Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Washington Post's On Faith forum featured a guest column today by Jesuit priest James Martin S.J. on the striking parallels between the Catholic Church pedophile priest scandal and the current Penn State University pedophile debacle.

As someone who was raised Catholic and sent to strict Catholic schools, I have always been ambivalent about the Jesuits.  I know that their education is longer and far more intellectually rigorous than that of any other religious order in the Catholic Church.  Aside from the gay and gay-friendly parish priests I've been lucky to know, if any Catholic clergy person is capable of critical thinking and analysis rather than endlessly regurgitating the party line, it is very likely to be a Jesuit.  On the other hand, I also know that the Jesuits were founded to be major agents of the Counter Reformation, organized along military lines of discipline to combat the spread of Protestantism and to fan out through the world and convert "pagans" and "heathens" to keep them from being converted by Protestant  missionaries; Jesuits therefore bear responsibility for the destruction of many native cultures and spread of fatal European diseases throughout the world.

But Father Martin is strictly fair and able to accept the culpability of Catholic hierarchy in enabling and then covering up pedophilia by priests and members of the hierarchy itself.  More importantly, he explores the underlying political and psychological reasons, as he explains in this excerpt from his Washington Post column:

"But I would like to focus on another area that has received little attention in the church, and which may help to shed light on what may still happen in State College.  Several years ago, I was invited to address a conference for psychologists and psychiatrists on the topic of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, held at a large teaching hospital in New York City. My own presentation focused on the ways that the sexual crisis came about in the church, that is, the factors that allowed priests to continue to abuse, and bishops to overlook the abuse. (Clergy from other denominations offered their perspectives as well.) Immediately following my presentation a psychiatrist stood to present his paper.  And what he said astonished me.

"There were, he explained, two main characteristics of the sexual abuser: narcissism and grandiosity. The narcissist is almost entirely focused on his own needs and personal gratification. Think of it this way, suggested the psychologist: When an emotionally healthy person accidentally does something offensive to someone, and notices another person recoil or senses a feeling of discomfort in the other, the healthy person will stop, because he or she respects the needs of others. To take a benign example, if you are speaking to someone at a party and physically move too close, accidentally invading someone’s “personal space,” you may notice the other person take a step back.  If you are healthy, you will say to yourself, “I’m making someone feel uncomfortable.” And you will take a step back as well.
When the narcissist, however, experiences another person’s recoil or discomfort, he will not take that step back. He will not consider the other’s feelings. He may not even notice those feelings. Why?

Because, as the saying goes, “it’s all about him.” The narcissist’s needs are paramount. This, in part, helps to explain the tragic tendency of the abuser to continue to abuse even when the other is clearly suffering. Though I have never witnessed an actual case of abuse first hand, it is not hard to imagine the suffering that must be evident on the face of the child or young person. The healthy person registers this emotional response; the narcissist does not.

"The second quality is grandiosity. Many abusers, explained the psychologist, are typically grandiose men and women. The grandiose person is often the “Pied Piper,” the one who easily gathers around him students, football players, altar boys, or even adults. Often a larger-than-life character, he may be the charismatic founder of an organization, the successful president of a school, the beloved teacher, the energetic Scout master, the popular pastor or the well-respected principal. Children and adolescents gravitate towards him because of his charisma; and, more importantly, because of his exalted status adults may feel more comfortable leaving their children in his care.

"Let me be clear about something else: I’m no psychologist, and no expert in sexual abuse, so I cannot offer any further data other to say this: these words struck me with the force of a lightning bolt. Why? Because the majority of priests I knew who had been removed from ministry because of abuse claims showed precisely these two qualities. And in the case of Jerry Sandusky, Penn State football’s defensive coordinator accused of sexual abuse, we see some signs of both: the narcissist (who-allegedly commits rape despite the terrible suffering it causes) and the grandiose Pied-Piper (who founds a center for boys).  But there is a further problem, one that is not often spoken about.

"In my experience, after the conviction or removal from office or ministry, those two qualities merge in the person with the terrible consequences. And these consequences make it far more difficult for the institution to address such cases. The grandiose narcissist now focuses almost exclusively on his own suffering. His removal from office, or from ministry, he believes, is the worst thing that has happened to anyone, and he (or she) laments this fate loudly and frequently. Because of his narcissism he focuses almost entirely on his own troubles; because of his grandiosity he inflates them to ridiculous proportions. He suffers the most.

"Even more dangerous: he draws others into his net, and the suffering of the real victims, those whose lives have been shattered, is overlooked-even by otherwise intelligent and well-meaning people. The focus of those within the institution is shifted onto the person they know, rather than the victims that they may not know. “Poor Father,” some parishioners may say, “how he suffers.” It is difficult for a diocese, a religious order, a school, or indeed members of any institution to resist the powerful pull of the grandiose narcissist. Indeed, people often seem unaware that they are being deluded into an overblown sympathy for the wrong “victim.”"

The link below leads to the entire column which is very much worth reading, but the heart of it is quoted above.

Relevant to one of Fr. Martin's points, I was pleased to see on today's news that yesterday's Penn State game included a moment of silence for the boys who had been molested.   In the riots after the revelation and subsequent firings, the support of the protesters was all for the perpetrators and those who covered up for them.  That there was finally concern for the young victims is a healthier sign.

Here is part of James Martin's official Jesuit biography:

"James Martin, S.J., is a Jesuit priest, author and associate editor of America, the national Catholic magazine (he also blogs at “In All Things,” the new editorial blog from America magazine). Father Martin graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business in 1982, where he received a bachelor’s degree in finance. After working for six years in corporate finance with General Electric Co., he entered the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) in 1988.

"For his regency, he worked for two years with the Jesuit Refugee Service in Nairobi, Kenya, where he helped East African refugees start small businesses. In 1995, Father Martin began his theology studies at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology, in Cambridge, Mass., where he received his master’s degree in divinity in 1998, and his master’s in theology in 1999. While in Cambridge, he also worked as a chaplain at a Boston prison. After completing his Jesuit studies, he was ordained a Catholic priest in June 1999."

The number of journals and newspapers to which he has contributed pieces is enormous.  He also has five books published, the most interesting  (particularly to me as a designer and writer in the performing arts) is A Jesuit Off-Broadway: Center Stage with Jesus, Judas and Life's Big Questions.  The book is a record of the six months he spent working with the LAByrinth Theater Ensemble assisting in the development of the script for "The Last days of Judas Iscariot."


I got this from Fritz who got it from his sister; he's anxious for me to share it with you all:

Ineptocracy (in-ep-toc'-ra-cy) -- a system of government where the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of producing, and where members of society least likely to sustain themselves or succeed are rewarded with goods and services paid for by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers.

I'll say right up front that I'm still working out exactly where that sits on the political spectrum, but if nothing else, I believe the word itself aptly describes how our government is (non)functioning at this moment in our history, along with several other governments around the world.

An interesting analysis, Will.

On the depressing side of all this, is this item:

Read down to the bit about the incoming Archbishop of Philadelphia, a man who specifically has to clean up a mess in his diocese. He had the temerity to sympathise with the ordeal of one of his priests who was arrested on sex abuse charges. They never learn!
Martin, thanks for the link. I've read the column through carefully and agree that the new Archbishop's shout out to Fr. Lynn was ill-advised at best and thoughtlessly hurtful to a great many people at worst.

That said, I wonder if the riot might not have been prevented if the Board, which I agree had to do what it did, had done it a bit more suavely. Calling the man and firing him on the phone given his "legendary" status on campus was bound to be seen as a huge insult. Had they gone to his house, told him his departure was non-negotiable, but allowed him to make a public statement that his prayers went to the victims and that given the situation he was unable to continue in his position, a lot of grief and upheaval might have been avoided.
I am a proud product of Jesuit Education: Boston College & Loyola Marymount... & I taught at Gonzaga University... in those days the Jesuits were very involved in social justice & anti- war work.

I had an affair with a Jesuit & he was a smart & creative man... & I was an adult
Stephen, my own personal experience with Jesuits in the modern world is very much like yours -- admirable. When our (virtually totally gay) opera company produced Britten's Curlew River, we did it at the Jesuit Urban Center in Boston's South End in their big Renaissance-style church that had the perfect acoustics Britten wrote for.

We were greeted with open arms and the head of the complex was constantly coming in to see if we had everything we needed. I was intrigued by what looked like small cards on a rail around the sanctuary apse and discovered it was a memorial to all the gay men from the congregation who had died of AIDS. Digging deeper, I found out that the entire organization, much beloved in the area, was devoted to the needs of the South End's gay community -- and then the bad part: that Archbishop (now Cardinal) O'Malley was doing everything he could to shut them down. A couple of months after our performances, he succeeded. I think the church has become condos. Incredibly stupid and sad.
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