Time to open up a little bit up and talk about myself in a post, I guess. I’d rather it not be a heavy topic, but Feministe has a very good post on St. Maria Goretti, and in light of the discussion that is coming up from that post, I’ve decided I would write about how I feel about the canonization of Maria Goretti as well.
(Full disclosure: I come from a Protestant background, and will do everything I can to express myself respectfully in light of the centuries of conflict between Protestants and Catholics; besides, the first person to really show the love of Christ to me in my life was my late Catholic Grandma, if I made this post inherently anti-Catholic in nature, I would be disrespecting her memory and legacy too.)
For those who don’t know anything about Maria Goretti, you can read the Feministe link, or visit Wikipedia to read her story.
I first learned about the attempted rape and eventual murder of Maria Goretti in Susan Brownmiller’s Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape. I was reading the book because I was starting out to educate myself on feminism as teenager/young college student, and…I was trying to make sense of my experiences. I am a survivor of child sexual abuse, incest, and teenage sexual assault. At about the age of 18, I got involved in anti-rape and anti-abuse activism, locally and online. Brownmiller’s book is an education in itself due to it’s detailed history of sexual violence in human society.
When I read the part about Maria Goretti, I definitely was left with a bad taste in my mouth, so to speak. Survivors often struggle to have a sense of self-worth after losing their sense of dignity to sexual violence. The impression I got of the Maria Goretti canonization as a young survivor was the same impression I’d been getting from many other sources in society, that women and girls who’ve lived through sexual violence are not as valuable, that we are damaged goods, that we are somehow a problem. Why else, I thought, would women who died rather than be raped appear to be more valued spiritually than women who survived rape or abuse, and lived to fight and advocate passionately for the healing and restoration of the women and girls who would follow after them?
I don’t blame Maria Goretti for show she handled the situation that had been forced upon her. She was a child, and she shares no blame in this. I do worry what messages some in the Body of Christ, whether they are Catholic or Protestant, are sending to any and all survivors, whether they profess Christ or not. No one deserves victim blame, and victim blame has no place in the Church. So that any Catholic readers may understand that though this post was inspired by Maria Goretti, I am not singling out Catholicism, I experienced a painful situation with my previous church. I had been given a little booklet at my women’s Bible study, which had verses relating to certain topics that concern women, and I was horrified to discover that under “rape,” this booklet was admonishing me to not dress provocatively if I don’t want to be victimized again. Ummm, hello! Being covered up does not protect women from abuse, tragically. That too, left a bad taste in my mouth.
The “better dead than raped” adage is painful to be reminded of, as someone who, over the years of abuse and its aftermath, has struggled with PTSD, depression, and suicidality. I am still here though. I could have died during the abuse years, but I didn’t, and I am happy about that. I doubt anyone will be rushing to have me canonized once I do pass on, but that is alright with me. After counseling, finding the right medication, and making peace with God, it was worth it surviving the actual abuse, it was worth it to survive the crushing, suicidal depression. It was all worth it because I am here now, and I can find beauty and promise in life, and purpose. My life is more than what happened to me, and I am not damaged goods because of what has happened!
I would not trade places with Maria Goretti. I mean that as no insult. It’s simply how I feel. Sin has still been triumphed against because those who brutalized me failed to destroy me, and because it has helped me to look at my own conduct. And because I am still here, I will be able to help others ensure the sin of sexual abuse and assault will not destroy them either.