It’s no secret that the small liberal arts college I attended, Christendom College, nestled in the foothills of the Shenandoah Valley, has a problem.
You might think, if you’ve been following the word on the street or in the Catholic blogosphere, that that problem is rape, and you wouldn’t be wrong.
But I’m not here to talk about rape.
My school has a problem, and that’s rape apologism.
“Liberal jargon!” they cry, as they stop reading here. “Special snowflake! Social justice warrior!” One alumna posited due to my use of the phrase “internalized misogyny” that I was a liberal plant, and questioned whether I had actually attended Christendom College at all. (I mean, I spent an awful lot of money for that diploma gathering dust otherwise.)
This balking over terminology is honestly a bit rich coming from alumni espousing a faith tradition where apologetics is a household word and attending an undergraduate institution where Catholic Apologetics is a 3rd-year required core class. You don’t get to pretend you don’t know what an apologia is, or that it’s some sort of specialized liberal lingo. You read Plato’s Apologia, and John Henry Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua. No excuses.
But in case you needed a refresher course: an apologia is a defense. A rape apologist is a defender of sexual assault. If you like, we can call you a rape poster child, or person who ruptures the fabric of the social contract. Before I left the alumni group because of their monstrous response to the breaking story of a rape coverup at Christendom, I was told that I was “name calling” the folks I referred to as “rape apologists.”
No, I’m stating facts. “Name calling” would be calling you a “callous inhuman monster.” You are defending rape, and therefore you are, ipso facto, a rape apologist.
Let’s recap the happenings in the alumni group: I peaced out of the group very early on because people were attacking Adele viciously and casting doubt on every aspect of the victims’ story. The rallying cries of “O’Donnell Abu!” (O’Donnell to victory!) were nauseating, and smacked of a cult response to its infrastructure being torn down.
I even had to file a police report against a fellow alum for harassment and threats for, among other things, attacking the sacred cow that is Christendom’s rape culture.
What does the Church have to say about sexual assault?
2356 Rape is the forcible violation of the sexual intimacy of another person. It does injury to justice and charity. Rape deeply wounds the respect, freedom, and physical and moral integrity to which every person has a right. It causes grave damage that can mark the victim for life. It is always an intrinsically evil act.
Despite what some Christendom alumni might say, always means always. Even if you were dressed provocatively. Even if you made out with the boy beforehand. Even if you let him get a bit handsy. Even if you were drunk as a skunk. Even if you drove a boy up Skyline and parked in his car and watched a movie with him in the back seat. Even if you did all those things at once and were widely regarded as a floozy who slept with the entire starting lineup of the Washington Redskins.
Always. An. Intrinsically. Evil. Act.
Tomorrow, I’m told — I don’t actually get alumni emails because like any tight-knit family, Christendom has a long-standing tradition of edging out the perceived “black sheep” of the clan — Christendom’s alumni association is hosting a day of prayer and fasting. Here’s how they described it originally on the school’s website:
The members of the Alumni Advisory Council would like to request that ALL Christendom alumni, students, faculty, staff and friends join us for a day of Prayer and Fasting on January 26th. We pray and fast for all victims, for the accused, for the administration, for current students, for ourselves, and for anyone affected by recent events. We pray for the gift of clarity. Most of all we pray that Christendom College will continue to be a guiding force for good in the world.
Let’s parse this for a moment. Can you identify the problematic parts — not only from a PR standpoint, but from a human decency one? Probably (unless you’re a Christendom alumni).
1.) We pray and fast for the victims, for the accused, for the administration, for current students, for ourselves, and for anyone affected by recent events.
The victims and the accused. Whoaboy. This is a doozy. Of course as Catholics we are not permitted the privilege of thinking anyone is beyond the reach of redemption, and one can certainly pray for the grace of repentance for criminals and rapists. But given the astonishingly harsh, cruel rape apologism and victim-blaming response of the alumni group to Simcha’s pieces about Christendom’s sexual assault victims — and their failure to allow Adele into a Facebook group where hundreds of people were gossiping about her and maligning her character while allowing her rapist to be in the group and read it all — this reads as a tone-deaf leveling of the playing field, with a vague implication that somehow victims and rapists are equally deserving of our pity and sympathy. It’s the ethical equivalent of putting two crosses up for Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold along with the crosses “for Columbine’s dead.” Did they, strictly speaking, die at Columbine? Yes. Was it a slap in the face to their victims? Also yes. Did they get defaced and ultimately torn down? Yes, and rightly so.
2) The accused?
Look, I’m a journalist. I get it if Christendom doesn’t want to call them “the rapists” on the front page of their website, even though (let the record reflect) that is what they are. But rapists mostly don’t like that, and these ones still probably haven’t paid back their student loans in full. But wouldn’t “attackers” or “assailants” convey more of a sympathetic tone for the victim? Words matter.
And don’t tell me it’s all semantics. The word “accused” was chosen there for one very important reason: to convey that they really don’t believe the women’s claims. “What is the good of words if they aren’t important to quarrel over?” asks Chesterton in The Ball and the Cross. “Why do we choose one word more than another if there isn’t any difference between them? If you called a woman a chimpanzee instead of an angel, wouldn’t there be a quarrel about a word? If you’re not going to aruge about words, what are you going to argue about? The Church and the heresies always used to fight about words, because they are the only thing worth fighting about.”
Plus, if you’re still over there quibbling about “rape apologism” being a liberal buzzword, you really have no room to talk.
Another email went ’round that was possibly even worse. It was from an alumnus who happens to be a priest — a priest who has recently as two months ago was posting on Facebook that a woman had to ask permission of her priest to separate from her husband, even in a domestic violence situation. (Try to wrap your mind around that one for a moment. I’ll wait.)
In his email, he wrote that he was saying Mass on this “day of prayer and fasting” — for victims, maybe, if there were any real ones, but his real emphasis was on “protecting” Christendom from diabolical attacks against the school and the most holy person of her president, and from the wicked machinations of potentially “vengeful bloggers.”
This has not been a normal response from a Catholic community. It has aligned more closely with the response of a cult circling the wagons to protect their leader. It’s as if — before my very eyes — I went back in time to see the people of Boston for some inexplicable reason rising up and rallying in the streets to protect Cardinal Law.
Someone needs to educate the alumni of Christendom College, the Alumni Council, and those who work with the alumni about what really happened, about how the school failed its victims dismally and has acknowledged failing its victims dismally, on sexual consent, rape culture, and the destructiveness of shaming victims. Most psychologists agree (and as a rape survivor myself I have found this to be the case), often the lack of support after a trauma is just as painful as the initiating trauma.
Better yet, Christendom should have followed Title IX protocols and offered mandatory education to these malformed and maladjusted adults while they were still students.
If we had the time and resources to be forced into mandatory dorm meetings about modesty where Director of Admissions Tom McFadden regaled us with tales about how he used to go through his girlfriend’s closet and force her to throw away clothes he deemed immodest, and how no woman serious about her womanhood would ever dream of wearing shorts in the summertime, there’s no earthly legitimate excuse for not being able to cobble together a discussion or two about rape, victimhood, and consent.
Why does Christendom need to abide by Title IX and clean house on the administration?
Well, we might not have averted the rapes. We all know that.
But transparency and accountability might have averted the cover-up.
Proper consent education might have averted the frightening lack of support for victims evidenced by the two thousand alumni Christendom has turned out in the world, ostensibly to “restore all things in Christ,” instead armed with pitchforks to attack the vulnerable.
And a better-equipped, more open, more vocal, more morally upright administration might have averted these awful alumni situations that have thrived on the silence of the school and its refusal to condemn the wide-scale maligning of sexual assault victims by its alumni.
“If you are silent in situations of oppression, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
Christendom: Step up. Contrary to popular opinion, it isn’t the victim advocates like myself who are watching the world burn or damning Christendom in the public eye; it’s these rape apologists who, like Peter and Pavel in My Antonia throwing the bride and bridegroom to the wolves to lighten their sleigh and save their own sorry skins, have thrown Christendom’s rape victims to the wolves in the name of “protecting the school” and defending a weak, cowardly leader who doesn’t deserve their unflinching loyalty.
Is this the legacy we want to leave behind us, Christendom alumni?
If you truly love the school, if you truly want to “restore all things in Christ,” and if you truly want to support victims, you should be bidding O’Donnell adieu — not “Abu.”
Originally published on Donna’s blog. Republished with permission.