Names have been changed.
Sexual abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein have caused many people to come forward with their own assault stories, all tagging their social media posts with the hashtag “#metoo”.
These stories of assault are coming from everyone, everywhere.
Actresses and actors, olympic gymnasts, friends and family on my feeds. All of these posts have reminded me of my own story, when I learned that the unfortunate reality is that just because someone is Catholic, doesn’t make them infallible.
Me too, and I let it affect my relationship with God.
A few years ago, I had just moved into a new town, a new parish. I was starting to get to know people, and everyone was very kind. I had just been broken up with and was not looking for a casual situation where I was going to get hurt. I was looking for something serious, and respectful. I was looking for someone Catholic.
I met John at a new friend's birthday party. I had seen him around - he was an adult altar server at the mass I regularly attended. I thought he was cute, (I mean, who doesn’t love a man in uniform, right ladies?) He was also one of those people who was the life of the party - you could tell that he was friends with everyone. Quick to tell a joke and quick to laugh. Talking to him that night, it turned out that he was also on the parish council board, and had been pretty heavily involved in the parish for the past several years.
We talked about some of the things he was involved in, including a blog that he was writing. I expressed interest in reading the blog, and, at the last minute when everyone else seemed occupied with leaving, he asked for my number so he could send me the link. Over the next week we ended up talking nearly every day for almost the entire day via text. He would call me too - in the evenings while I was cooking dinner we would talk about his blog, about our political views, about our world views.
I trusted John. I believed he was a stand up gentleman - which, coincidentally, is what I NEEDED him to be. I felt like I was being courted with the phone calls and the texting and the attention. I felt like he was God’s answer to my prayer - a Catholic man who would honor me and care for me when other men wouldn’t. God KNEW how much I had been struggling, how hurt and broken I felt from previous relationships. It felt so clear that God sent me this man - this man who loved Him as much as I did, to be that man I truly needed.
It felt so clear that God sent me this man - this man who loved Him as much as I did, to be that man I truly needed.
Unfortunately, that turned out to not be the case. Despite my very clear articulation of expectations and needs, John took advantage of the situation. Despite my attempts to stop what was happening, or slow down and talk about what was going on, he pushed. In a time that I was incredibly emotionally vulnerable and needed him to be a good person in my life, he sexually assaulted me.
It took me a long time to come up with the words for what happened. It wasn’t violent the way people think when they think of sexual assault. There was a part of me that wanted him. There was an even bigger part of me that wanted him to be a person I could trust. Everyone that I met in the parish seemed to enjoy his company. Since this event, I’ve heard him described as a “thoughtful friend” and other people sing his praises and talk about how much they love him. I’ve seen him go out of his way to help others. I’ve seen him be a leader of the church and a man of God.
I still said stop. I still put distance between us and told him I wanted him to authentically pursue me (it wasn’t quite as eloquent as that at the time, but I did get the point across). He still didn’t do any of those things. He wasn’t thoughtful with me. He didn’t treat me, or my wishes with respect. He didn’t honor me as a daughter of Christ and a fellow human being. He took things too far. He sexually assaulted me, and I’ve had a hard time not feeling betrayed by God because of it.
You have to remember, I thought that this man was God’s gift to me. I thought that since I had decided to be honest and open and go after what I REALLY wanted, which was a respectful relationship grounded in Christ, where we shared values and intentions and were working towards something solid. God was giving me that man to start that journey with.
I had been so vulnerable to God with my petitions. God, send me a good man that I can love. A man who upholds me and draws me closer to you. A man who is clear and honest with his intentions and pursues a holy relationship with me.
I thought that because John was Catholic, because he was so involved in his faith that he would be a man I could trust. I trusted the catholic-ness of him would keep me safe. I trusted that God would answer my prayers. I also trusted myself. That if I put myself out into the world as honest and open about what I wanted and needed then God would help me along the way, When I was wrong about this specific instance - when I found my trust seemingly misplaced - I disassociated myself from John best I could, but I also felt that my relationship with God was damaged.
I trusted the catholic-ness of him would keep me safe.
This wasn’t God betraying me. What happened isn’t God’s fault. God is the God of Love, and what happened that night wasn’t love. We as Catholics are called to respect life, and sexual violence is a clear violation of that. These are acts of using people, not of honoring them or lifting them up, and therefore not Catholic in the slightest.
(The World Health Organization, in its 2002 World Report on Violence and Health, defines sexual violence as: "any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed, against a person's sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work.")
God does answer prayers, but He was not answering my prayers with that man. Someday, God will answer my prayers. In God’s time, I will receive what I need to become closer to Him, whatever that is. In the book of Job, God tests Job to see if he truly is faithful, if Job truly does follow Him. No matter what Job lost, no matter how many times he felt that God was not with him, he did not lose faith and trust in God. That is what faith is! That even when it feels like all evidence is pointing away, we believe in a God who loves us.
When I decided to complete Confirmation I made the decision to love and follow God along this path no matter where He might lead me. No matter how hard it became, no matter how far away from Him I felt. Yes, this was a horrible thing that happened to me. No, God did not choose this for me. However, this is a cross that I have to bear and I cannot let it pull me away from God, just as Job did not let his trials pull him away from God. This is where the devil lies. He lies in our tragedies - when we want to retreat. He feeds these feelings of hurt and betrayal and hate so that we turn away from our Savior. I refuse to let that happen to me.
The Devil... lies in our tragedies - when we want to retreat. He feeds these feelings of hurt and betrayal and hate so that we turn away from our Savior. I refuse to let that happen to me.
Part of that is reconciling the sad fact that a man of God is not always a godly man. That was difficult for me, and I held a lot of resentment about it. Yet, ultimately, we are a church of sinners. God is perfect, the people who follow Him are not. Most of us (definitely me) are far from it. John, in this instance, was far from it. I can’t judge him, but I can judge his actions in that moment. God tells us to turn the other cheek. He tells us to forgive - seventy times seven times. He tells us to forgive as we would like to be forgiven.
I have sinned plenty myself, and I want God to forgive me for my sins. But I am not sure I will ever be able to fully forgive John for how he treated me. I’m not there yet, anyway. However, I try to pray for him. I pray that he receives Christ’s healing love. I pray that God makes him holy, and I pray that he does not ever treat another woman the way he treated me. I pray that I can forgive him, and find peace with what happened. I no longer am in contact with John, which makes it easier. I try my hardest to remember that he was a sinner, same as I. Broken in different ways, with his own cross to bear. I hope that he has become a good man, who honors the women he encounters.
I still feel a little broken about it. I don’t think that feeling is unconquerable. It definitely isn’t terminal. I believe (I hope) that this story won’t hurt me one day. That I can talk about it as a time in my life that eventually led me closer to God. That I can discuss it with grace and understanding. I’m not quite there yet. I don’t automatically think that Catholic men are upstanding men anymore. I still feel a little resentment towards John. I still find myself becoming panicked when my ‘no’ isn’t being heard. I also - to be completely honest - still feel a little mistrust in God. I don’t pray to God as much about sending me a man to love. I mainly pray for healing. God, I come to you broken. Please fill me with your love, find all my cracks and crevices in my soul and fill me with your light and love so that I might be light and love to others. Please take my brokenness and make me whole so that I may be filled with You.
Which, blessedly, is probably what I needed all along.
I am not saying what happened to me is right or a good thing - it is very very wrong, and a tragedy for everyone in a similar or worse situation than me. I wouldn’t wish this cross on anyone. Sexual violence is not of God, not in the slightest and I pray that God will fill people in our society with love instead of hate. I pray that those who are victims of these acts of violence will have justice and healing. I pray that the perpetrators will come to confess and repent their actions. I am not saying that this event is a blessing in disguise, nor am I defending the man in my story. I am saying that I am not letting this event define me, and I am not letting it define my relationship with God. This is my cross, this is my burden, and I have chosen to lift it up to Him.
This author would like to remain anonymous.