There most certainly is such a thing as spiritual abuse.
While reading some of the many comments generated by Jamie Manson's NCR post on the Phoenix situation, I came across a powerful piece suggested as reading material by one commenter. It is fascinating in it's description of the dynamic of spiritual abuse--although I don't think that's what the author intended.
I think we all would do better meditating on Carlo Carretto’s love letter to the church (I sought and I found _ ISBN-13: 978-0-88344-202-9)
How much I must criticize you, my church and yet how much I love you!
You have made me suffer more than anyone and yet I owe you more that I owe anyone.
I should like to see you destroyed and yet I need your presence.
You have given me much scandal and yet you alone have made me understand holiness.
Never in the world have I seen anything more obscurantist, more compromised, more false, yet never have I touched anything more pure, more generous or more beautiful.
Countless times I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face – and yet, every night, I have prayed that I might die in your arms!
No, I cannot be free of you, for I am one with you, even if not completely you.
Then too – where should I go?
To build another church?
But I cannot build another church without the same defects, for they are my own defects.
And again, if I were to build another church, it would be my church, not Christ’s church.
No, I am old enough. I know better!
It's too bad Mr. Carretto wrote the last sentences, other wise I would have a different take on this piece. He has not reconciled his confusion. I found myself strongly connecting with much of what he had written previously, and then lost it at the end. One problem I have, beyond the spiritual abuse, is that I don't see Roman Catholicism representing the end all and be all of Christ's church. Certainly not in it's institutional face. I don't know if it ever did represent Christ's church as even in it's nascent stages it was arguing over who could and could not call themselves 'true' Christians. The spiritual abuse had already set in. Paul's vision of Christ's church was not the vision of the Jerusalem Church which was not the vision of the Gnostic church which was not the vision of the Coptic church etc, etc, etc. Nor am I presumptive enough to think my vision of the Church is Christ's vision if only because it's my vision and I am well aware of the fact I am not Christ.
One belief I do hold quite strongly is that Roman Catholicism is in fact moving further away from what ever vision Christ had for His Church because it is moving further away from the Gospels. I can not for the life of me envision Jesus taking over the throne of Peter should he ever make his presence known once again. I can't see him in Rome at all. It's much easier to see him walking the streets of Rio's slums or having an intense discussion with quantum physicists at a Starbucks over what's happening at CERN--and treating these brothers and sisters of the slums and the sciences exactly the same. He would see truth in both the pious folk beliefs of the South American slum dweller and the advanced physics of the CERN scientist because they are opposite sides of the same coin, and that coin is about the nature of our existence.
He would tell both groups about the importance of love, but the language and metaphors he used would be different. For the slum dweller it would be about relational love as the real gift of life, the force that gives meaning when there is no other meaning offered by one's environment. For the physicist he would talk about love as the unifying field force of material reality, the breath of his Father which provides the implicate order which guides the unseen to become the seen, which creates order from chaos. And in both cases those who had ears to hear and eyes to see would come away from their encounters more alive and more hopeful and with more understanding and wisdom. More healed, more whole, and certainly not abused by His divine authority or narcissistic posturing.
For me personally Catholicism still represents the best ritual and spiritual connection to Jesus and also to the immense reality of those Catholics who have gone before me, having undertaken their own spiritual journey under the wings of this church. But that doesn't blind me to the fact that as far as this immediate reality is concerned, it is a church in process. It has a very long way to go. It won't get there going backwards, and it won't get there preaching and living from fear while giving lip service to love.
All of this is why Mr Carretto's piece sounds like the emotional confusion of an abused child attempting to reconcile his love for his abusive parent with the reality of the abusive nature of the parent. Some abusive parents really do change, so there is hope for Roman Catholicism, but change can't happen when the abusive parent is in denial about the damage being done to their children or the core truth about themselves and their need to abuse. Most of the time though, healing comes when the child has moved past the abuse, which means they have moved past their need for the parent. No amount of evangelizing by the parent will bring the child who has moved beyond back to the old relationship. The parent has to move on as well for that to happen. I wonder if Mother Church, led as she is by men who aren't parents, will ever understand this dynamic. I kind of doubt it, at least not under this pope. Which means the spiritual abuse propagated in the name of Christ will continue with purposeful impunity