The Roman Catholic Church's traditional attitudes toward women and sex have contributed added burdens to women who have been raped, a national Catholic magazine has asserted.
Helping rape victims deal with the problems arising from the experience "is where the church should be extending a healing ministry," declared an article in this month's U.S. Catholic, a general circulation publication edited by the Claretian order in Chicago.
"We should be assuring the [rape] victims of our sympathy and our help in whatever psychological and physical problems may result and our continuing love and respect for those suffering from our shared failure to produce a sane and moral society," declared the magazine article, written by Arlene Swidler, well-known Catholic author and educator.
"Instead, most of the current thinking on rape in Catholic circles simply piles the guilt and shame on higher," she continued.
Swidler cited an advice column in the Philadelphia archdiocesan newspaper. In response to the question as to whether a woman should submit willingly to a rapist rather than jeopardize her life by resisting, Swidler said the Catholic paper's columnist counseled: "We should avoid sin even more strenuously than we do death.... Submitting willingly to a rapist is putting oneself deliberately into a proximate occasion of sin."
Swidler pointed out that Catholics as well as society at large mistakenly consider rape to be a crime of lust rather than a crime of violence. "It is the humiliation and pain of the victim that the perpetrators enjoy," she said.
A readers' poll, based on advance copies of the article sent to what the U.S. Catholic calls "a representative sample of subscribers," reflected some changes in the attitude Swidler complained of.
Nearly half the readers polled agreed that "church teaching contributes to the quilt and shame a raped woman feels."
Seventy-two percent agreed with the statement: "It is better for a woman to be raped than to risk death by resisting. "And 94 percent agreed with Swidler's thesis that "it is no sin to be raped."
However, 53 percent agreed that "In some cases, a woman, by her dress or demeanor brings rape on herself," and 3 percent agreed with the statement: "A woman can keep herself from being raped if she really wants to." (Thirteen percent were undecided about this question.)
Nine percent agreed that "submitting willingly to a rapist is putting oneself deliberately in a proximate occasion of sin," only 42 percent held that it is "better for a woman to kill a rapist in self-defense than be raped."
Comments from the poll reflected a wide range of opinion among the magazine's readers, who include both clergy and lay persons.
"There is a high correlation between the rise in rapes and the laxness in moral standards of dress. The way some women bounce around half exposed these days, it's surprising there aren't more rapes," said a woman from Illinois. But a Michigan priest asserted. "A rapist's violence is not justified, no matter what the woman did."
A New York priest criticized the author because she "refuses the cogent, reasoned, human teaching of the church which is: Immodesty contributes to sexual unrest and social disorder; modesty and purity contribute to social order and sanctification."