Contra Mozilla

Friday, July 26, 2013

Quote of the Day: Gene Wolfe on Sex Abuse

I've been reading Gene Wolfe's Pirate Freedom, which is one of his newer works. It's also one with the most explicitly Catholic protagonist (the protagonist is a young man who time traveled to the past, became a pirate captain, then found himself in the modern world and became a priest). This is one of the more interesting exchanges in that book:

THERE WAS a meeting of all clergy last night. Fr. Wahl and I drove into town for it. Priests molesting"children" was the big topic. Bishop Scully tried not to show how he felt about it, but it leaked through.

"It has happened," he told us, "and happened right here in our diocese. More than one priest has sinned in this way. What is worse, priests who have confessed and been forgiven have sinned again. Every one of you must unite with me in opposing this sin, and report it to me whenever it occurs. Believe me, you are doing your brother no favor by concealing his sin."

After that, he detailed four cases without revealing the identity of the priests involved. When he asked for questions, those he got were pretty obvious. "How could we know a brother priest's sin unless the sanctity of the confessional were violated?" "Shouldn't a report be made to the police?" "How much was needed to settle these cases?" "Shouldn't a guilty priest be punished as well as counseled?" "Might not some priests be falsely accused?" An so on.

Finally, I stood up. I said, "When you began, Your Excellency, I thought I was going to hear about little girls being forced by priests, girls in kindergarten of first grade. That was what I expected. I used to run the Youth Center at Saint Teresa's. All the victims you talked about were boys, and it sounded like they were teenagers. I'm not used to thinking of teenaged boys as children, so it took me a while to get on top of what has really been happening. Isn't it our job to tell boys that they shouldn't put up with anything like this? I don't believe that there are many priests who would keep trying if the boy he was after yelled and swung a few punches."

After that I caught it from everybody--alright, to be fair is was not, but it seemed like it. I was blaming the victim. That was one of them, and both of the priests who felt like that piled it on strong.

I was encouraging violence. That was the other one and the most popular one. I was blamed for encouraging so much violence that I felt like I might be lynched. I never got the chance to defend myself in the meeting, so I am going to to do it here. I was not blaming the kids. I was blaming us grown-ups for teaching them to be victims.

If you teach a girl to act like a sheep, you do her quite a bit of harm. But if you teach a boy to be a sheep, you do a lot more. If the girl is lucky, there will be boys to protect her. But they have to be real boys, not sheep. A boy who has been taught will not protect himself of anybody else. If he is molested and does not fight, the people who taught him to be a sheep are at least as much to blame as the molester. Maybe more.

As for encouraging violence, I have to wonder how many of those priests who molested boys thought the boys wanted it and enjoyed it, even if they would not say so. Many of them--maybe all of them--must have thought that if a boy did not like it, he would yell and fight. The boys were the victims of those priests, I am not arguing that they were not. But those priests were the victims of the people who taught the boys that even a little bit of violence was the worst thing in the world. The priests had only one victim, or that is how it seems to me. Those people had two, because the priest was another. The tough kids who came to Saint Teresa's Youth Center would have coldcocked anybody who tried what those priests had done.

Gene Wolfe is notorious for using unreliable narrators, though I have seen these theme in his stories before (e.g. one of his short stories, about a reality television show in a dystopian future). Whatever Mr Wolfe (a Catholic, by the way) thinks about this, I can say that I actually sympathize with the narrator/protagonist above. Granted, it wasn't my first thought when I learned about the abusers, and I am skeptical about any claim that they might have been confused as to whether or not this was wrong (to put it mildly).

With that said, he does have a point, or really two points. The first (larger) point is that, in the words of C.S. Lewis, we have been raising boys to become "men without chests." They are too timid to really fight or even stand up for themselves. The second point is that it is not blaming the victim to say this, but rather in this case it is to point out that the victim was made a victim twice--once by the molesting priest, and once again by all of the other authorities (parents, role models) in his life who did not teach him to stand up for himself, even a little. Would he have won in a physical fight against a priest? Perhaps not, though I suspect that if a child came home with some bruises and/or bleeding the situation would have been resolved a lot quicker than it actually was, bad as this would be for the child. There certainly wouldn't have been more than one or two instances, and probably no repeat instances.

The whole thing would have been made a lot more public a lot more quickly in this case, which would have been for the best for everybody. Alternatively, the priest would have dropped it then and there (if he were smart), and perhaps no more incidences would have been forthcoming.

Boys are increasingly being taught that "violence never solves anything"--this comes from some good motives and some bad ones. Violence obviously should not be the first recourse, but at the point in time when sexual molestation is occurring the situation has already escalated to require more desperate measures form the victim. The result of this "no violence" campaign--which is, oddly enough, just old enough to have been picked up on by C.S. Lewis in his Abolition of Man, thus dating it to around the time that these abuses would have first begun--has been that we have raised now three generations of "men without chests," in which chivalry has slowly but surely faded from the manly virtues; the cardinal virtues of fortitude, prudence, justice, and temperance have all faded with it, and this is not a coincidence.

As Professor Budzisewski has observed in his book On the Meaning of Sex, the result is that rather than men becoming either knights (for the more spirited) or cads (for the less spirited), they have largely grown up to be either cads (for the more spirited) or poltroons (for the less spirited). So enters the next phase of C.S. Lewis' prophetic book, that of the trousered ape. I am sure that this may ruffle a few feathers, so there wil be two follow-up posts later this week.

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