Page 5, 25th July 2003

25th July 2003
Page 5
Page 5, 25th July 2003 — Bishops ruled by fear

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Locations: Rome, Plymouth


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Bishops ruled by fear

Jesus, in the course of his ministry, said "Do not be afraid!" more often than he commanded us to "love one another". . This is because he knew the

importance of fear in the world as a life and death mat ter. He knew and preached that the "fear of the Lord" was the same as "faith" – we do not need to fear death because we "fear" ("trust") the God who gives everlast ing life and has no part in death.

Jesus attacks fear especially since he knows that fear is the starting point of the path towards sin and death as he doubtless recalls the sin of the golden calf of Israel in the wilderness. Israel, feeling abandoned by Moses who has gone off to Sinai to receive the Law, becomes afraid because they are alone and they compel Moses' brother, Aaron, to make them a physical image of the Lord God, which they duly worship and use to make their fear go away. While they know no better, yet their fear leads them to the path which ends in the worst sin of all – idolatry.

One of the great fears of our time is the newly publicised (though it's always been around) fear of the sexual abuse of children. And to this fear we add all the other fears about sex that we as a Church and as a society have created and about which we moderns obsess.

Sigmund Freud knew and revealed that the patients who originally came to him with an inexplicable paralysis of their limbs, had been sexually abused by their fathers. He wrote this in an article and was so severely attacked by German society, who could not believe that German fathers would ever do such a thing, that he was forced to change his diagnosis, and build a contorted system of imaginary "complexes" to cover up what is today an accepted (though still hidden) reality. The sexual abuse of minors is a fairly constant percentage in the entire population, and is more likely within the family than with others. It is clear, however, that since sex has to do ultimately with great power and life and death, there is a much fear attached to it.

Also, the Press in our contemporary society profits from what it knows to be our fears; they exacerbate fear. Scandal for the Press is the stuff of life; but when sexual and psychological abuse of children occurs in the family, this is so common as to not make a headline. But when a priest of the Catholic Church is found to have some sexual involvement with a minor, the fear of society is extraordinary. While such abuse occurs less frequently among Catholic priests than in the home, nonetheless it makes good press. We must also note that the problem is, at least statistically, a problem for other churches as well.

Sometimes this fear becomes an opportunity of others for financial gain. It is a sad commentary that the "discovery" of some that they were "sexually abused" by a priest becomes, not a matter of healing and justice against the offender, but an invitation to sue the hierarchy of the Church for fabulous sums of money for damages done, Undoubtedly, there would be far fewer lawsuits if opportunists could find no funds in the Church to tap. As it stands today, the hierarchy of the Church now becomes what was called in history, "the scapegoat" for the sins which are clearly distributed in all parts of society.

Unfortunately, however, the hierarchy of the Church is itself is now afraid. The Press has pushed the hierarchy of the Church into a corner with a suggestion that the hierarchy should have done something at a time in which no-one knew what to do with a problem that was every

where unthinkable.

This new "test" of the shepherds of Christ's flock, cardinals and bishops, challenges them to the choice of either being "good shepherds", willing to lay down their lives for their sheep (including their priests), or whether they will prove to be hirelings of fame and pride who run when the wolf approaches – out of fear.

The normal human reaction to fear is to flee or, at least, to hide behind some defence, Apparently, the defence the hierarchy have chosen against their fear of paedophilia is the abandonment of common sense and the rejection of the guarantees of natural or constitutional law and of the normal guarantees of canon law for normal Christian rights – even for priests – in a kind of knee-jerk response to the fear of either criticism or litigation.

The shepherds have taken to having their lawyers (bishops get lawyers to protect them; priests do not) scouring their files on their priests and sharing the information with others (most likely a serious violation of the laws of data protection), to discover any hint of sexual impropriety, real or imagined, and taking the opportunity of banishing priests from their congregations – with no rights or legal support, on the basis that priests, at their ordination, promise to "obey" their bishop and his successors as though they have given up any civil or canonical rights to conscience or adult decision. And since priests in this country are seriously underpaid, they cannot afford legal protection for themselves and when they ask the bishop for legal protection, he claims it would be a conflict of interest.

But now we come to the real issue of the fear of the hierarchy of the Church for its own well-being. These chosen priests are now being sent for "psychological evaluation", to see whether they pose a threat of the sexual abuse of children known as "paedophilia". It is here that the fear of the hierarchy becomes the occasion of the unwitting sin of this same hierarchy.

psychology, while it can, if gently administered, be a very helpful therapy, is in no way a scientific discipline and differs from medicine in that it must deal with what is nonsubstantial and unique in each individual. There are a few real diagnoses possible in psychology, but they are of the most general sort. Most of all, psychology is best when it alleviates pain and helps the client to cope more effectively in his/her world.

Psychological testing and there are an increasing number of psychometric tests — is designed to help the practitioner find a way in to the client's problems, but only for the purposes of healing. When psychological testing and evaluation are used for diagnosis and categorisation of any person, the potential for abuse is profound. And when a psychological practitioner shares a diagnostic and evaluative report with another who is unskilled in the nuances of the vocabulary of psychology, there is an incredible opportunity for misinterpretation, in that diagnosis becomes judgment – and a judgment grounded in selfincrimination at that.

The truth is, and those skilled in psychology know it, there is no psychometric test, or any other kind of test for that matter, for either florid or latent paedophilia and its cyclic stages. Nor is "risk assessment" an accepted psychological procedure, and the assessment runs the risk of revealing the prejudices of the assessor.

The vast majority of Catholic priests are decent, hardworking and generous men – some are superlative people. The frequency among them of paedophilia is less than in the general population of all walks of life. Like everybody, they have to wrestle with their God-given gift of sexuality. But the fear of the Catholic hierarchy about its priests, fuelled by the press and by popular suspicions of anyone who undertakes celibacy, are leading to a kind of witch hunt which is reminiscent of the Inquisition in the past.

In today's new climate of fear, this new Inquisition works as follows: the press discovers that a bishop did not behave in the past according to the standards of reporting of the present, those standards which are based on very new insights. With banner headlines of outrage, the press soundly condemns the bishop for his imperfections, much as the press condemned the Queen for not flying the royal standard at half-mast before the funeral of Diana. The public, though equally guilty according to the percentages, are glad to join the outrage, often on the principle of: "There but for the grace of God go I." And then the principle of the least common denominator sets in: if it has to do with sex and Catholics, it must also have to do with paedophilia. Thus everything to do with the popular and lurid imagination about sex –

celibacy, homosexuality and the like are all alike thrown into the dustbin of the "diagnosis" of paedophilia and Catholic priests.

Now fear rises in the bishop's bosom, fear for God's Church of course, but also a very human fear for himself and his reputation. And since the bishop did not and would not commit the offence himself, his fear is exacerbated because he is out of control of the situation with which he has no personal experience. So the bishop must turn now to the experts, the new golden and sacred cows of our society.

These experts are the new shamans of the world (a group which used to include, oddly enough, the much cheaper Catholic priests), the new miracle-workers who are society's (often very expensive) "fixers". These are the psychotherapists, the new priests to whom one makes confession and who help us to forgive ourselves, those fixers of the mind who can also give a "test" and then report who we really are and what we will do for sure. They are often atheists or non-Catholics. These are the same shamans who can suggest that we can be deposed from priesthood at their word, that we do not have a true vocation, that we are dangerous to ourselves and to others, and (without charge or trial) remove us from our positions and from our sense of who we are and what we have chosen to do in the world — and protect the bishop! Mind you, these are the psychotherapists whose vocation it is to test (and try in the court of the psyche) rather than to heal. There is a serious and fundamental difference between the use of psychology to heal and the use of it to evaluate — that is, to diagnose and judge.

There is an unfortunate presumption by psychology that it is really a kind of scientific practise like that of medicine (Freud was, after all, a physician). But despite the pretence, psychology is, at its best, an art, which depends on the gentle brush strokes of the practitioner and not upon the scalpel, the suture or the laboratory test tube. Psychological testing (called "psychometric testing") is different from medical laboratory tests. These psychometric tests are only intended to provide the practitioner with some handles with which to help their patients. They were never designed, nor may they be used, to provide a "medical diagnosis".

psychological interviews or session are not in any way the same as legal depositions before police or solicitors; they are not intended to become fishing expeditions into the psyche of the client in order to discover self-incriminations which can later be used at some kind of "trial".

The recommendations of the psychological practitioner are always very subjective, and must always be only compassionate suggestions, of how healing and support might best take place in the client, especially when they are shared with others. They are never scientifically based judgments by the "professional" to be used against the client in other forums!

I do feel qualified to write in this way because I hold a license to practise psychotherapy in the State of California in the United States; and I am a priest of the Roman Catholic Church in the Diocese of Plymouth. I have completed thousands of hours of psychotherapy and have administered hundreds of psychometric tests. I have cared for the abused and worked with the abusers. And I have a Ph.D in Sacred Scripture. My friends include psychologists and priests who have dedicated their lives to helping, healing and teaching, and I respect them and what they do enormously. And while I do not think that I have any importance for all of this, I do at least speak the language of psychology and I know its secrets and its vulnerabilities.

Back to the asp of fear in the bishop's bosom. The real potential for sin begins with the bishop's referral of his priest to the psychological professional for evaluation. The priest is ordered to go on the basis of the obedience he swore to his superior. Since the bishop is paying the psychologist for his/her services – for evaluation and judgment, not for care and treatment – the report might seem to "belong" to the bishop. Yet under law, this report belongs only to the client under the traditions of doctor-patient privilege. And under the Data Protection Act it must not be shared, especially when it has the potential of self-incrimination.

The client is immune from the potential misinterpretation by the professional of the material that he/she has been offered — especially when the report contains matters that exceed the normal information necessary to help the client. The sharing or use of this material in the condemnation of the client in any way opens the way for the client to seek legal redress from any court as a serious violation of civil rights. The "obedience" based on trust promised by the priests at ordination never permits the bishop to order the priest to do something that will hurt or damage himself by self-incrimination.

This problem is even more complicated in that the bishop has already defined the priest's "problems" in a gen eral way (a "diagnosis" by the bishop based upon his own fear, and not that of the welfare of the priest), and the psychological professional

knows full well that he/she is being hired to confirm a bishop's diagnostic suspicions again, "where there's smoke, there's fire," The bishop usually delegates this part of the process to someone else so that he is out of the loop of accountability and his conscience is clear, no matter what the outcome.

The psycho professional is more than willing to accept a further referral by the bishop for the priest who has been "judged". There is, for the profession al, further income to be gleaned from this bishop who is scared, Believe me, I have yet to read a psychological evaluation, which says: "There is no pathology here. Drop it!" This would not help the bishop with his certainty that where there is smoke, there is fire. And it would leave the professional open and vulnerable if later pathology does manifest itself.

Thus, under the guise of professional practise and the fear of later litigation, the priest is condemned to outer and unending darkness, with no recourse to the normal protection of civil and human rights which we all presume for ourselves. Guilt or innocence as produced by a trial in a court of law is not really relevant here, for this is a trial by the press and the lynch mob. The real issue here is that the bishop be seen to be acting in a way that the mob approves.

And this is happening now!

At present there is an uneasy peace established on the "obedience" of the aforementioned priests to what the bishops demand — without charge, trial, legal or pastoral support and generally with the same status as the prisoners at Guantanamo. The bishop, appearing to do something, is relatively and momentarily "safe". The baying press and multitude

(one thinks about the Coliseum at Rome) are being pacified, but all the while some priests are being subjected to the rack of psycho metric testing, their screams

muffled in and by the

Byzantine secrecy so loved

by the hierarchy.

Where do we go from here? Frankly, I do not know the answer for certain. I am truly only a gentle practitioner of psychotherapy and a fairly simple priest. I have children and grandchildren,

and I know the parental fear for their safety from any kind of abuse, I am loath to speak to bishops, because I do not know first hand just how that feels. But I feel strongly for those who have responded to the call of priesthood and I know what it means to be a broken human being.

If it were my choice, I think I would begin with the fear. Fear clouds the ability to exercise the Wisdom of God which is promised, especially to bishops, at their ordination. Fathers of the Church, if you are afraid, please know that we your sheep will be even more frightened. Please say to the storm: "Peace, be still!" Please pray that your fear will be replaced with wisdom. Then, Fathers, will you cease taking the press and the mob as your first advisers, and will you take the power given you by the Holy Spirit to speak the truth to press, mobs, and specialists. Perhaps you do not know the languages of the specialties of this world, but you know the language of the Gospel which has served the Church so well for 2,000 years in the face of all attacks. Do not run and hide, like the hireling; be the Good Shepherd.

Our obedience at ordinadon, bishop, was not made to your power but to your humility, which makes you first in the Kingdom. Please err on the side of compassion. We might make it that way. But if you avoid the vulnerability of your office in all of this, Father, then ironically your deepest fears will become a reality and the wounds of the Church will remain unhealed.

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