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Sunday, March 07, 2021


by Julie Steiner

St. Agnes, stained-glass window in the parish church of St. George in Fritzdorf, Germany.

The head of an independent enquiry investigating church child abuse in France said Tuesday that there might have been up to 10,000 victims since 1950. Jean-Marc Sauve, head of a commission set up by the Catholic church, said that a previous estimate in June last year of 3,000 victims "is certainly an underestimate. It's possible that the figure is at least 10,000," he added at a press conference where he delivered an update on the commission's work. A hotline set up in June 2019 for victims and witnesses to report abuse received 6,500 calls in the first 17 months of operation. "The big question for us is 'how many victims came forward'? Is it 25 percent? 10 percent, 5 percent or less?," Sauve told reporters. —France24, March 2, 2021

January: Agnes—her name means “Chaste One”—
holds a lamb (a pun on the Latin agnus).
Note the flowing streams of her hair, which hid her
     twelve-year-old body,

naked, on parade to a Roman brothel.
Note the sword employed when her would-be rapists—
like the flames lit later—refused to touch her.
     Notice the palm branch,

signifying martyrdom. Note her crimson
robe, another emblem of Christian martyrs.
Patron saint of victims of rape, Saint Agnes,
     ora pro nobis.


February: Agatha—Greek for “Good Girl”—
bears her severed breasts on a plate, serenely.
Tortured for her chastity. Never raped, though.
     Virgin and martyr.

Spared the degradation of rape’s defilement,
though she died a sexual sadist’s plaything.
Lesson: God won’t tolerate rape’s pollution
     tainting a Good Girl.


Skip ahead. Miss May is Antonia Mesina.
Head and face smashed in in the nineteen-thirties.
Age sixteen when brained by a thwarted rapist.
     I was a teen, too,

when the Pope beatified her. Another
virgin-martyr patron of rape survivors.
Verified as virgo intacta—something

something that her modesty wanted shielded;
something she had given her life defending;
something that her coroners broadcast widely.
     Waved in our faces,

alleluia. See how the Lord protects His
favored ones from genital violation?
Doctors’ probings proved that she’d kept her hymen.
     Proved she was holy.


Moving on: Maria Goretti, farmgirl.
Miss July. In 1902, a neighbor
stabbed her fourteen times when he failed to rape her.
     She was eleven.

How had I offended the Lord at less than
half her age—allowed to be raped, not murdered?
Even in my innocence, I was guilty.
     I was unworthy.

God withheld divine intervention, proving
I was not an Agatha, nor an Agnes.
I’d deserved what happened to me, like other
     rape-punished children.


Pray for us. And pray for a Church whose members
help abusers stigmatize rape’s survivors,
though Augustine’s City of God said virgins
     raped are still virgins.

Pray for us. And pray for a Church more heartless
now than when Aquinas affirmed that raped nuns—
even those impregnated—still are virgins:
     mind over matter.

Pray for us. And pray that our Church recalls that
Miss December—virgin and martyr Lucy—
claimed a second heavenly crown would honor
     those who’d been ravished.

How it would have helped me, to hear that virtue
wasn’t something stored in a telltale membrane
someone else’s lust could destroy, forever
     leaving you lesser.

How it would have helped, to have heard this message:
Virtuemale or female—cannot be graded
 based on criminals’ choice to harm you.
     (Gruesome injustice!)

How it would have helped, to have heard Survival
isn’t proof of sinfulness
. Share your burden.
Minus that, the upshot was Hold your tongue, or
     all will condemn you.

Rapists want the world to despise their victims.
Shame buys silence. Shout! Let the Church proclaim this:
Rape indeed does happen to blameless people.
     Calendar, update.

Author's references:
Stanza 13: Augustine, City of God, Book I (Chapters 16 and 18).
Stanzas 14 and 15: Thomas Aquinas (with Fra Rainaldo da Piperno), Summa Theologicae, Supplement, Question 96, Article 5, Reply to Objection 4.

Julie Steiner is a pseudonym in San Diego. Besides TheNewVerse.News, the venues in which her poetry has appeared include the Able Muse Review, Rattle, Light, and the Asses of Parnassus.