Three Factors Contributing to Abuse

Other blogs are covering the stunning publication from Sydney Bishop Geoffrey Robinson deeply critical of the Church’s approach to power and sex.  I trust readers to be able to find and ferret out their own links to this story, but I’m going to focus on just one thing Bishop Robinson mentioned in his interview with Barney Zwartz of The Age:

Abuse is most likely when three factors come together to create a “murky” climate: an unhealthy psychological state, unhealthy ideas about power and sex, and an unhealthy environment, according to Robinson.

The bishop’s assessment is dead-on.

In many places, bishops got serious about the psychological fitness of seminary candidates. Despite whining from some commentators, bringing psychological methods to bear has screened many unhealthy men from doing damage to themselves and others.

It’s heartening to see Bishop Robinson identify power and its misuse as part of the core problem. Sex doesn’t quite cover all the sins of the clergy and bishops. Other problems: substance abuse, misogyny, and even immaturity all hearken back to the abuse of authority.

Too many bishops have been careless in the care of their clergy. Cardinal George and Cardinal Egan are two prelates who seem to be over their heads. Are they ready for the job of being an archbishop? Or are their dioceses just too darn big?

The incongruity of most seminaries training clergy in a communal setting only to set them loose on what is usually a lonely job doesn’t seem to get through to too many bishops. I know many priests value support groups and regular associations with each other. I’m sure many bishops support this. How many are willing to take the plunge themselves and build true bonds with their priests?

I’m looking forward to reading Bishop Robinson’s book. I’m sure the mainstream of the hierarchy will dismiss it. It might help their comfort zone, but not their cred.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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4 Responses to Three Factors Contributing to Abuse

  1. wolftracker says:

    Todd, you said: “It’s heartening to see Bishop Robinson identify power and its misuse as part of the core problem. Sex doesn’t quite cover all the sins of the clergy and bishops. Other problems: substance abuse, misogyny, and even immaturity all hearken back to the abuse of authority.”

    The truth of the second sentence I will leave for others to gauge. As I read it, it occurred to me that many “liberals” would agree with you, and that most “conservatives” would claim that the most common clerical abuse is the failure to teach the whole of the deposit of faith.

  2. Todd says:

    Thanks for posting, wt. If people think the teaching has been deficient, that would certainly lie outside the sex angle.

    Clearly, people were angered by bishops who blundered on the management side of things. Whether they thought the sex scandal needed control, or if they were attempting to stonewall against difficult accusations–that speaks to a sin of power.

    It seems the Church’s teaching on sexual contact of celibates with underage persons has always been pretty clear. You’d think they don’t need to teach that explicitly in seminary. As for the bishops, the lies and broken promises to lay people are what reeks the most.

    In both cases, the crimes were those of a religious elite against lay people. It’s hard not to read abuse of power as a common thread.

  3. FrMichael says:

    This bishop is easy to dismiss because his theology as a whole is grossly defective. He should have his faculties removed and silenced, not wear a miter and be lauded as a hero.

    He neglected a fourth factor: homosexuality in the priesthood. As this crisis at the presbyteral level has been all about gay predation of the young, any proposed solution that doesn’t confront that issue is a waste of time. Interesting that such an obvious factor should have been neglected by the bishop.

    On the episcopal level, how about a fifth factor: lack of oversight and healthy peer pressure. Bishops are basically on their own without effective oversight from their metropolitan and certainly not from Rome. And bishops have demonstrated no ability to identify and fraternally correct erring bishops.

    Books by dissenters will do nothing to correct the problem. Dedicated oversight by the laity and the press exposing every clerical misdeed is the only solution that has worked–and will work– in the foreseable future.

  4. Mike says:

    FrMichael, the problem is not homosexuality in the priesthood: it’s immature sexuality in the priesthood. Well-adjusted gay men are not a problem at all; neither are well-adjusted heterosexual men. Insisting on psychologically sound candidates is essential.

    Another possible solution, and I say this only partly tongue in cheek, is to deny the miter to anyone who actually wants it.

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