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Silence Implies Consent
There is an ancient principal I learned in my early childhood: if you disagree with something, the onus is on you to say so. In my birth family, pouting and passive-aggressive acting out simply were not tolerated. To have integrity, one needed to speak one’s own truth to the best of one’s ability. On one memorable occasion when I was eight or nine years old, my father took me aside and said something like this: the way you are behaving – this rudeness towards your mother, your pouting and your anger – is not acceptable in this family. Say what you have to say but say it politely. Do not treat your family in this mean and rude way. If you disagree, tell us why you disagree. I promise you I will listen to you and hear you out. But right now in your life your mother and I have the final say about what you are allowed to do. The short form of this message was that I was not expected to agree with all of the day-to-day parental decisions and I could argue for another outcome. But mean-spiritedness and rudeness towards others would not be tolerated. In my family, at least, these rude behaviors were counter-productive. Power struggles with my mother about expected behavior did not yield a desirable end. In fact, I both could and did get grounded for intra-family rudeness and general bitchy disagreeableness.
As an adult I have learned that speaking out when I disagree is not always easy nor is it always comfortable. But it is the moral pathway to developing personal courage and integrity. It is the honorable way to proceed in conflicted situations. This principal of speaking out in situations of injustice is similar to the principal of watchfulness vis-à-vis abuse inside any given religious community: If you see something, say something.
In the past month, I have been struck by the issue of silence, a kind of social dead space, inside the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). I have been a member of the SNAP community since 2014 and have been a systematic donor for the past three and a half years. During those years I have seen SNAP as the best hope for survivors of clergy and religious leader sexual abuse to find and then use their protest voices in a supportive environment of peers and professional helpers. I have seen it metaphorically as the flagship of the sexual violence advocacy community.