There’s a movie called Dogville. It follows this young woman, Grace, running away from mobsters into Dogville, this tiny town in the mountains. The townsfolk, though wary, welcome her at first. They come to love her, and accept her as one of the community. Then, over time, they start to take advantage of her. They betray her. They abuse and rape her. They put her in chains, and treat her as less than a slave…all the while acting like genteel, God-fearing folk just trying to do the right thing for their town.
In the end, after Grace confronts the town for their abuse, they (spoiler alert!) call up the mobsters to get rid of her. When they do, it turns out that the mob boss is Grace’s own father, and the reason she was running from his mob in the first place was due to an argument they had that quickly escalated, an argument her father wanted to continue. Their disagreement was on the morality of mob-enforced justice on the likes of murderers and rapists. Grace argued that given their life situations, they couldn’t do any better; it isn’t fair to pass such harsh judgement on these victims of circumstance, and therefore should show them mercy. This is the attitude she had, despite all the agony she went through, for Dogville.
Then, she has an epiphany, walking down the little street.
She realized that if she acted the way they did, held them to the same standards she held for herself, she “could not defend a single one of her actions, and could not have condemned them harshly enough”. Needless to say, she soon agreed with her father, became his daughter again, and ordered the destruction of Dogville and its denizens to prevent anyone else from suffering as she did in “revealing [her] frailty”.
Gruesome, isn’t it? Heartbreaking. Confusing, too; while it was good for Grace to finally put the blame with whom it belonged, and want justice, it doesn’t make it right to kill everyone, down to the youngest child (a baby!). Most people, though, are so lost in the catharsis of watching the cruel and complete justice of this wicked town that this moral dilemma is ignored.
I really do feel for Grace, from start to finish. Her story is a lot like mine. It was clear that she had grown up in a cold, violent home prior to her experiences in Dogville. I saw the hope she had for this town, in having family and friends who loved and accepted her, and how it all shattered in front of her eyes when “Dogville bared its teeth”. I saw as she still clung to the pieces, even as they tore at her, until that point when she could no longer excuse their behavior as weakness. Her epiphany seems to follow what TV Tropes calls the “moral event horizon“, where a character is brought to the brink of irredeemability.
…I hesitated to write about this. I worried who might get in trouble for what I had to say, worried that I’m getting too personal here.
Thing is…I kinda don’t care anymore.
Simply speaking, I’ve found myself at a similar place as Grace. Not at all in the genocidal/murderous sense, of course; more in the “losing faith in the moral order I once believed”.
After everything I went through, since I was about 5 up to the last couple years when I was estranged from my main abusers…I didn’t lose faith. I still believed in the Church. I still believed in justice and order. I still believed in humanity. I still believed in friendship and family, community. I still believed in goodness and righteousness. I still believed in love, even the lasting, lifelong kind (the platonic kind more than the romantic, though I also believed in that).
It amazes me that it took this long, this much bad shit, for me to think otherwise. To see it all was just a fairytale, a happy dream. ‘Thing about dreams is that they’re gone in the morning when you wake up.
This is different from when I’d feel suicidal, or otherwise self-destructive. That’s when I’d be turning all that hurt inward, blaming myself for all that happened: “If only I wasn’t female. If only I scarred myself up better. If only I wasn’t so sensitive, had these emotional needs. If only I didn’t have all this baggage and trauma. If only I wasn’t mentally ill. If only I wasn’t so broken.”
I didn’t really ask, “Why” very much. Knowing what I do about human free will, how love is impossible without it, it just makes sense that God doesn’t step in when someone chooses hatred and abuse over love and compassion to allow us to keep our free wills. God cares about our will, our choice, more than even we do. Why I saw more hatred and abuse than love in my life is unclear, but really, even if I had the “why”, does it really change or excuse anything?
All religions (except demony ones) have some love and truth behind it, and Catholicism has all that good stuff and more. I take no issue with God, nor His laws, nor the saints and angels and all of Heaven. As one studies physical sciences to better understand the physical reality, or psychology/philosophy on the emotional/mental reality, religion helps one understand the spiritual reality.
So yeah; I think Catholicism is a good thing.
It’s the Church I take issue with. Namely, the Catholics in it.
This last Sunday, the Gospel happened to be on the “Weeds and Wheat” parable. Basically, Jesus tells this story about a man who had a wheat field, and during the night, an enemy planted all these weeds in the field. The weeds grew up with the wheat, but the man ordered them not to be uprooted; the roots were intertwined, so weeding the field meant losing the whole crop. Then came harvest time, and his workers gathered the wheat into the barn, and threw the weeds into the fire.
Jesus later explains to his friends that this was the story of the Eschaton (the end of all things). At the Final Judgement, the ones who chose love and God (wheat) will be gathered up to heaven while those who chose hate and the Devil (weeds) go to Hell. The homilist that morning decided to take Jesus’ words in another, recurrent direction: the wheat, he said, were Catholics, and the weeds were the Culture, the atheistic outside (if I had a dollar for every homily like this, warning against the weedy Culture that corrupts the young and whatnot, I could retire at 30 to my own private island).
It’s not entirely without truth, mind; there are a lot of messed up things about the current culture with the decreasing respect for life and humanity being at the forefront. Again, that’s not the issue. What I take issue with here is how we Catholics are using this as our scapegoat. Like, of course there wouldn’t be any weeds in our garden, right? Not our pretty, pristine garden full of pretty, pristine
See…this is what I grew up with in so many ways, like with that one particularly cruel abuser. He did not hide his intentions for me whenever he came over for the holidays since I was about 8 to 17. My main abusers would often warned me about him, told me how not to dress around him, what he’ll do if I’m not careful. But then night came, everyone was asleep, and I was a little girl alone against a grown man. Nothing I did saved me from what he wanted to do, and no one came when I needed help.
That’s what my main abusers did; use this horrible man as their scapegoat so I wouldn’t clue into how abusive they were. Thats what they’re still doing, using what he did to me to play the heartbroken, helpless parents. That’s what a lot of my abusers did, to be honest. And every single one of them were (at least in practice) Catholic.
The first worked in a Catholic school, yet she abused me in their bathrooms. I was abused in a Catholic church. My home was full of Catholic things; I would stare at the crucifix over my bed when I was abused. I was sold by and to Catholic men (one very possibly a priest) for time with me in a closet. One abuser, an esteemed member of clergy, likewise abused me in another Catholic school, and he was recently remembered fondly in the diocesan newspaper. On social media, the comments section were full of good things about him, lamenting that he was gone. All this was after I made an audio recording at the chancery in the presence of a priest and diocesan social worker on what he did to me as a 9-10 year old little girl.
As awful and betraying as this all is, that last bit being the last straw, there’s more. Plenty of other Catholics have demonstrated that when they did believe me, they ultimately didn’t care, and that’s even worse than not being believed.
They seemed to care at first, acted like they cared and accepted me, like Dogville cared for and accepted Grace. When I was grown and starting my healing journey away, I had a sort of makeshift family with Catholics in my diocese. Like Grace, I clung to that idea of a new family as it started to hurt.
For example, there was one who liked to say nasty, sexual stuff at me, and not respect my personal space, reacting to my flinching and backing away just as my abusers did: blaming me. “I know what you have against men,” he literally said once (to which I wish I replied that women abused me too; I distrust everyone equally #checkyourprivilege). Did he listen to me express my intense discomfort? Did anyone stop him? Did anyone defend my dignity?
And when I asked why, I was told things that amounted to that he was “part of the family”, and “that’s him; just accept it.”
Intact families are, after, of the utmost importance in Catholic culture. Who cares who gets hurt, so long as the family stays together, right? (Except expendable members. Like me.)
So I still held on. I still hoped. I tried my best to love and forgive him as they did, for my chosen family’s sake. I’d look past this stuff, and still look at them as family.
Some I even looked to as fathers. These ended especially badly.
One was an old spiritual director, a priest old enough to be my father. He seemed to confuse my daughterly regard for him as something romantic (maybe even sexual for all I know, ew). I got accused of that constantly at home, my main abusers threatening to ruin him with a scandalous phone call after it got out that I was talking to him about what happened at home. I defended him, defended my own feelings, and did everything in my power to prevent any harm to come to his good name. And what did that get me in the end? Him coming to see me that exact same way my main abusers did.
…He was kind enough for those first, few years. He was patient with me, helped me admit to myself I was being abused. He advised me, shared his little “family” with me. From how he acted, I honestly thought he did see me like a daughter, cared for me as one. And I looked up to him, even had thoughts of caring for him when he got older since, as a priest, he had no children of his own. Then, it happened. He became increasingly abrasive towards me, said I was “making a spectacle of [my]self” for spending time in the safety of his new parish, and yes, compared me with some girl in his past he “just wanted to be friends with”.
I was confused. I wondered what I did wrong, and wanted to fix it. I wish I realized. I wish I knew enough about boundaries or people to know that would make things worse. Our final conversation ended with him hanging up on me, after telling me how “extremely uncomfortable” I was making him.
In a similar case, an even older man didn’t have the same decency (if you can call it decency) to tell me off himself, having his wife call me instead to stop “harassing [her] husband”. In both cases, I felt so incredibly ashamed and lied to, but this sending his wife at me almost hurt more (almost). I’d hoped, in looking for a father figure, to find a man who would never say as mine did that I was “bad for his marriage”. This made me feel like I was, again, “the other woman”. This other man had openly told me that we could talk if I need his advice; I guess he didn’t, like most people, expect me to take that offer seriously.
I wonder if that’s what they teach them in seminary, or in those classes in Catholic school they hold separate from the girls. I did hear that priests are instructed to send troublesome females, or males if applicable I guess, away by any and all non-physical means, even shame, coldness, and cruelty if needed. From how this would keep happening, I guess they, men and women, think that’s all a young woman would ever want from a man, even one old enough to be her father (or grandfather!).
I guess that’s all a young woman is to these “good Catholics”: a temptation.
Truly. I’m starting to think that it doesn’t really matter how one dresses, or carries herself anymore. Even as I wonder what I could’ve done to prevent all that, or lament my very poor understanding of boundaries back then…I guess the bottom line is that if someone sees you as a temptation more than a person, that’s all you’ll ever be to him/her no matter what. I’ve scarred my face and my arms, I have a boyish hair cut, I don’t wear make-up or anything provocative. Doesn’t matter. Not to them. They made their choice.
It all just broke apart. To the last few people I still held onto, I was either slowly dropped from their lives and forgotten, or shoved away like something dirty and dead. I was told how I was, among other things, “too intense”, “passive aggressive”. Burdensome. Trouble.
Basically, they only liked me at surface level. I really, truly think all of them in the end, even the ones still nice and friendly to me, only like the bright, photic shallows. They only like the cutesy, cheerful, cordial me that wears skirts and flowers in her hair, giggling. No one wants to really know me beyond that sunny surface level. Now, I don’t really see reason to give them the chance.
This kept happening over. And over. And over. And by Catholics in “good standing”! All of them! They went to (or celebrated) Mass and confession regularly, in some cases daily. They volunteered/worked for the Church. They did all the devotions, gave to all the charities, studied/taught all things holy. They did and said all the right things. They were clergy, layperson, and third-order religious. All good, faithful Catholics!
I…used to look at all this as a testament to what St. Paul said to the Corinthians, how all the faith in the world doesn’t mean a thing of it lacked love. I used to take this as a motivation to learn what true faith and love was in the face of all those people who seem to be practicing a sort of warped, abusive, shallow, legalistic, and/or puritanical brand of Catholicism.
All I see are weeds.
Almost all weeds.
There’s still one flower in that garden, one friend very solidly in the Church who stayed through thick and thin. Part of me thinks it very unwise to keep calling him friend, trusting him as a friend. What if this friendship ends in the same ugly way as all the others did?
Shouldn’t I just leave this rotten, weedy garden, and quit the whole Catholic thing before I get hurt again? And besides…I’m probably not going to Heaven. Like how I could never see how anyone would want to spend the rest of their lives with something like me (romantic or otherwise), I can’t see how something like me could hope for something as wonderful as sainthood and Heaven.
The way things look, the best I can hope for are those short little happy dreams, and finding a flower or two in the weeds.
…Maybe I should just consider that enough.
This is a nice dream right now, after all, these few friendships I still have. And I do love flowers, even if it’s just one in a bouquet of thorny, prickly weeds.