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St Maria Goretti, who died defending her virginity, should be an inspiration for Aids charities

She could join Terrence Higgins as a figurehead for those who are trying to eradicate HIV/Aids

By on Monday, 9 July 2012

This painting of St Maria Goretti hangs at the shrine where she is buried in Nettuno, Italy (CNS photo)

This painting of St Maria Goretti hangs at the shrine where she is buried in Nettuno, Italy (CNS photo)

Last Monday, July 2, I was included in an email by David Skinner of the Christian Peoples Alliance about the Terrence Higgins Trust. This trust is a well-known charity, indeed “the leading and largest HIV and sexual health charity in the UK”, attracting much celebrity endorsement by Stephen Fry and others, as well as NHS funding and occasional sums from the Department of Education, in its campaign against the spread of HIV/Aids. Skinner drew my attention to certain “health information for gay men” available on the Trust’s website, which was easily accessible to everyone, including young people. What he described was scatological and pornographic. Interestingly though, when I finally got round to checking out for myself the Terrence Higgins Trust website on Friday, July 6, the site was, coincidentally, unavailable; apparently it was being modernised and updated. When I did manage to access it a day later, all graphic references to scatological practices had been removed.

Perhaps this was because of the publicity stirred up by the Christian Peoples Alliance? At any rate, checking the website was a depressing enough experience as it was. The trust wants to open a “broader debate in society including the entertainment industry and the media, concerning growing sexualisation in the UK”. What does this mean: a new evolutionary leap (backwards) or the fact that promiscuous sexual behaviour and corrupting sex education are reaching ever wider and deeper into society and to ever younger age groups?

It happens that Friday July 6 was also the feast day of St Maria Goretti. My CTS New Daily Missal provides the following information about her: “St Maria Goretti (1890-1902) was born in Corinaldo, near Ancona (Italy), the third of six children, and became known for her cheerfulness and piety. When she was twelve, she was the victim of attempted rape and was mortally wounded as she defended her virginity. She forgave her murderer shortly before she died in hospital. The culprit was imprisoned and experienced a conversion of heart; he was present at St Maria’s canonisation in 1950 and ended his days as a Capuchin brother.”

Seen in the light of today’s society this is much more than an old-fashioned, pious story. The concept of modesty is barely mentioned these days – yet for Maria, a poor and unsophisticated peasant girl, her purity mattered more than her life. Her attacker, a neglected and brutalised youth (who was converted in prison by a vision of St Maria) was in the habit of reading pornographic magazines – now commonplace on the internet and at newsagents and sometimes blamed for youthful crimes involving sex. I rather think that St Maria Goretti should be invoked on behalf of the Terrence Higgins Trust. To wish to eradicate HIV/Aids is a worthy ambition – but will this be achieved, for instance, by the Trust’s advice on its site that “gay saunas should provide condoms”? The original Terrence Higgins was born in 1945, the same year as I was; he died of Aids in 1982. He is regarded by the trust as a martyr to the cause of combating social bigotry and prejudice. Maria Goretti, described in the Missal as “virgin and martyr”, is a powerful and unfashionable witness to a Christian counter-culture.

If it seems odd to suggest her as the spiritual companion to Terrence Higgins, we should recall that it is the saints who show us the way to lasting wholeness and healing.

  • Burt

     That’s a good question I admid karlf. I believe in the mercy of God, and Jesus prayed for His cruel persecuters that God would forgive them for their ignorance. how much more those who lived as good lives according to natural law will obtain His mercy. But those of us who have belief but chose to betray what we know is right. I imagine a lot of souls will be complaining that God is unfair if we eventually find we have lost Heaven.

  • karlf

    But we can’t pretend to believe things we do not. What we believe depends on what we experience in life.

  • Nesbyth

    “The gravest error of nice people is the denial of sin.”
    Spoken by the late venerable Fulton Sheen

  • Burt

     Thats true but God knows us all in our deepest selves, what we know deep in our hearts. Anyway I do think this lovely little saint Maria Goretti is a friend to have for times we may feel most in need of Gods mercy. She prayed her attacker will be with her in Heaven.

  • Oconnord

    Burt, my comment was not about the girl Maria, it was about the why she is lauded. The catholic version of her death is so full of holes I could drain pasta through it.  

  • Oconnord

    Can anyone sense the irony of this story?

    Man tries to rape child, fails and kills her, repents and is embraced by the church.
    No legal or financial issues occur.

    Child becomes a saint because she died before speaking to a lawyer. All’s then forgiven.

  • Burt

     why do you think her story is full of holes? perhaps you are just being anachronistic. Maybe you just can’t imagine a girl having those sentiments facing a violent abuser, because you are projecting an image of a typical girl of her age in our day. Remember she was catechised with concrete beliefs in a devout Catholic culture, not a Hollyoaks watching, X Factor wannabe, typical result of the deplorably deficient catechesis of this present day.

  • Lewispbuckingham

     I asked a couple of South African expats, Why did you come to Australia?, a couple of weeks ago.One answered immediatly ‘That’s easy, I didn”t want to get raped, they think if you rape a virgin the AIDS will be cured”.
    SBS aired a program on rape in SA high schools.The chances are about 5o%, the criminals get a slap on the wrist.Here they do it for fun.
     Like the saying ‘Its the economy stupid”.
     Here ‘It’s the behaviour stupid”.

  • Lazarus

    Thank you for apologizing. It’s too easy in these combox exchanges to de-humanize the ‘other side’ and I appreciate your apology as part of an attempt to avoid doing this.

    On the sentence you quote, I’m not quite sure what you’re objecting to. It amounts simply to the observation  that someone who is raped and does not resist through fear of her life is not morally blameworthy. I would have thought that was something we agreed on. 

  • JessicaHof

    If I can return us to the subject of St. Maria? I found her story immensely moving. Modesty was not a concept I came across much as an adolescent, and the prevailing message from the media was that as a ‘healthy’ young woman, I should be getting lots of ‘good sex’, and that ‘modern science’ would protect me from unwanted consequences. In this latter category, according to our PSI classes, came babies, AIDS, and various other STDs. Little was said of the psychological consequences. Those of us whose beliefs did not take us in such a direction were, it was implied. odd.
    Talking with my grandmother some time ago about such matters, she said that when she was young the general view amongst young men was that would ‘try it on’, but accepted that most girls would say ‘no; I told her that with my generation it was the same on the first point, but that now the boys expected us to say ‘yes’. I can see why some call this ‘progress’. St. Maria reminds us of another way of being – and the fate of her murderer is a fascinating study in the workings of Grace.

  • Mr Grumpy

    You seem to have missed the fact that he went to prison.

  • Burt

     went ro prison for 30 years I believe. Also Oconnard seems to miss the point that even if St Maria had not been the sweet soul who enabled his inspiration to seek forgiveness, we  all have the means of salvation through the Sacrament of penance. Nothing new there.. But lovely Maria exemplifies how beautiful a soul could be when steeped in love for Jesus.

  • theroadmaster

    Well said, Lewis and your erudite commentary goes straight to the heart of the cause and exacerbation of the AIDS crisis in Africa and across the world.

  • Paul Wells213

    What a vile, vile cheap article of gay hate. It must have taken all of 5 gay hating minutes to come up with.

  • Parasum

     “St Maria Goretti, who died defending her virginity, should be an inspiration for Aids charities”

    ## Being murdered for not submitting to rape, though admirable does not = having, or dying of, AIDS. An AIDS sufferer would make more sense.

    It’s hard to see why virginity is so important as to be worth dying for – it has a place, but surely it is very unimportant compared to humility. The devil was a virgin, but fell through pride. The unrelenting concern of the Teaching Church with sexual matters is very unattractive, as well as immodest and almost pornographic; it poisons the imagination: a great evil. A Church should not be doing that – it should keep these things for the confessional, & not inflict them on all & sundry. To do that, would be genuinely “counter-cultural”, but at present it is part of the problem.

  • Parasum

    “The Church throughout Her 2000 years has taught against this grave evil”

    ## The Church is not an authority on embryology – any more than it is an authority on:

    The art of Vermeer
    Designing taxis
    The history of the kingdom of Dalriada
    Old Bactrian
    The politics of Boris Johnson
    the Anopheles mosquito

    - or a million other interesting things. Embryology is not even a discipline with a long history: it is far too recent for most of the Christian Tradition on the subject of abortion to be of any relevance. What the Biblical authors or  the Fathers or the Scholastics or the Reformers or the Enlightenment theologians might say, could not be more irrelevant, because none of them had the foggiest idea about how in fact the embryo develops. We moderns do, because we, unlike them, have the means to find out. Theology cannot stand still simply in order to agree with exploded Bronze Age notions about human reproduction. To do so would be as intelligent as to believe that insects are formed by spontaneous generation; for we, unlike our forebears, have no excuse to fall into such errors. 

    The Teaching Church should stick to what it is meant to do, & not make itself look foolish by pronouncing on matters on which it has no competence. It needs to listen, before it can hold forth.

  • theroadmaster

    You state that the Church is not an expert on the subject of embryology, and you list a lot of other disciplines in which Churchmen are supposedly not experts, to back up your argument.  But you forget, that one does not have to be an embryologist to recognize the inherent humanity of the embryo.  One does not have to be a qualified plumber to recognize that a sink is a sink.  So your line of argument does not refute the reasonableness of the Church’s teaching regarding the sanctification of human life during its early stages and the grave evil that is abortion.
    The scholastics or early Fathers did not have the benefit of the scientific knowledge accrued over the centuries, regarding reproduction and embryological development.  But they instinctively knew that life was conceived when seed(sperm) met egg and and fused to form life.  They did not need a medical manual to appreciate the preciousness of human life and the evil of it’s willful destruction at any stage.
    Thus you have created a false dichotomy between theology and embryology/science regarding the Church’s teaching on the sacredness of life from conception to grave.  The Church is more than competent with regard to pronouncing on the sanctity of life in all stages, due to Her 20000 year spiritual wisdom.

  • paulsays

    Very well put. Of course this is not to say that the Church should necessarily have NO view on abortion.

    Rather that it should look at the science, and then try to work out the most moral outcomes.

    Scientists can give us the information, but science itself is not enough to work out moral positions. We need information, and a system of morals – and using both we can work out what is right and wrong in terms of abortion. 

  • theroadmaster

    The science tells us that both the foetal and embryonic stages, are phases in the early development of human life.  Thus when a surgical or chemical intervention abruptly halts that development, it is the ending of human life.  This is a human with potential and not a potential human.  It is more than just simply re-iterating scientific fact, but also emphasizing the grave moral evil in carrying out such acts

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