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Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Art of Catholic Sex Abuse

Posted by on June 30 at 8:30 AM

Last night on HBO, I caught a new installment of the documentary series “America Undercover,” featuring Twist Of Faith, the Oscar-nominated, SIFF-showcased documentary about Tony Comes, an Ohio firefighter, husband, and father of two wrangling with the legacy of the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of a Catholic priest twenty years before.

Comes’s story is amazing: After 20 years of silence, Comeswho was in his mid-teens when the abuse occuredlearns that his former abuser now lives five doors down from him and his family in the Toledo suburbs. In one scene, Comes explains to his preadolescent daughter exactly why news of their new neighbor makes Daddy sob.

But one of the most surprising elementsaside from the revelation that Catholic canonical law allows bishops to lie if it's for "the good of the Church"is how unsympathetic Comes sometimes comes off. Cussing out his well-meaning mother, flying off the handle in rages of self-victimization, Comes is literally obsessed with what happened to him decades ago. If it occasionally makes the viewer cringe (and judge), it also drives home how horribly fucked-up it is to be exploited for sexual purposes by someone you'd been taught to regard as holy.

Next month I'll get to check out another acclaimed work of the growing Catholic sex-abuse canon, when Intiman presents The Tricky Part, Martin Moran's solo play about his years-long adolescent relationship with a Catholic camp counselor, which has gotten raves from everywhere.

The original news reports of the clergy-abuse scandal were fascinating enough, but the reflective depth of art makes it all horrifying all over again....