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My Mind to Yours October 2015

In a 2011 deposition concerning sexual abuse of children, Roman Catholic Bishop Robert Cunningham suggests that childhood victims can be culpable. Roman Catholic children make their first confessions at age seven. After that, child-penitents regularly examine their consciences for new sins they committed since the last confession. A portion of Bishop Cunningham’s deposition published online states, “Anyone who confesses, confesses because they do feel something wrong has taken place in their life.” Well, not always.

91Je7CmJNoLChildren taught to both fear and revere religious authorities, finding themselves in the automatic role of guilty party might just confess the sins their teachers taught them to confess with little understanding of what they are saying. Bishop Cunningham wrote in September 2015, “the plain and simple fact is that depositions are difficult by their very nature.” Why yes they are.

Roman Catholic children did not always make their first confession at age seven. According to “God’s Bankers” by Gerald Posner, until around 1910 Catholic children made their first confessions at age twelve. The late 1800s and early 1900s brought the rise of modernism, a term applied to intellectualism, the secular state, cinema, increased literacy and secular thought. Posner writes that Pope Pius X sought to stem the tide of modernism among Italian Catholics because Italy itself embraced modernity. By lowering the age of first confession to seven, the church could ferret out modern ideas much earlier in children while also questioning them about which newspapers their parents read and what political movements the parents supported. “God’s Bankers” references “The Dark Box,” a book by John Cornwell that suggests that an unintended consequence of the lowered age of confession was that seven-year-old children reflexively confessing nebulous sins such as impure thoughts and deeds inadvertently and wrongly identified themselves as suffering from “sexual complexes” making them potential targets for sin-minded priests. The seal of the confessional can be a double- edged sword for impressionable religious children taught to keep secret any discussions between them and the priests whom the children are taught stand as mediators between God and humanity and as such, claim higher authority over the children than their parents.

Adults raised to defer to one authority often defer to others.

Early Kennedy family histories describe Rosemary Kennedy, the third child of Joseph and Rose Kennedy as a slow learner. Later family histories suggest Rosemary was mentally ill, bi-polar, promiscuous, or simply disabled but most all conclude that the lobotomy inflicted on her to fix her left her incapacitated. Lobotomy, a type of psychiatric surgery discredited long before its inflictions ceased, sought to cure emotional problems by disturbing the very neural connections needed for cognitive development. This seems similar to shamefully sexualizing a child to discourage sex.

According to “The Missing Kennedy,” by Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff, Rosemary’s tragedy starts at birth where an attending nurse sought to keep Rosemary in her mother’s body until the obstetrician hired to attend the birth could arrive and thus earn his fee. Rose Kennedy went along with the nurse who went along with the doctor and in the months and years following, Rose and Joseph Kennedy noted that Rosemary could not keep up with her siblings.

Rosemary looked fine, but she was not fine. After embarrassing her parents by tripping in front of British Royalty, Rosemary found herself sent to a boarding school where she angrily rebelled against the rules. Rosemary wanted a normal life. She wanted to date. Eventually, unbeknown to his wife and children, Joseph Kennedy had Rosemary lobotomized at age 23. The lobotomy left the beautiful, friendly and overly trusting woman physically and cognitively disabled in an era where the sorts of therapy that might have improved her brain function remained unknown or unavailable to people whose families did not know how to advocate for them. Joseph Kennedy sent Rosemary to a convent where nuns took care of her. Koehler-Pentacoff writes that the Kennedy family, including matriarch Rose Kennedy, believed Rosemary left home to teach school in the Midwest. Rose Kennedy and her children did not learn Rosemary’s fate until Joseph Kennedy suffered a stroke and eventually passed. The Kennedys did not question their patriarch.

After Eunice Kennedy Shriver reconnected with her sister, Eunice helped her sister expand her life. Rosemary traveled, learned to speak more clearly, began to read street signs and billboards, and enjoyed the love of what family remained.

Many Roman Catholics think of their church as their spiritual and cultural family – a family where for too long, no one questioned what happened to certain members of that family. Many internal family stories stayed hidden away. No more.

Individuals awaken. People evolve.

Debra Merryweather