A theology of irresponsibility?

An open letter to Bishop Chris Williams:


I congratulate Nunatsiaq News for its courage in helping to break the taboo about sexual abuse against children. It seems that you, Bishop, were looking to defend yourself in yourrecent letter to Nunatsiaq Newsin which you said Nunatsiaq News is irresponsible. (Oct. 31, p. 8)

It is always the way of perpetrators of abuse to find excuses and yet more excuses to divert attention away from the important issues at hand: that young children were sexually abused, thata minister of the Anglican Churchwas convicted of four counts of sexual abuse, and that a second minister tried to find excuses for him. Now, you, the bishop, are trying to divert attention away from these real issues by condemning the news reporter.

First, I would like to mention that a wise Inuk woman told me that her wise mother informed her that sexual abuse was the wound that never heals. And I would add that it doesn’t heal because it is such a hidden wound, one that the victims are forced to keep secret. It seems also true that society at large tries to keep the secret by supporting the taboo against speaking out.

In your letter not once did you recognize the plight of the abused children. Not once.

You spent much time and ink in showing your concern for the abuser: to lend support to him and his family at the time of his sentencing. Why? Why do you want to lend support to the abuser, when you offer not even a word of sympathy for the children abused and their families, whose lives will be deeply touched for many years by the illegal and immoral actions your minister?

(And if there are four counts on which he was convicted, how many others are not counted?) Those who run to Simigak’s rescue, are they not also accomplices in this crime?

Now what about your policy of zero tolerance in matters of sexual impropriety? Does your policy mean that, since he is convicted, that you will dismiss him completely? I would understand zero tolerance to mean this.

Or shall we see once again, that since he confessed his sin, and since he was forgiven and by whom? by his buddies? Then we accept him back with open arms, and eventually allow him to go back to his sinful ways? And then he’ll confess, and be forgiven, and then he’ll sin again and he’ll confess, and we’ll forgive? For how long, bishop? For how long will we put up with it?

There must be consequences

Unless there are consequences for behaviour, essentially it means we condone it. Clearly, one of the consequences of this behaviour is all the publicity and all the articles in the Nunatsiaq News, which is making public what many people want to keep secret.

Secrecy is the keystone for sexual abusers. It can go on because it is hidden.

Once again I congratulate Nunatsiaq News for its courage in exposing this reality, even if some details were inaccurate. (Kuujuuaq or Kangirsuk? That’s an honest mistake, but to make an issue of that is looking for anything to divert attention from the reality here.)

Our job in the social services is to further expose the hidden taboo against speaking out about sexual abuse. Because once it is exposed to the light of day and not covered up, not minimized, not trivialized, then we see its ugliness and we take action

I have heard many stories about the theology that is preached in the churches here.

The theology I hear runs something like this: the evil one exists and when he takes possession of you, things happen that shouldn’t, but it is not really your fault because the anger with hate did not come from you, it came from the evil one, because it is he who is full of anger and full of hate (Canon Arreak’s statement).

Although I am using Arreak’s words, I have heard this same theme repeated by many abusers. They can justify themselves with the Bible, with Inuit tradition (as Arreak tried to do), or with their buddy’s support (the Church structure).

A theology of irresponsibility

Are people being told that they don’t have any individual responsibility regarding their sin? (The devil really did it!) If so, then they can continue to do it, one, because there are really no consequences for the sin; and two, because church members support one another to forgiving each other of the unforgiveable Since when did we have the power to forgive sin in this sense?

The result: keep on sinning, and cover it up with the words of the Bible, as Canon Arreak tried to do in his article.

Arreak says that no one ever told Simigak about the Charter of Rights, or child protection laws. What in the world is he doing as a minister if he doesn’t know these laws? And, if true, whose responsibility is it to make sure ministers in positions of authority know these things?

There are very high rates of child sexual abuse in the North The worst part is, there are all kinds of ecclesiastical supports for it. I hear you say that the Church’s position in zero tolerance, but then my question is, where does this supporting theology come from? And now, what are we going to do about it?

How can anyone expect social services and youth protection to do their job when the overriding cultural imperative that comes from the Churches is that you don’t have any responsibility for your sin?

Jesus never said this. In fact he said I have not come to bring peace. but the sword. I interpret this in the sense that He was not about to put Up with the apostle’s shenanigans and that He demanded of them right behaviour, something, it seems, that many outraged readers also expect of ministers.

Christianity used to condone abuse

As a Christian I am appalled by the so-called Christian attitudes I hear in the North, attitudes that favor wife abuse (from a warped sense of what is family), the sexual abuse of children (because one is not really responsible anyway), and other forms of criminal and unethical behaviour (because people are told not to acknowledge it as such, or to minimize it, or even to blame the victims).

It is so easy to blame the Evil One. But it’s he sinner that is the Evil One. There is no difference, and unless this theology is changed, and radically so, there will be no hope for people who are fed up with such a theology of non-responsibility.

I urge you to take this matter up with your ministers, and clarify the position of the church about individual responsibility. Enough is enough. How do people get into these positions of power if they are not already in a state of grace?

Canon Arreak has done what so many others have done: give permission to sin and break the law. This is a matter of ethics and right behaviour. The consequence that Simigak will be suspended for two years is little comfort to the mothers and fathers of children who have been seriously abused. And what of Canon Arreak? With such a theology, will he go on giving people excuses to continue their abusive behaviors?

It is time far action. Theology must be action, if anything at all. It is not a bunch of words respeated ad nauseam. The churches are full of words, but what we need is action.

And what will be your action? This is the question I am asking you as bishop of the Arctic.

Joe Beninati

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