Historian Speaks on Abuse, Memory, and Religion

Boston College Torch

May 3, 2018

By Jeffery Lindholm

The girl with the pseudonym “Mary Ross” called her experience “my little Hell.” God had abandoned her. Her desire for God endured, and what she desired was His presence. She prayed, “If you [God] really want me, you have to do something to or for me.” The next thing she remembers was waking up with scrapes all over her body. This was her sign—violence as her indication of God’s presence.

Professor Robert Orsi, a scholar in American History and Religious Studies at Northwestern University, spoke of Mary Ross and others in a lecture entitled “Violence, Memory, and Religion.” The talk centered around the clerical sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, which came to light in the Archdiocese of Boston in the early 2000s. Orsi called clerical abuse “the worst crisis in Catholicism since the Reformation.”

A historical basis is important for understanding the stories of abuse survivors. Orsi began with the early 1900s, when child abuse became a national issue. The topic of trauma was introduced into the public discourse in the 1960s and 70s. With sexual experimentation in the 1970s, the modernization of the Church after Vatican II, and overt homosexuality in the priesthood, Orsi argued that the groundwork was laid for clerical abuse.

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