I was sexually abused by the Catholic church, though not in the way you might think.
I was told, by priests and fellow Catholics and in hiply packaged youth-oriented books, that the soul was the essence of one’s being – and that mine was bad, because I got erections while staring at Tommy Peterson’s bum every morning when he stood to sing O Canada.
I whacked off as a teen. A lot. I would learn only much later that most boys do. My parents and secular school were silent on the matter. But the church was eager to comment. It did so in its usual grand fashion, describing the activity as an evil defilement. Each time I shot a load, I would pray and promise never, ever to jerk off again, only to succumb to my raging hormones hours later. I think I made it three days once, during Lent.
This tormented me. I was unable to control my urges in the way that, according to my church, most other boys could and did. I was an intrinsically evil homosexual with no will power or self-discipline, and I was consumed with guilt.
It shocks me that Catholics are scandalized by recent revelations of priestly kiddie diddling. Anyone familiar with the church must know that the power exercised when priests fondle boys is the tip of the iceberg. It is part and parcel of – and a useful metaphor for – the power the church exercises more generally.
Individual priests, bestowed with mystical authority, corrupt young souls with far more severity than they corrupt young flesh. They manipulate kids’ minds with supposedly real-life supernatural horror stories. And they seek to modify behaviour with centuries-old techniques of guilt-inducing torture. A blowjob from some priest would’ve been paradise compared to my earthly teenaged hell.
But abuses of power in the church aren’t limited to those of a priest over his flock. The church is used to playing a major role in shaping the rules and structures of societies. Without going off on an endless tangent, let us touch on only a few contemporary, queer examples.
The church has an historical role in Canada, providing basic public and publicly funded services like health care and education. When a Catholic school refused to allow Marc Hall to take his boyfriend to the prom, it joined a history of Catholic hospitals preventing gay men from visiting dying lovers, and Catholic shelters failing to address gaybashing and safer sex.
On a global level, the church exercises much power in places like Africa, where it campaigns effectively to prevent education about safer sex and birth control, and the distribution of condoms and other contraceptives.
And on a universal level, the church issues guiding statements on homosexuality. In 1986, the church declared that even chaste homosexuals have a “strong tendency toward an intrinsic moral evil.” The church said that when “civil legislation is introduced to protect behaviour to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the church nor society at large should be surprised when irrational and violent reactions increase.” The statement was widely viewed as a justification for gaybashing.
In 1992, the church ordered Catholics to actively oppose even basic anti-discrimination laws, stating that discrimination is rarely an issue for chaste homosexuals – presumably the only homos deserving of human rights.
When the Ontario government tried to pass same-sex spousal rights legislation in 1994, the church ordered a condemnation and call to action be read to every congregation in Toronto. The legislation did not pass.
The Catholic church is one gigantic abuse of power, and yet we hear a lot about Christian oppression at the hands of homosexuals.
“Religion is in the closet,” screamed a recent National Post headline, quoting a minister responding to the recent Ontario superior court decision in favour of gay marriage.
Let’s be very clear. Gay people want to be able to make our own choices about our own lives. Too may religions want to be able to continue to make those choices for us, against our wishes.
The Catholic church is not content to counsel on sexual matters. It wields enormous power to ensure that non-Catholics live – and die – according to its own moral say-so.
As the Pope comes to Toronto, let us recall his legacy beyond the hype about his wisdom and compassion. The Pope facilitates sexual abuse in a multitude of ways. He and his church use soul-crushing and life-threatening force in an effort to strip lesbians, gay men and all sexual people of our basic human dignity.
* David Walberg is Xtra’s publisher.