‘Compassion is harder to accept than condemnation when you feel as disgusting and horrible as I do,” Ryan Loskarn wrote before he took his own life.
His mother posted his suicide note on the Internet, hoping that his words might help even “one person who is suffering in silence.”
“In the aftermath of my arrest and all that followed, the mental equilibrium I had created to deal with my past is gone,” Loskarn wrote.
Loskarn was arrested late last year on child-pornography charges. He was a chief of staff for a senator at the time. “Rising star” was a word previously used to describe him. Now he’s dead.
Looking at how this all ever came to pass should be a non-partisan issue. This is an evil and a darkness that does not know party discrimination. Our media culture thrives on scandal and crime. Behind these tawdry headlines is raw humanity — often deeply broken hearts and desperate souls.
In Loskarn’s letter, he reveals the sexual abuse he experienced as a child, which he didn’t seek help for. In the letter, he seems to be trying to understand what he did, without excusing it. He addresses the children who appeared in the pornographic images he collected: “I should have known better. I perpetuated your abuse and that will be a burden on my soul for the rest of my life.”
The criminal complaint against Loskarn is repulsively graphic. His letter provides a fuller view of the darkness that imprisoned him. If you’re angry reading about abhorrent pornographic material involving children, imagine yourself drawn to and sharing it. You might feel the self-hatred Loskarn did.
“Like so many people who attempt or complete suicide, this young man found himself in a situation of intolerable suffering, where suicide appeared to be his only way out — the only available escape hatch,” Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, author of “The Catholic Guide to Depression,” says. “This is a lie, of course, and we have a responsibility to reach out and encounter people who are trapped in this prison of suicidal thinking to offer them a sense of hope. To anyone who feels trapped — whether due to depression, shame and humiliation, or any other affliction — we need to communicate that there is hope, and there are other options, other avenues of healing.”
Loskarn’s letter reveals a blend of a “feeling of hopelessness and despair at his situation and a plea for forgiveness for what he has done,” Helen Smith, a forensic psychologist and author of “Men on Strike,” observes.
“It’s a terrible tragedy that he never sought professional help for dealing with the legacy of the abuse,” Ed Mechmann, who oversees the Safe Environment Program of the Archdiocese of New York, comments.
“Sadly, it is very common for people who were abused in childhood to keep their victimhood secret indefinitely,” Dawn Eden, author of “My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints,” reflects. “A recent study indicates that about one-third of children who were sexually abused by an adult never tell anyone. The same study reports that more than 80 percent of children abused by a peer likewise keep it a secret.”
“Speaking as a victim,” Eden says, “I do believe that an adult who is in denial about his or her abuse is more likely to be a danger, first, to himself, and, second, to others. But if he gets help, he can, over time, not only improve, but flourish, psychologically and spiritually in ways that did not seem possible. There are no quick fixes, but your life begins to get better the moment you begin the hard work of getting well.”
Loskarn’s death is tragic because there is help available. His death was a response to a lie that he was beyond help and redemption. It is cause for reflection on what we watch and read and say and cover. “The news coverage of my spectacular fall makes it impossible for me to crawl in a hole and disappear,” Loskarn wrote. “I’ve hurt every single human being I’ve ever known and the details of my shame are preserved on the Internet for all time. There is no escape.”
No one should ever feel alone and imprisoned in thoughts and memories. Pope Francis has described the Church as a field hospital for the wounded after battle -- and it’s an institution that has experienced its own battles against abuse and secrecy, and learned valuable lessons from them.
The Pope’s quote “suggests that the world has become a war zone, where countless people are lying spiritually wounded and in dire need of help. Our pornography-saturated culture wounds people, even and especially in their tender early years when they are exposed to pornography, or to the kind of sexual abuse that pornography encourages. Loskarn was one of these wounded souls.”
Loskarn’s innocence was stolen from him, and he never recovered. He needed to encounter the depth of God’s love and grace. So many do. That’s why society needs people of faith who feel that obligation to serve, out of love of God and thanksgiving for His mercy.
Don’t settle for pain and false encounter. Don’t just curse the darkness, either: Turn on a lamp, insist on light.
(Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online, director of Catholic Voices USA and a consultant with the Magnificat Foundation. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)