That’s an interesting introduction to a blog post about corruption in our churches, but my brain works in very devious and twisted and metaphorical ways. I am also inherently child-like, because I always promised myself as a child to remember exactly what it was like to be a child, at all times, so whenever I had a child or was in charge of a child I knew how to relate to them.
I told you my mind was twisted and metaphorical.
Children loooooove music, so I started with a song. Fight me. I dare you. I will hit you with my cane, in a devious manner, and you will feel stupid, because a redheaded lady with painted-on 1920s starlet eyebrows to match her dyed hair, who is a Navy veteran, with piercings in her face, tripped you with her cane. Which has dragon duct tape on it. You might end up laughing at yourself as well, which you should, because no-one in their right mind would fight over the fact that children love music. It doesn’t matter what kind of music, either. Kids groove to the tunes, man. If you don’t believe me, and you are local to Denver, take your kids to Swallow Hill sometime. That place has been around since 1979 providing all sorts of ethnic and varied music to the community for EVERYONE. When I was homeschooling my kids we went on a group trip there to see a music performance and class, and we learned about all sorts of things. It was an all-day event and somehow we still have the mouth harps we got there. My kids learned about dijeridoos and several years ago my son bought a gorgeous dij and he plays it often; he enchants everyone who hears him do so, and it isn’t the only off-the-wall music he is fond of these days. Our elderly neighbor absolutely adores listening to his jazz, and his duets with Frank Sinatra and other more obscure jazz legends. (She says it is rather jarring to hear her old favourites interrupted by some of his other, stranger and less melodious choices, but on the other hand she finds she likes technojazz).
I deliberately took the reader off on that tangent to show that the experiences of average, real-life people matter. Across generation gaps, between genders, amongst racial and ethnic diversity, and all sorts of other demographic splits, our personal experiences and stories matter to each other. Of course it takes time to adapt and adjust to each other’s differences, but softly, softly, we don’t need to cram our individual preferences down each other’s throats. My neighbor and I share our stories with each other frequently while we go about our daily lives: stories swapped while we putter about our yards, go in and out of our gates in the alley, muck about with our dogs, get in and out of our vehicles…just your average neighborhood doings. We live here with each other. Her daughter lives across the street with her family. It’s a small town, you see. I like small towns. Because they are neighborly if you actually act like a neighbor. But the magic of neighborliness is also present in a lot of inner cities, too. Among the poor folks and the marginalised and the downtrodden. Because you have to look out for each other and protect each other. It gets mean there, too, because the outside world doesn’t give a crap. Check out the dystopic fiction section of your local library if you want a nice fat look at the booming underdog fantasy of the past few generations for some really juicy metaphors on how well the inner city, poor, marginalised neighborhoods actually work before you start getting all sentimental, though.
And now I will come to the meat of my post. How horrifying the sexual abuse is in our community churches; how rampant it is; how there is absolutely no oversight on church officials; how it is historically and consistently and officially covered up; how the trauma from this abuse has caused an epidemic in our society with tendrils everywhere; how our government is left trying desperately to help fix this and is being stonewalled at every turn.
This is going to be bumpy and rather snarly.
First of all I would like to again point out that I reside in the state of Colorado. That’s my state in the background there. I took that picture with my camera, whose name is George, last summer while our family was on vacation at one of our favourite Colorado spots. I am not going to tell you where it is, because it’s seeeekrit. But that’s Colorado right there you’re looking at, isn’t she pretty? It’s early August, and it’s about 7500 feet elevation, and at that time of year it could rain, or snow, or be 80° and glorious sunshine. Or maybe that famous Big Blue sky, and just a few puffy clouds. Who knows, it’s the Rockies. Colorado is one hell of a state. Last post I brought up some sad stuff. This time I will bring up some better stuff.
It is no secret that the Catholic Church is absolutely rife with sexual abuse. The Catholic Church has been an abusive institution full of horrors pretty much since its inception. The analytical and empathetic mind inquires why it takes the Church so long to rectify their mistakes and admit to their abuses. The logical mind, devoiding itself from emotions entirely, knows exactly why. The Catholic Church has always been concerned only with power, and the financial lucre necessary to maintain that power. Whether that power is political or military, the Catholic Church has always sought it and sought to maintain it. Because the Catholic Church is still a political force to this day, it must be treated with gentleness and diplomacy. That is a fact. The Catholic Church is extremely wealthy. Anyone who does not think the Church is still not a decadent baroque lair of Borgias is delusional. It may be 2019 but the Vatican is still operating on the same Machiavellian principles it did when Cosmo Medici died. Do yourself a favour and don’t pretend it’s not. Only now it can’t afford to not play by society’s evolving cultural rules. The majority of the people of this glowing blue orb hanging in space do not want to sit idly by and be diddled by priests and whipped by nuns anymore.
And the internet has given every single one of them a voice, no matter how irritating and uneducated and virtue-signalling they are. They have clumped into tribes again, only their tribes are no longer genetically dominant: they are dominated by ideology. And the old ideology perpetuated by the Catholic Church, created out of whole cloth from the wisdom of a revolutionary named Jesus Christ…just isn’t cutting it with these new ideological tribes. NOT CUTTING IT AT ALL, O READER. The Church has been forced into corners all over the place, forced to admit to rampant sexual abuse. In our nation state after state is crafting legislation because of priests sexually abusing kids for DECADES and getting away with it. New York became the first state to enact serious legislation on this, but as the link embedded there will show, other states are desperate to get in on the act. I am anxiously awaiting for Colorado to join in, but I recently found out that behind the scenes some work has been done to lay some groundwork for future legislation that makes me hopeful whatever bill(s) crafted will have some trauma victims already established along healing paths and compensated for what has been done to them.
In this Denver Post article, the truly staggering work by our Attorney General Phil Weiser and his predecessor Cynthia Hoffman is evident again. This article by Elise Schmelzer touches on what I want to pound on here, and that is this wretched perverted abuse is in all our churches. All of them. I applaud this article because it details so exquisitely the work that went into creating this entirely innovative bundle of investigation and reparation work for the people of Colorado. There are a LOT of people involved here, as you can see from the article. And again I have to stress that Mr. Weiser, our current and brand-new AG, is a Democrat. And Ms. Hoffman, our outgoing AG, is a Republican. These two people, the top lawmakers in our state, did bipartisan work during their office transition to put together a truly massive piece of PRE-legislative work to benefit a huge chunk of Colorado’s citizenry. Read that article again if you did not catch that. I happen to agree with the sentiment that Mr. Weiser and his staff should focus on ALL victims and not just child victims, because child victims grow up into adult victims with adult problems.
Adult problems like people with unstable emotions with guns. And too much violence in their heads, because they didn’t understand what happened to them, or why, or figure out who they should trust because the person they were instructed to trust is the one who violated absolutely everything. This is what I mean by one scientific study dovetails into another report or study. And that we, humans, should always listen to each other. Because the stories of those who survive will teach us something. Always something. If you listen carefully enough, the survivor will teach you something. Enough survivor stories strung together will teach you a whole lot of something. I imagine this impressive piece of work our attorney general’s office has put together will teach us a great deal. I am very impressed with the Colorado dioceses. And relieved, to tell you the truth.
My family comes from the Cincinnati area. And boy hasn’t that been in the news lately, because one particular suburb of Cincy has been all over the place: Covington Catholic is quite infamous nowadays, isn’t it? Catholic school culture is what it is, and when it is a very wealthy Catholic school that culture is distilled. My husband went to Catholic school. I myself went to Christian school. There is a difference. I will now move on to some scathing commentary about evangelical Christian churches, because the hooplah around Covington Catholic is much too enormous for this post. It was just a nice segue.
I got sent to Christian school because my parents feared I was a Satanist. I liked black eyeliner, outlandish music (I went from Madonna and Duran Duran to heavy metal, go figure, but I loved Journey and Led Zepplin omg), I was a fandom geek for scifi, all I ever did was read books I checked out in mass quantities from the library (and they were bizarre adult novels by some whack named Stephen King or liberal socialist things like Heinlein), and I had no friends. My teachers did not know what to do with me. The school librarian ratted me out because I spent my lunch hours in the school library reading instead of out in the quad “flirting with the boys”. Yes, she did call my mother and tell her there was something wrong with me because I spent every lunch hour in the library flirting with the boys. I eventually got so sick of being accused of being a drugged up Satanist that eventually I went to school completely covered in makeup, with a baggie full of “drugs”. Which were just all the random pills and vitamins and fad diet pills my mother kept in the kitchen cabinet, all mixed up in a baggie. Which I proceeded to take at random throughout the day until someone finally noticed, which was right after lunch I think. Boy howdy did they flip out. Because one of the other kids asked if he could have some and I said sure. I could randomly pop pills from a baggie all day, but give them to someone else and bam I was a drug dealer in middle school. I thought it was both horrible and hilarious that my parents flipped out as drastically as they did, seeing as how they were so concerned for my immortal soul, but not terribly concerned for my body or my day to day life.
So I ended up in Christian School, in rural America, where some Really Bad Shit happened. I was never physically sexually assaulted at school by any teachers, but I was certainly psychologically sexually abused, and plenty. During my time raised in the Southern Baptist Church I was fully indoctrinated in that church’s extremely repressive and misogynistic views. I am still not fully recovered from the sexual trauma I have endured through that church’s teachings; it is a process I will be going through my entire life.
But Houston, we have a problem. It isn’t just the Catholic Church that is rife with sexual abuse. That article linked in the opening sentence of this paragraph is a brand-new report on the upheaval out of the Southern Baptist Church, which is headquartered in Houston. The numbers reflected in that article are revolting, and just like our society is rebelling against the numbers of abuse victims in the Catholic Church (and specifically the abuse those numbers represents), our society needs to rebel against the numbers of abuse victims in the Southern Baptist Church. We need to do it NOW, before those numbers get as astronomical and ghastly as they are in the Catholic Church (and in America they probably are, realistically, because the Southern Baptist Church is just the largest evangelical church in America). And I will tell you exactly why.
In churches, there is no oversight on who oversees our children. In the Southern Baptist Church, if you are female, you are considered not only worthy of caring for children but obligated to. It is your duty by God. In a recent discussion of the Houston report, I met a woman who had recently fled the Southern Baptist Church after joining it about fifteen years ago while looking for guidance and strength in her life. She says she found it all right, and was so pleased at first to be entrusted with the keeping of all the children. She says it didn’t strike her as perhaps dangerous until much, much later. Much later when she saw how the male pastors interacted with the female group leaders. Having grown up in that church I felt such sorrow for this woman, because I knew what she was talking about. As I write my book I have to revisit an awful lot of scenes from my childhood in Southern Baptist Sunday Schools and churches and church camps, and none of it is very nice. The youth pastor I had my final blowup with in that church was one smarmy guy. Yes, as a society we need to stop giving the Southern Baptist Church the same outs we gave the Catholic Church at the beginning of our boxing match with them. Of course the Baptists are giving boatloads of money to some very important political people, but ethics outweigh politics and the overarching ethics of our founding documents and principles outweigh everything when it is happening within our national provenance.
I’ve taken my responsibilities as a parent rather seriously. Homeschooling your kids means you have to provide them with ample social opportunities, so we tried a lot of them. My son was in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts for a while. I was not so satisfied with how things were going in his den and pack, and that old adage of volunteer organisations is really true: they run on the work of their volunteers. So I signed up to be a helper, which turned into more help, since it was so appreciated, and my son liked having me help his friends too. When you help out in things like your son’s Cub Scout pack, you end up getting unexpected help in return, too. When we were turning our garage into an ADA-compliant apartment for our disabled shipmate friend so he could live with us, our son’s Packmaster helped us run the electrical, for free. He was a certified electrician with his own booming business, and he did all that and signed off on the permits just because I was an official BSA volunteer and my husband was willing muscle and a certified camp chaperone. My volunteer status shifted to Boy Scouts, as did my husband’s, and we used it less but still used it while my son was in Boy Scouts. My daughter did Girl Scouts from Daisy up for several years until life got too disastrous, and I started a troop in Ft. Lupton. My daughter and I have even visited Juliette Lowe’s birthplace in Savannah. That was a trip, let me tell you. We even tried 4H for a while, and I signed up as a volunteer for them as well. I spent almost ten years as a volunteer at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and that is the one thing I regret losing the most from my alcoholism. I absolutely loved working in the Education Collections department there; I spent a ton of time working as a docent in temporary exhibits but behind the scenes is my digs. My son and I worked the Grossology exhibit together when he was ten and he loved it to death. The kids who came through that exhibit absolutely loved the kid docent telling them to sniff the hole with the feet smell. For a short time my husband and the kids worked as docents in the Space Odyssey exhibit, and later the museum started having several families volunteer together. What a trip to have started a trend. Our family does historical reenactment with the Society for Creative Anachronism, and when Ft. Lupton was introduced into the Barony of Caer Galen, I was the Minister of Children, a volunteer position (the SCA is a volunteer organisation, and it does a ton of stuff for outreach; it is a 501c nonprofit). While in that position the SCA Corporate polled those of us holding that position about conducting background checks since we worked with children, and the response was overwhelmingly yes; I paid to do my check so SCA Corporate could say our Barony and Kingdom had Very Safe people in charge of children when we held public events. Pretty spiffy, if you know what I mean. And that is the one thing I had to do for ALL of my volunteering, every single position at each different organisation. They did not transfer over, unless it was from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts since they were all under Boy Scouts of America. I will go one thing further. I have, on occasion, had to do court-ordered community service. In Ft. Lupton the court there loved to fine me for having too many tomatoes or sunflowers or having lilacs too tall or too many kochia or whatever. They hated my victory gardens and unruly looking yard. So I always asked for community service and worked at the food bank or the library or somewhere because I loved my community. Also I have had a DUI and I once decked a nurse while I was on the mental ward. Each time I have had to do community service volunteering the people I work with know I have been sent by the court so I must be Some Sketchy Chick; I do them the favour of telling them exactly why the court sent me right away so they know exactly what flavour Sketchy I am right off the bat. With me, what you see is what you get. I have absolutely no need to lie so I won’t. I have had probably a hundred background checks run on me. Plus I was in the Navy, so the government already has files on me I don’t even know anything about, so what could I possibly do about a background check? There is so much public record available on me, why on earth would I even try to hide anything?
Sooooo…why do our religious leaders, child care workers, chaperones, etcetera, ad nausem, not have to go through background checks to work with children? We have this tragically enormous problem, people. And guess what? There’s more. Open that link if you dare to tread really far into how deep church corruption is in America today. While the fundamentalist Mormon Church is not exactly the Mormon Church that basically owns the state of Utah, it isn’t that far from it. The slope is slippery enough. The point should be sharply made that background checks for volunteers…VOLUNTEERS…are mandatory everywhere, but not for any church official that works in any capacity. Women are gleefully scooped up off the streets and plunked down in day cares and living rooms and told to watch the wee ones while the adults go praise Jesus. And who are these men oh so gently guiding the herds of teens in their “youth centers” and “praise fests”? What culture were they raised in? The culture I saw forming in the 80s and 90s was one of science denial and oppression of the weak. The evangelical church wanted nothing but prosperity at the expense of whoever they could exploit, and some of the “services” were downright creepy. The men of the Southern Baptist Church are seen as very strong role models, and only begin guiding children around the tween years, as occasional pop-in father figures. Younger men mix with the women at these times and more frequently as the kids get older, so middle school and high school youth activities are all coed. But the male is always the leader who guides the female, because women in evangelical churches are always taught that the man leads everything. Absolutely everything. And dear gods, a woman’s monthly is how she leads her own life, because she needs to make those babies. Whether she is a modern woman or not, it’s all about being barefoot in the kitchen with a bun in the oven. Daycare in churches is all just practice from beginning to end for childcare, and it really is a predator’s dream; why are we not checking these people and why are these flocks so willfully ignorant?
Many people would scream and cry and moan and say that would be a disgrace, an impingement on the sacredness of whatever church. I have something to say to that, because I happen to BE a church. Yes, I am a church. Seeing as how I am a Wiccan, and also a certified minister, and my family constitutes my church, I am a church. I could go through all the technical legal mumbo jumbo of declaring the church property and legality and all that hooplah, but I don’t. The closest I ever came was running a coven in Connecticut, and that was a stupid amount of work and reporters got involved once and I lit myself on fire on accident (only a little). What I have to say is this: screw the impingement of sacredness. There are times where that is appropriate and this is not one of them, by all the gods. I have, as you can see, the experience to back this up. Since I am clergy, I can also say that a clergy’s responsibility is to their community. To keep it safe. To keep it safe from ALL HARM. Sexual predation is harm, you betcha.
Is a background check going to catch all predators? No. But as we, society, fine-tunes our background check systems, the checks will catch more people who need help. And yes, the checks will catch a lot of people who have done some rotten things. People who have skipped out on paying their dues to society. Who have been wanted in conjunction with other crimes. With the advent of new DNA technologies and cross-jurisdictional cross-referencing, more criminals will be caught, even if they are old and about ready to kick the bucket. Getting justice for a serial killer or rapist face-to-face even if they are 82 or 90 means a lot to a whole lot of families. And sometimes, even those elderly people prefer to finally hang it in after carrying something for so long. Even if it is just to talk and gloat about it, sad as that is to say. Science also wants to get a crack at these people, because if we can study them, even for a little bit, maybe we can learn something. Something is better than nothing. A little data is better than no data.
New York just signed a red flag bill into law. If a red flag law could give us data on how to predict sexual violence and predation, and all the information from various church predators could be tied into data from red flag bills, science could have a huge new data field to study for this sort of abhorrent violence. And society could serve justice for a whole bunch of people. Even better, that data could help us learn how to prevent more violence and predation from happening in the future.