Considering the ever-unfolding revelations about ongoing and pervasive cases of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in America, Ireland, Germany, and most likely everywhere else, the more that I wonder if the Satanic-Panic mongers of the 1980s and 1990s were tapping into something they couldn’t understand. That there was “organized abuse”, but that it wasn’t being done by an underground network of “Satanists” or “Witches”, but by the Christian forces for “good” they were supposed to trust. Of course, being broadly correct about an epidemic of abuse doesn’t absolve the panic-mongers that have destroyed lives, fabricated testimony, enriched con-men, tainted our legal system with bad information, created a subculture that still believes in the lies, and sent innocent men and women to prison for crimes they didn’t commit.
Now, in addition to dealing with the real issue of pervasive abuse by Catholic clergy (and some Protestant clergy), we also have to reckon with the ongoing fallout from the years when SRA (Satanic Ritual Abuse) was riding high and receiving serious attention from folks like Oprah and the television news magazine 20/20.
One high-profile case of the damage SRA did to an already fragile mind is that of Steven Richard Burky, 37, a born-again Christian who was recently institutionalized after stalking actress Jennifer Garner.
“In a February 2008 e-mail to a film crew member, he begged that Garner be warned about a vision he had had. “The vision shows that a persecution may take place in broad daylight against Jennifer Garner for her faith in Jesus Christ,” it said. “The vision showed Mrs. Garner surrounded by a mob in public. “It also involves the possible emergence of a dark secret in America. The presence of illicit witchcraft going on in this country, and illicit sacrifices.” After hearing testimony from two shrinks, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Katherine Mader found Burky not of sound mind when he violated the order of protection in December and showed up near the Santa Monica nursery school where the couple’s kids, Violet and Seraphina, attend. He was ordered to Patton State Hospital indefinitely and won’t be allowed out until doctors declare him mentally fit.”
Who knows what sorts of “therapy” Burky, a teenager during the height of Satanic Panic, went through. Does he believe he participated in human sacrifices? That he was the pawn of a vast underground Satanic conspiracy? It all seems ludicrous to talk about until you realize that seemingly educated people believe in those exact things, and that the clearly falsified testimony of former “Witches” and “Satanists” (now with “Vampires” thrown in too) are still being used in mainstream Christian media outlets.
None of this is meant to say that abuse doesn’t happen within Pagan communities, it does, and it’s a painful tragedy. But that abuse, horrific as it is, isn’t the result of some pervasive underground networking cult, but instead the damaged and twisted minds of individual predators who found our communities useful hunting grounds. The same could be said for sexual abusers in many other circumstances as well. What’s unique about the current news-making controversies is the fact that a large religious hierarchy and bureaucracy did indeed use its power and scope to shelter monsters, taking on the contours of the fictions peddled by (largely) evangelical snake-oil salesmen. But any (cold) comfort one may receive from knowing that our communities have been largely exonerated from these charges is washed away knowing that we still have to worry about politicians who participated in this madness getting elected to positions of power, and a legal system that still jails kids for listening to the wrong kind of music and reading the wrong kind of books.