Category Archives: Roman Catholic Church

Raymond M. Douglas, On Being Raped

Title: On Being Raped

Author: Raymond M. Douglas

Publication Information: Boston: Beacon Press, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8070-5094-1

Library of Congress Classification: HV6558

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Male rape victims
Male rape
Male rape—Psychological aspects

This is a short book but it is a very disturbing read.

The author, an academic, recalls how, at the age of 18, he was raped by a cleric in the country of his birth. The book talks about the on-going trauma that he suffered as a result of the attack, which lasted about four hours to his reckoning. Those four hours completely changed his life.

Douglas did not begin dating until age 36. He immigrated to the United States in part to get away from a country where the Church welded considerable influence. He had reported the cleric to the church hierarchy, assuming that the cleric would be removed from his parish. After having given Douglas absolution (?), the Church sent the cleric somewhere for counseling, and a few years later the cleric turned up at an event the author attended. Douglas came face to face with his attacker, which sent him into a downward spiral that took him quite some time to get over. In some countries, what was done to Douglas would not be considered rape. Male rape is the hidden crime that no one wants to talk about.

As Douglas writes:

“The Greek word for trauma means ‘wound.’ Contrary to the cant phrase, time does not heal all of them. The best I can say about my rape is that over the years I’ve achieved an uneasy modus vivendi with it, but one that is constantly threatening to break down and sometimes does so. In some respects, I have ‘moved on with my life.’ I emigrated to the country where I now live, finished graduate school, and built a professional career. Complete physical separation not just from the scene of the crime but from anyone who previously knew me was a positive thing. It enabled me to set the boundaries for my interaction with others at levels that, for a long time, were the only ones I was capable of handling.” (page 73)

People want rape victims to be “okay,” to be “fixed” and “get over” what was done to them. Douglas proves that this is not always possible, which makes the crime even more horrific. This makes me even more sympathetic for the victims. Douglas says, “Rape is loss. It deprives the victim of something vital, whose importance is only recognized when it is no longer there. The change is permanent and irreversible. That is a hard thing for anyone to accept, and especially difficult, perhaps, for men, whose way of being in the world does not sit comfortably with the idea of losses that can never be made good.” (page 80) Douglas did not tell his wife of his assault until many years after they were married, and it took him that long to find his voice. He does not believe that married rape victims should be forced to tell their spouses about the experience just because it is so hard to put the experience into words and to deal with the trauma.

In Douglas’ case, when he sought psychological help, the rape crisis centers at the time were operating from a feminist viewpoint that rape was aggression perpetrated by men against women; the people at the center did not know how to help him, although they tried. I think that crisis centers are now more progressive in treating male victims.

And what of Douglas’ attacker? Justice finally caught up with the Church and Douglas was contacted by the police in his country of origin about the cleric. (Douglas mentions all the sex abuse scandals the Church has faced, which indicates to me he is talking about the Roman Catholic Church.) Seems that the cleric attacked many young men (no surprise). The police took his statement, but the focus shifted to another victim who had been underage at the time of his attack. They prosecuted the cleric and he was found guilty—but never sentenced to one day in jail because he was dying. This was done by the courts to render mercy—mercy to someone who showed no mercy to his victims.

A very intense read.

Peter Stanford, The Legend of Pope Joan

(2013-07-07 094)Title: The Legend of Pope Joan

Author: Peter Stanford

Publication Information: New York: Berkley Books, 2000

ISBN: 0-425-17347-X (i.e. 978-0-42-517347-3)

Library of Congress Classification: BX958.F2

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Joan (Legendary pope)
Church history—Middle Ages, 600-1500.

First of all, I liked this book.

I wasn’t sure that I was going to when I started it. First, Peter Stanford is a journalist and not an academic. The book is his first person account of how he got interested in the Pope Joan legend while staying in Rome and what he did to investigate it. The legend goes that a woman was able to con her way into being made pope and reigned for two years or so before giving birth during a papal procession. There are various versions of the story, either Joan and the child were immediately murdered by the mob, or only Joan was murdered and the child was allowed to live.

Is the story true? Stanford believes there is something to it and he travels around Italy tracking down clues to the Pope Joan story. He recounts one of the darker histories of the papacy, when the throne of St. Peter was controlled by the House of Theophylact from 911 through 1048. Theophylact’s wife, Theodora, and his mother-in-law, Marozia, sought to re-establish the greatness of Rome and planned on using the papacy to do it. No less than ten popes were brought to power by or under the influence of this house. The corruption and misery culminated in the “election” of John XII, called the “Christian Caligula.”

For Edward Gibbon, Pope Joan was a code for the House of Theophylact and all its corruption. Stanford refutes this, however, citing that all theologians knew the stories of the house and openly recorded the transgressions without the use of any code. Nor is Pope Joan a fabrication of reformers trying to discredit and embarrass the Roman Catholic Church; information on Joan predates the Reformation. Stanford talks to those who had studied Pope Joan before him, but they shed no new light on the mystery.

One interesting aspect of Stanford’s study is that he had a psychological profile created for a woman like Joan. Joan, the daughter of Christian missionaries from England, was born and raised in Germany and would have been educated there. Taking into account the times and the limitations put upon women, what would it take for a very intelligent woman to actually rise in the Church while hiding her sexuality? This part of the book is fascinating.

But perhaps the most revealing part of the book has nothing to do with the Pope Joan legend, but with women who have already been ordained Roman Catholic priests. Stanford views them as modern-day Pope Joans. He interviews a woman in the Czech Republic who was ordained a Catholic priest during the communist era by Bishop Felix Davidek.

Stanford discusses the so-called “Mexican faculties,” the name of which comes from the anti-clerical and anti-Church behavior during the Mexican Revolution. Because of immediate threats to the Church, the “Mexican faculties” allow priests to consecrate other priests and bishops to consecrate other bishops. This is how Bishop Jan Blaha ordained Davidek in 1968. The communist regime in Czechoslovakia was extremely repressive, and there was a fear that the Roman Catholic Church would be eradicated, which led to this extraordinary situation. It was Bishop Davidek who, in 1970, believed that by ordaining married men and women they would be less likely to be suspected by the government and could operate as clerics in secret without discovery. In the case of the woman Stanford interviewed, she was able to celebrate communion, hear confessions and perform other clerical duties for those Catholics imprisoned; no one in authority suspected a woman could be a priest. This seemingly validated Davidek’s initiative.

Sadly, Davidek died in 1988, one year before Gorbachev’s perestroika began thawing East-West relations that resulted in the collapse of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe. Once Czechoslovakia was free, Rome refused to acknowledge Davidek’s ordination of women; the ordained men were told to join the Uniate church, those Eastern Christians who kept the Eastern Orthodox rites but acknowledged papal primacy; this church, like the Eastern Orthodox churches, have married priests. These men are betrayed, according to Stanford, since they have no connection to the Uniates but are Roman Catholics. At least they have an option in which to remain priests. The women have no recourse. Rome will not recognize the ordination of women under any circumstances. With Davidek already dead, he could not defend his actions.

As older copies of Christian scriptures are found— predating the traditional holy writings by hundreds of years—we are discovering that pronouns were changed in many works from female to male, and that there are other Christian works where women are in leadership positions; there is evidence that women also performed clerical duties. Nonetheless, Rome—and the Eastern Orthodox churches for that matter—refuse to even consider the possibility of women priests.

Was there a Pope Joan? There have been other books written about the possibility of a female pope. Many of these were written by academics. I have not read them, but I can say that I enjoyed this book. This is a very good introduction to the topic.