ROME – When ‘Charmed’ actress Alyssa Milano asked her twitter followers to answer #metoo if they had also been victims of sexual harassment or assault, she probably wasn’t expecting to initiate a global viral trend.
In the wake of sexual abuse allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, thousands of women – and men – have taken to their social media accounts to tell their stories and show support for victims.
Many leading Christian voices spoke up, including Catholics, who underlined that not only do people of faith object to such injustices, but also that the Church should take charge when it comes to sexual harassment.
“The Catholic Church should take a leading role, not only in raising people’s awareness of the crime against human dignity that is sexual abuse but also the Catholic Church should likewise lead in promoting healing,” said Dawn Eden Goldstein, assistant professor of dogmatic theology at the Holy Apostles College and Seminary of Connecticut, in an interview with Crux.
Eden Goldstein, who is also the author of Healing Sexual Wounds With the Help of the Saints and Remembering God’s Mercy, books that tackle the intersections between sexual abuse and faith, emphasized that the real specialty of the Catholic Church is ailments of the soul.
“Anytime the problem of sexual harassment or sexual assault is in the news, it can provide a good teaching moment,” Eden Goldstein said. “It gives credibility to our entire witness if we take leadership on this issue.”
— Dawn Eden Goldstein (@DawnofMercy) October 17, 2017
The theologian presented a three-pronged approach on how the Church can lead the way on the matter of sexual abuse. For the first step, she borrowed from Pope Francis’s teaching on the importance of listening when victims approach the Church for healing, to say that just a few kind and understanding words can go a long way.
“Sometimes we as Catholics may simply offer a Band-Aid approach to people who are suffering,” Eden Goldstein said, such as telling survivors to pray the rosary and reflect on the mysteries. Though very important, she continued, these instruments can sometimes fall flat without the proper support system.
Another important aspect of the Church’s ministry to abuse victims, according Eden Goldstein, is highlighting the large number of women, victims of sexual harassment or assault, who have been canonized or beatified.
She cited Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (who was harassed while riding on a train) and Saint Gemma Galgani (who was inappropriately pinched by a male cousin) as poignant examples of women of faith who lived the same experiences echoed all over social media these past few days.
Yet, Eden Goldstein warned of the danger of only putting on a pedestal those saintly women who preferred death rather than losing their virtue. “The implication for the victim of sexual assault is that ‘I am still alive, therefore I can’t be a saint, I am a sinner. You are only a saint if you die trying to protect yourself’,” she said.
“And that’s simply not true.”
St. Maria Goretti, who was killed at the age of 11 for resisting a rape attempt, is an example of a woman choosing death rather than lose her virginity. But her story, according to Eden Goldstein, is particularly relevant because while she forgave her killer soon before dying she also gave detailed and accurate descriptions of him to the police so that he would be brought to justice.
The theologian said that forgiveness, a cornerstone of Christian spiritual healing, does not oppose the need for perpetrators to be brought to justice, pointing to how “there’s no forgiveness unless there is a sin that you are actually forgiving.”
One more aspect for the Church to consider, according to Eden Goldstein, is to not fall into the trap of following trends rather than making them. “It’s very important that the Church always try and go a little broader than the culture is going,” the theologian said.
“As an author who writes about healing from sexual abuse and trauma I hear from many men who are victims of sexual harassment,” Eden Goldstein continued. “These men are some of the loneliest people you can imagine because they all think that they are the only person.”
In order for the Church to be a global leader on sexual abuse, as it has been in the past with issues such as AIDS and human trafficking, and is today in relation to immigrants, opening up the door to ‘unheard’ victims without losing focus on the need to protect women can be an opportunity and a challenge.
“We are called to a greater standard than the world, so we shouldn’t allow the media or other public institutions to call the shots on what the response should be,” Eden Goldstein said. “We should lead by having a greater, broader and firmer response than secular institutions.”
This sentiment was echoed by Melinda Henneberger, writer and columnist for the Kansas City Star and USA Today, who also emphasized the need to raise this debate above race or party politics.
The Weinsteins, Cosbys, Clintons and Ailes of the world have shown that “yup, they come in all stripes” – Henneberger told Crux in an email – showing that on the issue of sexual abuse “we should not be divided.”
“We have been through this in our Church and what I hope we’ve learned is the high human cost of covering up what has to come into the light. And of putting loyalty to any institution over loyalty to the truth,” she said.
Whether a man in a position of power is leveraging the career, faith, or political beliefs of a woman in order to keep her quiet, Henneberger said that it’s a cliché that keeps repeating itself. “It’s all the same rationalization and upside down thinking, and I do think that as the salt and the light it’s up to us to have the courage to say no, no, and no,” she said.
Henneberger said that the overwhelming response to the Weinstein story highlighted “how nearly universal the experience of this kind of abuse of power has been,” and offers a chance for change “because the decibel level of our voices raised together is hard to deny.”
According to Henneberger, recent events have also shown to men who were previously unaware the vast scope of the issue of sexual harassment for women.
“I would just say, don’t turn back. Taking on real power, which is what we’re talking about here, is never easy, and when power is most threatened, then those taking it on are most at risk,” she said.
“Support women and men who come forward.”
According to Jason Collett, Founder of The Good News, a daily Christian newsletter, the teachings of the Bible call faithful to stand up against sexual abuse. “Christians are called to take action against injustice; keeping quiet would be a failure to live out the Gospel. If Christians don’t speak up, who will? Or worse yet, if Christians don’t speak up, will anything change?”
Collett wrote Crux in an email that the Church has 2,000 years of teaching that it can share with individuals and all aspects of society, and that Christian morality is essential in order to create a world where sexual abuse no longer exists.
“Catholics need to harness the short-term outrage and draw people towards the faith community,” he said. “If we strike while the iron is hot, we can build the Church—a Church dedicated to combating sexual assault through families, schools, politics, and business.”
But lay people and the clergy cannot do it all by themselves, Collett said. Catholic media also has an important role to play in spreading and divulging the Church’s teaching.
“The left-wing has CNN. The right-wing has Fox News. Who is advocating for Christian morality? I don’t see a powerful 24/7 news agency advocating for Church teaching the way I see political news advocates,” he wrote. “Catholic media must use creative means to boldly and relentlessly articulate solutions to sexual harassment found in Church teaching. Jesus’ teachings are bold, clear, and honest. We must maintain His voice, even when dealing with scandals inside the Church.”