Politics & Policy

Ryan Loskarn’s Tragic End

A Capitol Hill suicide shines light on the need for healing.

‘Compassion is harder to accept than condemnation when you feel as disgusting and horrible as I do,” Ryan Loskarn wrote before he took his own life.

When his mother found the letter, she posted it on the Internet, hoping that his words might help even “one person who is suffering in silence.”

“In the aftermath of my arrest and all that followed, the mental equilibrium I had created to deal with my past is gone,” Loskarn wrote. “Today the memories fly at me whenever they choose. They’re the first thing I see when I wake and the last thing I think about before falling asleep. I am not in control of anything anymore, not even my own memories. It’s terrifying.”

Loskarn had been arrested two weeks before Christmas on child-pornography charges. He was a chief of staff for a Republican senator at the time. “Rising star” had often been used to describe him. Now he’s dead. Looking at how this ever came to pass should be a nonpartisan issue. This is a darkness that does not know party lines. 

Our media culture thrives on scandal and crime. Behind this is raw humanity — often deeply broken hearts and desperate souls.

In his letter, Loskarn reveals the sexual abuse he experienced as a child, which he never sought help for. In the letter he seems to be trying to understand, but not excuse, what he did as an adult. On the contrary, he writes: “To the children in the images: I should have known better. I perpetuated your abuse and that will be a burden on my soul for the rest of my life.”

The criminal complaint against Loskarn is repulsively graphic. His letter provides a fuller view of the darkness he was imprisoned in. If you’re angry reading it — it describes abhorrent pornographic material involving children — try to imagine finding yourself being drawn to such material, and drawn to sharing it. You might feel the self-hatred Loskarn must have felt.

His tortured life should be mourned and his final testimony should sear our consciences. Who is the man next to us on the train, and what horrific pain might he be trying desperately to suppress? Does he have a secret that makes him feel “disgusting and horrible”? Perhaps Loskarn’s letter provides a window into the soul of a loved one who feels utterly unlovable.

“Like so many people who attempt or complete suicide, this young man found himself in a situation of intolerable suffering, where suicide appeared to be his only way out — the only available escape hatch,” Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, author of The Catholic Guide to Depression, reflects. “This is a lie, of course, and we have a responsibility to reach out and encounter people who are trapped in this prison of suicidal thinking to offer them a sense of hope. To anyone who feels trapped — whether due to depression, shame and humiliation, or any other affliction — we need to communicate that there is hope, and there are other options, other avenues of healing.”

Loskarn’s letter reveals a blend of “a feeling of hopelessness and despair at his situation and a plea for forgiveness for what he has done,” observes Helen Smith, a forensic psychologist and author of Men on Strike.

“It’s a terrible tragedy that he never sought professional help for dealing with the legacy of the abuse,” comments Ed Mechmann, who oversees the Safe Environment Program of the Archdiocese of New York. “No person should try to carry this by himself. A person can be healed from the wounds he suffered, but it’s hard work and it takes a lot of grace.”

“Sadly, it is very common for people who were abused in childhood to keep their victimhood secret indefinitely,” reflects Dawn Eden, author of My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints. “A recent study indicates that about one-third of children who were sexually abused by an adult never tell anyone. The same study reports that more than 80 percent of children abused by a peer likewise keep it a secret.”

“Speaking as a victim,” Eden says, “I do believe that an adult who is in denial about his or her abuse is more likely to be a danger, first, to himself, and, second, to others. But if he gets help, he can, over time, not only improve, but flourish psychologically and spiritually in ways that did not seem possible. There are no quick fixes, but your life begins to get better the moment you begin the hard work of getting well.”

Ryan Loskarn’s death is tragic because there is help available, even for someone who has spent years in darkness, even when there has been sin and crime compounding the evil that was first done to him. Loskarn’s death was a response to a lie that he was beyond help and redemption. It is cause for reflection on what we watch and read and say. “The news coverage of my spectacular fall makes it impossible for me to crawl in a hole and disappear,” Loskarn wrote. “I’ve hurt every single human being I’ve ever known and the details of my shame are preserved on the internet for all time. There is no escape.”

No one should ever feel alone and imprisoned in thoughts and memories. Pope Francis has described the Church as a field hospital for those wounded in battle. It is an institution that knows the devastating poison of the filth (to use a Pope Benedict word) of the use and abuse of children all too well. Pope Francis’s description is a challenge to people of faith, and it’s also “a powerful critique” of “the modern Western secular world,” Dr. Kheriaty points out. “It suggests that the world has become a war zone, where countless people are lying spiritually wounded and in dire need of help. Our pornography-saturated culture wounds people, even and especially in their tender early years when they are exposed to pornography, or to the kind of sexual abuse that pornography encourages. Loskarn was one of these wounded souls.”

Ryan Loskarn was robbed of his innocence, and he never recovered. He needed to encounter the depth of God’s love and mercy, as so many others have done. That’s why society needs people of faith who feel the obligation to serve, out of love of God and thanksgiving for His mercy.

Don’t settle for pain and falsity. Don’t just curse the darkness, either. Instead, turn on light. Insist on light.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a director of Catholic Voices USA. This column is based on one available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.


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