In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius implores us to bring to light things that are in the shadows. It is in the shadows, he notes, that sin, secrecy and shame find fertile ground. The news cycle of 2018 has brought the pain of countless people out of the shadows thanks to the truth-telling by brave survivors of sexual abuse.
The most recent revelations come from women accusing Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court. Christine Blasey Ford accused Mr. Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a party while he was a student at the all-boys Jesuit high school, Georgetown Prep, my alma mater. On Sunday, a second woman came forward with an allegation of sexual misconduct by Mr. Kavanaugh that occured when he was a freshman at Yale.
I do not know if Mr. Kavanaugh is guilty, but his comment, made in a speech in 2015, that “what happens at Georgetown Prep, stays at Georgetown Prep,” even if made in jest, evidences a toxic understanding of what brotherhood entails.
To be any kind of brother is to be a consoler, counselor and friend.
My time at Georgetown Prep was the seed of my vocation as a Jesuit brother, though I did not know it at the time. It was there I learned that brotherhood meant service. I was taught to question social ills and think of creative responses to injustice. It is time to apply that same thinking to toxic brotherhood. Lucky for us, Jesus our brother models what this should look like: including the excluded, listening to those on the margins and washing each others’ feet.
I became a Jesuit brother because I wanted to be a companion to others: the excluded, the shunned, the shamed and the lonely. As brothers, we are companions on life’s journey in mutual relationship with those we walk alongside. Brothers are members of the laity, like religious sisters, who do not offer sacraments but rather our very selves. It is because of how we have been formed by the people of God that we know the importance of this role. Goodness springs from this filial relationship dynamic: honesty, fidelity, service, companionship and calling out the best in one another.
It is time to redefine and rebuild what brotherhood entails.
To be any kind of brother is to be a consoler, counselor and friend. It is because the nature of brotherhood is a relationship rooted in service that I find it so problematic to see the idea of brotherhood used as a cloak for privilege and secrecy. I am fully aware of the toxic side of false brotherhood. Decades of church leaders covering up sexual abuse, deadly hazing at fraternities, police closing ranks around their own after unjustified shootings of people of color, sexual assault against women in the military—these are examples of toxic brotherhood on a wide scale.
When unchecked, this secrecy can become abusive, giving rise to rituals and traditions that have nothing to do with God or building authentic community. This is the root of hazing: doing things one would not normally do in the name a false “brotherhood.” Brotherhood becomes code for exclusion and secrecy: “Don’t tell on us because it would look bad for the group, and you wouldn’t want that, would you?” The sense, either spoken or not, that “snitches get stitches” needs to be done away with in schools and workplaces and the church. This model of false brotherhood is loaded with silence and violence.
It is time to redefine and rebuild what brotherhood entails. Brotherhood in its true form is meant to foster community. But when that community seeks to preserve its own power and prestige, the result is a shadow culture where terrible things happen and no one speaks up. Combine this with privilege and alcohol, and it is a recipe for disaster shrouded in secrecy, isolation and self-protection: precisely the kind of shadow existence that St. Ignatius tells us to avoid.