Bishop Accountability
  Good Friday Speech

By Arthur Austin
Outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Boston
March 29, 2002

In 1252 Pope Innocent IV issued a bull that established the practice of torture as admissible in the courts of the Inquisition by stipulating that heretics be dealt with as secular criminals, in the same category as thieves and murderers. In 1262 Pope Urban IV supplemented Innocent's decree with his own, "Ut negotium", which sanctioned the use of torture by Inquisitors themselves independent of secular jurisdiction. In 1312 Clement V, seemingly believing that his chosen name had some real significance, issued the bull "Multorum querela", severely limiting the power of the Inquisition to initiate trial, submit a person to close confinement or torture or to pass a definitive sentence. And under no circumstance was anyone to be tortured on more than ONE occasion. It gives a new meaning to the notion of a severe mercy. The Inquisition of course protested furiously at the mere idea of mercy, severe or not.

As recently as the 19th century, in the United States, the Society of Jesus owned African slaves, by whom a fair number of Jesuit seminaries and colleges were built.

Today it is universally admitted among civilized people, and religions, that torture and slavery are morally and legally reprehensible. The present Pope has, himself, declared that under no circumstance is the death penalty permissible. In terms of moral theology torture is forbidden and sinful on the grounds that the human body, made in the image of God, is sacrosanct; it is a defilement of the body of Christ to torture another human person.

So much for the "unchanging and unchangeable" Church .

In contrast to all of this moral advancement in the world, however, we find that there are still categories of torture and slavery which the Church retained, in exemption, to itself alone, beyond judgement: the sexual torture of a human person being raped and sexually abused by a priest, and the use of sacerdotal influence and prestige to hold people in a state of sexual slavery to the boundless and proficient sexual appetites of Catholic priestly sex offenders.

I am one of the people who fell subject to these special exempt categories. My abuse by Father Paul Shanley continued for 6 years; during that time I was on call to service my abuser's sexual desires. I was his whore. At the end of six years I was nothing----except terrified, and filled with the sense that I was worthless, filth so disgusting that no one, not even God, would ever love me.

Now that the Church is in crisis, I and other victims are being asked, being "allowed" to come forward and tell our stories. Why? This sexual catastrophe in the Church is not news. Catholics have known at least since since the 1980's about the horrors of priestly abuse in Louisiana; you have all known the long, dark history of James Porter. I cannot help but wonder----are we now worth listening to because the crisis in your Church has finally become too enormous to hush up, and you need us to validate your anger, or because we are individual persons raped, tormented, denied justice and treated with malice and contempt by your Church, and who have a legitimate claim to your concern and tenderness?

I have been urged to tell my story of abuse, and in the next breath warned to tell it politely, in a mild tone and with a seemly demeanor. Watch your language. Do not offend, Do not upset, Do not shock good Catholics who are not ready to hear such ugly details. Does it not cross anyone's mind that the victims were not ready to experience such ugly details, but had to anyway? We lived them. All you have to do is listen. What rights do you have to be shocked or offended by anything we have to say?

So, my question remains. Why? Why is it too much for you to hear? No one in the Church worried that it might be too much for any victim to bear the abuse, over and over, in hopelessness. Your children, your nephews, your brothers, your cousins, your sisters were dying decade after decade in the grotesque and loveless sexual embraces of priests from whose hands you took the Sacrament, politely, and returned to your seat, politely, and whom you politely greeted on your way out the Church door, and politely thanked and bid good day. Have a good day, Father Rapist. Have a great week Father Child-molester. God bless you Bishop Predator. Oh, but of course, Catholics "didn't know", I remember now. I also remember the other part of that dictum. "Catholics don't tell."

I could scream. I could scream until my throat bleeds, until I die in the effort, to ensure there is not a shred of politeness left in the world for anyone to hide behind. Rape and sexual abuse are not polite. The emotional and spiritual harm caused by them are not seemly. The agonies lived by the victims are not mild. And the stories are not polite. How am I to tell you my story then? "Once upon a time…."? "Long ago, and far away……."? Tell me. Tell me how I am to tell YOU my story so that YOUR sensibilities are not offended, so that politeness is not breached.

When the Allied Armies liberated the death camps at the end of World War II, and found the thousands of desecrated bodies of the enslaved, the sacrosanct bodies made in the image of God, tortured and starved to death, they made all the "good" Germans over the age of 14, who had lived the entire war within close walking distance of the camps, pick up and carry the dead, cradled in their arms, or carried on their backs, like living children, or dragging them, living hands clasping dead ones, to the mass graves prepared, so that these "good" people, these "polite" people could never again say "We didn't know."

There will be no story-telling today. I can tell you what all the stories mean. Had I been a fetus, ripped from my mother's womb, you would have held candle-light vigils and a Solemn High Mass of Regret in memory of me. But I was ripped from the womb of my Mother Church, from the womb of my Faith, and my abortionist is a priest. So much for the "sanctity of life". And a great silence fell over the land. Not a sound from the magisterium, not a murmur from polite Catholics. Not a whisper of horror, and even now, nothing but damage control from the Vatican, no true remorse, no real regrets, nothing but Papal requests to pray for the rapists and abusers, and mumbled platitudes about the "great mystery of evil". There is no mystery here. I am Arthur, I am Greg, I am Dave, I am Carolyn, I am Yvonne, your brother, your sister, your child. What debt did I leave unpaid to you, at what point did my sufferings become not sacrifice enough, that you did not rise up in your millions, in rage, crying to Heaven in my name?

We are your Holocaust. We are your dead. We are the violated bodies made in the image and likeness of God. Now, it is your time to pick up the victims, and carry the burden to your own graves, in the arms of your soul, on the back of your faith, in the hands of your sorrow, so that you can never again say "We didn't know."

© Arthur Austin


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