In some circles, the language of the Twelve Steps is approaching a certain level of fatigue. Despite this, I think the terminology applies to any sex abuse situation, including the scandals within the Catholic Church. I also think the codependent experience gives us important insights as to the nature of sexual abuse, and what we can reasonably expect from individuals, communities, and institutions.
Codependency is not without its doubters or critics. However, the curiosities of the priest sex abuse phenomenon and the cover-up scandals that followed it are well-explained by the term. In the realm of sex abuse, I would define codependency as a psychological and spiritual flaw that permits others to excuse, explain, or enable sex addicts to persist in their behavior. I believe it is set in place by the grooming behaviors perpetrators perform on their circle of friends and in the circles of their victims.
Fr Michael listed his findings in Neil’s fine post yesterday. Some of these findings are accurate in that they describe individuals and particular experiences. I wonder if some of the others are colored by the codependent experience which touches pretty much all Catholics because of our social associations and other attachments to the Church.
His criticism of bishops, of the brother priests of offenders, and of lay ministers and loyal parishioners who defend perpetrators would seem to be aimed at those who have been groomed by the sex addict. These grooming behaviors are well-documented, and I posted a brief essay summarizing the action from a Virtus Online piece I read last month.
That said, many priests and lay people are deeply scandalized by the behavior of bishops, who do not benefit from an active grooming process for the laity. In a way, they were victims of seduction by their own clergy. Abusers manipulated the institutional failures to a tee. And that included their own bishops.
Fr Michael characterizes the problem in part as one of morality. He quotes opposition to zero tolerance as evidence of “moral relativism.” I think this is a stretch. Addicts soon begin to lose control over a path that links logic with morality. Logic becomes a malleable tool to justify behaviors which under ordinary circumstances would be clearly wrong.
That’s not to deny the culpability of the addict. Sex abuse remains the fault of the perpetrator. Scandal is the fault of the bishops covering up. But people caught up in addiction don’t have a clear premeditated sense of immorality. The reinforcement of shame and personal compulsion overpower the conscious moral decision. Saint Paul seems to have grasped the nature of it in his famous lament on the things he wishes to do, but doesn’t and the things he would not do, but does.
These sorts of blaming attitudes are part of the addiction/codependent locus:
That the Lavender Mafia is able to keep a lid on things, preventing this scandal from spreading to an even more widespread phenomena, that of actively gay priests.
That things will not begin to change fundamentally until the Baby Boomer bishops and priests retire and/or die.
It seems to me that painting gay clergy as an organization of power and corruption is a bit extreme. It also skips over the heterosexual clergy who have broken their vows of celibacy. There is also the fallacy that a particular generation is responsible for these sins and crimes. It is very much like the behavior of the groomed to make excuses for those involved: blame a mafia, blame a generation, blame liberals, blame homosexuals, blame celibacy, blame the groups not getting caught, blame a council that didn’t go far enough, blame a reform gone too far, blame a previous generation of abusers. Any experienced Twelve Stepper will tell us that taking responsibility for one’s own actions is an important step toward healing and recovery.
Putting distance between offenders and oneself is a tempting strategy. The fact is that both straight and gay priests abused children of the same or opposite sex. Addiction strikes without regard to ideology or personal morality. By painting the sex abuse and cover-up scandal as an aspect of moral relativism, I worry that Fr Michael has fallen into the trap of the groomed. The net must be cast even wider as we look to the Catholic community, searchingly and fearlessly, to assess where our state of spiritual health has failed.
Fr Michael’s last comment:
That the laity has a short attention span and does not have the fortitude to demand reform of their priests and bishops. Once the worst of the miscreant priests were removed, we’re all back to playing pretend that the priesthood in the US is a model of Christian discipleship and blessing to the Church.
I wonder if those who feel this way have bothered to join VOTF or SNAP? Or begun their own action group?
That said, I do believe there is a way out. If Church institutions were serious, they might attempt to apply the Twelve Steps to themselves. The path of spiritual recovery cannot be imposed on another person or group. Addicts, bishops, clergy, or others must desire a way out. And as we often see in our endemic Culture of Complaint, some people are satisfied where they are.