*This may contain triggers for sexual assault survivors*
As a teenager coming into the faith, St. Maria Goretti was one of the first saints I heard about. I randomly caught a documentary about her on EWTN (for those who don't know, Eternal Word Television Network, aka Catholic TV). She was born a poor farm tenant's daughter in 1890 in Corinaldo, a town in central Italy. She grew up a devout Catholic girl and was known for her kindness and generosity. When she was not even twelve years old, a neighbor began harassing her until one day, he took her and attempted to rape her. She resisted him physically and, as a result, he stabbed her fourteen times. She died in the hospital, forgiving the man on her death bed. He later repented (after years in prison) and she was canonized a saint by the Catholic Church. She was canonized for "defending her purity".
I have a bit of a problem with that last bit.
I don't have a problem with St. Maria being a saint. I think such forgiveness, at any age, is something to be commended very highly. I also find that she showed courage in the face of huge adversity and worked hard to show a generous and loving soul, no matter what she faced. I believe it is important for young people to learn how to say no, to defend themselves in the face of attack, and, at the same time, to forgive the acts committed against them. However, I do have a problem with the Church using her as a defender of chastity.
You see, when the Church holds her up as a model of chastity (when she's barely even pubescent), it implies that Maria somehow wanted what was done. It implies that she was fighting, not a man trying to attack her, but her own sexual desires. It implies that she was somehow "asking for it." It implies that this violent act, had she submitted, would be "her fault."
It bothers me even more because she was still a child. She was not even twelve years old, may or may not have started her periods, may have just started liking boys, and she's considered a defender of purity? Even if it was his purity she was fighting for (and she did protest the act for the sake of his soul), why would that be her responsibility? As he was the adult in this picture, why shouldn't he be considered the defender of his own purity?
Further, are women who do submit (whether to save their lives or because they simply want it to end) somehow responsible for these crimes? Are children who choose not to fight an abusive adult somehow sinning? Are people who survive an ordeal such as this somehow "less" because they "allowed" someone to sin with them? What kind of message are we sending our Catholic youth, especially the young women?
I believe we should continue to hold Maria as a saint and role model. She is a model of forgiveness, of her willingness to stand for herself and could be considered as someone who stands with those who do suffer from these atrocities. However, to hold her as a model of chastity is inappropriate, as the acts were done without her consent. St. Maria was a child who was brutally killed by an adult who should have known better. This was not a turmoil of inner demons and sexual self-control. This was an act of violence that she had little control over.
I don't believe fighting against a rapist merits a "defense of purity" recognition. It would be the same as if a murder victim was recognized for "defending life" because they fought their killer. Does that mean those who do die are somehow participating in the sin of murder? Absolutely not. Why would we imply the same for those who suffered sexual violence?