I am a convert to the Catholic faith and was sexually victimized in childhood. Before discovering Augustine’s teaching, I suffered from the impression that the Church, with its strong teachings on sexual purity, somehow blamed me for my own abuse. I thought that, since I was not untouched like the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Church believed I was stained by what others had done to me. That struck me as very unfair, and unlike anything taught by Christ — who, in the Gospels, condemns those who tempt children but has great compassion for children who are victimized (Matthew 18:6).
So, learning that no less an authority than Augustine said that being sexually abused does not affect chastity — and that his teaching was repeated by St. Thomas Aquinas, and remains the doctrine of the Church — was very healing for me. It helped me see that what I had suffered did not separate me from Jesus and the saints; in fact, if anything, it put me in closer communion with them, because every sin against the dignity of the human person is a sin against the Body of Christ.
LOPEZ: Does anyone really blame the victim, though?
EDEN: That’s a great question. Yes, I do believe society blames the victim, and this despite the well-intentioned efforts of some feminists and other secularists to raise awareness of abuse. And the reason is simple: You can’t build a culture of life on a foundation of radical individualism.
I’m thinking here of the Obama administration, which recently terminated the long-standing contract that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had with the Department of Health and Human Services to aid victims of human trafficking. The reason given for the termination was that the USCCB did not offer victims access to contraception and abortion.
I see the government’s action as emblematic of the willful blindness of those who uphold contraception and abortion as social solutions. They fail to see that, in treating sex as a consumer item — divorced from childbearing — and in denying the humanity of the unborn child, they are perpetuating a culture of objectification that enables the very abuse that they claim to oppose.
A bishop recently told me that he had begun reading My Peace I Give You and it reminded him of Francis Cardinal George’s observation that, in American culture, everything is permitted and practically nothing is forgiven. While we are all called to pursue every means of preventing abuse, including bringing offenders to justice, the victim’s healing is not complete until she can open her heart to the Holy Spirit’s work of forgiveness. Now, there can be no forgiveness unless there is an acknowledgment that sin is objective, not merely subjective. And secular culture refuses to do that.
One of Chuck Colson’s final columns was a perceptive analysis of how the Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, overturning Texas’s ban on sodomy, opened the door to the legalization of incest. He was right — and the opponents of morality won’t stop there. The only major institution standing in the way of efforts to permit sexual exploitation, polygamy, same-sex “marriage,” and other cultural assaults upon children’s welfare is the Church. My Peace I Give You is my effort to help the Church fulfill its call to proactively witness against such cultural assaults, by giving it a language through which it can reach those who have been harmed by them.
LOPEZ: “How could I believe in God’s protective love, when my own family failed to protect me?” How do you answer a question like that when asked?
EDEN: That’s a question I used to ask before I was a Christian, and it still nagged at me after my conversion. But ultimately, as I write in My Peace I Give You, I realized it was a dead end. Like the questions that Job wanted to pose to his Maker, it followed a line of thought that folded in on itself. As long as I am focused only on the evil of the past, I am closed to the good that God is working in the present. The real question is the one St. Paul asks in Romans 8: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?” Because the ultimate reality is not that Dawn suffered. It’s that Christ suffered, and his suffering gives profound meaning to all the suffering that came before, during, and after his earthly life.
LOPEZ: “Abusers,” you write, “see children . . . not as gifts to be valued for the children’s own sake, but as objects for use.” How do we look away from this?
EDEN: We look away every time we click on an online advertisement that features a woman in a bikini. We look away every time we shell out twelve dollars to see a movie like Magic Mike or whatever is Hollywood’s latest effort to glamorize lust. We look away every time we buy a copy of a women’s magazine that has the word “sex” in five different headlines on the cover. We look away every time we watch the latest HBO drama that has three murders in the first five minutes. That is to say, we look at media messages that objectify or otherwise deny the dignity of the human person, and in doing so we look away from the real problem of abuse.
I know there are people saying, “What do you mean? I watch some violent TV shows, but I would never harm children,” or, “I put pictures of beautiful bodies on my Facebook page, but only of adults.” But the truth is that every time I patronize a media outlet that glorifies sex or violence, or glorify it myself, I am encouraging a media culture that profoundly disrespects the human person. In any culture where the human person is disrespected, those who bear the brunt of the disrespect are those who are most vulnerable — the children.
In 2004, when I was working as a copyeditor for the New York Post, I was given a news story about the investigation of the disappearance of a woman who had starred in pornographic films. It was believed that she had likely been murdered. There was little new information in the story, so the news editor let the reporter fill up space by describing a scene from one of the woman’s films in which she was subjected to an act of depravity.
I looked at the story and handed it back to my boss, saying I couldn’t copyedit it because it was offensive. He took me aside and told me, with a level of irritation that surprised me, that if I ever refused a story again, I would be fired.
That memory stays with me, because that boss was one of the more thoughtful people I knew during my experience working in the mainstream media. If his sensitivities were so deadened that he thought a description of a degrading scene from a pornographic movie was “news,” then how much more dead must be the editors and media moguls who only care about the bottom line? Believe me, there are many of them, and they don’t care what degrading garbage they put in people’s faces as long as there are consumers willing to read it, watch it, or mouse-click on it.