The Catholic Church plays a strong role in Guam’s culture, so when a young boy becomes an altar server, he brings great joy to his family. To a family, their altar boy is supposed to pray for their troubles and bring them closer to God. But what happens if something sick and sinful in the Church hurts that young altar boy? What happens if the main person who’s supposed to guide him through the faith abuses the altar boy? How can a young boy admit something dark and disgusting about a man of the community, a man of God?
Tim Rohr, a realtor by trade and author of the blog called “Jungle Watch” that tackles Church issues, has taken it upon himself to bring light to the abuses and coverups of Guam’s Catholic Church. Jungle Watch has shared horror stories from a number of Guam’s former altar boys. By providing the victims with a platform to vent and seek closure, he has created a local and online community of support.
Why did they wait many decades before breaking their silence? Rohr believes there’s a culture of silence on Guam that prevents abuse victims from sharing their traumas. Rohr, who has been a resident of Guam for more than two decades, says is he is unsure if Guam can change this culture of silence.
“From my experience, even up until now, except to a very few people that were willing to go forward, everything would be the same as it was. Even though people’s own children were being raped and molested, they preferred to stay quiet about it because they didn’t want to bring shame upon the family even though that has led to horrible repercussions for their own children,” Rohr says.
Preference for silence at the expense of justice baffles Rohr. “Even to this day,” he observes, “there are so few people willing to stand up and speak out against that abuse. I don’t know if it can be changed, but I hope it can.”
One can argue that all abuse victims all over the world are reluctant to talk about their experience. The recent emergence of TimesUp and Me-Too movement in Hollywood had famous actresses recounting sex abuses from decades ago. Each account reveals the fear and shame that prevented them from sharing their abuse. And the shame feels more unbearable for a male victim. That shame is tied to masculinity and admitting to being molested and raped by an older man may be considered homosexual. America is still learning to accept homosexuality and that sexual abuse does not create homosexuals.
While many may credit the Times Up and Me-Too for encouraging sexual abuse victims to speak out, Rohr’s Jungle Watch preceded the big tabloid stories. Jungle Watch has been up online since 2010. The honest and open blog was powerful enough to inspire the abused to protest at the diocese. These protests involved the victims and their families. Older Catholic women were also there, representing their sons and grandsons, because they were tired of letting powerful men get away with hurting the youth.
“Basically, it shows that we are not afraid of the Catholic Church; we’re more afraid of our family,” Rohr says. “People didn’t want it because it would bring shame upon the family; they weren’t afraid of the Catholic Church or the bishop. It was about embarrassing the family or their grandmother or whoever it was. So that’s the real problem. This problem of culture silence, actually, is a family issue not a Church issue. They blame the Church but we’ve already shown we’re not afraid to stand up against the Church, but standing up against your family and bringing shame, this is why so many people won’t talk.”
One’s faith shouldn’t be in the Church, Rohr says. “Your faith should be in Jesus Christ and what He commanded us to do was to worship in memory of Him,” he says. “I go to the Catholic mass not because of a priest or a bishop or a good sermon or any other reason, but it’s the only place to receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ and He died to give me that. That’s the only reason to stay Catholic.”
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