Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Really Enlightened Words From Fr. Tom Doyle

The following is an excerpt from a paper written by Fr. Tom Doyle and presented to the national VOTF conference in July. This part deals with healing the spiritual trauma experienced by clergy sexual abuse victims, but in my experience, it is essential reading for anyone who has been abused by the Church or it's representatives in any given situation. The entire paper can be read here: http://www.catholica.com.au/gc2/td/pdf/SurvivalOfTheSpirit_Doyle.pdf It's about 11,000 words, but everyone of those words is important to any discussion of a spiritually legitimate future Church.

There is no available tradition or font of information about healing the spiritual wounds of clergy sexual abuse. Consequently one can only look at the damage and its sources and respond to each aspect of the trauma. It goes without saying that any therapist working with victims should be well aware of the idiosyncratic nature of sexual abuse by clergy and by Catholic clergy in particular.

The first level of response should be to the victim's self-destructive belief system.
The immediate concern should be the victims' concept of a priest. He or she needs to be aided and supported in shedding the magical notion that the priest is somehow the personal representative of God or the stand-in for God. The dependence of the victim on the priest and on the clerical system needs to be first challenged and then replaced with a deeply rooted sense of personal spiritual autonomy. This "adult spirituality" of the victim-priest relationship will bring freedom from the misplaced guilt that burdens so many victims.

De-mythologizing the concept of the priest necessarily leads to a re-imaging of the notion of God. This is perhaps the most fundamental and radical dimension of the healing process. Upon it hinges the victim's concept of Church, sin and even self. Catholic theology is rooted in a theistic notion of the Higher Power. God is a supernatural, personal being who controls all aspects of life. It is possible to move to a concept of God that does not lend itself to the toxic beliefs about guilt, suffering, sin and punishment.

Such a transition is easiest on the cognitive level but much more challenging to the emotions. Many victims are all too painfully aware of the personal devastation caused by the sexual abuse yet they continue to feel guilt because they have exposed a priest or sued a Church entity such as a diocese. This is all grounded in the irrational belief that God resides in a special way in the institutional Church.

Once a clergy abuse victim begins to accept a Higher Power that is non-judgmental, non-vindictive and not under the control of the ordained office-holders of the Church, he or she will be able to move to the next necessary level of healing which is separating the visible, institutional Church from the Higher Power.

This should include an unfolding of the mysterious emotional ties and reactions associated with the victim's relationship to the institutional Church. Once the variety of feelings are acknowledged it is perhaps time to cognitively examine the historical and doctrinal bases for the Church's contention that it was founded by God, is controlled by God through clerics and provides the only authentic source of spiritual security. At this stage the victims may be helped by reading one or more books that provide an objective and scholarly exposition of traditional Church teachings and traditions on the nature of the Church. As they examine concept of the Higher Power they realize that what they have believed in and feared was not an authentic reality but someone else's vision of what god was all about.

Responding to the Loss of Religion.

The victim's anger at the Church and possibly at religion in general needs to be acknowledged and affirmed as a healthy response to the abuse. If it has not been done earlier in the recovery process this might be the appropriate time to examine the radical distinction between organized religion and spiritual security and strength. The toxic belief that God will be displeased if the victim feels anger towards the Church must be dispelled and replaced with a more realistic belief that the organized religious body has actually been a barrier to a secure relationship with the Higher Power. Victims attribute spiritual power to the visible Church because it has been presented as the only pathway to God. Most Catholics are never allowed to progress beyond a level of spiritual and religious development that is early-adolescent at best. The recovery process from clergy sexual abuse offers a unique opportunity for spiritual maturity. This maturity will provide the emotional security needed for whatever choices the victims makes about the place or religion, worship or a higher power in his or her life.

Affirming the Church's responsibility.

The institutional Catholic Church has thus far avoided accepting its responsibility for the culture of clergy sexual abuse and cover-up. Church authorities have made public apologies for "mistakes made" and have shifted the blame to others such as the media or the medical profession. Yet no public statement has given evidence of a full awareness of the causality of clergy abuse or of the damage done to those abused.

Victim/survivors need to explore the substance of some of the official apologies and then come to an emotional as well as cognitive acceptance of the fact that the institution and its office holders will not because they cannot respond in a manner that would reflect full awareness and accepted responsibility. Some victims get "stuck" in an almost endless contentious process trying to get the official Church to realize the enormity of their actions. They need to come to a realization that the Church's narcissistic self-concept of a perfect society renders its leaders incapable of comprehending that the responsibility is rooted in the very core of the institutional Catholic Church.

The Church's responsibility is directly related to the process whereby it has educated and formed Catholics from childhood to adulthood. The victims need to be able to see this as effective pre-conditioning that is related not only to the grooming for the abuse itself but also for their subsequent guilt and shame in responding to the violation of their bodies and souls. (This one sentence has reams of information in it. The inculturated system is so good it even manages to internalize the blame and guilt for it's actions with in it's believers. Lay believers constantly make excuses for the hierarchy.)

A key aspect of this process is the concept of sexuality internalized by most Catholics. The guilt, shame and fear associated with it are responsible for much of the post-abuse trauma. Re-examining the Church-given sexual awareness can be a slow, difficult and often fear-laden process but it must be done in order to guide the recovering victim in the internalization of a healthier notion of sexuality.

Finding an authentic spirituality.

Most clergy abuse victims did not realize that they had a spiritual dimension to their being until it was taken from them. The final phase of healing involves the discovery of this spiritual dimension and the acceptance of an authentic, life-giving spirituality. God or the Higher Power is re-imaged from an omniscient super person to a source of power and love that is not shaped or limited by human conceptions. The traditional relationship with God was far too enmeshed with loyalty and obedience to the deity's self-styled earthly representatives. When this is abandoned there is room for the transition to a spiritual relationship with a Higher Power or even an institutional Church that is not a source of pain, fear and guilt but rather enhances life and provides joy and balance. This non-toxic spirituality requires a healthy sense of self-worth if it is to take root and grow. The path to emotional and spiritual health is often long, always arduous and usually bewildering at times. Yet is can be traversed with an outcome that promises not only freedom from the spiritual pain but a new and hope-filled future.


There is so much truth in what Tom writes here that it boggles my mind. In some respects this particular section was like reading the step by step process of an intuitive path I have been on for a very long time. Any purposefully taught codependent system, which is what Catholicism is, can be very difficult to leave behind. It's one thing to recognize one's dependence on God, it's quite another to have that real dependence purposefully confused with the Church and it's clerical system.

I see this dynamic functioning on a lot of inter net discussion boards. True believers will defend and defend and defend the most insane institutional actions because "they have been rendered incapable of comprehending that the responsibility is rooted in the very core of Institutional Catholicism." They are too vested in this confusion between institution and God. They are absolutely convinced that Catholicism has all the truth because they have to believe that Catholicism has all the truth. They have never come to an INTERNALIZED relationship with God. Their felt internal relationship is defined by EXTERNAL actions associated with the priesthood and the Church. Remove the external church and there is no internal feeling.

The problem with this, and it's aptly demonstrated in the abuse crisis, is that all it takes is one personal experience of the inadequacy of this dismal confusion and the whole house of cards comes crumbling down.

I can't begin to articulate what it's like to deal with a person whose whole sense of spiritual self has crumbled. It's even more painful when I would realize they never had a real sense of personal spiritual self to begin with, that it was a sense of self given to them by their religious enculturation. But Tom is right about this too, from these ashes can be raised a very powerful sense of the autonomous spiritual self. It's just that sometimes it takes a long time.

That's true for change in the Church. As long as the system of clerical superiority is fostered and the men who take Holy Orders actually believe in it, change will be held at bay until the whole house of cards comes tumbling down. In the West it's getting closer and closer. The clerical abuse scandal is the perfect example of why it needs to come down, and why it will be so hard to bring it down.


  1. Colleen, this is one of the most powerful and explosive articles you have posted yet. It powerfully answers the question "why has the church leadership acted the way it did".

    It explains why the victims and their families were persecuted. It explains the continued denials and scapegoating. It explains the criminal behavior of the magisterial authority. It explains the refusal of the magisterial authority to provide the resources to support those who were victimized.

    It also shows us what we can continue to expect from the Magisterial authorities in the future as well as giving a prophetic view of the future of the Roman Catholic Chucrh.

    A powerful article that is long overdue.

  2. Fr. Tom Doyle is truly enlightened. I hope that other priests and laity will join him in de-mythologizing the concept of the priest and re-imaging of the notion of God. So much contention from traditionalist in the Church is from this mixed up view of priest, their identity being "superior" and the institution of the Church or magisterium being the Higher Power, rather than God who is the Higher Power beyond and over everyone and everything.

    I read Fr Tom Doyle's paper once and will read it again because there is so much there that even I need to really grasp in order to tear down the remnant's of a self-destructive belief system that I was enculturated into so many years ago. What is most startling is that defenders of the "faith" know how to push the buttons of fear, guilt, suffering, sin and punishment. The excommunications would surely bring out the worst aspects of toxic beliefs, which is why four of the St. Stanislaus board members probably caved, fearing the "salvation of their soul"?

    I thought this paragraph was very important also: "The Church's responsibility is directly related to the process whereby it has educated and formed Catholics from childhood to adulthood. The victims need to be able to see this as effective pre-conditioning that is related not only to the grooming for the abuse itself but also for their subsequent guilt and shame in responding to the violation of their bodies and souls. (This one sentence has reams of information in it. The inculturated system is so good it even manages to internalize the blame and guilt for it's actions with in it's believers. Lay believers constantly make excuses for the hierarchy.)"

    They also make excuses for the government and certain pet political leaders or issues as well. They will always blame some evil on "liberals." They also have a co-dependence on the military to keep them "safe" or "secure." They are too easily used and abused by elitist because they do not have an adult spirituality. No wonder GW Bush likes the Pope so much; he's grooming willing servants for his agenda.

  3. I agree with you Carl. This is a powerful article and it articulates a lot of things I knew but couldn't for the words for.

    I quoted more of his article today because I think his use of the Trauma Bond is especially critical for rank and file Catholics to understand, and not just as it applies to abuse victims. I think a lot of us cradle Catholics have experienced it whether one is from the progressive or traditional end of things.

    The Institutional Church has had an insidious and disempowering thing going on for a long long time and the centuries in which to develop it. Vatican II was only a start to dismantling it. The finish line is a ways off yet.

    Speaking of finish lines, Michael Phelps is an unbelievable human being...awesome.

  4. Butterfly:

    I see a lot of similarity in the "conditioning" of catholic education and the "conditioning" that was done by the japanese leadership to the civilian population prior to world war II.

    The conditioning that caused japanese civilians to throw themselves and their children from cliffs when the americans invaded okinawa has eerie similarties to the conditioned responses of the "faithful orthodox" who will defend the church no matter what, even to the point of villifying other catholics who have been "victimized" by the church and who have the "audicity" to speak out against it.

    Colleen, you are correct, the deconditioning of the laity is going to take some time. The positive sign is the large numbers who have already recognized this at some level and have abandoned the catholic church for other sources of spiritual nourishment.

    My sense is that we either are right at, or have just recently passed critical mass. I believe the process is unstoppable now, that it is only a matter of time before the roman catholic church becomes a minor world religion, and something more appropriate rises to take its place.

  5. Yea Carl, it is going to take time. With the likes of FO's espousing to be the true Catholics, people will leave to seek real spiritual nourishment. To define a Catholic in such narrow terms as FO's means being or becoming an unyielding judgmental automaton; certainly is not Christ-like, Christian, let alone Catholic in the true sense. That's not the Church that Jesus said he would be with until the end.

    We've entered into a new era. A consciousness of narcissism in the once powerful Roman Catholic Church and institution has been revealed in the sexual abuse of children by priests who were taught that they are god. It might have been better that they were not born is what comes to my mind when I think about it. The Church has fallen from grace, but from the ashes will rise the Church of Philadelphia. I am hopeful, but am very sad too, for those who have chosen to live in the ashes of ignorance instead of in the light of love.