Arguments and assumptions

Survivors find themselves over and over again defending their actions in laying a complaint. People make assumptions about the church, about survivors and their motivations, about abuse, and many of those assumptions are unjustified and unfair. Here are some of the main ones, and the arguments against them:

1. Victims are just in it for the money. No, we're not in it for the money. Money can't give us back our lives, our health, our faith. All money will do is make it a little easier to live under the burden of post-abuse trauma, which was imposed on us by the actions of the church and their representatives. It's not unusual for an abuse victim to need two or three years of therapy, at a total cost of perhaps $20,000, yet to have that completely unobtainable because they're subsisting on a disability pension due to health problems directly related to their abuse. If you actually talk to any clergy abuse victim, you'll find that they went through years of pleading, begging, arguing, with the church before pursuing a lawsuit, and what finally pushed the issue was the church's refusal to respond either appropriately or according to their guidelines. Guidelines are great, but mostly they're only words on paper, and until the churches put them into practice, there will continue to be lawsuits because that's the only way victims can get anything that vaguely approaches justice. Shame on the churches for being more concerned about their reputation than about justice and compassion!

2. Victims shouldn't sue - they'll bankrupt the church. Let's be realistic here. Churches have a LOT of money behind them. The Anglican Diocese of Sydney, for instance, can continue to exist on its investments alone, without any further contributions from parishes or congregants (best estimate in 1999 was assets of approx. $2billion or more, exclusive of all parish churches and property). Catholic dioceses and orders are backed by the financial might of the Vatican, although they claim autonomy when it suits them. Stop and take a good look at what property the mainstream denominations own, and how much that must be worth. Plus it's the insurers that pay much of the claims anyway. So the only way clergy sexual abuse claims will bankrupt the church is if there are hundreds, or thousands, of them. When the church cries poor, and expresses fears of being bankrupted, do they know something they're not telling us - like how many victims there really are??

3. It's Vatican II that caused all the problems. Well, for a start, that only covers the Catholic incidents. But I believe what's really being expressed is a belief that it's liberal theology that causes the problems. However, that belief isn't borne out by the facts. Incidence of sexual abuse is higher in conservative churches and societies, not liberal ones. It is theorised that the reason for that is that the strong hierarchical structure of conservative belief creates a subtext of expendability of women and children. So looking specifically at the Vatican II comment - many of the victims coming forward in the 1990s were abused as children 40 or 50 years earlier, and 40 years before was (admittedly only just) pre-Vatican II. Plus it's throughout literature dating back long before Vatican II. Plus it's on record through church injunctions to clerics from at least the Middle Ages. I wish I could remember where I came across the reference that St Gregory (I think) ordered clerics who sexually abuse to do a penance of a month living on bread and water (as if that would cure them!). Gregory also said "No-one does more harm in the Church than he who, having the name or order of sanctity, lives in sin; for no-one dares to accuse him of sin, and therefore the sin is widely spread, since the sinner is honoured for the sanctity of his order." Or there's this quote from Augustine: "I freely confess what great difficulty I have experienced in the fact that it is impossible to find either worse or better men than those who grace or disgrace the monasteries." John Chrysostom said "From the priesthood arises everything good and everything evil". The Didache (c.120 AD) says "Thou shalt not seduce young boys" (presumably the command was necessary!)

The only way Vatican II made a difference was in allowing church members a little more freedom to speak out about both abuse and the appalling way the church has handled it. Just look at the Boston Globe website, about the abuse issue in Boston, and realise that the documents published show a clear pattern of the church covering up abusive priests' activities for decades, and what blew it all into the open was the Globe's motion to a court for the documents to be made public (which the church appealed against). There are now some 11,000 pages that have been made public of church documentation about abusive priests in the Boston diocese alone (and the Globe’s investigation won a Pulitzer prize and was turned into a major film). If the church has been so consistent in other things over the past 2000 years, what makes people think it's behaved any less consistently over covering up abuses?

4. Why are they only complaining now? What's being implied in this argument is that the time lapse between the abuse and the complaint decreases the likelihood of its validity. Yet even the most cursory look at abuse research, abusers' techniques and the terrible effects of abuse on the victims shows that a delay of many years between the abuse and the complaint is usual. The grooming process that abusers use to define the reality of their victims and the way we bring up children to respect authority figures make it extremely hard for a child, or even a young adult, to understand that the abuse wasn't right. And, of course, until we understand that the abuse wasn't right, we don't complain.

5. Why don't they just put it behind them, get over it? Because we can't. Because it isn't that simple. Because our sense of justice tells us we're entitled to be acknowledged, heard, validated, and healed. And because acknowledgement and healing is all we're asking for. It never ceases to amaze me that people try to argue both sides at once. For instance, when the issue of clergy abuse comes up a lot in the news, people will be saying "why talk about it? It's just going to make the victims feel bad. Much better to just leave it alone", yet it's those same people who tell us to "get over it" and get on with our lives. So on the one hand they're acknowledging the continuing impact it has had and is having on us, and on the other hand they're telling us to ignore the impact.

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