Clergy Sex Abuse Will Take You to Places Darker Than You Can Imagine

From the opinion page of the Dallas Morning News, 3.16.2008.

Brought to my attention by Kay Goodnow.

Thanks, Kay.

* * *

Rod Dreher: A change in belief

More essays inside, from T. BOONE PICKENS, STEVE WOLENS and others, 5P

12:00 AM CDT on Sunday, March 16, 2008

Truth is subjectivity

There was a time when I thought nothing could change my mind about the Roman Catholic Church, of which I was a staunch and intellectually convinced communicant.


And then, in 2001, Father Tom Doyle, the Catholic priest who has crusaded for clerical sex-abuse victims, told me that I’d better be careful if I pursued the abuse story further. “It will take you places darker than you can imagine,” he warned.

He was right, but as a journalist and a Catholic, I believed I had a moral obligation to go there. Four years later, I came out the other end of the dark cave he’d warned me about. My faith in Catholicism had been shattered. I left the Catholic Church but remained a Christian.

Changing my mind about Catholicism, as it happens, isn’t the most interesting or even unsettling thing. What more fundamentally changed for me was my faith in man’s ability to say he will never change his mind about anything.

See, I believed in the truth of Catholicism as firmly as I believed there’s a sun in the sky. And was I ever proud of my religion! I had the arguments worked out in my mind. I hadn’t understood until I was put to the test that real faith is not a syllogism. Nor had I understood how much the will affects one’s ability to hold onto truth, or what you think is truth.

The drip-drip-drip of information from the sex-abuse scandal, and the anger and mistrust it provoked in response, worked on my once-ironclad faith like acid. Toward the end, it was more the case that I couldn’t believe.

That experience taught me an agonizing lesson about the nature of belief. You cannot be made to believe something you know is false. Yet, you cannot imagine until you live through it how knowledge and experience (especially the experience of suffering) can affect your ability to hold on tightly to what you believe is the truth.

“Truth is subjectivity,” said Soren Kierkegaard, the Christian existentialist philosopher. His point was not that truth is relative but that the kinds of truths for which a man is willing to live and die can only be known personally. Reason can never be discarded, but its role in decision-making is more brittle than I once believed. A truth held only, or primarily, by the mind is not a truth on which the individual has a firm grip.

We live in a culture that exalts choice as an ultimate value, and so we’re reluctant to criticize others’ choices. But if truth has any meaning, we must recognize that people can and do choose wrongly. Sincerity does not guarantee verity, nor does it mitigate our responsibility for our choices.

The people who share their mind-changing stories with Points readers today mostly testify about their conversions taking them to a happier, wiser place. I’m with them, almost. Of course, it’s always preferable to live in truth, whatever the cost. And now I can see that the pain and humiliation of losing my religion broke my intellectual pride, and led me to a deeper, truer faith.

And yet, having discovered the fragility of certainty and the finitude of reason, I see the freedom to change one’s mind as an ambiguous blessing. You may change your mind – but you may also have your mind changed, whether you want it to be or not. Forced exile from a land of dreams is not an easy passage, or a journey for which anyone can be prepared. And once you’ve arrived, how do you know you haven’t traded reality for a lie, or one illusion for another?

Maybe that’s why “Judge not, lest ye be judged” is not just a wise maxim, but perhaps the summit of moral wisdom.

Rod Dreher is a Dallas Morning News editorial columnist. E-mail him at rdreher@ dallasnews.com.

    3 Responses to “Clergy Sex Abuse Will Take You to Places Darker Than You Can Imagine”

  1. Robert VonZurlinde Says:

    You are so right about Child Abuse taking you to darker places than most can imagine. What makes it so terrible, is the fact that you may enjoy a bit of light for a little time, or for some a long time. I was as abused as anyone can imagine at St. Colmans home in Watervliet. Between ther, and other places that I was shifted around to, I think that every oriface of my body had been used for an older persons pleasure. What was done at St. Colmans , and other places has torn me apart. Not just what was done to me, but what I saw done to others. As a little child seeing another little child go through the same thing, we would wonder if that was the normal way to be treated if you were A Throw Away Child. We felt lucky to be able to try and sleep at night, and maybe that would be the night when we didn’t have any nightmares. Maybe that would be the night that we didn’t wet the bed, because we knew the terrible consequences of that horrible crime. When in my later years, the nightmares that I thought might subside did just the opposite. After I made that visit to St. Colmans in October of last year, and was thrown off the property, because they found out my name, it was like spitting in my face, again. Nuns at St. Colmans loved to spit at you. You are so right about these very dark places that I thought I might overcome, but can’t, and believe me, I have tried. Even to this day I sleep with a light on at night. When the nightmares wake me up, at least there is light in the room.

  2. Jack Lochleighis Says:

    I find it bittersweet that Pope Benedict is coming to Washington DC on April 15. I would want to ask him personally about child abuse in the church. I would want his personal answer. I would want to tell him that I am an incest molestee and yet as non Catholics, my children happen to be raised in the schools and loved by the nuns, who to this day, are dear friends. My childrens lives were made solid and whole in faith and character because of their Christian education. Seeing that, I felt led to convert with my children in 2004 to the faith. And then as my course of coming to terms with my own rape as a youth progressed, less and less could I participate even though I miss the Eucharist terribly. Perhaps it is just me, and perhaps it is the all male Priest culture that has worn me down. I find myself in a bittersweet position in my full circle of wanting to welcoming the Pope to Washington DC on April 15. We resolve ourselves and I am patient. It is difficult and I find myself continuing to search out my faith and where I can express it. I continue to write jacklochleighis.blogspot.com and just keep on keeping on in self expression for personal clarity, strength, grasping a peek at joy that slips through now and then for better or for worse…

  3. carapace » Blog Archive » Sunday March 30, 2008 - “Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient. There’s a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning.” - Bill Gates Says:

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