Jennie Goodman’s Story

After The Rain

The story had a state governor, an archbishop, a young girl and a lesson in power.

A story that seemed to fit the cruel, grey November skies. As if the Governor of Illinois and the Archbishop of Chicago were competing banks of storm clouds. Not just two guys arguing over a young girl who was raped.

And if the two men, the Governor and the Archbishop, perhaps fancied themselves storm clouds, perhaps the young victim was like that feeling a person gets just before the rain.

What the two men were arguing about was that the Governor wanted to give the woman an award for advocating for the rights of women, and especially rape victims. And the Archbishop’s point was that “baby killers” and the organizations they represent must not be honored.

The woman’s name was Jennie Goodman. That we even know her name is the lesson in power. Course, I didn’t know that. Had no idea. Not till Pastor Pete helped me figure it out. But that comes later.

The attack happened a long time ago. She was 18.
Jennie Goodman came from the green lawn suburbs of Chicago. Quiet, leafy streets where stuff like this just did not happen.

Not until l that summer morning in 1991 when the football player bad boy she knew from school stopped by her house just as she had gotten up. Looking at her kind of funny. Asking, “Is there someplace we could go where your mother wouldn’t hear us?”

And because this was the suburbs, there was a small shed out back of the house. Jennie Goodman said “Sure.” She figured maybe they’d make out. It would be exciting. He was a football player.

What happened in the shed. The rape. The violation beyond words. It of course changed her life.

And if I think about this too much . . . .I am outraged beyond words. The violation of the most vulnerable being a violation of us all. Ripping us all apart at the very place where we all connect.

In my imagination, I am gripping an oily, cold metal AK-47. They are not that hard to get here in Chicago. I can tell you the corner where they are sold. And if I would have been there, if Jennie Goodman just happened to be my sister, my friend, I would use the gun.

Which is why I thought I better go see Pastor Pete.

Pastor Pete didn’t have a church at the moment. But he was working. When you are called, like Pastor Pete, you’re always working. So I knew if I found him we could talk. Pastor Pete wasn’t a company man.

He was not a passive aggressive, pandering purveyor of the cloth. A preacher who put up signs of the side of the church that said things like: “God loves you. Whether you know it or not.”

He might marvel at how many things were wrong with that statement. But he would never say it.

Pastor Pete. Grey haired ponytail. Five foot 4. A whirling bundle of electricity with a current of kindness when he preached. As if the comedian Sam Kinnison has somehow come alive in Wisconsin.

Pastor Pete would help. Who knows? He might even help me pull the trigger when I told him about Jennie Goodman. You gotta love a Pastor who knew when to say “Fuck it.”

But I hoped he wouldn’t. I hoped he would help me control how much I wanted to make that guy pay for what he did to Jennie Goodman.

Pastor Pete and I met at Hot Doug’s. Best hot dogs in Chicago. When I walked in, he was ordering everything with an extra side of cheese.

I got right down to it.

“Why does a good God let this happen! This women has been raped. Now she’s a political football between the Governor and the catholic church. That simply isn’t fair! And I can’t help thinking, Pastor Pete, ‘Why God why?”

Pastor Pete took a long low bite of his cheese dog. Scooped up his cheese fries. And gave me this answer.

“Roger? I don’t know.”

“You don’t know! But you’re a Pastor! Why can’t you tell me WHY??”

“Because that’s not the question.”

“What do you mean it’s not the question?

“If I could answer “Why God why?” than I’d be. . . .”

“Oh, Wait. I get it. How do you answer “Why?” without you being God too?”

“Yep” He nodded, chewing on the cheese covered corn dog he had gotten on the side. “Why God why?” is an unanswerable question.” At least for those of us who are not God.

“OK. That’s nice. But I still don’t have an answer to why this woman was raped and now 20 years later is still paying for it. This time by being a political football”

“Maybe you need a different question.”


“How about this question. ‘Where God, where?’

“What does that mean?”

“It means, ‘Where is God in all of this horror show?’”

“ I sure don’t see much of God in all of this.”

“Well,” he took a sip of his coke, “You see the headlines yesterday. Jennie Goodman saying to the Catholic hierarchy, “How dare you?”

“Yeah. So?”

“Well, what was different about Jennie Goodman’s story?”

“That she came forward? Pastor, you know how hard that is. You know that it’s a set up for a second round of attacks. She’s a rape counselor. I bet she’d never tell a victim that coming forward was her best option.’

“Probably not. But I’m not talking about advice. I’m talking about the raw courage it took to put yourself out there. I’m talking about why she’s getting that award in the first place. For what her coming forward says to the countless unnamed victims, also brutalized, for the message that maybe taking back your power is possible. For communicating by what she does that maybe there is hope.

That message. Right there. The one you can’t see. The one you’ll never know till you look for in. Wrapped in pain. Like a shining light. A light. One that says maybe there is hope.”

“And that’s where God is?”

“Could be. Of course figuring that out is up to you. Hope is awfully hard to see.”


“And then, “ the Pastor finished off the last of his cheese fries, “there’s also the other part.”

“Which part is that, Pastor Pete?”

“The part where when she came out, gave her name, told her story, then the catholic hierarchy could no longer use her as a football to pummel the governor. The church backed down. Said that had they known she was a rape victim, they would have found some other way to beat on the governor.”

“So it was all right to criticize the governor for giving an award to a woman who advocated for a women’s right to control their own body. But when the woman was a rape victim. . .then never mind. They were sorry?”

“Yep,” said Pastor Pete.

“That must have had some PR flack working overtime.”

“Hah!” laughed Pastor Pete. “Takes an awful lot of power to make the church back down. But that woman did it. She did it. I remember when I used to think that ‘turning the other cheek’ was a passive act. She sure showed how wrong THAT thought was.”

“Interesting thought.” I said. ‘Turning the other cheek doesn’t have to be passive act.’ “Well there was nothing passive about Jennie Goodman.”

“Yep” said Pastor Pete. “She’s not about passive. She is all about power.”

“She is all about power. She is no one’s victim anymore.”

“Yep.” Said Pastor Pete. “She took back the power. God bless her.”

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