Tuesday, June 25, 2019


I was somewhat of an anomaly amongst my coworkers at the domestic violence shelter. I was a practicing Catholic. I was completely new to working with survivors of violence. I was pro-life. 

It was quite common that I would be asked questions about my beliefs or politics, but being pro-life was a hot topic of conversation. 

"What about the death penalty?"

Yep. I'm against that.

"What about working with women that have had abortions?"

My job is to advocate and provide information for women and their children as they build a life after violence. All women.

"What about partnering with the shelter that serves the LGBTQ community?"

No one deserves to be abused or assaulted. 

With every answered question, I'd get a "Wow." and a shake of the head. "So you're, like, really actually pro-life for everyone, huh?"

I think I always assumed that my coworkers just hadn't ever encountered someone that was actually pro-life, because all pro-life people believed that all people were created with inherent human dignity, right? From conception to a natural death, right?

I get it now. I understand the looks. I understand the impromptu meet and greets: "Hey come meet my friend, she is pro-life but not like *that* so you'll love her!" I understand the warnings from my coworkers and supervisors about conferences and get togethers with other agencies. "Maybe don't mention the pro-life thing, especially if you're looking to stay in this field and maybe work on the state level someday."

The last three years in particular, we have all watched as the pro-life movement interpreted their cause narrower and narrower. There are very real reasons pro-life folks are not trusted.

"We can't fix everything."

I actually saw someone call us Catholics to a consistent pro-life ethic and be met by another supposed pro-life Catholic with "oh that consistent pro-life pitfall" as though there is another path Christ has asked us to follow Him down. 

My work as an advocate left me with stories I can never forget. It did not change my belief that all people are created in the image of God and that all are worthy of dignity. I can believe that and let my actions and words reflect that while still being against abortion. It is not mutually exclusive work, friends.

Stop sacrificing the dignity of others because unborn babies are easier to champion than other groups of people that need Christ's example. People are messy. They don't always look like you or make it easy to love them. Do it anyway. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Sexual Violence is Personal

We all have people in our lives that have experienced rape, sexual harassment or assault. Many of our loved ones have experienced this at the hands of someone they know. These experiences leave imprints. 

Our loved ones are listening. What you do matters. What you say matters. Public figures you support?  It matters. Not all of us have the luxury of being about to "just enjoy the comedy routine" or "just vote policy." Sexual violence is a direct violation of the dignity of a person. It is personal. 

It is personal. 

Saying that you cannot support an actor, CEO, member of the clergy, politician, or anyone in the community because of sexual assault/harassment, or rape allegations isn't emotional. It's personal. It is telling survivors that they matter. Their stories matter, and you are not okay with taking the bad with the good if it means overlooking their assault. 

The very reason these crimes are so personal is the same reason so many believe they are excused from listening: it often cannot be proven. 

"Well, they *are* married." 

"Well, he/she didn't assault *me*."

"I'll wait for proof."

"Let the courts decide whether or not this virtually unprovable thing that happened, when often times even evidence of such a crime doesn't change the fact that our instincts are to blame the victim, actually happened." 

"But he/she does this thing good."

"He/she shouldn't have been there/worn that/done that so he/she had it coming." 

*Insert anecdotal evidence here*

People do both bad and good things. People can do mostly good with flaws, and people can do mostly bad but still manage to do a little good. If we never hold anyone accountable for the bad, then it is easier to do again. When survivors see statements such as those above, reporting or even disclosing assault seems pointless. "Who will believe me?" This echoes the threats made to abused children, and those assaulted by people with money, power, importance. 

If it is easy for you to overlook allegations of assault or rape "for the greater good", I ask you to pause  and think about human dignity, and the fifth commandment. 

2261 Scripture specifies the prohibition contained in the fifth commandment: "Do not slay the innocent and the righteous." The deliberate murder of an innocent person is gravely contrary to the dignity of the human being, to the golden rule, and to the holiness of the Creator. The law forbidding it is universally valid: it obliges each and everyone, always and everywhere.
Sexual violence violates the fifth commandment. Those in violation should be held accountable, repent, and be rehabilitated. 

It is up to us to treat sexual assault as the violation of human dignity that it truly is. 

Friday, March 8, 2019

Sexual Violence Against Women and the Catholic Response

Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that the Catholic Church has had to seriously up her game when it comes to the subject of sexual assault, in particularly as it relates to the clergy abuse scandals. However, when it comes to sexual assault, a great deal of the training or responses issued center on rape and pregnancy.

The Catholic Church (beyond the Catechism (2356) ) does not really have a standard training for the clergy or faith counseling focused on sexual assault advocacy or healing. In my experience as an advocate, there are Catholic organizations that serve sexual assault survivors, but when it comes to one on one counseling or even educational/training materials there is most certainly something left to be desired.

The Georgia Domestic Violence Fatality Review Findings (2011) tell us that faith communities are a likely support system for victims of violence, yet our support for survivors is seriously lacking. Poor catechisis  and modesty/chastity talks gone wrong are not doing a fantastic job of sexual assault prevention. We cannot leave our girls to believe their level of modesty is responsible for assault, and we cannot leave our boys to believe that they are nothing but a victim of their sinful urges.

I believe that the Catholic Church can put together more cohesive preventative measures and responses when it comes to sexual violence. The USCCB website has a section with parish resources related to combating sexual violence, but many of the links speak mostly about domestic violence. I believe the response must be more than this.

The inherent dignity of all people must be upheld in all aspects of Catholic faith education: from parish communities to counseling. The church has implemented the VIRTUS training program for all parish volunteers in the US as a response to the clergy abuse scandals. I believe that our parishes can work with local domestic and sexual violence programs to also train their staff in advocating for survivors. The pro life response here, is to have complete understanding of the dynamics of all forms of sexual assault, and to be able to support survivors as they heal. After all, will they not call upon their faith community for support?

The FaithTrust Institute approaches domestic and sexual violence from a religious perspective. They have resources for most faith communities, though nothing I have seen that is explicitly Catholic. When I go to the USCCB page and click on the link for resources, nothing comes up. This something that really must improve

Do you know how your parish and diocese approach sexual violence? Sound off in the comments! I would love to hear about successful approaches or working relationships between Catholic organizations and the local anti-violence programs.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Here's to Dorothy, Oscar, and Rebuilding

I used to think that logic was all I would need to remain faithful. When I became a wife and later a parent, I did not worry about the spiritual dry spell that developed because I knew there was not another spiritual home for me. These past few years, I have seen the wounds of our Church history rip open and I have felt it deeply. I mourn for the victims of clerical abuse. I mourn for those harmed by our institution in other ways. There is a comfort within the Mass and a yearning for the Eucharist that I cannot be without, and yet I desperately wanted to leave.

It is my nature to want to fix problems. It is not easy for me to sit without resolution. Learning how to build faith in uncertainty and how to work through the uncomfortable feels like an overwhelming prospect for an impatient perfectionist such as myself. It makes coming to terms with the imperfection of our human church a struggle that feels insurmountable.

I've recently discovered that my faith in God is not the same thing as my faith in our earthly church. This might seem like a no-brainer to some, but for this cradle Catholic, it took some time. Humans let themselves, each other, and their God down. We fail. We fall. We get back up and swear we will never fail or fall again, but then we do.

We are Peter.

My faith in our human ability to live as Christ asks us to live is (permanently?) shaken, but I am trying. It's been suggested that I just look through all the pain and grief towards the resurrection. All I can see is a fog of anger, and not all of it is righteous. I see doubt, darkness, ruin.

I keep trying.

I see Dorothy Day, surrounded by those that people find difficult to love, those that struggle to love, or both. I imagine her words "God understands us when we try to love." I see her commitment to loving others extend to her death.

I try again.

I see Oscar Romero (once I blink away Raul Julia) as I begin to get to know more about his faith, love and life. I spend time wrapping my hardened heart and mind around his words "The church is the salt of the earth. It is to be expected that where there are wounds this salt will burn." I see that his commitment to Christ extended to his sudden death.

I try again.

I read their words, see their flaws, and I feel relief.

I am relieved that I recognize the hardships of faith in their lives and the familiarity of struggle.

I am relieved that they were not perfect.

I am relieved to disagree at times, but there is still so much room to admire their work, words, and example.

Surrounding myself with saints that also recognized the imperfection on earth is healing.

I share this with all of you because it was important for me to know that other Catholics felt similarly. If you too have been shaken and have lost your footing, I see you. I am here with you, and I am trying along side you to rebuild.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

"(The Abuser) Was Always Nice to Me!"

My husband loves the TV show Lost. He discovered it in the early days of Netflix when binge watching was new. I hated it. I couldn’t handle not being able to predict what was happening. I even watched the episodes without him so when we watched it together I could pretend I saw it coming.

I always want to see it coming. I wanted to have seen it coming in The Sixth Sense. I want to rely on my experience and knowledge to tell me why my kid suddenly won’t sleep. I want the lady yelling that my grocery cart is rolling away into the road to know I’m a mother of six and I’ve got it. I want to see red flags and warning signs of abuse and call that shit out. If I know, then I am in control.

I’m not alone in this.

When allegations of abuse come to the surface, an abuser confessed or is convicted, people close to the abuser say “(Blah blah blah) pillar of the community! Goes to church on Sundays! Paid my rent when I needed it! Selfless! *Always was nice to me!*"

What we fail to remember is that the world of an abuser is carefully orchestrated. There’s the grooming of victims, but that doesn’t matter if the environment isn’t controlled. Your vic sees you palling around with every person they’d go to for help and they absolutely believe the “you tell anyone and they won’t believe you” routine. Abusers rely on their good deeds to help them remain unpunished. There might be different ways of maintaining the illusion, but just because someone was nice to you, makes great music, or has a way with words on Sundays, it doesn’t mean abuse allegations aren’t credible.

The victims of abuse are not the only victims. We continue to cover for abusers when we look for ways to blame victims for their own assault or sexual abuse or manipulation. It is almost as though we believe that, if we can shift the blame to those that were wrecked by abuse, then we can walk away unscathed. But we don't.