Sunday, April 4, 2010

You Can't Find Correct Answers By Demanding We Ask The Wrong Questions

Andrew Sullivan sheds some light on why the existence of Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson is such an affront to many of his Catholic brethren.

On this Easter Sunday, I asked myself the question, what will it take for Roman Catholicism to undergo a meaningful Resurrection? And I asked the question, what is it that needs to be healed that sexual abuse is the behavior which triggered the current crisis? I had some ideas, and I've written some ideas, but I also knew I was looking for an expression for the core issue.

Sometimes, the core issue is revealed peripherally by strange sources. In this case one of those strange sources is Wild Bill Donohue and his fixation on homosexuality, rather than abuse of power, as the core issue in the abuse scandal. Bill has his finger on a button, but he's purposely connecting it to the wrong explanation.

Andrew Sullivan writes about the same button, but makes the right connections, because Andrew starts from the correct questions--the most important place to start if one is going to get correct answers and real healing:

"The real question is: what kind of gay man molests children and young teens? Just as: what kind of straight man molests children and young teens? What leads to this kind of behavior which is far from the norm among homosexuals and heterosexuals? And why does the Catholic Church priesthood seem such a magnet for child rapists and molesters? Why has it seemed to attract so many gay men who are psychologically disturbed or sick when it comes to their sexual orientation? (This entire paragraph asks the correct questions, based on the available data.)

I find the answer pretty straightforward.
The church teaches first of all that all gay men are "objectively disordered:" deeply sick in their deepest soul and longing for love and intimacy. A young Catholic who finds out he's gay therefore simultaneously finds out that his church regards him as sick and inherently evil, for something he doesn't experience as a choice. That's a distorting and deeply, deeply damaging psychic wound. Young Catholic gay boys, tormented by this seemingly ineradicable sinfulness, often seek religious authority as a way to cope with the despair and loneliness their sexual orientation can create. (Trust me on this; it was my life). So this self-loathing kid both abstracts himself from sexual relationships with peers, idolizes those "normal" peers he sees as he reaches post-pubescence, and is simultaneously terrified by these desires and so seeks both solace and cover for not getting married by entering the priesthood. (And in heavily Catholic blue collar communities, there is also the status attraction.)

None of this is conceivable without the shame and distortion of the closet, or the church's hideously misinformed and distorted view of homosexual orientation. And look at the age at which you are most likely to enter total sexual panic and arrest: exactly the age of the young teens these priests remain attracted to and abuse.

That's the age when the shame deepens into despair; that's when sexuality is arrested; that's where the psyche gets stunted. In some ways, I suspect, these molesters feel as if they are playing with equals - because emotionally they remain in the early teens. I'm not excusing this in any way; just trying to understand how such evil can be committed. (There are also the neurophysiological issues of brain development. Suffer an unresolvable conflict over sexuality at this age and it has a real impact on further development of the higher moral reasoning centers of the pre frontal cortex.)

Ask yourself: how many openly gay and adjusted priests have been found to have abused minors? Or ask yourself another question: if straight men were forbidden to marry women, had their sexual and emotional development truncated at the age of 13, and were forced into institutions where they were treated by teenage girls as gods, and given untrammeled private access to them, how much sexual abuse do you think would occur there? Please. This is not that hard to understand.

I think it's compounded by the shame gay bishops feel about their own sexual orientation. They, like Bill Donohue, secretly associate their homosexuality with dysfunction, disorder, chaos, evil. So when they come across a fellow priest found to have molested teenage boys or children, they associate it with homosexuality - not pederasty - associate themselves with it, and try to cover it up - partly because they want to protect the church (which is their sole refuge) and partly because they want to protect those they wrongly associate with themselves. (This protective impulse is the direct result of classic psychological projection.)

My own view is that Ratzinger fits almost perfectly into this paradigm, just as Weakland did. Which means there will be no change until this generation dies off. If Ratzinger were to face the truth on this, his world would collapse. He is not giving up on denial yet. He is a prime example of the walking wounded. Crippled, in fact, in the sole area he cannot be crippled: moral authority. (I absolutely agree with Andrew here. The closer this crisis gets to Benedict, the more personally he takes it. The fact he can't separate himself from the clerical culture issue is a huge red flag about just how wounded he and his close collaborators really are when it comes to the sexual issues inherent in the clerical and wider Catholic culture.)

I don't believe, in other words, that you can tackle this problem without seeing it as a symptom of a much deeper failure of the church to come to terms with sexuality, sexual orientation and the warping, psychologically distorting impact of compulsory celibacy in the priesthood. If women and married men were allowed to be priests, if homosexuality were regarded in Catholic theology as a healthy and rare difference rather than as a shameful disorder, this atmosphere would end, and these crimes would for the most part disappear and the cloying, closeted power-structure which enabled them to go unpunished for so long would finally crumble. And the church could grow again.

Through the truth, not around it. But it's exactly that truth that this pontiff and his enablers refuse to acknowledge. It would kill them.


Andrew Sullivan is right on target in this analysis. I suspect he's so accurate because it really is his personal life experience as a committed gay Catholic. He knows in his soul the attraction the priesthood held for him, but he was honest enough to really look at that attraction and see it was an attraction of deficit, not a legitimate calling, not the product of a 'gift'.

As it stands now, we have a priesthood where too many are self chosen from unexamined feelings of deficit. Until this is reversed, there will be no resurrection of the Catholic priesthood. And it won't be reversed as long as the Vatican remains incapable of asking the right questions because of personal fear of the answers.

The really disheartening thing about all of this is that healthy gay priests have such a positive and pastoral charisma. It's a gift which should be celebrated, but instead, for too many gay men, that gift is twisted all out of shape long before they can begin to consciously direct it. Instead, all that charisma is primarily directed by an unresolved sexual agenda, and the spiritual becomes subservient to the sexual. This is true whether that gay sexuality is expressed or is sublimated by various forms of spiritual 'discipline'. True spiritual health calls for integration, not sublimation.

If the Vatican was really honest, they would admit this same process is operative in heterosexual priests as well. We just don't hear as much about it because the victims are female and society is more accepting of straight liaisons. That doesn't mean these straight liaisons are any healthier or less abusive. A 14 year old female victim is just as damaged as a 14 year old male victim and the damage compounded if she becomes pregnant. To think otherwise is self serving straight male propaganda. The very same kind of propaganda apologists like Wild Bill Donohue want us to unquestioningly accept.

Resurrection for the Church won't come from swallowing straight male propaganda. It will come from listening to the questions raised by men like Andrew Sullivan. Questions which seek to get to the core of the abuse, not divert us from solutions the Vatican refuses to entertain.


  1. Denial in multiple areas has painted the Vatican and this Pope into a corner. They simply cannot see the denial (that's the whole point of an unconscious defense mechanism). And they imagine the walls of their corner to have been placed there by the press and the victims crying out for justice. So there they sit.

    This crisis cannot but continue. The blunders related to this mishandling of sexual abuse by priests and bishops is of a piece with the mishandling of other issues, related to Jews, Muslims, and Nazi sympathizers. In each case, the Vatican wants to excuse their callous and heartless remarks and behavior as "Gee... don't blame us, we had no idea!" But if they have no idea for this and no idea for that, then how can they claim such inerrancy in areas of doctrine or morality?

    Blindness seems to characterize this Papacy in particular, but also the Vatican system going way back.

    I agree, Colleen, that asking the right questions is crucial. It reminds me of the parable of how those who can trusted in small things will be given greater things to manage. So one must ask: If the Pope/Vatican cannot be trusted in "small things" (worldly issues, keeping track of Vatican correspondence, foreseeing the stupidity of its misguided efforts at self-protection), then how can it be trusted in larger things, such as practicing what it preaches and doctrinal or moral pronouncements?

    I urge everyone to go back and read this article, from a year ago ("This Blundering Pope"). Especially the last few paragraphs:

    If I had excerpted those paragraphs and not told you the article was a year old (and about another subject), you would have thought they had just been written today!

    They can't be trusted even to keep track of information! So how can they be trusted with the care of souls and innocents?

  2. I really like this last paragraph:

    "With a sort of myopia, the pope seems unable to grasp the significance of his global role, which must be to promote a vision of humanity that is always open to dialogue based on a deep respect for plurality. If he cannot articulate that – as even Pope John Paul II managed to do – frankly, the role of the papacy is reduced to nothing more than that of a sectarian preacher."

    The sad thing is the Papacy is being reduced to the role of a sectarian preacher for a section that doesn't seem to think it needs any preaching and completely agrees with him to begin with--as if merely agreeing with him guarantees their ticket to heaven.

  3. I commend the Episcopalians for being open and willing to address the issue of gay clergy and bishops. We Catholics have been letting the Vatican pretend that we haven't been ordaining gay clergy and bishops, and then falsely blaming gay men for the sexual abuse crisis and funding anti-gay marriage initiatives in this country. The closet cases aren't able to admit the truth to themselves, and they hate and resent the people who are able to live openly and honestly with self-acceptance.

  4. For me, I find much truth in what Andrew Sullivan has to say and your following analysis. It does seem that there is a massive case of "classic psychological projection" operating in the Roman Catholic hierarchy that now reaches the pope.

    A few years ago, I had the opportunity to hear Bishop Gene Robinson speak as well as converse with him. He said that when he was elevated to the episcopacy that he heard from a lot of gay Roman Catholic priests. I asked him, did he ever hear from any gay Roman Catholic bishops? He responded that he had not. He then added, that even the contacts with Roman Catholic bishops that he had as priest before he became a bishop dried up.

    This year as in the past, the answers are out there, but the wrong questions are once again being asked. So a New Easter for the Roman Catholic priesthood and church will wait.

  5. It's driving the Vatican nuts, of course, but as we continue to circle and circle this issue, we are boring deeper and deeper into an understand of what's wrong and how badly it's all gone wrong!

    Kudos on all these great blogs (yours and others) and wonderful comments! There's a synergy here. By the way, I emailed that Egyptian Jesuit to thank him for his plea to the Pope and he wrote me back that he is praying, and asks for prayers, for new Pentecost. Seems to my synergy is a sign of the Holy Spirit at work. We can but hope. And pray!

  6. Here is an AP headline:

    Easter Mass becomes papal pep rally in Rome

    No, I am not making this up:

    When we arrive at a point where even the headlines scream irony, well... something tells me a volcano is set to blow!

    Remember... Holy Thursday into Good Friday became a conflagration related to a remark insensitive to Jews. And now Easter Sunday becomes a Papal Pep Rally.

    Good grief!!!

  7. Wild hair, I don't find it the least bit surprising that Gene Robinson lost all his contacts with Catholic bishops. As an open gay bishop he really is a mirror they can't look into.

    TheraP, I read that article and just shook my head. I'm sure the Neo cats, Opus Dei, and Focolare were heavily represented at that 'pope' rally.

    It's really encouraging that Fr. Bouland answered you. That's more than a lot of bishops trying to defrock abusive priests got out of Ratzinger.

    The synergy you speak of is truly taking on it's own momentum and no amount of pope rallies will stop it at this point. Catholics are being confronted with what is at heart a black and white choice. Support the old with cosmetic changes and let the abuse continue, or bring in something entirely different. Something that may look somewhat the same but is in reality transcendant. Kind of like Jesus at Easter.

  8. Colleen,

    I keep thinking of the absurdity of cardinals asserting that the Pope is innocent. How do they know that? They never provide any evidentiary proof.

    What's going to happen when all the cardinals have trotted out and asserted (absent evidence) that there is no problem, no smoke, no fire.... and this just continues to gather steam? As it surely will!

    This current tactic indicates the hierarchy fails to grasp that they too are implicated here - not just the pope. They fail to see that their words are empty and ring hollow. And that the mere need for lackeys to chime in only shows the degree to which the whole structure is ready to fall.

    "Take it on faith, they say: We have faith in the pope." They have no idea how ridiculous that sounds at this point.

    Oh well.. wasting my breath, I know.

    But so are they. And THEY do not know!

  9. My take is a little different TheraP. They know damn well they are implicated. The question is what are they really trying to hide about their own ranks?

    I keep going back to Cardinal Schoenborn's remark about Benedict and Cardinal Groer and the 'other guys'; JPII's protection of Maciel; and even the convicted pedophile Paul Shanley's remarks about the coterie of boys around Cardinal Cushing of Boston.

    I can't help but think what they are desperately trying to portray as the fault of individual rogue priests is actually quite different the farther one goes up the chain. That it's incredibly systemic in Rome and a core part of the Vatican culture at very high levels.

    I think Schoenborn's comment was an attempt on his part to get the media to investigate Groer and his cronies. I just hope some media enterprise takes him up on it.

  10. Ok, I buy your theory. It works better than mine. Much better! Yes, they have to circle wagons... no matter how futile it appears from the outside. For they are all hiding this together. That works - but it is a terrible truth!

  11. Colleen-I think your thesis is correct. The Vatican's circling the wagons behavior reminds me of the furor that erupted when John Cooney was planning on including material about Francis Cardinal Spellman's closeted gay life in Cooney's biography of Spellman, "The American Pope." According to Mike Signorile, the Archdiocese of New York put some pressure to bear on the New York Times, owner of Cooney's publisher Times Books, to prevent the material in the final version of "The American Pope."

    It would be nice if the press decided to investigate Hans-Hermann Groer, but it is unlikely to me that they might take up the opportunity unless they can tie Groer more directly to current events. I think the press might regard Groer as "yesterday's news" because he resigned in 2006. The Vatican is handling this whole series of events with singular ineptitude. If the late historian Barbara W. Tuchman were alive today, she could have added another chapter to her book the "March of Folly" detailing the Vatican's complete incompetence at handling the problems with sexual abuse among the clergy. Tuchman included a chapter on the Roman Catholic Church's failure to correct its institutional corruption in the 15th and 16th centuries and its consequences with the Protestant Reformation.

  12. It is interesting how the issue of sexuality in general and sexual abuse and homosexuality in particular have become "the sword that divides". This seems to be true in the Catholic Church and the Anglican/Episcopal Church as well; and also divides various denominations from one another as well as individuals, one from another. And the emotional component of the divide is often so ugly and violent.

    The issue in the Catholic Church is like a festering boil that seems to be coming to head in the person of Ratzinger/B16. Perhaps the boil will burst and the infection will be drained.

    It also seems to me that the current church hierarchy is caught up in idolatry - - the institutional church has become an "idol" - more important than That to which it was established to lead us.

  13. This type of denial is often described in those with Boarder line personalities. Some have described it as a dumbness. I think that your assumption that this sexual misbehavior goes all the way to the top, Colleen is probably and unfortunately correct. We are just now having an earthquake her in California so I will not and not give my usual opinions of these rather sinful souls.

  14. An excellent post & analysis of 'what makes them tick'.....or rather:

    "Why the Vatican Employs Broken Machines".

    It has created a 'priest culture' which favors, nurtures & attracts very dysfunctional men to the priesthood. This post gets to the core of the problem(s).

    Frankly, from personal observation, I would say that all too many are Narcissistic Personalities....and even Borderline Personality Disorder. Not all - but many of them are truly sick men. If they were not screwed up when they entered the priesthood, they have great potential for it after a few years on the job!

    One overriding trait is common to many of them: they are habitual liars. Just talk to them. Only rarely do you find one who is honest. Aside from their personal demons, they are trained to view the laity as 'the enemy'. Especially threatening to them are thinking lay persons.

    While it is hard for me to be sympathetic to Ratzinger, we truly know nothing of him. His public bio is...manufactured; it says nothing of the real man. A pious fable, carefully crafted.

    The epilogue to this: Broken machines are very easy to control. Their behavior patterns & what triggers them are easy to predict. If one is intentionally nurturing them in schools as future priests over decades (centuries?), then both mind altering & conditioning are old tricks.

    They will fall into these categories: a) the religious Fanatic, b)the Company Man, and c) the Uber Pious One/Intellectual. Each has his uses.

    Leaving the handful of truly normal & functional priests (gay OR str8) outnumbered, isolated & usually shut out of managerial positions.

    Anon Y. Mouse

  15. This was an excellent analysis. The comments are great also.

  16. "On this Easter Sunday, I asked myself the question, what will it take for Roman Catholicism to undergo a meaningful Resurrection? "

    ## In the words of Alexei the meerkat:

    "Simples" :)

    It has to deny itself, fall into the ground, and die.

    Even God can't resurrect those who are not dead. Until it dies to self, no Resurrection. Sorry. Jesus OTOH did die - so Resurrection was possible - a certainty indeed.

    That goes for all of us - so it most definitely applies to the Church.