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Joseph Sciambra originally wrote this piece on josephsciambra.com
It seems to be a fact that you have to suffer as much from the Church as for it… ― Flannery O’Connor, “The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor”
At mid-life, I have absolutely no patience or charity for eunuch huckster priests who sell the LGBT lie like patent medicine. At 16, I bought it. I drank from the bottle and got drunk. It didn’t heal anything. Instead, I woke up 15 years later among the dead. My heart broken and my body destroyed. God forgive me, but I am filled with so much hatred; hell has no room for these men; as for the bishops who allow them to prey upon the innocence of the lost – every abuse and indignity that the betrayed had to endure – they will experience for an eternity.
A continued subject of my mental health sessions revolves around the fact that things which happened many many years ago – continue to bother me. In my mind, I often self-castigate myself: I should be over this; At 50, I finally need to act like a man; I am being self-indulgent. Will I always play the victim?
My therapist reassures me: some of his patients, well into their 80s, still struggle with things from their childhood. I’d rather not join them in 30 years. I want it to be done.
On my own, I’ve often wondered why the trauma I experienced as a young boy and a teenager have maintained such a lasting significance in my life. In my estimation, a partial explanation is the almost constant repetition of the abuse in adulthood. For example, when I returned to Catholicism in 1999, I prayed that something had changed during the over 15 years I hadn’t stepped inside of a church. I knew I wasn’t the same desperate and impressionable 16-year-old who got into a car with a priest. As a result, I wasn’t scared. However, I was trepidatious. I almost felt like I did the first time I walked into a gay bar. I wasn’t sure why, but I knew I had to be there. Up until that point, loneliness had forced me to make a somewhat risky choice. Years of continued isolation compelled me to make another drastic decision – returning to the Catholic Church. Then, this second option looked even more bizarre than the first.
Why am I here? Faded recollections of a majestic painting above the sanctuary depicting the enthroned Christ; a kind but uncompromising priest who encouraged the school’s sissy to be an altar-boy; the image of my father praying the Rosary every night. I don’t know. Some little fragment of that memory must have survived – here.
At the church, the building and decorations were inspiring and pretty, but the priest reminded me of someone else; he spoke like my abuser. For years, a priest spent a short amount of time trying to persuade me that God made me gay. On his part, I didn’t require very much convincing. I wanted to believe in something – anything. And, this made sense. I wasn’t a freak. The other boys at school who mercilessly teased me – they were wrong.
More than a decade later, I began to question it all. I wanted some answers. According to this new priest, I was still the gay man that God had created. He placed his hand on my shoulder. I instinctively pulled away. For a moment, I was transported back to that parked car.
While even in my late-20s, and early-30s, I somehow encountered predatory priests in the Catholic Church. Despite everything that had happened to me before, I remained a somewhat naive and overly-trusting person. These subsequent betrayals actually left me more psychologically devastated than the first; even though they did not involve the same level of physical violation. But they nearly caused me to completely lose an already shacky newfound faith. Because, unlike my 16-year-old self, I knew I had nothing else to turn to; I had nowhere to go; I’d been down the gay road – and that proved a literal dead-end.
I don’t know how, but I inexplicably got through it. But I was never the same. And I never will be. At times, I feel trapped. In a Church that I know is the key to my salvation – and the dungeon of my torment.
Over the past couple of years, I have met several survivors of priest sex abuse. Many of these men, and women, as soon they reached an age when they had agency over their own lives – immediately ceased all association with the Catholic Church. I understand why. A few, steadfastly continued to practice their faith as devout Catholics; but even a number of those couldn’t remain when the reality of the deceit, corruption, and cover-ups were steadily revealed. I myself came close.
What has been incredibly painful is to hear the words of my abuser persistently repeated across social media, at Catholic conferences, and by the Pope himself: “God made you like that…”
I find it odd that such a coordinated and forceful effort within the Church – to convince young people that God made them gay, began in earnest following the initial sex scandal reports of the early-00s. It’s almost as if forces within the Church recognized the necessity for a way to mitigate the catastrophe; in a sense, the “God made you gay” mantra signified a sort of trigger-word used to elicit a certain response in those who have undergone brainwashing. You were gay, literally before birth. Therefore, the alleged presence of abuse in your past is always questionable; this also ensures the availability of future victims who will possibly not recognize that they were abused. I was among the latter; for years, an inner voice said: You asked for it. I wanted to open the door and get out of that car, but I didn’t.
Sometimes the only reason I remain in the Catholic Church is to ensure that no one is abused like me. Sounds noble? It isn’t. Occasionally, I take a perverse glee when uncovering the continued perversity in the Church; as if I merely stay in the Church to watch in delight as it falls. It’s the only way I can exact my revenge. But the pain has outweighed any solace that I have voyeuristically received. At a recent Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, I squirmed in my seat as some third-rate gay activist priest persuaded a group of gap-mouthed and wholly impressed Catholic religious and educators to recognize vulnerable children, befriend and gain their trust, and to then impose upon them an LGBT identity. Its as if my abuser rose among the ranks in the Church and became the voice of reason on this issue. After the presentation, I ran to the public restroom and vomited.
Maintaining a public allegiance to the Catholic Church often feels like being complicit in their continued crimes. In an even deeper way, I wonder if I am cooperating in my own past abuse. The old doubts reemerge; I am undoing years of painful psychological exploration and healing.
On a daily basis, for practically 20 years, from almost the moment I stepped over the threshold of a Catholic Church; I have wanted to leave; but abusers frequently whisper into your ear and compel you to stay. After being molested in a parked car, still sitting in the passenger-side, my gaze almost instantly turned toward San Francisco. Where else could I go? Nowadays, I often hear a near identical retort: Where else can you go?
In the Church, the evil and the well-intentioned, continue to shame and unintentionally intimidate. Those who have been abused, must oftentimes make very difficult and painful decisions that affect their physical, mental, and spiritual well-being; God doesn’t want a martyr driven to self-harm or suicide. I think God will have an immense amount of mercy on them; as He did on my seemingly unrepentant libertine friends who died of AIDS – many of whom were driven to the extremes by the demons that pursued them from childhood. From Jesus Christ Himself, we already know about the harsh punishment awaiting those who “scandalize one of these little ones.” But I think another type of chastisement awaits the faithful that smugly occupy a pew every Sunday, criticize the corruption of the hierarchy on Facebook and Twitter, but reprimand those who are angry because they’ve asked for help and instead received platitudes.
Since the widespread sexual victimization of children, young people, and vulnerable adults within Catholicism (and the systematic cover-up) is a relatively recent phenomena, the Church (including the faithful) have not even begun to formulate a response to those who have been abused and want to leave; saying that if you stay, you might be a saint one day – or if you leave, you might go to hell — doesn’t work. As for myself, until the voice of my abuser is finally silenced, I feel like I am still in that parked car, with my fingers gripped around the door-handle. And, that’s an ugly place to spend the last half of your life. I don’t fault those, who just get out.
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