Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Barbara Blaine Tells Story of SNAP's Founding, St. Louis Priest Attacks SNAP, Discussion of Yoder's Legacy Continues: New Notes on Abuse Crisis

This week, National Catholic Reporter is publishing a week-long series of articles looking back at the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic church. I highly recommend this series to you. I was particularly moved by hearing Barbara Blaine's story of how she (and others) came to found the group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. I'm not sure I had ever heard all the details of her own painful, liberating story — certainly not in her first-person narrative.

What stands out for me in this account:

1. After she was repeatedly sexually abused by her parish priest Father Chet Warren (who violated at least 21 other girls, to Blaine's knowledge) from her early adolescence up to her graduation from high school, when she went to confession and told a priest about all of this on a senior retreat, the priest told her, 

"Jesus could forgive anything," instead of, "You did nothing wrong. We have to call the police and your parents."

2. Reading an NCR article by Jason Berry in the summer of 1985 when she was working at a Catholic Worker house in Chicago, which told of Father Gilbert Gauthe's sexual abuse of altar boys, was a triggering experience for Blaine. She had a panic attack as she read the article, and then entered a state of personal crisis from which she emerged as she began to share her story of abuse by Father Warren with others.

3. Repeatedly and naively (and like me, when Belmont Abbey College ended my career as a Catholic theologian for never-explained reasons in 1993 and I turned to the bishop of Charlotte, North Carolina, for assistance and pastoral counsel), Blaine trusted the pastoral officials of the Catholic church to do something to assist her and other victims of childhood and adolescent sexual violation by priests. But this is what she experienced over and over again, instead:

While claiming they would, church officials refused to help me.

4. And so this led her to begin networking with, listening to, reaching out to connect with other victims of abuse, whose stories were painfully similar to her own. And SNAP was born . . . . As Blaine says, while church officials have been, for the most part, an unyielding obstacle to victims of abuse seeking justice and healing, thousands of lay Catholics who care about victims have rallied to their cause, and have assisted with supporting SNAP and other survivor groups.

Note, too, the useful timeline of the abuse crisis provided by another NCR article in this week-long series.

As many of us celebrate the valuable contributions survivors and groups like SNAP have made to the Christian community as these courageous folks have come forth with their witness and challenged the cover-up of abuse of minors within communities of faith, note that groups like SNAP remain under attack. As Joel Currier reported recently for St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Religion News Service, a St. Louis priest, Father Xiu Hui "Joseph" Jiang, has filed a federal lawsuit naming the parents of one of his alleged victims, the city of St. Louis, and SNAP leaders with charges that he has been unjustly harrassed by allegations that he has sexually molested minors. 

Father Jiang filed this suit after St. Louis circuit attorney Jennifer Joyce dropped the charges against him last month without any explanation. Currier quotes SNAP leader Barbara Dorris, who says that the lawsuit represents an attempt to intimidate victims, witnesses, and whistleblowers into remaining silent, and who predicts that this intimdation attempt will backfire. As Sam Levin noted in 2013 for Riverfront Times, St. Louis archbishop Robert Carlson has been front and center in the attempt to have the charges against Father Jiang dismissed.

Finally, since I'm discussing the abuse crisis within Christian communities of faith today, I thought I'd point you as well to an article that Rich Preheim published in Religion News Service yesterday. Preheim summarizes the attempts of Mennonite scholars, women scholars in particular, to force their church to come to terms with the long history of sexual predation of leading Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder. We've discussed this issue here previously (click Yoder's name in the labels below for a list of previous postings about this issue).

As I noted in late June, there's now discussion of Yoder's alleged continued sexual abuse of women who were his students at Notre Dame University, after Yoder moved there from Goshen Seminary in 1984. As Preheim indicates, Mennonite scholar Rachel Waltner Goossen of Washburn University claims that Yoder accosted at least two women at Notre Dame, though the university refuses to discuss the matter, citing privacy issues. 

I very much like the conclusion of Preheim's article:

Karen V. Guth, a theologian at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minn., agrees that scholars need to be transparent about Yoder’s abuse, emphasizing "healing for the women he violated and the problem of sexual violence" rather than "salvaging Yoder’s theological legacy," she said. 
"Anyone who wants to move forward should incorporate feminist insights about sexism and abuses of power into their work," added Guth. "We all need to be concerned about how to combat sexual violence."

As an openly gay, married (and therefore excluded and treated as déclassé) man looking on at the activities of the U.S. religious studies academy for many years — from the marginal place accorded me, which affords a certain unfettered perspective, it must be admitted — it has been my impression that heterosexual men in the religious studies academy have long gotten away with murder. Their sexually predatory activities have been ignored and covered up, and women and others calling on academic institutions to address these activities have been harshly punished and shoved outside the parameters of the academy.

It's time for things to change.

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