Friday, February 4, 2011

A Reader Writes: With the Euteneuer Case, Isn't It Important to Avoid Creeping Definition of Abuse?

In the comments section of my postings of the past several days (and here and here) re: the case of Father Thomas Euteneuer, some heated and valuable discussions have developed.  I'd like to lift part of one discussion out of the threads and post it on the blog proper, to make it available to a wider readership.  (I may choose later today to refine or revise what I'm posting raw here, if I think of further qualifications to add to what I have written in haste to reply to a  thoughtful and intelligent reader of this blog, Felapton, this morning).

The focus of our exchange: does the fact that Fr. Euteneuer violated the boundaries of chastity (I'm using his own description here) with an adult make this case different from a case in which a religious authority figure abuses a minor?  And, as a side note--since some posters adding comments to these threads have made this point--does it make a difference that the adult was a female?

Here's the salient part of one of these discussions that I want to lift into a posting:


I agree that some exorcism "clients" are vulnerable, hurting people susceptible to abuse. But I bet a lot of them are bored, cynical people with too much time on their hands, who watch too much TV and are eager to enact a melodrama with the great celebrity EWTN exorcist. Probably nobody got hurt and a good time was had by all. As long as my contributions didn't buy the airplane ticket and I don't have to sit through their trite histrionics, I have more important things to worry about.

Isn't it pretty important to avoid a creeping definition of abuse? Consensual sex with an experienced adult is not in the same category as child molestation. A point that shouldn't be overlooked is that when an adult-sized organ is inserted in a child-sized orifice, the inevitable result is excruciating pain, which even meets the Dick Cheney definition of torture ("equivalent to major organ failure"). The younger and smaller the child, the more atrocious the crime. It's not just about psychology.

Bill Lindsey:

You say a great deal that deserves attention, Felapton--because it's thoughtful and intelligent. I'll focus, though, on the question, Isn't it important to avoid a creeping definition of abuse?

Yes and no, it seems to me. Yes, abuse of a minor by an adult is always in and of itself heinous, because minors--by definition--do not have the resources that adults have to defend themselves and process abuse.

And, yes, there are consensual relationships between adults that sometimes test or break boundary lines, which the rest of us might be well-advised to let those adults process between themselves--if no one is being hurt by them.

But I also see a big no here: any adult to whom a religious authority figure is ministering is ipso facto in a power relationship with that authority figure which robs the adult of considerable autonomy. And makes him vulnerable and susceptible to abuse.

Personally, I am inclined to think that exorcism does feed on the vulnerable--that it's frequently a sham, something that is being cranked up in the Catholic church in the U.S. today in direct proportion to the alliance of the bishops with the religious right. It's an adaptation of a smoke-and-mirrors evangelism, with big-man hero evangelists, long popular in many evangelical circles of the religious right.

And those big-man hero evangelists, who claim unique power and authority from God, not infrequently abuse their power and do harmful things to those to whom they "minister."

I'm not inclined, as some of the apologists for Euteneuer right now (not you, by any means) are wanting to do, to give him a pass because it was an adult woman who made a complaint about him. (And note that the complaints made about him indicate that those who have made them--they are multiple people, according to HLI itself and to Adele, his family friend--did not regard the relationship as consensual.)

Nor am I inclined to give him a pass because the object of his abuse happens to be a woman and not a man. The same folks applauding him for having made it with a woman are the very folks who continue slamming away at Rembert Weakland for his similar (and abusive) relationship with a man.

This is a case of a religious authority figure who abused his position as a pastor. He also placed himself, by his own choice, in the position of a super-star, and in doing so, added to his ability to extend his abuse.

I don't see why we ought to be any more sympathetic to him than we have been to Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, Ted Haggard, Eddie Long, Rembert Weakland, Henry Willenborg, or a long list of other pastors who have engaged in similar behavior.

In fact, the high profile that Euteneuer claimed for himself, and worked to achieve, combined with the nasty attacks of his organization on poor women in developing nations (they sought to block contraception for poor women), makes him a prime case study, it seems to me. One we'd be crazy not to study carefully, so that it becomes--we hope--less easy for these religious charlatans to abuse in precisely this way again.

And I also think SNAP and other groups whose ministry is to monitor and try to address cases of abuse by religious authority figures, regardless of whether those being abused are children or adults, are absolutely right to monitor these situations and try to obtain and disclose as much information as can be gained about them. Abuse is abuse, and it needs to be challenged--especially when it claims religious sanction. Because 1) abuse claiming religious sanction has too frequently been given a free pass by society, and 2) harm inflicted on people in the name of God reaches deep into their psyches and often causes serious damage. 

The graphic is Michelangelo's "Torment of St. Anthony," which Dymphna has used at her Dymphna's Road blog to illustrate a 1 Feb. posting about Euteneuer.

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