Is there a word for it?

(This is Neil)

I’m looking for a word. Perhaps there isn’t such a word. Maybe there is. I think that there should be such a word. But let me clarify: I’m not looking for this word because I want to repeat it endlessly, as part of a marketing strategy, to try to gradually shape your view of reality. I’m interested in precision.

As part of a Liturgy of Repentance at Dublin’s St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Cardinal Séan O’Malley of Boston just said the following (my emphasis):

Jesus is always on the side of the victim, bringing compassion and mercy. Jesus is not just the healer in the Gospel. He identifies with the sick, suffering, homeless, all innocent victims of violence and abuse and all survivors of sexual abuse. The Parable ends with injunction; ‘Go and do likewise!’; just as Jesus turns His love and compassion to those who have been violently attacked or sexually abused. We want to be part of a Church that puts survivors, the victims of abuse first, ahead of self-interest, reputation and institutional needs.

Others have pointed out the disastrous consequences of focusing on “self-interest, reputation and institutional needs.” For instance, in Russell Shorto’s recent story about the Irish Church in the New York Times Magazine, the Murphy Commission is quoted as saying that the “interests of church officials ‘were the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the church, and the preservation of its assets.’” All other considerations were “subordinated to these priorities.”

And, of course, Pope Benedict’s Pastoral Letter to the Catholics in Ireland mentioned “a misplaced concern for the reputation of the Church and the avoidance of scandal, resulting in failure to apply existing canonical penalties and to safeguard the dignity of every person.”

Do we have a word for this sort of “misplaced concern” for the appearance of the church? I refer to a superficial fascination with the church as universal, timeless, free from contamination, with a hierarchy immune to any possible confusion coming from undifferentiation – perhaps all to better serve as a system of control over its own members and the wider society.

This “misplaced concern” seems to be theologically problematic. Obviously, it has prevented us from recognizing that “Jesus is always on the side of the victim.” (Cardinal Schönborn: “When the victims now speak, then God speaks to us …”) And it seems quite possible that it is rooted in a desire to escape from vulnerability and mortality.

But do we have a specific word for it? Again, it really seems like we should …

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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6 Responses to Is there a word for it?

  1. Liam says:

    God loves us particularly, not merely generally. The love the ministers of the Church are called to show must be no less particular.

  2. John Donaghy says:

    I think there may be something in Ignatian spirituality to help name this “‘misplaced concern’ for the appearance of the church”. But I need to check this out a bit.

    It has a lot to do with what binds us, enslaves us, and prevents us from being free – a major principle in Ignatian thought.

    But concern for appearances keeps us from recognizing both the evil we do and the goodness that God has given us.

    Any help from any Ignatian spiritual directors or scholars?

  3. Carson says:

    I think “Pride” does it quite well.

    • Jimmy Mac says:

      In almost every list of the Seven Deadly Sins, Pride, or hubris, is considered the original and most serious of these sins, and the source of the others. In Catholic theology, the inverse of this vice is the virtue of Humility.

      I personally think the humility is a harder virtue to personally incorporate into one’s life than is pride to eliminate.

  4. Bill Logan says:

    While “pride” may be the ultimate cause of the cover-up of the abuse scandal, as a word it doesn’t really address the institutional aspects of the Roman Catholic Church that Neil seems to want to describe. Let me appropriate a word and suggest that “Romanita” might serve to describe the putting first of self-interest, reputation, and institutional needs.

    Otherwise you could probably use German to cobble a word together.

  5. Neil says:

    Dear All,

    Thanks for writing. As Bill Logan suggests, I’m not sure if “pride” is sufficient.

    It is quite possible for a person to prioritize the self-interest and reputation of the church while being realistic about herself. I suppose that we can imagine a situation in which a person can be realistic about herself only because she imagines herself participating in a perfect church. The self curves reality upon itself vicariously – not the self considered in unhappy isolation, but the self that is immersed in a two-thousand year tradition, relates to an infallible pope, etc.

    If this seems to be the case, we should have a specific word for this form of “pride.”

    I don’t think that “clericalism” is the word either. Theologically, I’ve always taken “clericalism” to mean the rejection of theological significance in the “world.” Obviously, “clericalism” can take defensive forms, but I’m not sure that it is equivalent to a self-destructive anxiety about the appearance of the church.

    Thanks again.


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