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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Questions and Answers

Why does every law in every jurisdiction define rape in terms that if it’s not consentual, then it’s rape. But yet, if I don’t stand up for myself, then how is the other person to know that it’s not consentual on my part? It’s no different if someone were to offer me a glass of   lemonade and internally, I really wanted water, but I didn’t say a dang thing and I still got lemonade. More importantly, what is the Penitential Rite all about when Catholics proclaim: that I have sinned through my own fault . . . in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do. By being passive (not saying “No,” or not defending your own self) in a sexual assault incident, sodomy, or rape—whatever you call it—isn’t that failing to do something on your own stupidity, before the eyes of God, as well as to yourself?

Outline of the Answer
• Sin as Failure
• Degrees of Responsibility
• The Salvation of Souls

  
You ask a question with many complicated facets to it, so let’s sort out some of them to make the whole issue understandable. 

 
Sin as Failure

The Confiteor [1] of the Penitential Rite is a good place to begin. Notice, though, that whereas the traditional Confiteor says, “I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, and deed,” the modern version says, “I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do.” Oddly enough, this is one of those rare cases where the modernized version of a traditional text is actually more psychologically clear.

Both versions of the Confiteor address the issue of sin through thought, word, and deed. But the modern version reminds us of the concept of sinning through what we fail to do.

Now, the fact that we commonly sin in things we think yet shouldn’t think, in things we say yet shouldn’t say, and in things we do yet shouldn’t do requires no explanation. These things are all too painfully obvious in life. But the idea that we sin in what we fail to do does need some explanation. In fact, it has two parts.

 
Failing to Perform Certain Behaviors

First, (and here is where modern psychology comes in) we can sin by failing to perform certain behaviors. We can fail to attend Mass on every Sunday and on every holy day of obligation. We can fail to keep a day of abstinence and fasting. We can fail to help someone in need. These are all fairly clear examples, and yet we often fail to consider them and many other things like them. Thus we sin more and more.

 
Failing to Say Something

Second, we can sin by failing to say something when by speaking up we might prevent a sin from occurring. This idea actually derives from the prophet Ezekiel.

  

You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me. If I tell the wicked man that he shall surely die, and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked man from his way, he (the wicked man) shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death. But if you warn the wicked man, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself.

  

— Ezekiel 33:7-9

But notice (and here we start to get to the gist of your question) that Ezekiel is obligated to tell the wicked man what God says is wrong. In modern psychology, this is the equivalent of saying that we have to know right from wrong according to divine revelation before we can speak up. We commit a sin by not speaking up to others about what God has said is wrong—but, as much as we might chide ourselves for not speaking up about our own personal likes or dislikes, our failures in these personal matters do not amount to sin.

OK. Now that that’s clear, let’s examine the issue of a victim’s personal culpability in the trauma of rape.

 
Degrees of Responsibility

Moral responsibility varies by degrees, according to a person’s cognitive capability for moral awareness.

 
Very Young Children

First, consider the matter of child abuse, in which a young child is molested by an adult. Regardless of what sin may be involved (e.g., rape, adultery, fornication), a child who is not old enough to understand right from wrong cannot be held culpable for any wrongdoing. So there is nothing the child can do or fail to do in regard to his or her moral involvement with the abuse.

 
Older Children

Next, consider an older child who does have some sense of moral responsibility. This child could warn the offending adult about committing a sin; but, if the child has been repeatedly abused through the years, the intimidation of the abuse may make it psychologically impossible for the child to say anything when she finally realizes what is happening morally. As for doing anything, well, intimidation can also prevent the child from seeking help (e.g., “If you say anything about this to anyone, I will kill your dog!”).

Therefore, an older child, who possesses the capacity to do and say something, may, because of traumatic intimidation, not be capable of doing or saying anything about abuse.

  

To heal those old wounds of abuse, though, as an adult you must look back with sorrow—not guilt—on all of your failures to speak up as a child. Acknowledge the pain, and the sadness, and the fear—and the anger—of not having the protection and guidance your parents should have provided for you. Realize that, if they had provided proper guidance, you would have learned how to defend yourself appropriately. Then do all it takes, now, to learn to speak with honesty and integrity in the present.

  

 
An Adult

Now consider an adult about to be raped. She (or he) should know very well what sin is involved (e.g., rape, adultery, fornication). So she can speak up and warn the offender. But if the offender pulls out a gun and says, “Shut up or I will kill you!” the victim should shut up. She can’t defend herself, and she can’t stop the offender. But if she knows in her heart that a sin is being committed, she is not culpable for its commission, even if she cannot do anything or say anything more.

  

In the practical sense, most victims of crime today are not thinking of the welfare of the soul of the offender. And that’s the simple result of living in a world governed by secular humanism according to the principles of aggression, hatred, and vengeance. But Christ calls us out of this world’s culture of insanity to live lives of peace, love, and forgiveness, always praying for mercy for others, no matter what they do to us. That’s how Christ lived, and that’s how he died.

  

In the above case, then, the victim’s only culpability would be in failing to say something. Remember, the point of speaking up is to give a warning, regardless of whether or not the warning is heeded. 

  

An awesome example of this can be found in the life and death of Saint Maria Goretti, who, at the age of twelve, died during an attempted rape. She warned her attacker that he was attempting to commit a sin, and she was stabbed to death as she defended her virginity, preferring to die rather than be raped.

Nor was her death wasted. She wasn’t just a “victim” of a crime; she willingly died because of the love of God that filled her heart. Consequently, because of this holy love that was the basis for the chastity she defended with her life, she died a martyr and became recognized as a saint.

Furthermore, because she forgave her attacker and prayed for him as she lay dying, he ultimately repented and converted—allegedly through a vision he had of the Saint while he was in prison. He even testified at her canonization proceedings.

This all goes to show us that Christian life is about trust in God and seeking holiness, not success in the material world.

Read an excerpt from a homily by Pope Pius XII
about Saint Maria Goretti

  

 
A Self-incapacitated Adult

Finally, consider the case of a woman who dresses seductively, goes to a party, gets drunk, and is raped. What is her culpability? Well, she acted immodestly and got drunk, so that’s an act of doing. And, because she was intoxicated, she failed in warning her offender about the sins he was committing.

Nevertheless, her sins of doing or failing to do cannot be considered an excuse for the offender taking advantage of her incapacited state of mind. His actions are his responsibility. Without her consent, he, and he alone, committed the sin of rape.

Note well, then, that the man committed rape because he acted without the woman’s consent. The woman did not have to say, “No!” Her simple lack of consent—even if she is so incapacitated that she couldn’t speak anyway—decides the matter. In fact, that’s why rape is a sin. “Rape deeply wounds the respect, freedom, and physical and moral integrity to which every person has a right” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2355). In other words, the right to not be violated is given by God; it doesn’t depend on anything you do or fail to do.

Of course, the average rapist may not understand—or care about—your God-given right to not be violated. That’s why your speaking up to warn him would be considered a charitable act of compassion for his soul. And if he refuses to listen, then you have done all you can do and have not failed in anything. From there on, the matter is in God’s hands. So entrust the pain to God, and pray for the offender that he might repent his sins and turn back to God.

 
The Salvation of Souls

Remember that the whole spiritual mission of our lives is the salvation of souls. Your first responsibility is to your own salvation, and after that you must do all you can for the salvation of other souls. Pray constantly for their repentance, no matter what they have done or have failed to do.

  

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

  

— Matthew 5:7
 

  

But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.

  

— Matthew 6:15
 

  

For the judgment is merciless to one who has not shown mercy.

  

— James 2:13

Read a (delayed) response to this answer . . .

 

Who wrote this web page?
 

Notes

1. For reference, here below is the text of the Confiteor used in the New Order of the Mass. Below it is the traditional Confiteor, in both English and Latin.

 
The Confiteor
(Novus Ordo Penitential Rite, Option A)
 

I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done
and in what I have failed to do,
through my fault,
through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;
therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
all the Angels and Saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

 
The Traditional Confiteor

I CONFESS to almighty God,
to blessed Mary ever Virgin,
to blessed Michael the Archangel,
to blessed John the Baptist,
to the holy Apostles Peter and Paul,
to all the saints,
and to you, brethern, [Celebrant]
   or
and to thee, Father, [Servers]
that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, and deed:
through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault.
Therefore, I beseech blessed Mary ever Virgin,
blessed Michael the Archangel,
blessed John the Baptist,
the holy Apostles Peter and Paul,
all the saints,
and you, brethern, [Celebrant]
   or
and thee, Father, [Servers]
to pray to the Lord our God for me.

CONFITEOR Deo omnipoténti,
beátæ Maríæ semper Vírgini,
beáto Michaéli Archángelo,
beáto Ioánni Baptístæ,
sanctis Apóstolis Petro et Paulo,
ómnibus Sanctis,
et vobis, fratres: [said by the Celebrant]
   or
et tibi, pater: [said by the Servers]
quia peccávi nimis cogitatióne, verbo et ópere:
mea culpa, mea culpa,
mea máxima culpa.
Ideo precor beátam Maríam semper Vírginem,
beátum Michaélem Archángelum,
beátum Ioánnem Baptístam,
sanctos Apóstolos Petrum et Paulum,
omnes Sanctos,
et vos fratres, [said by the Celebrant]
   or
et te, pater, [said by the Servers]
oráre pro me ad Dóminum Deum nostrum.

 


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