Dr. Ian Bethell-Bennett, associate professor in the School of English Studies at the College of the Bahamas, writes about the tragic ironies and complex effects of revealing “the ugly underbelly” of child abuse by supposedly “incorruptible” and beloved authority figures, who are then vehemently defended by their flock. [Also see previous posts Dominica Catholics Vow Support for Accused Priest and New Book: Understanding Child Sexual Abuse—Perspectives from the Caribbean.]
[. . .] Yet we swear by our people of power and authority; they are incorruptible. Pastors and reverends seem to have a knack for helping themselves to the choicest lambs they lead, yet the elders of the flock defend them. Whilst the Catholic Church has been dealing with its mess of child abuse, the other groups seem to have used the former as a smoke and mirrors ploy to exculpate themselves. [There is] the case of the reverend interfering with the girl he was guardian of, yet his flock defending him, and now the latest charge of a lay preacher who has allegedly interfered with boys. Somehow, we take these cases as isolated instances of people being evil instead of a far more common trend of heinous child abuse that permeates our society.
We are far too Christian for this kind of thing to happen! Yet reports of the same are up and cases of the same are also up. So where are we really? The country that refuses to talk about abuse will have to continue to grapple with the skeletons that continue to fall out of proverbial closets and youth violence that speak to terrible incidences of violence in the home, as the studies carried out by the College of the Bahamas have illustrated.
Meanwhile, we continue to condemn our children to abuse and silence by refusing to allow them to speak, by denying what they say and by insisting that the church is beyond repute. Horrifically, church has apparently become a place where people hide behind the cloth and thereby get better access to the lambs of the flock. As one church elder offered as a gratuitous response to charges of abuse: they are strong young people, they can deal with it. But they cannot deal with it. They should not have to deal with it. By making them deal with it, what society is saying is that we condone such savagery. However, in a community where being “a cutter” is apparently an honour, this is unsurprising. At least it was done with someone who could offer you something. What has the community come to that such disregard for youth’s mental health can be so widespread?
[. . .] How do we honestly blame children for their abuse? [. . .] Incest and sexual abuse are violence. They are the worst forms of violence as they destroy the souls of the people who suffer through them. Yet entire families sit mutely by and permit such depravity yet head to church on Sundays and praise someone who they say justifies such abuse.
Two novels that plainly show the hell that this kind of silence and suffering create spring to mind, one is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Purple Hibiscus” and “ Cereus Blooms at Night” by Shani Mootoo. The former is set in Nigeria and the latter in the Caribbean, both are tales of massive suffering and violence. Yet society continues to ignore, deny and ultimately condone sexual abuse and violence by hiding it behind the cloth.
[. . .] When young men act out their pain and suffering, they are sent to prison for being uncontrollable criminal elements, and are unredeemable sinners. Their only sin is often that the cloth has been used to violently abuse them and the flock has encouraged the abuse of the innocent lambs by turning their heads to the sunshine. They are being led by example. Does any of this sound familiar?
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Photo above from the Bahamas Crisis Center at http://www.bahamascrisiscentre.org/nsmissionstatement.htm