does every law in every jurisdiction define rape in terms that if it’s
not consentual, then it’s rape. But yet, if I don’t stand up for
myself, then how is the other person to know that it’s not consentual
on my part? It’s no different if someone were to offer me a glass of
lemonade and internally, I really wanted water, but I didn’t
say a dang thing and I still got lemonade. More importantly, what is the
Penitential Rite all about when Catholics proclaim: that I have sinned
through my own fault . . . in what I have done, and in what I have failed
to do. By being passive (not saying “No,” or not defending
your own self) in a sexual assault incident, sodomy, or rape—whatever
you call it—isn’t that failing to do something on your own stupidity,
before the eyes of God, as well as to yourself?
ou ask a question with many complicated
facets to it, so let’s sort out some of them to make the whole issue
of the Penitential Rite is a good place to begin. Notice, though, that whereas
the traditional Confiteor says, “I have sinned exceedingly in thought,
word, and deed,” the modern version says, “I have greatly sinned
in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed
to do.” Oddly enough, this is one of those rare cases where the modernized
version of a traditional text is actually more psychologically
Both versions of the Confiteor
address the issue of sin through thought,
word, and deed. But the modern version reminds us of the concept
of sinning through what we fail to do.
Now, the fact that we commonly
sin in things we think yet shouldn’t think, in things we
say yet shouldn’t say, and in things we do yet shouldn’t
do requires no explanation. These things are all too painfully obvious in
life. But the idea that we sin in what we fail to do does need some explanation.
In fact, it has two parts.
Perform Certain Behaviors
First, we can sin by failing to perform
certain behaviors. We can fail to attend Mass on every
Sunday and on every holy day of obligation. We can fail
to keep a day of abstinence and fasting. We can fail to
help someone in need. These are all fairly clear examples, and yet we often fail to
consider them and many other things like them. Thus we sin more and more, all through
the complacency of ignorance.
Second, we can sin by failing
to say something when by speaking up we might prevent a sin from occurring.
This idea actually derives from the prophet Ezekiel.
You, son of man,
I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything,
you shall warn them for me. If I tell the wicked man that he shall surely
die, and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked man from his way, he
(the wicked man) shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible
for his death. But if you warn the wicked man, trying to turn him from his
way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but
you shall save yourself.
— Ezekiel 33:7-9
But notice (and here we start
to get to the gist of your question) that Ezekiel is obligated to tell the
wicked man what God says is wrong. In modern psychology, this is the
equivalent of saying that we have to know right from wrong according to divine
revelation before we can speak up. We commit a sin by not
witnessing the faith by speaking up to others about what
God has said is wrong. Note carefully, then, that as much as we might chide ourselves
for not speaking up about our own personal likes or dislikes, our failures in these
personal matters do not amount to sin unless those personal matters have a moral
aspect to them.
OK. Now let’s examine the issue of a
victim’s personal culpability in the trauma of rape.
Moral responsibility varies by
degrees, according to a person’s cognitive capability for moral
First, consider the matter of
child abuse, in which a young child is molested by an adult. A child who is not old
enough to understand right from wrong cannot be held culpable for any wrongdoing.
So there is nothing the child can do or fail to do in regard
to his or her moral involvement with the abuse.
Next, consider an older child
who does have some sense of moral responsibility. This child could warn the
offending adult about committing a sin; but, if the child has been repeatedly
abused through the years, the intimidation of that past abuse may make it
psychologically impossible for the child to say anything when he or she finally
realizes what is happening morally. As for doing anything, well, intimidation
can also prevent the child from seeking help (e.g., the abuser might threaten, “If you
say anything about this to anyone, I will kill your dog!”).
Therefore, an older child who
possesses the capacity to do and say something, may, because of traumatic
intimidation, not be psychologically capable of doing or saying anything about
To heal those
old wounds of abuse, an adult must look back with sorrow—not
guilt—on all of those failures to speak up as a child. The pain, the sadness,
the fear, and the anger of
not having the protection and guidance that should have been provided must now be
acknowledged. After all, if the child had been given proper guidance, the child
would have learned how to defend itself appropriately. Therefore, the adult can
resolve to do all it takes, now, to learn to speak with honesty and integrity in the
Now consider an adult about to
be raped. She (or he) should know very well that a sin is involved. So she
can speak up and warn the offender. But if the offender pulls out a gun and says,
“Shut up or I will kill you!” the victim should shut up. She can’t defend
herself, and she can’t stop the offender. But if she knows in her heart that a sin
is being committed, she is not culpable for its commission, even if she cannot say
anything more than the initial warning or do anything to stop the rape.
Sadly, most victims of
crime today do not think of the welfare of the soul of the offender. That’s the
simple result of living in a world governed by secular humanism according to the
principles of aggression, hatred, and vengeance. But Christ calls us out of this
world’s culture of insanity
to live lives of peace, love, and
always praying for mercy for others, no matter what they do to us.
That’s how Christ lived, and that’s how he died.
In the above case, then, the
victim’s only culpability would be in failing to say something. Remember,
the point of speaking up is to give a warning, regardless of whether or not
the warning is heeded.
An awesome example of this
can be found in the life and death of Saint Maria Goretti, who, at the age
of twelve, died during an attempted rape. She warned her attacker that he
was attempting to commit a sin, and she was stabbed to death as she defended
her virginity, preferring to die rather than be raped.
Nor was her death
wasted. She wasn’t just a “victim” of a crime; she willingly
died because of the love of God that filled her heart. Consequently, because
of this holy love that was the basis for the chastity she defended with her
life, she died a martyr and became recognized as a saint.
because she forgave her attacker and prayed for
him as she lay dying, he ultimately repented and converted—allegedly
through a vision he had of the Saint while he was in prison. He even testified
at her canonization proceedings.
This all goes
to show us that Christian life is about trust in
God and seeking holiness, not success in the material world.
Finally, consider the case of
a woman who dresses seductively, goes to a party, gets drunk, and is raped.
What is her culpability? Well, she acted immodestly and got drunk, so
that’s an act of doing. And, because she was intoxicated, she
failed in warning her offender about the sins he was
So yes, she committed sins of
doing and failing to do for which she is culpable. Nevertheless,
her sins cannot be considered an excuse for the offender taking advantage of her
incapacited state of mind. His actions are his responsibility.
Without her consent, he, and he alone, is culpable for the sin of
Note well, then, that the man
committed rape because he acted without the woman’s consent.
The woman did not have to say, “No!” Her simple lack of
consent—even if she was so incapacitated that she couldn’t speak
anyway—decides the matter. In fact, that’s why rape is a sin.
“Rape deeply wounds the respect, freedom, and physical and moral integrity
to which every person has a right” (Catechism of the Catholic
Church, 2355). In other words, the right to not be violated is given
by God; it doesn’t depend on anything you do or fail to do.
Of course, the average rapist
may not understand—or care about—your God-given right to not be
violated. That’s why your speaking up to warn him would be considered
a charitable act of compassion for his soul. And if he refuses to
listen, then you have done all you can do and have not failed in anything.
From there on, the matter is in God’s hands. So
entrust the pain to God, and
pray for the offender that he might repent his
sins and turn back to God.
Remember that the whole spiritual
mission of our lives is the salvation of souls. Your first responsibility
is to your own salvation; then, after
that, you must do all you can for the salvation of other souls. Pray constantly
for their repentance, no matter what they have done or have failed to
Blessed are the
merciful, for they will be shown
— Matthew 5:7
But if you do
others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.
— Matthew 6:15
For the judgment
is merciless to one who has not shown
— James 2:13
For reference, here below is the text of the Confiteor used in the New Order
of the Mass. Below it is the traditional Confiteor, in both English and
(Novus Ordo Penitential Rite, Option A)
I confess to almighty
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done
and in what I have failed to do,
through my fault,
through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;
therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
all the Angels and Saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.
I CONFESS to almighty
to blessed Mary ever Virgin,
to blessed Michael the Archangel,
to blessed John the Baptist,
to the holy Apostles Peter and Paul,
to all the saints,
and to you, brethern,
and to thee, Father,
that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, and deed:
through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault.
Therefore, I beseech blessed Mary ever Virgin,
blessed Michael the Archangel,
blessed John the Baptist,
the holy Apostles Peter and Paul,
all the saints,
and you, brethern,
and thee, Father,
to pray to the Lord our God for me.
beátæ Maríæ semper Vírgini,
beáto Michaéli Archángelo,
beáto Ioánni Baptístæ,
sanctis Apóstolis Petro et Paulo,
et vobis, fratres: [said by the
et tibi, pater: [said by the
quia peccávi nimis cogitatióne, verbo et ópere:
mea culpa, mea culpa,
mea máxima culpa.
Ideo precor beátam Maríam semper Vírginem,
beátum Michaélem Archángelum,
beátum Ioánnem Baptístam,
sanctos Apóstolos Petrum et Paulum,
et vos fratres, [said by the
et te, pater, [said by the
oráre pro me ad Dóminum Deum nostrum.