The abuse of forgiveness

By JIM BELL

If there’s one taboo that is common to all the world’s peoples and all the world’s cultures, it’s the taboo that forbids sexual contact between adults and children.

That’s as true for cultures whose laws are written down and codified on paper as it is for cultures whose laws are stored in the memories of elders and passed from one generation to the next by word of mouth.

And if there’s one vocation that in all the world’s cultures is regarded with equal veneration, it’s the priestly vocation.

That’s as true for cultures in which large religous bureaucracies are administered by spiritual functionaries who derive their authority from ancient written texts such as the Bible and the Koran, as it’s true for cultures in which shamans and elders derive their authority from their power to communicate with the world of the spirit.

So when a priest suggests that Inuit culture permits what is not permitted anywhere else in the world, that suggestion becomes a gravely serious matter for his church and for those who rely upon him for moral and spiritual guidance.

And when a priest commits an act of sexual violence against children, as Iyetsiak Simigak of Kangirsuk has done, he deserves no protection against the full force of the world’s moral revulsion other than the police protection he may need to ensure his physical safety.

It is the unhappy fate of child molesters everywhere to be regarded as lowest of the low among criminals, even lower than murderers. That’s why, in most parts of the world, Iyetsiak Simigak’s life would now be in danger. In many parts of the world, he would be facing many years and not a few months in prison.

And because his crimes are crimes of deception as much as they are crimes of violence, what Iyetsiak Simigak does not deserve is to have excuses made for his conduct by his colleagues in the church.

What all right-thinking people expect from their religious institutions is a full condemnation of such behaviour not excuse-making and weak rationalizations that minimize the reality of these crimes. To do otherwise is to participate albeit after the fact in the deception and the abuse of power that led to the crimes.

But that is not what the Anglican Church of Canada has done.

By his own admission, Canon Benjamin Arreak, who admitted to being a “representative of the Bishop” while he was in Kuujjuaq to make excuses on Simigak’s behalf, was not misquoted in the October 3 issue of Nunatsiaq News.

In fact, Arreak has freely admitted to making the statement that has generated so much anger among those who first read it:

“He just did it in the old Inuit traditional ways of treating young ladies, to make them proud of their womanhood. In Inuit culture, it isn’t really a crime.”

To be fair, Arreak now says that these words were said only in relation to one of the four crimes to which Simigak pleaded guilty. And to be fair to Simigak’s victims, it also implies that Arreak believed Simigak’s story over the story told by at least one his innocent victims.

Many Nunatsiaq News readers have already denounced and refuted the nonsense contained in Arreak’s statement far more eloquently than we can, so there’s no point in discussing it’s content any further here.

But the whole incident has revealed some of the hidden reasons why the sexual abuse of children is pandemic in many Inuit communities.

The Christian doctrine of forgiveness a concept that is one of Christianity’s spiritual glories is being abused by those who abuse children and by those who would protect them. That includes those in the church who would protect such abusers to maintain a façade of respectability.

It’s not uncommon for people in many communities to confess their sins in church before their entire community, only to commit the same offenses against the same people soon after having received their so-called “forgiveness.”

While this may appear to be a genuine spiritual experience for many, we have no way of telling how many others use this to evade the criminal justice system and the harsh consequences that fall upon those who commit crimes of violence and abuse.

The Anglican church has never explained why Simigak was allowed to preach long after he was charged, and has proved little reassurance that other churches in other places are safe for children. They tolerated a situation in which innocent children received communion from a man whose hands had been molesting them against their will. That is great evil for which the entire church must apologize.

In doing this the church has also sent a disturbing message to victims of sexual abuse everywhere: And that is that the church will do what it can to protect those who have hurt them and will welcome those abusers back to the fold as quietly and quickly as possible.

With that kind of spirtual leadership, it’s no wonder the young are killing themselves by the score. How can you blame them? JB

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