he wishes to rip healthcare coverage from millions of economically challenged citizens.

The story: in this particular family, there has been an ongoing situation of tragedy, as an elderly family member lingers — for several years now — following a devastating stroke that would have ended her life naturally had some family members, citing "pro-life" reasons, not placed her on a ventilator and had a feeding tube installed. The ventilator was eventually removed but the feeding tube remains.

She now "lives" in a state in which she knows no one, is incapable of speaking, spends most of her time lying in bed in a nursing home either asleep or with her eyes closed, her stomach distended from the artificial feeding, lying or sitting (when the staff prop her up in a chair) in her own filth. Several of us watching this family drama doubt seriously that this family member (note: this is not my own family but a family to which I have close ties) would have chosen such a protracted, humiliating dying process for herself.

As we see it, the choice to extend this family member's "life" via a ventilator and artificial feeding is extending her dying process, and this extension of the process of death for someone who would have died naturally from a stroke is cruel. As we see it, this cruelty is very hard to reconcile with the claims that the folks subjecting their elderly family member to such treatment are "pro-life." 

That's how we see it. But we are, these family members inform us, part of the "culture of death." We are part of the culture of death because we did not vote for Donald Trump and because we tend to vote Democratic and not Republican.

They themselves represent the "culture of life," and they intend to keep defending Donald Trump because he is the champion of the "culture of life" — though he is intent on ripping healthcare coverage from millions of economically struggling citizens. They are the righteous. We are the unrighteous. We represent the "culture of death" because we are gay. They represent the "culture of life" because they are heterosexually married. We are not welcome at their family events, especially church-related ones, because church is for good people — heterosexual ones. It's for good people like themselves, not bad people like us.

Recently, we've discovered, these family members are extending the claims they have been making about their "pro-life" choice in the case of their elderly, dying relative. They claim that this relative sometimes laughs when they are visiting her and shows signs of understanding what they say and responding to it.

What's strange about these claims is that these family members are the only ones to whom these signs of vivacity are ever given. When doctors examine the dying woman whose "life" is being sustained by artificial feeding, they find no signs at all that she is aware of what is happening around her or responsive to what people are saying to her. The people who operate the Catholic nursing home founded by Catholic nuns in which she is now "living" say the very same thing about her, as do relatives who visit her and are not part of the "we-alone-are-pro-life" set of Catholic relatives responsible for placing her on artificial feeding.

When we heard these claims that the elderly relative laughs and responds to statements — only when her "pro-life" relatives visit her — we thought immediately about the claims made regarding Terri Schiavo in her final months of life. Let's be precise: we thought about the lies told about Terri Schiavo and what was going on with her.

Remember those lies? That she laughed and was responsive to what was happening around her, though one doctor after another had stated in no uncertain terms that her brain had died, a finding eventually confirmed by autopsy, which showed the brain severely degenerated — and people cannot understand what is being said to them when their brains have died? It's biologically impossible.

Remember how a Tennessee senator-cum-doctor, Mr. Frist, diagnosed Terri Schiavo from afar, though he had never met her, and claimed that she most certainly had brain function and was aware of what was going on around her? Remember how he made that claim on the basis of videos he saw of a woman he had never met?

And then when Terri Schiavo died, the results of the autopsy showed Mr. Frist to have been an outright charlatan, a fool, the purveyor of lies. 

But — this is important to note — these are lies that "pro-life" white Christians in the U.S. eagerly lapped up regarding Terri Schiavo. And they're lies that "pro-life" white Christians seem eager to keep peddling in the case of relatives whose medical condition is not distant from that of Terri Schiavo.

My point in saying this: I have no doubt at all that many "pro-life" white Christians sincerely believed that Terri Schiavo was laughing and responding to what was said to her in her vegetative state. I also do not doubt that the family members who find their non-responsive, semi-comatose family member laughing and responding to what is said to her sincerely believe that is happening.

My point is that a certain segment of the so-called "pro-life" movement in the U.S. has now become completely unmoored from science itself, from the findings of medical experts, from the realm of rationality and truth — and is based on sheer irrational fabrication of unreal claims about medical situations and end-of-life (and beginning-of-life) scientific data. My point is also that there's something very dangerous about this situation.

What kind of viable culture can be sustained when people like this prevail, and when they posture as better than everyone else in the world — the true Christians as opposed to all those other Christians who do not follow in their rigorist, purist, gnostic we-alone-know-the-truth footsteps? What kind of viable culture can be sustained when people peddle lies and prefer lies to truth, and claim that, in fact, they are engaged in a holy enterprise as they peddle lies? 

Like the lie that a man who wants to rip healthcare coverage from millions of needy citizens is "pro-life." And that they themselves are "pro-life" in voting for and defending this man.

I said at the outset of this posting that it would be a posting with a question embedded in it. I've already asked a series of questions, but there's one more I'd like to ask, one that, as I say at the start of the posting, troubles me. There's a twist to add to this story.

These very same "pro-life" Catholics who are attacking all of their relatives who did not vote for Donald Trump and do not see Donald Trump and his party as pro-life have a daughter who was raped by her parish priest. These "pro-life" Catholics hosted that same parish priest at dinners at their house a number of times — even in the period in which their teenaged daughter and other young women were being raped by this priest.

When one of the young women being raped by the priest mustered the courage to go public about what was happening to her and several other young girls in the parish, not only did these "pro-life" Catholics refuse to support her: they attacked her. When she spoke on the radio about her story, they called in to the radio station to accuse her of telling lies and being an enemy of the church.

They have made the life of their daughter who was raped a living hell: imagine having your parents and siblings respond to reports about the priest who has raped you by attacking the person going public with information about what the priest was doing! (The report of the young woman who went public was corroborated, by the way, both by legal and criminal authorities, and by the diocese itself.)

These "pro-life," Trump-voting Catholics have chosen to deal with their family member who was raped by her parish priest as a teen, and who is deeply scarred, by telling her that she needs to go to confession and be exorcised. They have encouraged her, when her self-destructive behavior and depression were not lifted by confession and exorcising, to spend time in a mental treatment hospital and to doctor herself with anti-anxiety medication.

What they have not done, what they refuse to do, is to stand with her and challenge the institution that allowed a priest raping minors to remain in ministry, and that covered up what this priest was doing. What they have not done is stand with the young woman who courageously went public with the story of her rape by this parish priest. What they have not done is to apologize to this courageous young woman for having lied about her when they claimed that she was a liar, and it was then shown by court action that she was telling the truth.

They are, after all, the best of the best, exemplary "pro-life" Catholics who represent the "culture of life," unlike the rest of us, who have lost our way and succumbed to the "culture of death" by refusing to vote for Donald Trump and by voting Democratic.

The question with which I'm struggling: how does one put the various elements of this story together — it's a true story, a real-time story — and make any sense of them? And what kind of church produces people who "think" at this level of moral and theological awareness? And regard themselves as the purest, best representatives of their church's tradition.

Any thoughts, readers?

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