Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Father Klaus Mertes on False Victimization Claims of Catholic Hierarchy in Abuse Crisis: Application to Father James Martin's Bridge-Building Project

I've recently asked several questions that seem to me imperative for us to ask, if we're to take seriously Father James Martin's proposal for bridge-building between the Catholic hierarchy and the LGBTQ community. Here's one of those questions

An important question that absolutely has to be asked here, if any of what Father Martin is saying is to be grounded in reality, in the reality of the U.S. Catholic church as it now exists: 
Where, for goodness' sake, is that "dialogue with bishops" of which Father Martin speaks actually taking place? 
Where are the bishops who are making it their business to invite LGBTQ Catholics to sit down with them, talk with them, meet them as human beings? Father Martin is absolutely right when he notes that the ideal, in the idealized dialogue situation he is sketching, is that those involved in the dialogue must learn to respect not merely titles, offices, façades, but individuals.  
A precondition of any dialogue process in which we learn to respect each other as individuals is that we meet as human beings, beyond titles, offices, and façades.

When you don't intend to talk to a group of people you've long excluded from your conversation (while you pretend that the conversation is inclusive and respectful), what better way to justify your adamant determination to keep ignoring them — to keep pretending they are not even there and do not exist — than to accuse them of disrespect as they employ the best tools at their disposal to knock down the door of your pretenses about wanting open, inclusive, respectful dialogue?

I'm addressing quite specifically the claim of Father Martin that the project of bridge-building vis-a-vis the Catholic hierarchy and the LGBTQ community must be mutual, must demand respect from both sides, and must acknowledge that members of the hierarchy often feel they have been treated disrespectfully by the LGBTQ community. As we think through these matters, I'd like to point you today to a lecture given by Father Martin's fellow Jesuit Father Klaus Mertes at Oxford University. The lecture, entitled "A Traumatised and Traumatising Institution: Reflections on the Sexual Abuse Crisis in the Catholic Church," was presented at St. Benet's Hall Oxford on 1 November 2016 as a William E. Simon Foundation lecture.

As his lecture title indicates, Father Mertes is commenting on the response of the pastoral leaders of the Catholic church to victims of sexual abuse. Though LGBTQ Catholics have not suffered the gross violations that those sexually abused as minors by religious authority figures suffer, and I don't want to claim that the two sets of church members are on the same footing in their experience of abuse, LGBTQ Catholics are, nonetheless, victims of institutional abuse engineered by the pastoral leaders of the church.

And the defensive dynamics used to dismiss the testimony of sexual abuse survivors are very much like the defensive dynamics used to ignore and belittle LGBTQ Catholics seeking a hearing for our own stories of abuse at the hands of the institution. Father Mertes zeroes in on the pronounced defensiveness of the Catholic hierarchy when members of the hierarchy are asked to meet abuse victims face to face, to hear their stories, and to talk to them. As he says, faced with these demands, a predictable tactic of the hierarchy is to depict itself as the victimized and abused party, the disrespected party.

He states,

But the institution's self-assessment as a victim and the feeling in the institution of being a victim makes one blind to the victims of abuse and deaf to their stories. This is why it is a "temptation" spiritually speaking. There is a chronological order which must be observed if the process of clarification is to succeed. First the victims of abuse must be heard. To let the words of the victims get to one, one must sort out one's own feelings of being a victim: yes, the awful truth will hurt, but at first it is not about the institution, and not about the church. The church should not act as a victim when it encounters victims of abuse in the church.

Several points leap out at me as I read this valuable analysis:

1. The (false) victim mentality makes members of the hierarchy blind and deaf to victims of abuse and their stories. Those we cannot see and hear do not exist for us. They are not there. They are not human in the same way we are human. And so we can ignore them.

2. There is a chronological order which must be observed if the process of clarification is to succeed. First the victims of abuse must be heard.

In the questions I am asking about Father Martin's project, I am asking — a fundamental and very important question that must be asked about the project, it seems to me — where and when the Catholic hierarchy has begun soliciting the testimony of LGBTQ Catholics about our experience with the church. Where and when are members of the hierarchy meeting with us face to face and asking to hear our stories — to see us and hear us? As human beings . . . .

If there has been no first in this proposed dialogue, then the bridge-building dialogue is spurious, it seems to me, and talking about it is diversionary. Such talk applies a bandaid to a deep wound that should not be covered over in this way, if the church wants the festering to stop. 

Only when there has been such a first can any talk about the presumed or purported disrespect of the LGBTQ community for the Catholic hierarchy be meaningful at all. What first has to be dealt with is the extreme disrespect of the Catholic hierarchy for LGBTQ human beings demonstrated by the refusal of the hierarchy and its cheerleaders to open the door to face-to-face meetings with members of the LGBTQ community, to solicit our stories, to listen to them respectfully. 

If this is happening anywhere in the Catholic church in the U.S., I am completely unaware of it.

I want to acknowledge Catherine Pepinster's article today at Religion News Service on abuse in the Church of England and Lord George Carey's involvement in covering it up as my source for information about Father Mertes' lecture. 

The photo of Father Mertes is from his Wikipedia entry, and has a Creative Commons license making it available for online sharing with attribution.

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