Often on this site, there are graphic accounts of abuse by lay teachers, priests, monks and De La Salle brothers.
What is more rare, though, is the psychological abuse that often goes with it. And how it can be triggered today by relatively minor incidents.
Catholics, abusers or not, always seem to seek control over children. Maybe it’s the same with other religions.
But it is especially heinous in Catholic communities because they are so authoritarian, so convinced of their rightness and even holiness, they cannot and will not be challenged.
Their role model, of course, starts with the Vatican and the Pope when he speaks ex-cathedra.
Thus, as I’ve related some time ago, a staunch Catholic doctor (a functioning alcoholic) and his hospital matron wife needed to bring their typically rebellious sixteen year old daughter ‘to her senses’. This involved her being drugged and incarcerated in the general ward of a mental hospital over Christmas.
Her rebellion was the usual thing – staying out late, bad company, surly attitude, punk clothes and so on. I don’t recall anything unusual or horrendous. But in any event, if every rebellious teenager was sectioned to bring them to their senses, the mental hospitals would be filled to overflowing. What I do recall that was horrendous was her parents’ close examination of her clothing which, in my view, crossed boundaries.
Undoubtedly they used their connections to get the necessary two Doctors (IIRC) to have her sectioned. When my daughters told me this, I was so appalled, I contacted the hospital and said the girl could stay at our house with her friends, my daughters, over Christmas. The hospital agreed. I just had to ask her parents’ permission.
This I duly did. Their response I believe is so typically Catholic, it’s worth writing about again. They told me they were bluffing when they intended to keep her in a mental ward over Christmas, alone with seriously disturbed teenagers. They were going to have her released on Christmas Eve when she’d learnt her lesson and promised to behave herself in future. I told them I was delighted that the family would be united. ‘No, you’ve spoilt it now,’ the matron mum glared at me. ‘So we don’t want her back.’ The girl duly spent a happy Christmas with our family and IIRC now has a couple of university degrees and a successful career. But I happen to know she still bears the scars of her ghastly Catholic family.
Similarly I bear the scars of my ghastly Catholic family. And that’s probably why I chose to intervene. It was triggering me.
My Catholic family circumstances were different, yet ultimately the same. My mother was mentally ill, so she had delegated her authority to a group of four or five Catholic worthies to similarly ‘bring her rebellious teenage son to his senses’. Some, but probably not all, were Knights of St Columba. All were sexual abusers of children. And they controlled the financial purse string to my fee-paying education at St Joseph’s College, Ipswich, and thus my destiny.
If you look at photos or film of the Knights today, they’re still puffed up with their own arrogance and so were these gentlemen. They saw no contradiction between sexually abusing children and their own self-proclaimed ‘holiness’. I have no idea how that works. I suspect they compartmentalised their lives and didn’t make any connection between their conscience and their vile crimes. Or they think if it’s good enough for bishops, priests and De La Salle brothers to sodomise and sexually molest children, so it’s good enough for them. Or they see it as an initiation rite, like a frat club.
If anyone has any insights, knowledge or theories, I’d love to hear from them. I think my theories above are correct, but Catholics are hardly going to explain their crimes today.
What is truly remarkable is how I fought back and how they wouldn’t give up. They were determined to impose their will on me. I’ve no real idea how I survived and eventually won, albeit at a price. They stopped paying my school fees and so I left at age fifteen and became a messenger boy for R and W Paul in Ipswich. Even then, they still tried to impose their will on me, which I find astonishing. If I was them, I think I’d be pragmatic and say, ‘We’re not going to win with this annoying little shit. Let him go. There’s plenty more where he came from.’
But Catholics simply don’t think that way. They have to win. Maybe the challenge of ‘breaking in a wild horse’ appealed to them.
It was only when I was sixteen and left home that I was finally free of them.
In my healing work in recent years, I realised I was dealing with at least four sexual abusers, and it was necessary to understand each one’s style, as I was being psychologically assaulted from four different directions. Sometimes separately. Sometimes in unison. That takes some unpacking. Thus one, a violent thug teacher, used the heavy-handed, boot camp disciplinarian approach. A second, a barrister, used legal threats combined with suggesting I’d be better off moving to an Ipswich hostel where he’d have me all to himself. A third, an English teacher, appealed to my writing ambitions before ultimately turning on me. A fourth, seemed to be the treasurer of the Knights and I can only remember two things about him. First, his impressive marbled Parker pen with its gold nib, ready to write out a much needed cheque for my school fees. ‘On certain conditions, young man…’And second, the terror his two sons – who also went to St J’s – regarded him with. Let’s not talk about the fifth man. Too big a subject other than to note he was always whining, Uriah Heep style, ‘I always tried to do the best for you boys.’
I clearly won my battle against these five Catholic heavies, although I still find that remarkable. But I didn’t get off Scot-free, it left a scar and that’s where the Triggers come in.
Some months ago, I was triggered when some of my readers said I shouldn’t even be researching Web3 ‘because it was evil’. They were outraged! It triggered memories of the Catholic Index and reading Heaven and Hell by Swedenborg. When the teacher thug I’ve described found out, he was outraged! He went nuts. I’d completely forgotten it, but now the memories came rushing back.(More in an earlier blog)
Naturally, I ignored the Triggers. After all, if I could stand up to a thug when I was 14, I wasn’t going to let anyone today dictate what I should or should not read.
Recently, the same thing occurred when I brought out my Web3 book, a minor project, ecologically and ethically valid. The complexities and rights and wrongs of Web3 needn’t concern us here, only the attempt by a small group of readers to stop my project, to mould me into someone I’m not, to insist I behave differently, to impose their will on me, without any debate, adopting a ‘holier than thou’, finger-wagging, moral standpoint just like those awful Catholic worthies I’ve described when I was a kid.
They weren’t interested in polite discussion, only in reacting emotionally and dumping their emotions on me. Angry, sad, reproachful, etc. Doubtless triggered by something in their own pasts that makes them act disproportionately. Maybe they needed an outlet, a scapegoat, for whatever is wrong in their lives.
As you might expect, it, once again, triggered emotions in me from long ago.
But it also reminded me of one way I defeated the finger-waggers as a boy.
Music. There were so many battle hymns against authoritarian bullies and I still sing them in my head to this day.
The words of Lesley Gore were a life-saver.
You don’t own me
You don’t tell me what to do
Don’t tell me what to say
Don’t try to change me in any way
You don’t own me
I don’t tell you what to say
I don’t tell you what to do
So just let me be myself
That’s all I ask of you
I’m free and I love to be free
To live my life the way I want
To say and do whatever I please
Such music helped me survive as a kid and those words are particularly relevant today and I shall direct them at today’s Triggers if necessary.
If you’re wondering why I’m fairly relaxed about it, then I should let you into my secret. Over the years I regularly use such Triggers in my stories and they make for excellent negative characters. I’ve written them into two of my current published series. For example, a science fantasy series where the High Priest of the Archeologists, who bury all forms of progress, has banned technology, and has an especial hatred for Web3. Needless to say, he comes to a bad end which I found most cathartic to write. I’m now thinking of a third way I can use them.
It’s a great way to deal with the finger-waggers and turn their lead into gold.
I hope others have found similarly constructive ways of dealing with Triggers.