A desire not to write has overtaken me. Call it COVID fatigue, political fatigue, or just fatigue: the urge for my “pen” to remain silent is probably the result of all the above and a tapered resistance not to blow my fuse. In a world of offense at the drop of a dime, we have been conditioned to remain neutral and on the fence, lest we offend. The “cancel culture” is rabid against free speech, opinion, and opposing thought. A sad and dangerous state of affairs within a society moving rapidly toward unchecked censorship and disdain toward those who have the gumption to tell it as it is. Most notably: people like me.
These past few weeks were a roller coaster of angst, disappointment, and rage primarily against those we look up to for guidance and comfort. Eager to remain within the status quo, leadership has been reduced to cliché responses undefined in their irrelevancy. Rocking the boat of self-preservation at the expense of others is now the norm rather than the exception. We expect politicians to be disingenuous. It’s in their DNA. The current COVID debacle is a good example of leadership gone wrong. So, who do we turn to for comfort? Most of us of strong faith, any faith, turn to our church leaders, clergy, Imams, pastors, and Rabbis in a futile attempt at hanging on to the one certainty in our lives: G-D. We are convinced that as children of G-d we will overcome adversity. What happens when the pillars of our faith turn against us?
A good friend of mine is going through systematic marginalization by a clergy. I don’t need to mention the faith affiliation because it’s not the fundamental faith which is causing her distress, but the man representing it. Recent years have exposed the evil that lurks underneath cassocks, shawls, habits, and suits. Those who preach and tend the flock have been found tending more than sheep. The most predominant scandals are of course that of the Catholic Church. Priest pedophilia went on for years until victims rose from their nightmares and came forward to put a stop to it on behalf of themselves and others. Secrecy and manipulation allowed psycho” holy men” to prey on the vulnerable with minimal disruptions to their lives. They were permitted by the highest authorities in an attempt to preserve an image and bank accounts.
My friend’s situation is equally insidious and follows the same pattern of “wait and see” by religious leadership. Incessantly targeted and disfranchised she had the audacity to speak out. Labeled as a troublemaker, divisive, unholy, and worse: she continued to persevere in her quest for justice within a faith she loves and lives by, and a leadership which stood by shrugging their shoulders in consolation and the occasional prayer for “strength”. Months of attempts to bring an end to bigotry and fake piety by a senior church leader, left her looking for answers within her faith amid a growing pain of uncertainty in her church. Nothing is eviler than the perpetuating of wrong hidden behind a pious façade masquerading as a man of G-d. Her anguish escalated through self-doubt in the belief that those serving G-d should be good and beyond reproach.
Religion has started more wars than the Cold War. Hatred in the name of G-d is the oldest preview to a battlefield. Compounded by extreme zealousness and convenient untruths, persecution of various faiths is led by those who profess to be speaking in G-d’s name. A nefarious irony that justifies bigotry within the ranks of some clergy and their coven of crazy followers. Morality is defined by a vilification trend of those who take a separate path within the same faith, or perhaps seek a path more attuned to what they envision G-d to be.
The road to hell is paved with good or indifferent intentions. Priests, bishops, and even Popes quietly swept under the Vatican rug decades of abuse. The solution was moving the perps from one parish to another. Victims were dismissed for years with the old adage and a shrug that ‘nothing can be done”. I can personally attest to this attitude on behalf of my friend. The shrug and the cliché were on cue. Abuse is not monopolized by the Catholic Church either. In May 2020, a Jerusalem District Court charged Elazar Rompler with child abuse when principal of Lev Tohar school in Canada. Between 2009-2011, he inflicted horrendous abuse on students. In December 2020, he fled Israel toward Guatemala. This month, 65-year-old Gershon Kranczer, a Brooklyn Rabbi who fled to Israel some ten years ago, was extradited back to Brooklyn to stand trial. He is also charged with child molestation. The late famous Evangelist Ravi Zacharias has been found guilty post mortem of sexual assault and rape. His abuses spanned across countries and continents: most notably India, Thailand, and Malaysia. His funeral was attended by famous personalities to include then Vice President Pence. It took this travesty for the abused to come forward in droves.
The list is endless with clerics abusing their power and extending their hold on the vulnerable toward self-gratification. Victims are left helpless and picking up pieces of their lives while watching the abusers walk the streets sans guilt and burden. Most victims don’t come forward because their past is revealed in a Reality Show frame by frame play to diminish and further marginalize them in public and legal opinion. Condoning harassment and abuse based on the victim’s past drags the latter’s pain through the mud. The burden of proof is unjustly on the victim’s shoulders.
Religious institutions are corporations with millions in assets that they cannot afford to lose. The Catholic Church has paid millions in retribution to victims of abuse. It also paid heavily in faithful following. According to the church’s own statistics, for every new Catholic that joins, six leave. Predominant in reasons is distrust. Distrust in an establishment that takes care of its own at the expense of others.
Institutional religious abuses did not start or end with priests. In the 1950’s Ireland had multiple convents that harbored unwed mothers sent by families of “the disgraced”. These women worked long hours in forced labor: mostly in unsanitary hot laundries. Their babies were often taken away for adoption without their mothers’ permission, many others died. These abuses were well portrayed in the 2013 movie Philomena, starring Dame Judith Dench as Philomena Lee. Based on the true story of Philomena Lee, the movie tells of a mother losing her child to adoption at one of these Irish convents, and the child growing believing that the mother abandoned him. That was the convent’s narrative. Such horrors were documented and archived in many of these convents which the Catholic church condoned as penitence of “sex out of wedlock”. They were insidiously called Magdalen homes for “fallen women”. Magdalen being the Biblical Mary Magdalen: the fallen woman. Many of the children were sent to families in the US. After the movie’s release, the Irish government agreed to compensate survivors of these horrendous places.
Coming forward as a victim of abuse is a decision fraught with both fear and conviction. The decision takes a long time to be made because abuse reduces the abused to self-loathing and guilt in the knowledge that they were to blame in the first place. Abuse diminishes the abused to the insignificant denominator of irrelevance. The vulnerable are easy target with few resources to depend on and few places to run to. When a member of the clergy, whatever faith it might be, resorts to mental or physical abuse, he or she strips away any semblance of self-worth and more insidiously any worth in the eyes of G-d. Those abused by the religious remain silent in anguish often assuming that the pain inflicted upon them was justified because it was inflicted by those representing G-d and their faith. Some blame themselves for not being worthy of G-d’s love and salvation. A thought that should bring any decent faith follower to their knees in embarrassment and anger.
Abuse, bigotry, racism, and hatred is the act of seeing others as less than human. When members of the clergy are the abusers, they are perpetrating their victims’ degradation through faith and religious justification. A notion that should bring bile to anyone’s throat. Just the thought that these thugs in sheep’s clothing can and often are protected by the institutions they represent should be abhorrent to every person of faith and church hierarchy. Unfortunately, and often than not, they are given haven in the same sanctuaries the abused fear to enter. My friend in her deep trust in G-d remains through to her faith as she waits quietly for justice. I wait with her but not so quietly.