|Penn State's Head Coach Joe Paterno sounds suspiciously like other high level Catholic leaders caught in the middle of a sexual abuse scandal. He needs to read Richard Sipe's latest instead of Cardinal Rigali's press conference transcriptions.|
Richard Sipe has a recent essay on his website called "Mother Church and the Rape of Her Children." In it Sipe develops five areas in which the Church should have learned something about it's clericalism from the consequences of the sexual abuse crisis. These five areas are: secrecy, scandals, crisis, celibacy, and culture. I've chosen to reprint the section on clerical culture principally because it encompasses some of the reasoning in the sections which precede it, and in many ways is the foundation for the existence of the other issues.
One poiont I tend to disagree with comes in the first paragraph of this section where Richard writes that the Roman Catholic clergy, as male dependent and male dominant is in a class by itself. Not exactly, as the men's football program at Penn State demonstrates. I'm sure before all is said and done, Head Coach Joe Paterno and his hierarchical superiors are going to have their Cardinal Justin Rigali moments. I don't find the Penn State situation the least bit surprising. The college coaching fraternity is as nepotistic, narcissistic, and as much a clerical system as the Roman Catholic priesthoood, and there are just as many legitimate reasons to question the developed maturity level in that entire system. With that caveat out of the way and off my chest, here's Richard:
...Clerical Culture: Roman Catholic clergy live, breath and have their being in a culture that is distinct from secular social groups. Priests and bishops seem like ordinary men, but they operate in a unique reality. Roman Catholic clerical culture is male-dependent and male-dominated. It is a homosocial society in doctrine and operation. There is no other culture that equals it in this regard. Its theological structure is exclusively male: God the father, son Jesus Christ, and Holy Spirit are male realities. All ecclesial power and authority is grounded and mediated exclusively by men—pope, cardinals, bishops and priests. They are automatically granted status and respect, even if not assent, in secular society. Despite the fact that nuns (and women) have formed the shock troops and standard bearers of the church their role as “authorities” is strictly limited. Priesthood is denied women.
Clerical culture is a visible and powerful social and spiritual force that justly merits credit and respect. It also provides great theater. Some external trappings set clergy apart. They render a sense of spiritual security and unyielding tradition especially when dressed in the rainbow range of colorful flowing Mass vestments. Bishops are impressive performing ancient rituals accompanied by plainchant or operatic polyphony. Billowing incense and ballet-like choreographed movement executed in magnificent sacred spaces convey an otherworldly reality. Baptisms, weddings, and funerals are memorialized in towns and villages and made memorable via these men and ritual services. (I could say the same thing about college athletics.)
Roman Catholic clerical culture seems open, apparent, and accessible. It is not.
Prompted by the crisis informed religion writers are beginning to explore the geography of clerical culture (Fox 2009).  Its inner terrain is neither obvious nor easily traversed (Papesh 2004). The finer workings of the clerical culture are not fully accessible from the outside. Clerical culture has been intricately constructed and finely honed over a period of centuries. Indoctrination and inculcation into clerical culture are processes that take time to absorb and understand. They include: the adjustment to the interaction of a an all-male society, in an obedience dominated, authoritarian “total institution,”(Goffman, 1961) established by God, where life-long employment and support are guaranteed, and a single orthodoxy is acceptable, where secrecy is equated with loyalty and is woven into the fiber of operational interactions, and where external appearances—bella figura—take precedence over truth and honesty. All the time members profess perfect chastity.
The investigation of sexual abuse and the resignation of unparalleled numbers of ordained men from the priesthood has led to greater reflection and investigation of the uniqueness of the clerical culture (Murphy-McGill, 2010). Irish Jesuit, Derek Smyth, (2010) spoke from his heart of knowledge about the clerical system when he said, “For clerical culture, new structures are not sufficient, as there appears to be an innate abuse system within this culture. Even though it may now be forced to address the issue of sexual abuse, abuse may rear its ugly face in other forms.” (Gettin' this Penn State?)
Clerical culture is psycopathogenic. That means that the elements that constitute the operation of the celibate culture favor, select, produce, and promote men who tend to be what were formerly termed sociopaths. Nothing has exposed this core of the culture more clearly than the abuse of minors and the involvement of the most exalted members of the hierarchy who cover up for crimes.
The stated goals of the church are holy, dedicated to truth and service. Claims that clerical culture rewards untruth appears counter intuitive. Operationally the culture’s shared values and practices function to preserve itself regardless of the means used to retain control and image. The clergy sexual abuse crisis has underscored the American bishops’ maneuvers, fair or foul, to avoid scandal, maintain secrecy, and preserve financial assets. Those are the conclusions of Grand Jury Reports (Suffolk Co, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Philadelphia, Kansas City, etc.) and A Report on the Crisis of the Catholic Church in the United States issued by the bishops’ independent review board and chaired by Keating/Burke. (February 27, 2004)
The dichotomy between the Church’s stated goals and values and its operational methods and practices produces and encourages clerical hypocrisy. Sociopaths (psychopaths) are not men who fail to know right from wrong; they are men who know what is right, but don’t care (Cima, Tonnaer & Hauser, 2010). The advertised altruistic agenda of clerical life makes it an exquisite cover for sociopaths and men vulnerable to narcissism. Work with clerical abusers reveals a profusion of “altruism in the service of narcissism.” Every clinician who has treated large numbers of priest abusers gives witness to the conclusion that narcissism is a significant personality component of priest predators. (Jesus touched on this point at some length in the Gospel from two weeks ago.)
More broadly, clerical culture produces in many men an acquired situational narcissism, characterized by a sense of entitlement, superiority, lack of empathy, impaired moral judgment and self-centeredness. Identification with and incorporation into a powerful and godly institution can confer a sense of grandiosity and moral justification for one’s personal behavior. These qualities favor a man’s promotion within the clerical system.The dynamic between the two sets of opposing values encompass clergy from the ordinary parish priest to cardinals. A study commissioned by the American bishops, (1972 Kennedy-Heckler)  indicated that two-thirds of catholic clergy are psychosexually underdeveloped. They claim eight percent of priests are mal-developed; certainly this includes a number who abuse minors. The shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that have been exposed in the sex abuse crisis—so named by the bishops in 2002—characterizes the institution of the Church just as much as its stated values and goals do. Jesuit Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini (2008) describes the operation of clerical culture: “Unfortunately there are priests that aim at becoming bishops, and they succeed. There are bishops who don’t speak out because they know they will not be promoted to a higher see, or that it will block their candidacy to the cardinalate. This type of careerism is one of the greatest ills in the church today. It stops priests and bishops from speaking the truth and induces them into doing and saying only what pleases their superiors—something that is a great disservice to the Pope.” (Even Cardinal Martini can not divest himself of putting the clerical culture first. This careerism is first and formost a great disservice to the People of God--not the Pope.)
Guess who said this:
"If this is true, we were all fooled, along with scores of professionals trained in such things, and we grieve for the victims and their families," he said. "They are in our prayers."
That would be from the lips of Penn State's often proclaimed saintly head coach Joe Paterno. Haven't we heard this kind of thing from another 84 year old Catholic in a leadership position at the top of another male hierarchy?
One thing I can say with certainty, the ripples from the Catholic clergy abuse scandal are swamping other male bastions of hierarchical dominance and systemic abuse. There is no messing around on the part of prosecutors with the Penn State fiasco. Pennsylvania prosecutors have learned their lesson well. Good for them and good for the real victims.