By Pauline Kerr
A Catholic priest has accused residential school survivors of fabricating stories of sexual abuse to get more money. Really? This is victim-blaming at its most disgusting.
Denial of guilt takes many forms. There is the blatant claim of innocence, that nothing happened. “Gun? What gun?” There is the claim that what happened was a mistake – the classic “I didn’t know the gun was loaded.” More insidious are the claims that something happened, but it was not as serious as the victim said. “They knew I had no intention of actually shooting anyone.” And then there is the worst form of denial, that something bad happened, and it was the victim’s fault. “If the bank tellers had just handed over the money, I would never have had to shoot anyone.”
The accusation of the priest is in the latter category. There have been too many sworn statements in courts of law, too many harrowing stories from all across this country, for complete denial of the physical and sexual abuse at church-run residential schools. The priest’s statement points a judgmental finger at the victims.
One would think with all that has been made public in the last few months – the unmarked graves of hundreds of children – no one would dare attempt to deny the seriousness of the abuse. Then again, we live in the age of “alternate facts.”
When it comes to sexual assault, “alternate facts” have always been the rule. Unless a victim was beaten half to death, preferably in front of several fine, upstanding witnesses, and had no previous sexual experience, there was little chance of getting a conviction. Even now, in the wake of the Me Too movement, many victims choose to remain silent rather than face the victim-blaming that still takes place. Our society in general seems to have a lot more sympathy for the sports stars, business moguls, VIPs and – yes – church leaders accused of sexual crimes, than their victims.
Things are starting to change, in part thanks to Me Too. A victim’s prior sexual history is off limits to defence lawyers. Wealth and fame are apparently no longer enough to keep offenders out of jail.
The Me Too movement in many ways paved the way for what is happening with residential school survivors. For the first time, their stories are being heard, and believed. We have stepped outside our comfort zone and acknowledged abuse happened, it was as serious as victims have always claimed, and while there is no way to restore the lives lost and damaged, we have a moral obligation to do what we can. Acknowledgment of the truth goes a long way. A financial settlement is a clear acknowledgment.
And then a priest – a man with the status of religious leader – steps onto his pulpit and makes a despicable claim that cheapens the heart-rending stories of residential school survivors. No matter what efforts the church makes to censure him and keep him from making further statements, it cannot undo what he has said.
There will be some who believe him. Or rather, there are some who think as he does, and who have now had their cynical ideas given credibility. Sadly, there are some victims, and supporters of victims, who will take his words as not the statement of one man but as representing a mainstream belief, perhaps of the church or even of society in general.
It is nothing of the sort.
We honour the courage of the survivors who have spoken out about what they endured. As a society, we believe their stories – the stories they have been telling for years when no one was listening. We are listening now.
We pray they keep telling their truth. We need to hear it. Our children need to hear it. Continuing to live in an “alternate facts” world where children can be abused because of the colour of their skin, and because those committing the abuse are powerful, is a world with a stunted, tainted future. This is not the future we want.