And speaking of taking religion out of the public sphere…

Here’s another reason why religious groups probably shouldn’t be influencing policy, or teaching sex ed. (found via the Dawn Patrol).

The Goretti Group looks like your standard abstinence-only educational team — they certainly rely on the same themes and messages. The “Purity at all Cost” tagline struck me as a little strange, to say the least — at all cost, really? — until I googled their namesake, Maria Goretti.

Maria Goretti is a Catholic martyr, who was killed by her would-be rapist. She’s a saint because, apparently, it’s better to die than to be unchaste.

Her murderer and attempted rapist was forgiven and attended Mass with Maria’s mother, where he took communion (something not offered to many pro-choice politicians). He claimed to pray to Maria and referred to her as “my little saint.”

When Maria was canonized, here’s what Pope Pius XII told the crowd:

“We order and declare, that the blessed Maria Goretti can be venerated as a Saint and We introduce her into the Canon of Saints.” Some 500,000 people, among them a majority of youth, had come from around the World. Pope Pius XII asked them:

“Young people, pleasure of the eyes of Jesus, are you determined to resist any attack on your chastity with the help of grace of God?”

A resounding “yes” was the answer.

That’s right, ladies: Better dead than not a virgin. Better to die than to survive rape.

Note that it was never attempting to fight off her rapist that made Maria great; it was her supposedly choosing death over sexual “impurity” — because apparently, being raped means that you’re impure. Did I mention she was 12?

And other Popes have followed suit with the Virginity or Death! theme:

Pope Pius XII was not the only Pope who had high praise for the Saint. While most saints are often left to local care after their canonization, St Maria Goretti received two Papal visits to her shrine. On September 14, 1969, Pope Paul VI visited her shrine in Nettuno and honored her with these words:

“The value of Christian virtue is so great, so overwhelming, so imperative, that it is worth more than life. Purity is not just a separate part of our being. It belongs to our existence as a whole, it is essential for our life. Purity brings us in harmony of body and soul.”[20]

Ten years later, on September 1, 1979, Pope John Paul II honored St Maria Goretti with a visit and spoke before thousands of faithful:

“Maria Goretti, so illuminating with her spiritual beauty, challenges us to a firm and secure faith in the Word of God, as the only source of truth, to remain firm against the temptations of this world.”

“Young people, look at Maria Goretti, don’t be tempted by the tempting atmosphere of our permissive society, which declares, everything is possible. Look to Maria Goretti, love, live, defend your chastity.”

“Young people, don’t be afraid to carry the torch of your life, light and ideals into modern society.”

Unless you’re raped or you have sex, in which case probably better to snuff out that torch.

Here’s the official prayer to Maria Goretti:

Oh Saint Maria Goretti who, strengthened by God’s grace, did not hesitate even at the age of twelve to shed your blood and sacrifice life itself to defend your virginal purity, look graciously on the unhappy human race which has strayed far from the path of eternal salvation. Teach us all, and especially youth,with what courage and promptitude we should flee for the love of Jesus anything that could offend Him or stain our souls with sin. Obtain for us from our Lord victory in temptation, comfort in the sorrows of life, and the grace which we earnestly beg of thee (here insert intention), and may we one day enjoy with thee the imperishable glory of Heaven. Amen.

Now there’s a message I want to send to my daughters.

UPDATE: Just go read Natalia.

UPDATE 2: Apparently the Maria Goretti story is a difficult one even for religious Catholics.

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35 comments for “And speaking of taking religion out of the public sphere…

  1. September 8, 2008 at 2:54 am

    Last year I wrote a paper on the politics of Christine de Pizan’s The Book of the City of Ladies, which was very progressive for being written in 1405, but obviously not quite up to modern feminist standards. In it, she names several female saints to show that men don’t have a monopoly on holiness, and I was really shocked by how many of them were venerated for dying instead of being raped. Of course, that was 1405.

    I clicked on that link to Maria Goretti expecting it to be around a similar period of time. Oh, it was actually 500 years later. Glad we’ve made so much progress there. “But still,” I thought, “that was 1900. Hardly anyone would think that way now.” Then I remembered that the opening of this post was about how her name is being used for an organization today. In 2008.

    What kind of sick fucks celebrate a 12-year-old’s suicide? There is no conceivable situation in which the suicide of a 12-year-old is a good thing. How did these people read about Jesus hanging out with prostitutes and get the message that it would be better to die than to have sex that you actively, desperately tried to avoid having?

    Oh, and “my little saint”? That really made my stomach physically turn.

  2. kara
    September 8, 2008 at 3:28 am

    Remember, abstinence is 100% effective against pregnancy and STDs. Unless you get raped. But wait! If you get raped, you should kill yourself! Otherwise you’re just a slut.

    Great message. Because we need more women blaming themselves for being attacked.

  3. CassieC
    September 8, 2008 at 4:12 am

    Thanks for researching this. This post is a keeper. Sometimes I think many pro-life Christians really just hate women – and sometimes I’m sure of it.

  4. Kate
    September 8, 2008 at 4:23 am

    I feel ill. I’m too horrified and disgusted to even articulate.

    If I was still remotely Catholic, it would all have ended about a minute ago.

  5. Bella
    September 8, 2008 at 4:39 am

    Ah, Maria Goretti. The parish church my family belonged to, when I was a kid, was St. Maria Goretti. In CCD classes, the story we read about her was very…vague. The line they used to describe how she came to be martyred was, “X___(the rapist) came to Maria Goretti, and wished to do evil with her.” She resisted, was killed, etc. That’s it. That’s all the explanation we got.

    I had no freaking clue what the “evil” he wanted to do with her was, seeing as I was about seven or eight at the time. I spent some time wondering exactly what it was he wanted to do with her. Rob a bank? Kill somebody? Steal something? It wasn’t until nearly 30 years later I actually thought to Google St. Maria Goretti, and found out the whole story. Better dead than raped. Awesome. There’s a reason I’m no longer a Catholic.

  6. Cactus Wren
    September 8, 2008 at 5:21 am

    Well, technically Maria Goretti’s death wasn’t a suicide. Quite. She was stabbed to death by her would-be rapist. But you’re right, that this was precisely the point of her “sainthood”: this child of not yet twelve made no attempt to defend herself from the knife. Instead she put all her effort into protecting her chastity, pleading, “No, no, Alessandro, it is against God’s wishes.”

    God’s wishes.

  7. September 8, 2008 at 7:11 am

    Thankfully, my endless years of Catholic education nearly glossed over this saint (out of a mutually agreed creepiness) until one of my classmates decided to take up the torch for her and I spent my last three years listening to an old white dude go on about how great it was that at 12 (“younger than all of you!”) she understood blah blah blah, what was that? I’m reading this comic book. These speeches popped up after school dances as punishment for choreographing “suggestive” dances to Destiny’s Child songs. I always thought the lecture was bullshit, and, I don’t think this a popular sentiment, but like many stories, find the premise a little sketchy.

  8. September 8, 2008 at 7:11 am

    I started writing a response, and it became an entire essay.

    Thank you for highlighting this, Jill.

  9. September 8, 2008 at 7:32 am

    I’ve never been keen on the whole sainthood doctrine anyway, on theological grounds.

    But when it’s used for something like this – to venerate a girl for being murdered and then using that as a reason to exonerate the paedophile who who did it to her…!

    *shudder* – just makes my skin crawl.

    It occurs to me that actually, the Biblical (Old Testament) requirement was that she should make a lot of noise to try to attract a rescuer, and if that doesn’t work, then she should just let him get on with it, and then marry her rapist afterwards. I’m pretty sure that there’s nothing in the Bible (Old or New Testament) that says anything about preferring death to rape victimhood.

    My conclusion is that this is about the cult of childhood, and that the story is preserved and retold precisely to cast children into a sexual image even as they are supposedly preserved from its taint – just as mainstream society seems to be doing with ever-increasing effectiveness today. In its way, the veneration of Saint Maria Goletti is itself a violation of young girls’ “purity”. And that’s even without going into the problems mentioned by everyone else in this thread.

    Incidentally, did you know that the patron saint of rape victims (St. Dymphna) is also a patron saint of sufferers of mental illness? There’s a wonderful pairing for you!

  10. September 8, 2008 at 7:41 am

    Oh, and I changed the title of that essay (in case anyone is wondering why the URL is slightly different). I didn’t want it to get bogged down in discussion of the Papacy itself.

    Incidentally, did you know that the patron saint of rape victims (St. Dymphna) is also a patron saint of sufferers of mental illness? There’s a wonderful pairing for you!

    I’m not surprised. Then again, I am one of those people who has PTSD, and will probably have it for the rest of my life. Maybe St. Dymphna can watch over me.

    *deep sigh*

  11. September 8, 2008 at 7:49 am

    What I also meant to add is that lots of survivors have PTSD (and other issues), and it’s nothing to be ashamed of (not that I think you were shaming anyone, Snowdrop).

  12. September 8, 2008 at 10:24 am

    I feel ill.

  13. prefer not to say
    September 8, 2008 at 10:45 am

    I can remember as a grade school student reading about Maria Gorettia and being — well, titillated, because in the middle of a Catholic school designed to shut down the discussion of sex, here was a book that was clearly all about lurid desire, sex, blood and murder. It was like standing at the drugstore book-rack and reading chapters from those true crime paperbacks — if it really happened, it must be ok to read about, right?

    I don’t pretend that my reaction was exemplary from either a feminist or catholic standpoint.

  14. September 8, 2008 at 10:49 am

    I don’t pretend that my reaction was exemplary from either a feminist or catholic standpoint.

    Well, our initial reactions rarely are, right?

    But it sounds like a completely normal response to the situation.

  15. prefer not to say
    September 8, 2008 at 11:00 am

    Oops — posted too soon. I meant to continue to say that — perhaps because of the strong titillation factor, no one in any position of authority at my school or my church ever mentioned Maria Goretti. Which was good for me.

    But still — it’s there. And a deeply weird story around which to organize a call to abstinence. If you want to encourage young people not to have sex so they can free their energy for school and ties to the community — fine. If you want to encourage young people to refrain from having sex because they need maturity to make responsible decisions in loving committed relationships, great. If you want to argue that abstinence is part of God’s plan, cool.

    But encouraging people not to have sex so they can identify with a terrifyingly violent encounter between a child molester and the child he molested and then murdered — and positioning abstinence as a struggle of that intensity — that seems to be offering kids a sick voyeuristic turn-on in the place of the orgasms you don’t want them to have.

  16. September 8, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    As a teen, I lived within walking distance of St. Maria Goretti church in New Orleans east (the ‘burbs for black people). Most of my classmates got confirmed over there. This post just brings back a lot of memories…

  17. September 8, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    Blessed Gianna, now saint is similarly praised for her “self immolation” in regards to choosing to bear a child rather than to abort/attempt surgery that could have caused a miscarriage and losing her life in the process, your virtue is worth more than your body, and more than your life according to these stories. I’ve always meant to post something in regards to this concept and you’ve just reminded me.

  18. Luna
    September 8, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    Ahh yeah. I remember reading about her. I was in Grade 9 at an all girls Catholic school. Boy, did I call out my Christian Ethics teacher on it.

    “So, if I”m raped and I live, it’s my sin?”
    “No. Rape is not your fault”
    “But she’s a saint for dying instead of “allowing” the rape”
    “So then, I should try to make him kill me rather than be raped?”
    “You’re being illogical. What if a man holds a gun to my head and says I have to have sex with him or I die. And I do. Is that my sin?”
    “Well, you do have to fight”
    “Against a gun? What chance do I have? You’re saying I should die”
    “Well, it’s not very clear. But rape is not your fault”
    “This is stupid. I’m not listening to this shit anymore” *stormed out*

    Yeah, the nun reamed me out for leaving the class and swearing, but that conversation there, that was the beginning of the end.

  19. Anna
    September 8, 2008 at 5:16 pm

    That’s disgusting.

    That does not speak for true Christianity, nor is it a view that would be regarded with anything but abhorrence in many circles.

    Even the most anti-woman etc Protestant I know would not dream of espousing such views – in fact, he counselled an abused child in the exact opposite manner, saying, “Your innocence has been stolen, but not your purity. God does not condemn you for what this evil man has done to you. God does condemn him.”

    I can’t belive that there are still people like that in the world.

  20. September 9, 2008 at 12:28 am

    I have three daughters below the age of 18. I thought it was enough to be concerned about the choices they make and hope they’re intelligent and self-preserving.

    I have failed them by not warning them about their chastity. ugh.

    This does remind me I should go over groin kicks, heel stomps and remind them that the heel of the hand striking the throat can disable an attacker–because I don’t want them dead, injured or traumatized and that no matter what, they are loved.

  21. JenLovesPonies
    September 9, 2008 at 8:23 am

    I just don’t understand religious people.

    As a Catholic, I believe St. Maria Goretti is a saint—end of story.

    This is from Dawn Eden, who was brave to admit the Maria thing is a little fucked up. But I just don’t understand the blind acceptance of whatever the Pope and his men have to say. Even if one considers merely the number of saints who later- oops!- turned out to have never, strictly speaking, have actually existed, is it really so unbelievable that men made a mistake in sainting a woman whose story makes women feel bad about themselves?

    Paul, commenting on her blog, complains that he would rather have a dead child than one who sinned. I am not a parent, granted, but I can’t imagine most people feel this way.

  22. September 9, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    Catholicism is not Christianity and there should never by any blind acceptance of what anyone says. It’s a very sad story indeed.

  23. Misspelled
    September 9, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    I decided not to make my confirmation, but if I had, and I’d known who Maria Goretti was, I might’ve taken her as my saint just out of solidarity with the poor kid. Imagine being essentially killed by the patriarchy at the age of twelve, and then even after you die they don’t leave you and your sexuality alone. If I were her I’d want a little feminist representation in the Church.

  24. Maria
    September 9, 2008 at 8:53 pm

    I went to Catholic school for 13 years and when we had to do reports on saints with our names I always got stuck with this one. Even at the time I thought it was a lame story – now I find it downright creepy; particularly the part where her attacker prays to her as “my little saint.” Yuck.

  25. scott t buxton
    September 17, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    Ok, well this is an example of church heirarchy getting it wrong. First, catholics are Christians so they should know you don’t pray to “saints” or “loved ones” A Christian prays to Jesus Christ as inspired and helped by the Holy Spirit. Many of you should stop scoffing at that notion and actually try it. As for the abstinence part, well sexual promiscuity does come with it’s share of problems, but those are personal choices but a close relationship with God does help people make the right choices. As for the forgiveness part, well that’s real love. let God judge, of course if you don’t believe in God it does open the door to do whatever you want…vigiliantism, hate, immoral and lued behavoir, lack of honor, valueing money and power and status over love, etc, etc, etc,…here’s my advice:::

    stop paying attention to those who “rule” as religious leaders and go ahead and Read and Study The BIBLE yourself…It IS the Word of God….God is and has spoken to you. It is on you, no one else, if you refuse to listen. God bless you and honestly if you have something to say or ask please feel free to email me at

  26. Kim
    September 18, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    Okay, I stumbled upon this blog by accident and could not help but read. Seriously some of you people are very misguided in your thinking.

    First off, Maria Goretti did not kill herself- she died from the attack on her.

    Second, she forgave her would-be rapist – which is a very admirable and Christ-like thing to do. I don’t think very many people could do that. She was laying they dying, bleeding, gasping for air, however she forgave the man who put her in that state.

    Third, and the most important point to make, is that St. Maria Goretti defended her purity with her life because it was God’s will for her to remain a virgin. The Lord does not expect all woman to take this course of action.

    The reasoning behind her canonization is NOT that she protected her virginity at all costs because it is better to die that be raped. It is because from a very early age St. Maria Goretti was chosen by God to lead a holy life.

    If you actually learned her complete story, you would know that she had hopes of becoming a nun and dedicating her life to the Lord. Nuns are the brides of Christ and that is why they remain chaste. For HER, an attack on her virginity was the worst thing that could happen because she valued it in a different way that other people.

    The story is a positive one for girls because it shows real strength, courage, love, compassion, forgiveness, honor, most importantly dedication to the will of God. You know the traits that the feminists have all decided are weak.

    I know I am talking to a brick wall here, but I said my peace. Hopefully someone out there will benefit from this truth and at least understand what I’m talking about.

  27. Kim
    September 18, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    Catholics DO pray to saints because they take our prayers to God. For example, if someone dies in a Protestant church – is it natural for the family of that person to ask the other members of the church to pray for them? You hear that all the time, “Please keep us in your prayers,” or “I’m going through a hard time, please pray for me.” Someone else is talking to God on your behalf.

    What is wrong with praying to someone that has died, that you are sure is in heaven with God, a “saint”, making friends with them and having an advocate in heaven to compliment your own prayers to God.

    And although the statement that Catholics aren’t Christians is almost too ignorant to respond to, I can’t help but mention a few facts:

    That dear Bible you hold in your hands, was put together by the Catholic Church – formed as a guide to say the Holy Mass, not for you to read and interpret as you see fit.

    Christ was not even a Christian, he was a Jew until the day he died. Jesus handed the keys to his Church, “community”, to St. Peter – which started the formation of the Christian faith. Which was called Catholicism for about 1400 years.

    Then Martin Luther came around to reform the corrupted Catholic Church, the wrong people stepped in and bang, Protestants without a clue.

    Google it honey, educate yourself before spewing ignorant filth from your fingers or mouth.

  28. September 19, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    I don’t profess to be an expert on St. Maria Goretti, but this discussion seems to be missing a few basic points, at least from my perspective.

    What was exemplary was that she stood up and said no. No, I won’t let you violate me. No, it’s my body, you have no right to it and I’m not afraid to tell you that. How is that anti-feminist?

    The fact that she stood no chance against her attacker is tragic, it’s what makes her a martyr.

    But, were she to not have resisted, she wouldn’t have been a saint, but nor could she be held responsible for the actions of her assailant. Either way, she didn’t stand a chance. It’s her courage in the situation that was noted.

    I don’t understand where the “better dead than not a virgin” came from. Where’s the “better off dead”?

    She’s a saint because, in the face of grave danger, she stood up for her beliefs. And, you know, against someone trying to rape her.

    I guess it’s unfeminist not to submit to rapists?

  29. Emily
    September 22, 2008 at 11:20 pm

    I cannot believe I missed this when you first posted it, Jill! The story of Maria Goretti seriously makes me nauseous…and for that matter, so does Gianna Molla (thanks for pointing that out, Ophelia). No matter what the church apologists says, their actions, and those of their people, speak louder than any words: better a dead woman (or child!) than a sexually “compromised” one, whether the compromised comes from doing whatever it might take to survive a rape, or doing whatever it might take to save your own life (Molla left behind other children. So, so sad.)

    And in reference to what Bella said: “Better dead than raped. Awesome. There’s a reason I’m no longer a Catholic.” Soooooooo right there with you. And for a multitude of other reasons!

  30. Kim
    September 23, 2008 at 11:28 am

    Emily, listen to yourself- you are so unreasonably bitter. Why? The statement “Better dead than raped,” means nothing to this story! It has absolutely nothing to do with why she is a Saint or with the moral of the whole story.

    There is not Catholic out there that agrees with that statement – accept maybe a woman like Maria who believes it is God’s will for her to remain a virgin (and she accepts God’s will and has faith) – or besides this maybe some whacked-out extremist – but for ALL the rest of us – “Better dead than raped” is ridiculous!

    I would suggest refraining from talking about it any longer until you overcome your ignorance – it really just makes you look bad.

    Blaise Alleyne, great post!

  31. Emily
    September 23, 2008 at 2:05 pm

    Hey Kim? I spent years in an ultra-Catholic environment and am understandably quite sick of it. You’re on my turf now–a feminist one. If I’m bitter, it’s reasonably so– because of people like you who denigrate women, normal women, and uphold those who insist death is preferable to losing their virginity. What’s unfeminist, to Blaise Alleyne, is to twist and pervert the story of a poor 12 year old girl and hold it over young girls, rape survivors, and even teenage boys, I suppose, heads.

    I’m not ignorant, my dear Kim. I’m fed up.

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