Friday, October 19, 2012

Spiritual Food Poisoning

James Preece of Catholic and Loving It comments on my recent post, The Pattern, and affirms what I suggest, which is (to quote James), "The problem is that we haven't tried to fix the culture that enabled sex abuse, we've just made sex abuse a special case.

I encourage you to follow the link and read his very well-written article.  In it, he strikes upon an apt metaphor.

I don't think it would be fair to talk about a "culture of abuse", because I'm quite sure the majority of Catholics are not in favour of abuse and do not encourage or perpetrate abuse. What we are talking about is a culture which is favourable to abuse. It's like storing raw meat in a warm place. Warmth itself is not food poisoning, but it is better to keep food in the fridge.
Indeed, this bad spiritual food-hygiene leads to abuse of many varieties.  As in spoiled meat, the culture that springs up is a bacterial and a poisonous culture.

Preece describes this culture and hits upon the heart of the problem ...
 Looking at the definition of "abuse" we find that the word essentially means "misuse". That's why there are so many kinds of abuse such as verbal abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, substance abuse and so on. We call it abuse when somebody misuses a person sexually but we also use the word in other ways, like "I let my daughter have access to the biscuit jar but she abused the privilege".

Clearly, the crimes are different. I am most definitely not suggesting that a little girl who steals biscuits commits the same crime as a grown man who rapes little girls. That would be ludicrous. I am simply observing that we use the same word for both instances because fundamentally we recognise that the same phenomena is at work: All abuse is essentially a misuse of power.

In the case of the Church, what we are dealing with a misuse of the power of those in a position of authority. 
From bitter personal experience I can tell you with certainty that this abuse of clerical power does not belong in the past tense. It belongs firmly in the present tense because it happens today with alarming regularity. It happens whenever a bishop or a priest takes it upon himself to use his clerical status as a magic ring that grants him the power to act with impunity.

So yes, that includes priests who rape children but it also includes priests that misuse their power in other ways. Priests who decide at their own whim to mislead people about the teaching of the Church or to commit acts of "liturgical abuse" such as modifying prayers to suit their own political agenda.
And yes, as Preece notes, sex abuse is far more horrific than liturgical abuse.  But the difference is in degree, not in kind.  Abuse of the liturgy, abuse of Catholic teaching and abuse of a child are all varying degrees of the same thing - the latter being the most obviously horrific.

It's all of the same kind because all of this abuse is abuse of power.  Preece continues ...

Once again, I am most definitely not suggesting that the priest who rapes a child commits the same crime as the priest who "merely" lies to one. What I am saying is this: Both men are abusing clerical power. Both men are protected by the same culture that protects and encourages priests who abuse their position of authority.
Things appear to be much worse in England, where James Preece is Catholic and somehow still "Loving It".  The bishops there appear to be emulating their Anglican counterparts - worshipping Indifferentism in all its aspects - the word meaning both "all religions are the same" and "I'm sure the hell indifferent to anything that's going on in my diocese". 

And on this side of the pond, we may have more "Devout Catholics" here and fewer Indifferent ones, but we are seeing a kind of Second Coming as envisaged by Yeats where "the best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity" - and both the best and the worst seem to lack the one essential for Christian life - love - charity, caritas, care

Our friend the Unknown Poet sums it up this way in my previous post ...

We don't care, you see. That's what it comes down to.

We don't really care. If we cared, our churches would not be as ugly as shopping malls, as ugly as sin. If we cared our church hymns would not be contrived and hollow shells of narcissism-set-to-music. If we cared, babies wouldn't die in the womb. If we cared, we wouldn't have bad poems, bad songs, bad art. If we cared, bishops wouldn't turn a blind eye to liturgical abuse, to child abuse, to God-abuse.
We have all grown up in a culture that is a bacterial culture, a poisonous growth. 

It's time we stopped leaving the meat out.


John Shuster said...

This food poisioning analogy is somewhat clever and entertainingc, but how does it translate into reality? How does it resolve thousands of unresolved clergy sex crimes? How does it help survivors find healing, justice and reconstructive compensation so that they can get their lives back and live what is left to the fullest?

Kevin O'Brien said...

John, I don't know. All I can say is the truth will set us free - somehow.

For those of us who have suffered some form of mis-use at the hands of the Church, or at the hands of anyone we trusted, seeing the pattern for what it is, understanding the anatomy of the sins involved, does indeed help.

The pain may not be less, but the understanding is greater. And that's a step in the right direction.

Kay4Justice said...

We (I) was brainwashed to buy and serve the jello. In reality, we were all brainwashed and many of we survivors still are. Once the brainwashing is undone and we are free to walk away from church and all that it represents, healing can begin. We never fully heal, but we can use what we have learned about the reality of the ways we were brainwashed to counter the damage.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Well, Kay, "all that it (the Church) represents" includes love of neighbor, social justice, the redemption of pain and suffering through sacraficial love, and so forth. And the importance of protecing the innocent. Those teachings are not brainwashing, they are profound truth.

It's the poisoned cultre and the abuse of power that brainwashes; that denies in action the truth the Church teaches.

Clearly, though, separating the good at the heart of the Church and the bad that so many of her members do is not easy.

Enlightenment said...

nice written

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