Friday, July 15, 2016
By Austin Ruse
(Crisis Magazine) Did you know that St. Maria Goretti was even the least bit controversial?
The facts of her case are not disputed.
She was a peasant girl of 11 who came under sexual assault from a twenty-year-old male who shared the building where she lived with her family. She resisted, telling him it would be a sin and that he would go to Hell. He stabbed her 14 times, as she lay before him and as she tried to flee.
It is said to have taken hours to get her the few miles to the local hospital where she was operated on without anesthesia. So primitive was her everyday poverty-stricken existence, some say it was at the hospital where she first saw electric lights. Goretti died but not before forgiving her attacker whom she hoped to see one day in Heaven.
What is controversial is the response to Maria Goretti.
Goretti was beatified in 1947 by Pope Pius XII and canonized by him three years later as a “virgin-martyr.” At her canonization Pius called her “this sweet little martyr of purity.” He said this to a crowd of 200,000, a crowd so large, mostly of young people, that for the first time ever a canonization Mass was held outside in St. Peter’s Square rather than inside the basilica.
At her beatification, Pius said, “Maria Goretti resembled St. Agnes in her characteristic virtue of fortitude. This virtue of fortitude is at the same time the safeguard as well as the fruit of virginity. Our new beata was strong and wise and fully aware of her dignity. That is why she professed death before sin. She was not twelve years of age when she shed her blood as a martyr, nevertheless what foresight, what energy she showed when aware of danger! She was on the watch day and night to defend her chastity, making use of all the means at her disposal, persevering in prayer and entrusting the lily of her purity to the special protection of Mary, the Virgin of virgins. Let us admire the fortitude of the pure of heart. It is a mysterious strength far above the limits of human nature and even above ordinary Christian virtue.”
On the 100th anniversary of her death, Pope St. John Paul the Great underscored the importance of her virginity to her final struggle, “She did not flee from the voice of the Holy Spirit, from the voice of her conscience. She rather chose death. Through the gift of fortitude, the Holy Spirit helped her to ‘judge’—and to choose with her young spirit. She chose death when there was no other way to defend her virginal purity.”
She chose death when there was no other way to defend her virginal purity. And there is the controversy. There are certain voices in the blogosphere who are offended at this notion that Maria Goretti died defending her virginal purity.
Simcha Fisher is so incensed at the notion she wrote a whole column entitled “Maria Goretti Didn’t Die for Her Virginity.” Fisher is smart enough to know she couldn’t get away with that headline so she tries to cover herself with her first sentence, “Or she wasn’t canonized just because she managed to remain a virgin, anyway.”
However, Fisher argues that Goretti was canonized because she focused on her attacker’s soul rather than on her own virginity. Goretti tried to convince him that he was committing a mortal sin and would go to Hell for what he was threatening to do. Fisher says Goretti was not in love with a particular virtue but rather in love with the humanity of a particular person, her attacker.
Fisher says such notions as “holiness, chastity, humility, charity, diligence” are “bathwater” surrounding the “baby” which is “love in action.”
On Facebook, Fisher actually dismisses those who maintain the view held by both Pope Pius XII and St. John Paul the Great as the “Maria Goretti died out of love for her hymen” crowd.
Fisher was not the only one.
Where Pius XII and John Paul the Great called young people to emulate Maria Goretti, a blogger at the ever-diminishing Patheos says, not so fast! Blogger Kari Persson is concerned that Goretti’s response unto death may be considered “normative.” She says such a response to Goretti is “possibly deeply damaging” and could result in “frustration, hatred, and anger, mixed with envy and self-reproach” among those “affected by rape, whether victims or those close to victims.” She also says, “Not everyone can express forgiveness for their attackers as readily as St. Maria…” We should view all of this as miraculous and certainly not normative.
Persson seems fully subscribed to the commonality of our age where trophies are given just for showing up, where winning first prize somehow diminishes those who are second, or third, or last.
Of course, the Church has never taught that all are called to martyrdom. However, we are called to emulate or to draw inspiration from them.
Here is John Paul II on the centenary of her death, “I am especially holding up this saint as an example to young people who are the hope of the Church and of humanity.” He also said her “martyrdom” heralded the beginning of the great century of martyrs, a century where Catholics died for their faith, as she did.
Yet another blogger at Patheos joined the Goretti fray. Mary Pezzulo begins her blog-post with a big sigh: “It’s that time of year again. Today is Maria Goretti’s feast day.” Maria Goretti’s feast day is an annual trial for Pezzulo.
Pezzulo recalls a moment a few years ago when a Franciscan nun exhorted her that Maria Goretti “died rather than give up her purity.” Pezzulo left the bookshop where this horror happened “as quickly as possible” and then regretted not telling the Nun “how many people the sister might hurt by repeating the story in that way.”
Pezzulo writes, “Becoming the victim of someone else’s sin is never a sin. It wouldn’t have been for Maria Goretti, either.” Had she fought her attacker and been raped nonetheless, “she would have incurred no guilt. God would have still known her to be pure.” Pezzulo seems to accuse the nun, and others like her, of canonizing Goretti because Goretti refused to be a victim of rape.
One Patheos blogger named Max Lindeman suggested that Maria could not be considered a martyr since she did not die for hatred of the faith and that “martyr of charity” was not “coined until the beatification of Maximillian Kolbe.” For that, though, we can turn to the Angelic Doctor who wrote, “Not only is he a martyr one who refuses to deny a truth of the faith, but he who dies for the sake of some virtue, or to avoid sin against any commandment.” We also note the words of Pius XII and John Paul the Great.
To see how all this has become so unhinged, when Deacon Jim Russell went to the comment boxes to quote John Paul II on Maria Goretti and her virginity, another Patheos blogger named Cynthia Schrage asked him, “What is your f***ing problem?” and accused him of being a “spiritual stalker.”
It is hard to understand this odd fight over Maria Goretti and her canonization. The Church —as expressed in the words of the Pope who canonized her and his successors—regards Goretti as a martyr to her virginity. That is a fact not even Patheos and Aleteia bloggers can get around, try as they might.
It could be because of our hyper-sexualized world, also a world where there are demonstrations to defend those criticized for the way they dress or how they act-out sexually in ways inappropriate to their station in life. They call this “slut-shaming.” What greater slut-shaming could there be than a feast day for a girl who would rather die than lose her virginity? Pius XII, in his homily for Maria, exhorted parents to keep their children “away from the training places of wickedness and moral perversion.” Today we march to defend those who so indulge. These days, it is nearly impossible for anyone to get out of their teens, and even tweens, with their virginity intact. It is possible that Goretti’s purity is an offense to those with a “past” or who are sympathetic to those with such regrettable pasts. We also live in a world inordinately concerned with giving offense, even at the expense of celebrating goodness. You cannot celebrate the traditional family for fear of offending the children from broken homes. You can’t even say “broken home” anymore. You cannot celebrate the virginity of Maria Goretti for fear of offending those who are not virgins or those who have been raped... (continued)