To the Catholics in the Comments
I spend a lot of time on social media (well, just Facebook really - that’s quite enough for me), and I pay close attention to the comment threads when news outlets share stories about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
I know, I know, the comment box is usually not a demonstration of the best of humanity. But I find it helpful to read how people are responding to these stories, as one little data point in my search for understanding.
Recently, the biggest story about abuse in the Church has been the revelations about David Haas, an influential composer of contemporary Catholic liturgical music. (If you’ve been to a Catholic mass in the last 30 years, you have probably heard his songs.) Now, many women have come forward to accuse him of spiritual and sexual manipulation and abuse, going all the way back to the 1980s and continuing to the present day. You can read the two key stories here:
From Catholic News Agency, 6/14/20: Catholic composer David Haas accused of 'sexual battery' and 'spiritual manipulation'
From the National Catholic Reporter, 6/24/20: Three women who accuse David Haas of sexual misconduct speak with NCR
Based on the many, many similar accounts of his behavior, I have no doubt that these allegations are true - and that there are plenty of other stories we have not heard yet.
However, the sins of David Haas are not what I want to write about today. I’m here to plead with the Catholics in the comment boxes. These words were prompted by a series of comments I saw on the Catholic News Agency Facebook page, but this is something I have thought about many times before.
Dear Catholics in the Comments,
Before you post, please remember that victims of sexual abuse often read the comments on news stories about their cases. Loved ones may tell them not to check, and they may try to avoid looking, but it’s hard not to wonder what people are saying, when you know they’re saying it about you.
On the recent David Haas article, about half of the comments (as well as the arguments that started among posters) were about what people thought of his musical style. I’m not into public shaming, so I won’t share screen shots, but here are some of the first comments I saw:
“His music... has been committing serial liturgical abuse for the last 50 years.”
“He should have been arrested for his silly little tunes that he imposed on Catholics.”
“I detest the ‘music’ he writes.
And one of the most popular posts in the whole comment box: “He’s also guilty of serial bad song writing.” (This comment had 88 positive reactions, many of them laughter.)
Can you imagine what it would be like to gather all your courage to report your abuse, to finally come forward and tell the truth about events that have haunted you for months, years, or even decades, and then to discover not only that some people don’t believe you, but that others just want to use your story to bash someone’s liturgical style? Or to make a joke about his music that treats bad song-writing as somehow morally equivalent to sexual battery? Or to score points in an argument about the best type of liturgical music?
By the way, this didn’t just happen in this one instance. I have seen this pattern over and over in other comment threads (and real-life conversations as well), when people use a sexual abuse case as ammunition in a theological argument, without even a mention of the people who have been hurt.
Just to be clear: The problem of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church spans all musical preferences, devotional inclinations, and theological positions. There is no “type” of Catholic who is immune.
And, more importantly, victims of sexual abuse are not pawns to be used to prove a point or make an argument. These are hurting human beings, and they deserve better, especially from their fellow Catholics.
Please think about them before you post. Have a little compassion, please.
May all we do be done in love.
(1 Corinthians 16:14)