The Patron Saint of Rape Victims

When I was in second grade, my classroom had a book called, The Picture Book of Saints. There was a young girl in the book who particularly captured my attention. She was young and pretty, and the book listed her as the patron saint of children. Her name was Saint Maria Goretti.

Here is the gist of Maria Goretti's story, as told in the book where I first saw it: Maria was a young Italian girl whose 20-year-old neighbor, Alessandro, wanted to "do wrong with her." She said no, because it was a sin against God. So he stabbed her 14 times. Maria was taken to the hospital where she lay in pain for two days. She forgave Alessandro on her deathbed, "for the love of Jesus" and so that he could be with her in Heaven.

Now, as a young girl, I didn't quite understand how he wanted to "do wrong with her." I had a general idea that it meant sex, though what sex meant was still pretty vague. The story did tell me two things: 1. Sex is "doing wrong" and 2. It's better to die than let someone "do wrong" with you.

The story also told me that no matter how much someone hurts you--even if they stab you 14 times and leave you to die slowly and painfully--you are supposed to forgive them. I didn't understand why her murderer would be allowed into Heaven, especially since murder was supposedly a "mortal sin." But my mom and my teacher both told me that was why Maria was a saint. She was so good and pure that she was able to forgive her murderer.

Of course, there's a little more to Maria's story. The Picture Book of Saints had summed up the major points, but left out a few things. Including the fact that Maria Goretti is also the patron saint of rape victims.*

Maria Goretti was born in October, 1890 to a family of peasant farmers. Alessandro, her murderer, was the son of her family's landlord. The attack took place in July, 1902, when Maria was a few months shy of her twelfth birthday. Most accounts say that Alessandro had "propositioned" her before and she had always refused him. After her death, Alessandro went to jail, where he dreamed that he saw Maria in Heaven and she forgave him. He then repented and was forgiven by both the church and Maria's mother.

And so, the patron saint of rape victims is an 11-year-old girl who was not raped, but who died rather than "allow herself" to be raped.

The Catholic Church holds up Maria Goretti as a shining example of purity and chastity. As Pope John Paul II explained, "St Maria Goretti is an example for the new generations who are threatened by a non-commital[sic] attitude that finds it difficult to understand the importance of the values which admit of no compromise."

In case you are not yet outraged (or at least perplexed and concerned), let's look at this a little closer.

According to the catechism of the Catholic Church:
2356 Rape is the forcible violation of the sexual intimacy of another person. It does injury to justice and charity. Rape deeply wounds the respect, freedom, and physical and moral integrity to which every person has a right. It causes grave damage that can mark the victim for life. It is always an intrinsically evil act. Graver still is the rape of children committed by parents (incest) or those responsible for the education of the children entrusted to them.
That sounds fairly accurate. It seems to acknowledge the severity of rape and the grave damage that is done to victims of rape. Yet, the patron saint of rape victims is a girl who "chose" to die rather than be raped, and thus lose her "virginal purity." I have several problems with this:

First of all, since when is rape a choice? Does the Catholic Church think rapists give their victims an option of either being raped or murdered? Does the Church think rape victims have any ability whatsoever to "allow" or "not allow" a rape to happen? If so, they know nothing about the act of rape.

Second, why does the Catholic Church think that it is better for women to remain "pure" rather than remain alive? What message does this send to rape victims? Furthermore, if the "sin" is with the rapist, why would a rape victim ever be considered "unchaste" or "impure"?

Third, why is the patron saint of rape victims a girl who was canonized for maintaining her "purity" even when the cost was death? What does "purity" (i.e. virginity) have to do with rape? Does the Catholic Church only consider someone a rape victim if she was a virgin before the rape?

A message sent out by Pope John Paul II on the centenary of Maria Goretti's death, said in part:
3. In the homily for her canonization, Pope Pius XII of venerable memory pointed to Maria Goretti as "the sweet little martyr of purity" (cf. Discorsi e Radiomessaggi, XII [1950-1951], 121), because she did not break God's commandment in spite of being threatened by death.
How does being raped "break God's commandment"? We know the Catholic Church believes that sex outside of marriage is wrong, but isn't there a difference between sex and rape? Another statement by Pope John Paul II about Maria Goretti is rather telling:
Her martyrdom reminds us that the human being is not fulfilled by following the impulses of pleasure but by living life with love and responsibility.
Given the context of promoting chastity, "following the impulses of pleasure" appears to refer to normal sexual desire. If so, what does "following the impulses of pleasure" have to do with Maria Goretti? Is the pope saying that if Maria had "allowed" herself to be raped, she would have been "following the impulses of pleasure"? Or is he saying that Alessandro was "following the impulses of pleasure" by wanting to rape Maria?

If the pope was referring to Alessandro, it still shows the Catholic Church's lack of understanding about the psychology of rape. The act of a rapist is not the same thing as normal sexual desire. Not for the rapist, or for the rape victim. Rape is a violent act of domination. The fact that this case is about a 20-year-old attempting to rape an 11-year-old should already tell us that this is not an example of normal sexual desire.

As an atheist, it may seem like this issue should not concern me. Yet this is not a matter of whether or not god or gods exist. The Catholic Church is an organization which holds tremendous power over its followers. The Church's teachings affect the way its followers see the world, which in turn affects the way they treat others.

As a woman and a human being, I am appalled by a message that holds a woman's virginity above all else. I am appalled by a message that says that it is better for a woman (or girl) to die than to survive being raped. And I am appalled by a message that says a rape victim, or the victim of any violent crime, should be expected to forgive her rapist or assailant.

Yet this is a religious description of morality.


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*Maria Goretti is not the only patron saint of rape victims. Other saints similarly were killed after refusing to "allow themselves" to be raped. For example, Pierina Morosini who was born in 1931, was killed during an attempted rape when she was 26 years old. Pope John Paul II beatified Pierina Morosini on October 4, 1987. She is also considered a patron saint of rape victims.

36 comments:

  1. I think that the core issue here is the Catholic Church's insistence on celibate male clergy. I am myself Catholic (albeit mostly lapsed for a couple of years), and I have what I believe are firm theologically-founded objections to the ordination of women, but I really don't believe that the celibacy rule helps one jot. It just means that the men running the church are blissfully isolated from the realities of life. They have no insight into the female mentality. You'll probably find that the truth of the story was that Maria Goretti (one of only three patron saints of rape victims, along with Solange and Joan of Arc, a quick Google tells me) was raped and then murdered to keep her quiet, or fought back and was killed. The rest sounds like a load of airy-fairy nonsense.

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    1. Your quick Googling skipped Lucy, among others. If you look into Lucy's story and Augustinius's commentary on it, and check current Catholic doctrine, you will see that virgins who resist rape retain their status as virgins, even if they become pregnant for example. Google on Lucy and "double crown in Heaven" perhaps.

      Maria Goretti's last hours are well attested, she was attended by family and doctors. Her murderer survived and (in time) became a friend of the family. It is a tremendous story of the power of repentance. There is no reason to think she was raped and it was 'covered up', except some desire on the part of the thinker to enjoy the idea of a twelve year old being raped - it is clear she resisted, Alessandro turned violent and stabbed her, she forgave him and (to me) the miracle happened that his character changed. I see no reason for any of the people who would have known the truth to have lied, much less all of them. Why do you accuse a large group of people of lying?

      If you want to add a plausible story of a girl being raped in the sense of forced sexual intercourse (rather than the older sense of 'being taken', i.e. taken away) to a saint's story, you could look at the story of Saint Agnes, or the Blessed Pierna Morosini, or Saint Lucy (may require multiple timelines) or even the Blessed Mother (I personally find the idea that she was raped undignified, but as far as I can tell it wouldn't falsify anything in Scripture). Taking one of the very few cases of a virgin martyr where it is amply attested in the historical record by multiple witnesses including the victim, the attacker, and attending doctors that there was no sexual penetration or intercourse and then adding sex to it smacks not only of anti-Catholicism to me but of outright insanity. It's like insisting for some reason that FDR was faking having polio because all Democrats are liars.

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    2. Dear Susan:
      Why do you think it is likely that Maria was raped then murdered, then everyone lied about it including Maria, Alessandro, and the attending doctors? What did Alessandro for example have to gain? People are murdered without penetration or orgasm in botched rape quite often. Why do you and Richard feel the need to change this tragic story more sordid? Your version seems no more /probable/ to me and in fact, because it postulates a conspiracy where people with every reason to become enemies cooperate perfectly for many years of lying, seems very improbable.

      Is it just because the Catholic Church acclaims Maria a saint (the saint of virginity, in fact) that she, in your mind, has to be raped? Isn't it enough for you that she was brutally murdered?

      Note that Catholic doctrine awards the 'double crown of martyrdom' referenced by St. Lucy to women who are in fact raped and killed, and they are considered virgins (rape doesn't compromise the virginity of the victim) so there is very little motivation for the Church to lie about this particular case.

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    3. If you reread my original post, my problem is with the idea that she is a saint because she was willing to die rather than lose her purity or "break God's commandment" (by having sex). If a rape victim is still a virgin in the eyes of the Church (and has not become impure) then why is Maria Goretti celebrated for her maintaining her purity in the face of death?

      That contradiction is the point of my article. It has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not Maria was actually raped and everything to do with the Church's implication that it's better to die than be raped. (Despite other doctrine which says rape is a crime of the rapist and not the victim.)

      I certainly don't "want" her to have been raped to make the story more sordid. I don't have a "version" of what happened and my original article is based on the assertion that she wasn't raped. However, I do agree with Richard that it's a likely possibility, because the church does appear to have an agenda to use Maria's story as a way to promote purity. I can easily imagine them disregarding facts to make that point. It wouldn't be the first time the Church has lied about victims of rape to suit their own purposes.

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    4. I don't know if you noticed Susan, but when the church says that she preferred to die than to "break God's commandment" is because you answered the question yourself. The key there is that she didn't prefer "rape" over death, the key word there is "break God's commandment". There's a difference. Alessandro had told her before that if she did not do it than he would kill her, so instead of agreeing and saying "yes" to breaking God's commandment (She had a choice), she preferred to die in purity. What most people don't know is that it was the second time he had tried to get with her and had threatened her life if she did not do it or if she told her family. And the way to be sure there is her testimony: she was a clean and extremely religious girl who loved God, and in order to stay close to God in pureness she forgave Alessandro and did what she did. It's difficult to understand. An open mind and lots of meditation goes into understanding what the church is saying, and what her message is. But in reality the problem here is the fact that people become confused, misinterpret, and go to inaccurate places for answers.

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    5. Submitting to a sexual act under the threat of violence is not the same as consenting to have sex. It is rape.

      If Maria had submitted and lived, she would have been a survivor of rape. Why doesn't the Church venerate a survivor of rape as the patron saint of rape victims?

      Why does the Church say that Maria, by dying instead of submitting to rape, remained pure when they also say that rape is a crime which does not make a victim impure?

      If the sin is with the rapist--and not the victim--why does a survivor of rape need to forgive the rapist to stay "clean" or "stay close to God in pureness"?

      I have no difficulty in understanding this situation. It's the same victim shaming that happens with rape to this day.

      Bottom line: People do not choose to be raped. If they submit under the threat of violence it is not the same as consenting to sex. They have done nothing wrong.

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  2. Richard, thanks for commenting. I agree that it's much more likely that Maria was raped and then murdered, and that the rest is fairy tale.

    An Italian historian, Giordano Bruno Guerri, wrote a controversial book about Maria Goretti in 1985 called "Poor Saint, Poor Assassin." He asserted that both the Church and Mussolini wanted Maria's canonization as a message against Italian society's increasing sexual liberty, and perhaps ignored many of the actual facts.

    I also agree that celibacy among Catholic priests is unnecessary, and further isolates them from women and women's issues. However, to be honest, I have so many other problems with Catholicism that fixing that one element seems, to me, like changing a lightbulb during a city-wide blackout.

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  3. A great article!

    I really hate the mentality which regards rape victims as damaged 'goods'. With this sense, if a woman can get impured by something a man leaves in her body, then doesn't it mean we (men) produce the impurity itself?

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    1. no it doesnt this article is pure bull crap...what the story of this saint is saying is that he had done her wrong by trying to have sex before marriage as simple as that

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    2. Wasn't murdering her another way he had "done her wrong"?

      Why was it better for her to die than to lose her virginity (purity) through the act of rape?

      If he had raped, but not murdered her, would she still be held as an example of a young person whose "values admit no compromise"? If not, why not?

      This story is far from simple.

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  4. Lorean, that's an interesting point as well. While the bible often describes women as being "unclean" (particularly when it comes to menstruation or childbirth), the whole idea that sex causes a women to be impure does seem to say that an impurity is passed from men.

    Although, given the cultural context, I think the original biblical directives were more likely based on a society where women were considered property. Protecting virginity and preventing adultery were ways of ensuring male lineage in a time before paternity tests.

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  5. what it means to be 'impure' in the Bible means to have sex before marriage retard

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  6. i cannot stand freakin athiests who dont know a lick of what the Catholic church is

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    1. And I don't particularly care for people who prefer name calling over civil discourse. I guess we're both disappointed today.

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  7. Your argument is a straw man. Your misrepresenting the position of the church and argue with that rather then the real position of the church.

    The story of Maria is not one where she is simply pinned down by an attacker and taken by force. The moral of the story is also therefor not that she "saved" her purity (as you call it) by fighting back and being killed.

    The story (at least the story the church tells - if it's true or not is not really relevant from a moral philiosopical point of view) is that Maria was threatened with a knife and asked to preform sexual acts. She refused to do this. When she refused she was attacked psychically.

    In this we have some important topics of discussion within ethics. First of all  the question of moral responsibility. Most moral philosopher would agree that a person never is responsible for other persons actions - only there own. 

    The Church holds up Maria as an example because when threthened with death so still refused to do wrong. She would not volonteer herself to do immoral sexual acts just because someone threthened her (to use your wording: she keeps her moral purity). 

    With 20/20 hindsight a utilitarian could argue that this was wrong, that she would have experienced less pain if she had submitted. But she could not know the lengths her attacker was ready to go to at that point. Maybe the threats was just threats?

    To go to the extreme. If person A hold a gun to person Bs head asking him to rape person C or he dies should person B submit and rape person C? Of course not. The moral thing  is to refuse to do wrong even if it means death (which of course is almost impossible. Thatvis why we call people how do it heros.). Person B be can never be held responsible for the actions of person A only his owns actions versus person C.

    When Marias attacker forced himself own her Maria's moral purity (her chasity if you will) was never threatened. She did nothing wrong. The reason Maria ones again is held up by the church as an example is not that she fought back to protect HER moral purity (as it was never in threath) but fought back to protect HIS. She did not want him to commit a mortal sin and end up in hell. This of course demands a great deal of selflessness, forgiveness and love and that Is why the church calls her blessed.

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    1. Gussie,

      There is absolutely no difference between being "pinned down by an attacker and taken by force" and being "threatened with a knife and asked to preform sexual acts". They are both rape. The victim is equally innocent.

      The central point of this article is that the Church (and anyone else) is wrong (and in my mind, immoral) to suggest that there is any difference when they should be condemning all forms of rape and supporting the physical, psychological and emotional needs of rape victims.

      If you cannot understand that concept, than I do not see a point in further discussion.

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  8. I just read an account of Saint Non, who was raped, carried the child of the rape, and then was venerated for mothering. Hmmmm. Her mothering was not her salient feature in my estimation. In my estimation her salient feature was her capacity to cobble together a life after the violence. Go figure.

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  9. This article expresses years of guilt, shame, and confusion I have felt after being abducted and raped at 12 years old, it's almost as if I wrote it myself. I, too, remember reading the stories of Saint Maria Goretti as a young child but didn't understand until I was raped. Rather than die as she did, I submitted but all these years later (30+) there are still times I wish I could back in time and do just as she did. I've searched for years for a patron saint of rape victims only to find every one are those women who chose to die rather than be raped. I wish the Church could truly understand the emotional and psychological damage that rape does to a woman, especially a child, and our need for a Saint to pray to that has survived what we have so we can begin to heal without the guilt and shame of being impure. Thank you to all those who have commented on this article that has helped to better explain the position of the Church, but it shouldn't be so difficult. I am still Catholic and I love the Church but they have let so many of us down that turn to them for guidance and healing.

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    1. I am truly sorry for your suffering. The psychological and emotional scars of rape do last long after the physical trauma has healed, but it is possible to survive and lead a relatively happy life. I do hope you've been able to find support in your healing.

      Please let me add my voice to others who may have already told you that submitting to save your life did not make you "impure" or any less of a victim. You are in no way responsible for the crime that was committed against you.

      Rape is never the choice of the victim, and that should be an unambiguous message from the Catholic Church and all of the authority figures in our society.

      Best wishes for continued healing,
      Susan

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    2. Anonymous:
      St. Non was already mentioned above; St. Wulfrida is another example.
      I commend Susan's reply to you and agree with her.
      Note that actual Catholic doctrine is very much that the victim is not to blame in such cases and the virginity of a rape victim is not compromised (virginity in Catholicism is a little different from the medical or popular term, it's like "power" in physics, it has a technical meaning related to but distinct from the popular meaning.) The Church has not always been very good at expressing this truth, but if you look into Church doctrine you will see that a rape victim is not sullied in the eyes of the Church or (in the universe of discourse where such beings exist) God or the Holy Family.

      As Susan said: Best wishes for continued healing.

      p.s. Thanks to Susan for maintaining this site. Sorry if I flew off the handle but I feel very strongly about Maria Goretti.

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  10. Pierina Morosini, this girl or someone was depicted on the Catholic Channel (EWTN?) years ago when I was "called" back to church after a drunken "rape" episode between myself and my ex fiance'. That was 16 years ago, I've been "dry" ever since. I cannot watch EWTN, it brings on too much guilt because she and I also aborted a child.

    Anyway, the story goes that the rapist lived to a ripe old age, spending all his time praying in church and was observed being levitated off the floor. I experienced something different, an orgasmic state of bliss in a Catholic church. Next thing I know, I'm being attacked by a Satanic entity, talking to me thru the car radio during the encounter! Weird, whacked-out visual effects in the sky, including UFOs and other Star Wars nonsense. So yeah, it was demonic tricks. It was right after I had that "Christ Consciousness" bliss state.

    Once you reach that state of "perfection", the whole cast of characters come outta the ether and want attention. It proved to me that EVERYTHING is loose right now, there is no guy with a pitchfork in a hot box. Nope! Love cannot condemn nor contain, even that which is a "trickster".

    Since then, I've become disabled and sadly... "escorts" have replaced any hope of a partner with my damaged body (airplane crash) and being 51. I still have a relationship with Christ, lately he's explaining to me the meaning of things I was told 10-15 years ago telepathically from Him. I do not attend any mass or service regularly but will stop in the Sacristy, I think it's called.

    I am looking forward to exiting this "matrix" or whatever the hell this bullshit is, I'll tell ya that! I think I was "left" here to continue with posts like this to BRING YOU ALL BACK to TRUTH, never mind any "organized" (they want $160k for seminary now!) groups.

    PERIOD.

    My experience with rape victims (I was one, sort of) is that they either become gay, are the escorts I pay $150 to play with (it's a vicious cycle!), sex addicted (myself) or drop out of society altogether and tell nobody. They always seem to tell me about it though, probably why God asked me to become a priest but I didn't want to do the 8 years of college.

    Another ODD aspect of post-millennial society: Many of the young women out there have a fantasy about BEING raped. WTF??? I spent 3
    days in jail, thanks to my big mouth and my ex being too drunk to get to court to deny it even was a rape. We were both DRUNK, so I'm not denying anything.

    Skip ATHEISM, your real beef is with the people SELLING it, not the SOURCE. Keep that in mind, people are damned imperfect, as my post clearly proves.

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  12. Here's another thought: Those Taliban nuts wanna DIE so they too can "do wrong with them".

    Uh... NO.

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  13. I was just over in Italy last April, I met more women looking for husbands than anyone looking for even a date here! Maybe the story really IS bullshit, because I had "encounters" with ladies half my age that were SWEET, respectful and outright lovable to the point of exchanging emails, phone numbers, giving me gifts to bring back.

    Hmm, maybe I should call her... she does have her own Crepe' shop after all.

    The PROBLEM is in THIS country right now and YES, it is spiritual. I think several prophets warned about this years back. WATCH OUT, seriously. This country has gone way off the rails, morally speaking.

    I've offered several girls I liked a relationship but they won't stop the WHORING. Maybe I need to go back to Italy. Ciao

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  14. (Part 1 of 2)
    After carefully reviewing your argument presented in this article: I believe I have found the flaw in your reasoning. You are mischaracterizing the position of the Catholic Church if you believe that St. Maria is considered a martyr because she opted to die rather than get raped. Getting raped, after all, is obviously not a sin (and I would vehemently disagree with anyone who made such a claim). What matters in THIS situation, however, is that she believed it WOULD be sinful, and was of such upright moral integrity that she willing to die for this belief. By opting to die rather than commit what she BELIEVED would be a mortal sin, St. Maria showed almost unbelievable steadfastness in her faith and devotion to her principles, flawed though they may be. While we, as external witnesses, may understand that the moral obligation was objectively a false one, the fact that she opted to die for her faith is what cements her place as a martyr.
    Let me illustrate with an absurd hypothetical. Let us suppose that Maria was instead convinced beyond reason that she must never eat shredded wheat; she believes that to eat shredded wheat is inherently sinful. Obviously, we external observers know for a fact that there is nothing wrong with eating shredded wheat; however, due to a combination of her youthful ignorance and the culture in which she lives, Maria believes (justifiably or not, it makes no difference) that eating shredded wheat is a sin. Now let us suppose that she is met by a man carrying a gun and a bowl of shredded wheat, and he puts the gun to her head and tells her to eat the shredded wheat or he’ll shoot. While we know for a fact that she would not be sinning by eating the shredded wheat (in the same way we know for a fact that there is no sin in getting raped), Maria maintains against all logic that she WOULD be sinning by doing so. Maria believes this so strongly, and is so morally upright, that she opts for the bullet rather than compromise her values. Never mind that those values make no sense; the very fact that she was willing to die for them makes her a martyr for her faith. Thus what the Church honors is not St. Maria’s misguided insistence on her own definition of “purity”, but rather her willingness to sacrifice herself for what she believed was right.
    Another thing we honor her for is her extraordinary willingness to forgive her murderer/attempted rapist. This is another mischaracterization of our understanding of morality. You say, quote,
    >”I am appalled by a message that says a rape victim, or the victim of any violent crime, should be expected to forgive her rapist or assailant. Yet this is a religious description of morality.”
    Here’s the problem. What is “expected” and what is “right” are two very different things. This is where some well-meaning Christians might say that they “expect” her to forgive her attacker; such people, while they might mean well, likely have very little idea of what it actually means to be human. To withhold forgiveness from one’s attacker is EXACTLY what is “expected” for most situations; what makes St. Maria’s action particularly virtuous is that she UNexpectedly did the RIGHT thing, rather than the EXPECTED and all-too-human action of WITHHOLDING forgiveness. This overt demonstration of faith is what commands our respect and inspires our honor for her, since she did the right thing in the face of unimaginable suffering, a mark of strong faith and Christlike love indeed.
    To summarize the above paragraph: we don’t honor her because she rightly did what she was expected to do. We honor her because she unexpectedly did the right thing to do. (TBC)

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    1. (Part 2 of 2)
      I can understand, however, that you might still feel uncomfortable with the idea that withholding forgiveness can be considered the “wrong” thing in the face of such hardship. Indeed, back when I was an atheist, I would have no doubt agreed with you. To be sure, I also probably would have pointed out that forgiveness is often a very practical policy in such situations in order to conclusively deal with unresolved anger; however, inasmuch as my sense of morality was more or less relativistic, I would have agreed that we could not objectively judge anyone to be “wrong” by their action of withholding forgiveness. In other words, to an atheist, it makes perfect sense to be bothered by such a notion.
      However, if you believe in the existence of an all-loving and perfectly just God, it makes perfect sense; in this respect, lack of forgiveness generally implies a certain degree of lack of faith in God, a lack of faith in His plan, and a certain sort of pride in the form of a belief that we know better than God. And it is assuming God’s role as the ultimate arbiter of justice, i.e. it is just another form of judging others, a right which properly belongs only to God.
      Inasmuch as it goes against God’s very nature and gets in the way of loving our neighbor, holding a grudge is objectively a sin, albeit it is a sin that very much aligns with human nature and is to be expected in many situations. Please note that just because I claim something is objectively sinful does not give me or anyone a license to make judgments about another for it (a fact that many “angry Christians” seem to forget about). That is not our place, as I said; it is God’s and God’s alone. I am simply making objective statements that correspond to my understanding of morality when I make my claims; this does not mean that it is my place (or anyone’s) to be even remotely condescending towards anyone actually PARTAKING in this sin, such as the victim of a violent crime who does the EXPECTED and very human action of bearing a grudge.
      But we CAN recognize those who instead do the difficult, counterintuitive, unexpected, and morally RIGHT action of forgiving their trespassers in a situation where the expected action was the far easier (if objectively wrong) act of clinging to a grudge. That is what was done at the canonization of St. Maria Goretti. For sticking to and ultimately dying for what she really believed, and for her amazing act of faith and compassion in forgiving (and posthumously converting) her assailant, we honor her.

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  15. Writer: quit straining to find reasons to despise Christianity, and get a gun if you are serious about resisting a rapist. Otherwise, you passively accept being violated (and I pray that never happens to you) for worse reasons than the saint you complain about.

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    1. Anyone who doesn't own a gun is passively accepting rape? So in your mind, the rapist isn't at fault. It's the victim's fault for not preventing her own rape. If you want to defend Christianity think about what you wrote and whether that fits with Jesus' message of love.

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  16. Hello, I am very Catholic. I read SOME of the posts above, but not all of them because of time. I used to be confused about the rape/murder thing. How did I clear this in my mind? by digging deeper into the Catholic faith.

    I read books on saints and prayed a lot.

    As I matured in my faith I noticed I better understood more of what I previously did not- like this whole Goretti thing.

    This is what I see.... She was a young girl who chose NOT to give in to the demands of someone wanting to do evil. It is possible that she would have still been stabbed after she was raped. The main focal point for Catholics like myself is that there was a young pure girl who , instead of saying yes to her assailant, said no and was martyred for it. She believed in staying pure until marriage- nothing wrong with that. and she was supposedly so sweet (saintly) of a person (by village accounts) that even to her assailant she showed forgiveness.

    It is not a story about a girl that thought it was BETTER to be murdered than have her virginity taken away. It is, rather, a story of a girl saint whose chastity was so important to her that she died trying to save it. that's it- simple.

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    1. Well, we seem to be starting from two very different positions: Your reply makes the assumption that virginity is valuable. I disagree. Having sex for the first time may be momentous, but it does not lessen a person's value in any way.

      But even if your religion teaches that sex outside of marriage is sinful, and that is what you personally believe, this is a question of rape, not consensual sex.

      Your own words set this story up as saying yes or no to "her assailant." Not a boy she fancied who propositioned her, but an assailant. Someone who was attacking her. At Goretti's canonization, Pope Pius XII specifically said that her actions were "under threat of death".

      The yes/no question you speak of was not "Hey, baby, do you want to do it?" It was an older man attacking her with a knife. Sex after telling him no would be rape, but so would sex after freezing in terror or even saying yes to save her life.

      If someone broke into your house and held a knife to your throat would it not be rape if you "let him" out of fear or to save your life? Would you be less pure? Less valuable?

      Praising Maria Goretti for saying no under threat of death misrepresents rape and implies that those who survive rape should have done more to resist, even if it cost them their lives.

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  17. I read your entire article and all of the comments, hoping someone would say something I agreed with, sadly, no luck.

    I understand your confusion, since it seems that even your Catholic readers do not have the understanding of Maria Goretti that I do...


    After a traumatic molestation as a child, I often felt like the one commentor, that I could have done more to resist, even if it meant dying. Now, however I see this story differently.

    Rather than telling rape victims that they are impure and guilty for their situation, Goretti is a story of empathy. This young woman was raped, victimized and murdered. She suffered terribly at the hands of her murderer, so she understands what we survivors are going through. She was young and may not have fully understood what happened, but neither do must of us until years later.

    As for forgiving her murderer, again this is a sign of empathy with other victims. Every victim I have talked to says that forgiveness is the most important step to healing. Letting go frees you. By forgiving you formally declare that that person has no hold on you or your life and that you WILL move on from that experience. However, forgiving does not mean that you have to tell the rapist you forgave him, and certainly not that you should give that person a chance to hurt you again.

    Now, Maria Goretti is a sign of hope for me. She tells me that we can rise above our trauma. We can release the hold our perpetrator has on us. And we can be venerated BECAUSE of our suffering and not inspite of it.

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  18. I believe that part of the premise of this article that is originally posted by the writer is that the Catholic Church does not empathize with victims of rape. I have met many many people who act as counselors and psychologists in the Church to hands-on help rape victims. Also, there are dozens of charities funded by Cathol

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  19. ...dozens of charities funded by Catholics all over the world to help support victims of rape, sexual abuse, domestic violence, and other types of violence. To say that the Catholic Church does nt

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  20. is absurd to believe that the Catholic church doesn't support rape victims. once1092@gmail.com

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  21. What if the rape victim was 2 year old little girl? Is she still expected to forgive her rapist? When she doesn't even know the meaning of forgiveness?

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  22. I think the problem here is that there is this idea being proposed that Maria was chosen as the patron saint of rape victims because she died rather than submit when in truth she was chosen because she was attacked and murdered for saying no. She underwent trauma as many rape victims have and the idea is that she is a saint they can find comfort in, and feel they have something in common with.

    That said, the Catholic Church doesn't just canonise saints who resisted and were killed for it. Look up Saint Wulfrida. She was not only raped but conceived a child from that rape. And she is a saint. Maybe she should have been considered the patron saint of rape victims, but Maria's story involves a girl dying, and later forgiving her attacker, so maybe she was chosen to help other victims find peace after? I don't know, but those are my thoughts

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