Monday, October 5, 2009

A Reader Responds: Catholic Abuse Crisis Is about Privilege, Power, and Sociopathic Mindset

I want to publish one more reader-response posting today, as I follow up on comments made here in the past several days. I blogged Friday about Tom Roberts’s reflections on the “indefensible defense” by Vatican spokesman Archbishop Silvano Tomasi of the official Catholic response to revelations of extensive abuse of minors by Catholic religious authority figures. Tomasi suggests that abuse is no less common in other faith communities, and that in the Catholic church, it has been directed to young male adolescents targeted by gay priests—not to children.

In response to my posting, a reader, Thomas Michael Barnes, posted the following powerful statement:

As a victim of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of nuns and a few priests in grade school and high school and an attempted rape at the hands of a priest in college, I speak from personal experience. This has very little to do with sex.
This is about privilege. And power. And a sociopathic mindset within Catholic clergy (to include nuns and brothers) that sees parishioners, especially children, as property. This is essentially a Middle Ages institutional world view among people who live a lifestyle little changed from the Middle Ages and foisted upon the serfs, the peasants, the parishioners.
This is a study in management. This is an organizational development problem, a leadership and training problem inside of an institution that models itself on organizational behaviors that originated approximately 1,ooo A.D.
This really has little to do with individuals seeing themselves as possessing the right to rape children or adolescents. What this is really about is a clerical class seeing themselves as having the right to do anything, ANYTHING, they wish to do with the serfs.
What this really is, is a pre-medieval/medieval mindset brought forward into the empirical era of human history. This is about an institutional management style whose time has come...and gone...over seven hundred years ago.
This is about serfs (i.e. parishioners) being bound to the land (i.e. remaining faithful to the church and her dogmas) and therefore being open to clergy for abuse.
This is about the clerical class taking their privileges with the barely human among them.

As I said in Friday’s posting, there is absolutely no way the abuse situation in the Catholic church will be addressed effectively unless we listen carefully to the voices of those who have survived childhood abuse by religious authority figures, and who have found the courage to speak out. The abuse crisis is all about the abuse of power by those leading the Catholic church. Until the unequal power dynamics created in the church by the clerical system are addressed honestly, the abuse will continue.

Thomas Michael Barnes captures the problem with moving clarity. His voice needs to be heard—as does that of Suzanne Morse of the Pew Partnership for Civic Change, who published a reflection last week in National Catholic Reporter about the strong obligation all Catholics have to address the needs of survivors of clerical sexual abuse.

Morse notes several important lessons we need to learn from the abuse crisis. These include the recognition that

1. Those making accusations of sexual abuse are always doubted.
2. You can’t always predict the perpetrator.
3. Sexual abuse of minors always has long-standing effects on a person’s life.

I recommend Morse’s article as another recent educational resource for those concerned with these issues. And I highly recommend Thomas Michael Barnes’s statement, as the testimony of an adult survivor of childhood abuse by Catholic authority figures. It is essential to hear such testimony, if we expect to move forward in this area.