Some of the biggest heroes, to me, are the faithful men who stand beside their wives as they deal with the memories, trauma, and aftermath of sexual abuse–and help them heal.
And I want to talk about that today. This may be a bit of a different post because I’m typing it this morning, on a really busy day. Over the next few days I’m helping my daughter Rebecca move, and we have so much to do (and neither of us will be in the comments much!) But I have a ton running through my mind and I just want to get it out before I run.
Last week, when I got home from Ireland and Keith was jetlagged and sleeping and I couldn’t sleep, I binge watched the Netflix series The Keepers. It’s ostensibly about the unsolved murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik in Baltimore in 1969, but it’s really about why she was murdered, not who murdered her. She had discovered horrible abuse by priests and others going on at the girls’ high school where she taught, and she was about to reveal it.
I took three main things away from the show:
1. Older women are a force to be reckoned with.
I absolutely LOVED Gemma and Abbie (real-life women; the show’s a documentary). They’re in their 60s, they’re retired, and they decided that they didn’t want to die without knowing what happened to Sister Cathy. So they learned how to use Skype and the Freedom of Information Act and how to navigate government archives, and they compiled a better case file than any agency ever had. They’re so great. And when the media often portrays “women of a certain age” as being past their prime, this show demonstrated what an amazing force for good newly retired women can be. They were awesome!
2. The sins of an organization do not need to reflect on your faith or on God.
The Catholic church horribly violated Jean Wehner (the first of over three dozen abuse survivors to step forward) not because of the abuse (an evil man perpetrated that, and evil men are everywhere) but because of how the institution handled it and is still handling it. The bombshell in the last 15 minutes of the series of what the church knew and when it knew is quite astounding, and indicting. Even though the Archdiocese of Baltimore formally settled with victims and admitted their guilt in the early 2000s, it still has not told the whole story, to their everlasting shame.
(The Catholic church is the most visible organization to do this, but not the only one, as I’ll talk about later).
But the show does not say that everyone should throw away their faith or that God is dead. On the contrary. In the 1990s Jean starts having problems and has a feeling that there’s something really big in her past that she won’t let herself remember. She tries a bunch of stuff that doesn’t work, and then she just settles herself and tries praying. And that’s when the memories come. It is only when she’s quiet before God that he gently brings stuff back. She explains it in her words, and the documentary maker lets those words stand. And I liked that. Though she was hurt in a church setting, God was still there, just as God is here now. And the best people in the documentary are all people of faith whose church has betrayed them. But you get the sense that these lovely, everyday saints are the future of the church, and it will be okay.
3. A good man can be a amazingly healing.
That’s really my main point today.
Jean married her husband Mike soon after leaving high school, where she was raped repeatedly and often passed around by the priest to other men. The priest said horrific things to her about it all being her fault and part of her punishment for not getting better (she had originally gone to the priests for help with healing from her uncle’s sexual abuse).
She and Mike had the picture perfect family, until these memories started coming back. The couple approached the Archdiocese to report the priest, who was still working with children in another parish. They told them there was nothing they could do without corroborating evidence.
Jean comes from a family of 10 siblings. So the documentary shows pictures from the 1990s of all the siblings and their spouses and even their kids writing over 1,000 postcards to alumni from the school, asking them if they had any information on sexual abuse happening there.
About 50 women came forward with remarkably similar stories to Jean’s.
The church still did nothing (and neither did the police). So Jean and one of the other women sued. And here’s where stuff gets interesting with Mike.
Jean talks about how Mike had to sit behind her during a seven hour deposition, during which the church’s lawyers were picking her apart, and challenging everything. And she said, “He had to sit there when he wanted to jump across the table and strangle these people. And he had to swallow everything he was feeling, because if he said a thing he’d be kicked out of the room, and he knew that if he went, I’d follow.” So he swallowed it.
Later, in the court case, where she was being pulled apart on the witness stand, he had to do the same thing. “He had to sit there and swallow it while these people questioned everything.”
They didn’t win the court case (the statute of limitations had expired), and so they went on with their lives. But, said Jean, Mike had a plan of how he would murder Father Maskell. “The only reason he didn’t was that I begged him not to. If he did, the kids and I would be alone,” Jean explained. “And we’d really be the ones who would pay for it.”
The documentary shows touching home movies over the years of anniversary parties for Mike and Jean, and birthday parties. And then at the thirty-fifth anniversary they’re asked for advice, but Mike is sweet but rather quiet. And you start to wonder why Mike has never been interviewed for the documentary.
And then modern-day Jean explains, on camera, that Mike was so great to her, but that he always had to swallow down everything he wanted to say. He was never allowed to get angry.
And then these words appear on the screen:
“Mike Wehner passed away May 26, 2007, from esophageal cancer.”
All that swallowing down, Jean thinks, eventually killed him.
I saw those words on the screen on May 26, 2017. Exactly 10 years to the day of his death. And it hit me like a sucker punch.
That was a GOOD man. He was a faithful man, both to his wife and to God. He never let go of his faith, and he didn’t let Jean let go of it either. He was a great dad. And he stood beside his wife and protected her.
To have a man who would make plans to kill your abuser when nothing else works–I don’t know. I think that’s kind of cool. Obviously it’s wrong to murder and vengeance is God’s, but when you’ve been hurt, to have a guy desperately want to make it right for you? That’s an amazing thing (and kinda sexy, too).
That’s a healing thing.
I’m sure Mike and Jean’s marriage was really impacted from her abuse. I’m sure that things were never totally rosy, because she had so much to get over. But he stuck by her, and he never failed to fight for her and to separate what happened to her from who she was.
And I know today that there are so many Mikes out there.
There are men who weren’t abused themselves but who are survivors nonetheless as they walk through all of the garbage that their wives have to deal with. And these men are one of the biggest forces for healing that God uses, I believe. It must be hard to be patient, yet a good husband can be such a rock.
So today, to those men, I just wanted to say thank you. You make a real difference.
I was never a victim of abuse, but I was a victim of abandonment. And having a husband who can be righteously angry on my behalf is so cool. I’m always trying to forgive, and trying to move on, and trying to be healed (and I think I pretty much am), but when Keith gets mad–that’s great. I don’t let myself get mad really. I want Jesus to redeem that part of my life and have it not define me. But when Keith takes on that emotion that I don’t always let myself feel? So neat. So neat. So neat.
I don’t know how else to explain it, but those of you who have lived it, know.
Another word about church abuse:
I know there will be lots of pushback in the comments about The Keepers, and so I just want to say something else that I think is important.
I truly do not believe that this series was anti-Catholic–I think it was anti-Archdiocese of Baltimore (for good reason), but not anti-Catholic.
Here’s how I see the sex abuse scandal:
Being Catholic does not make anyone more likely to abuse.
But abuse flourishes wherever there’s a culture that allows it. When individuals (especially men) are given power over others; where there is a hyper-obedience to authority; where there is an ethos of protecting the community first and foremost; where there is an environment of secrecy–then there will be abuse.
I wrote a long article on this last year about what’s happening in conservative Christian circles that’s really important–let’s not make women powerless in the name of God.
It so happens that that culture flourished in the Catholic church in the 1900s. I do believe that it does not flourish today in the United States, which has largely cleaned up its act and really worked hard to protect kids. (I do, however, wish that the Vatican had not allowed Cardinal Law from Boston to retire there. I think that was a big mistake).
I also believe that the Catholic sex abuse scandal is not one of pedophilia but instead of homosexuality. The vast, vast majority of victims were pubescent boys, not young children. And the vast majority were boys.
Certain areas had more abuse because the seminaries were homosexual enclaves. Boston had about 6% of their priests abuse; Australia had 7%. In Ireland, the percentage was likely higher. But in some jurisdictions it was much lower because the culture in the seminaries producing the priests was different.
Again, it is about culture.
And the Protestant church is not immune to this. I have never talked about the Catholic sex abuse scandal on this blog until this week, but I have been quite vocal on social media and here about what I believe should be the shame of The Gospel Coalition. C.J. Mahaney, who used to run Sovereign Grace Ministries, knew that there was sexual abuse of minors going on in his churches. But instead of encouraging parents to go to police, he tried to hush it up. And then an abuser went to another church.
He had to resign from Sovereign Grace, but he has a new church. And last year The Gospel Coalition, with big names like John Piper, still had him keynote at their conference.
Look, abuse will always happen. We can’t eradicate it. But what we can do is treat it seriously when it comes to light.
That was the real scandal of the Catholic church–that it knew and did nothing.
And that is the scandal today of The Gospel Coalition. That it is still promoting a man and laughing about his legal troubles and his “persecution”. (Note: If people are mad at you because you did something horrendous, that does not count as “persecution”).
The other scandal is that too many conservative denominations have those same cultural markers–hyper obedience to males; an ethos of secrecy; little power for women. They are breeding grounds for abuse (as I will talk about tomorrow). And until we get real about this culture, the sexual abuse of children will keep happening.
I’ve been talking a lot about abuse this week–and tomorrow I want to turn to something closer to home: homeschoolers.
But for today, let’s talk in the comments: How can a husband be healing in your marriage? Let’s celebrate great men like Mike Wehner!