#4. The Indelible Mark

Across the cheap formica table at El Gallito, my boyfriend’s father inquired, “What is your father’s faith?” In Spanish. My Spanish is probably on-par with that of a small child who cannot yet read, so I stumbled with my response. My parents, who just celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary, are Roman Catholic. “Católico” I replied. And then it finally arrived, “Y tu?” (“And you?”) What is your religion? I could feel my toes tighten against the inside of my sneakers (Allbirds, in case you’re wondering…). I took a deep breath. “Nada.” I said. No religion. He looked at me quizically, confusion mixed with concern. He is a working-class man from Honduras; there is no confusion about this topic in his mind. Why am I confused, he seems to ask.

I am not confused. I was raised by a solemn Catholic matriarch; discussing taboo subjects at the dinner table is considered extremely impolite. I shift in my seat. He is waiting for an answer. His wife is waiting. My boyfriend is quiet. Maybe he is waiting, too. I stumble for the words in Spanish. Slowly, I explain (in broken Spanish), “Despues de la Universidad…

My boyfriend interrupts, “After?” Yes, after. I continue.

Despues de la Universidad, yo trabajo. My boyfriend helps, “Yo trabajé…” Sí.

“Yo trabajé con los niños que habían abusado. Abusado sexualmente. Despues, yo fui a la escuala de posgrado para estudiar teologia. Cardinal Law era el jefe de los sacerdotes ahí…” My voice trails off.

I finish in English: “Cardinal Law, he was the boss of the priests in Boston. I had classmates, they worked for the Cardinal. And the priests. The priests there would not talk to the families…And that was it for me. No more. No more.” He quietly nods his head. There is no more discussion of faith at the brunch table.

When I think about those days as a student at Harvard Divinity School, I recall sitting in Pastoral Care and Counseling, a very popular class led by Dr. Cheryl Giles, known for her tough-love, no-nonsense style. She was delightfully unpretentious and an extremely gifted therapist. Students would come from all over Boston, through the Boston Theological Institute, to take this class. Several of my classmates that semester came over from Weston (yes, this was before the “merger”) or BC and all worked for the Archdiocese of Boston. These were young Catholic women in their early 20’s, armed with little more than their sweater sets and their devotion to the Church. When the abuse crisis broke, they would come to class teary-eyed and dazed, sometimes tearful, and always disoriented. They sat in disbelief and shared that they were constantly taking calls from families in the archdiocese whose children had been sexually abused by clergy, but that the priests on staff would refuse to come to the phones. We were all in shock, I think…

Dr. Judith Herman and Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, two pioneers in the field of trauma treatment, both write eloquently about the horror of sexual violence, which shames victims, silences bystanders, and allows people in power to continue perpetuating this harm in the social vacuum that is created by the horror and its aftermath.

Perhaps this is why I watch “Spotlight” whenever I see it in my movie queue. The film deftly shows the range of reactions we may experience – from disbelief to rage – in the face of systematic sexualized violence, and invites us to turn toward one another rather than away from the harm that has been done. Otherwise, how can one go on? Perhaps it is only in this “turning toward” that we may heal, holding both the paradox that being raised Catholic leaves an “indelible mark” and that once that innocent allegiance to the church instilled in us is “cracked“, something new is on its way to being born. Cracking to cracking open…brokenness to broken open. Isn’t that ultimately what being Catholic (or any faith?) teaches us? Once we are broken open, redemption or return to original goodness, is possible…

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