February 14, 2018 by lucieromarin
I had been catching up with a seminarian-friend, one who had also met my director years past. As we walked to the bus stop, he asked, “And what happened to that girl…you know, the one who was about sixteen and had the baby?”
I answered, “She had another one. They were Father’s.”
I watched as the news sunk in. Then:
“But she was a teenager,” he said.
“Yes,” I replied.
“But she was still going to Mass there after she’d had the baby,” he said.
“Yes,” I replied.
There was a silence. Then he collected himself, and he said, “Well, she was young and impressionable, and he was in a position of power.”
There was a double kindness in his words. He did not pretend she had not hurt us, but he also saw a truth about her situation that many would not see. Every official representative of the Church with whom I dealt spoke and acted as though a fifteen-year-old girl trained for four years into a need for her trainer was as responsible as he was for the consequences of that need. Her maturity, her virtue, and her ability to choose were routinely equated with that of a man twenty-two years her senior, who had seven years’ seminary study to his credit, and was trusted by the local ordinary with a position of authority.
Once the scandal was known, one woman exclaimed, “She has the eyes of a seductress.” Well, that was kind of true. (I once saw the Eyes of a Seductress get flashed at a waiter, and nearly fell off my seat in startlement.) But what did he have? Why, during the meeting that proved to be our last, did she say, “It’s better that everyone just thinks I’m a giant slut; then they won’t hate him so much.” Who had said what to her to make her believe it was her duty to sacrifice her reputation for the priest who ruined it?
She is not innocent of the abuse of kindness or of hurting her friends. She lied to my face more than once, and accepted support from the very people she knew would be most devastated by the truth. She let us bond with her children. Despite this, I can’t equate her guilt with his, and I am glad that one person, at least, for one second, acknowledged the power imbalance and abuse that trained her for that guilt.
That moment of kindness-in-truth sustained me for a long time. We find our healing where we can.