Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Problem With The Professional Priesthood Is It's Not Professional

Is Catholicism training priests as professional clerics, or fixating pious young men in co dependent adult immaturity?

The recent initiative in Washington DC, ChurchOuting.com, has provoked a great deal of discussion and comment, and not just on this blog. There seems to be more consensus rallying around the idea of outing bishops and cardinals, rather than rank and file priests. That's pretty much where I stand because that's pretty much the nexus of the real problem.

Fr. Geof Farrow has presented the case against outing in the most practical and pastoral terms. I most certainly respect his opinion. He is one gay priest who has paid the price for insisting on personal integrity. He has earned the right to be heard. He asks the question lots of people are asking, does the end justify this means? It's a question I've given a lot of thought to in the past week or so. One I have trouble answering myself.

If a similar situation existed in other professions it would be addressed by professional ethics committees who had real teeth to enforce professional ethics. This is certainly true in my own field in which I have witnessed both psychiatrists and therapists called on the carpet by peers and seriously sanctioned for violations of professional ethics. These sanctions were not just professional, but in some cases--most notably sexual abuse cases--came after and on top of criminal and/or civil prosecution. Losing one's license to practice, even for a temporary time, causes a great deal of economic hardship and seriously impacts the ability to find further work in the profession. So does going to prison.

These are sanctions with real teeth and no professional therapist wrings their hands about fellow professionals who abuse the therapeutic relationship. We don't waste time making excuses because some of our fellow professionals lack maturity or have failed to come to terms with their own issues. We know that the abuses of some of us impact the professional credibility of all us, but more than that, we know that abuse is antithetical to everything we try to promote in our professional relationships about the inherent dignity of our clients. Abuse denies the very reason we exist as a profession.

I don't understand why the priesthood has no similar peer review or ethical process. In fact, it's just the opposite. Our bishops purposely removed themselves from any accountability in the Dallas Charter. This decision makes them unaccountable even to each other, which is why Fabian Bruskewitz in Nebraska hasn't been called on the carpet for his complete refusal to comply with the Dallas charter. In this respect, bishops have reserved for themselves the right to abuse with zero accountability. I say zero accountability because there has been virtually zero accountability for offending bishops, certainly from fellow bishops, but most conspicuously from the Vatican itself. In those few situations where there was a modicum of personal accountability it was enacted by the bishops themselves by retiring, but only after they had been publically exposed. They lost no benefits, salary, housing, or sacramental authority. Unlike Fr. Geof Farrow who lost it all.

Given this situation, what legitimately Christian means is there to enact some kind of accountability for abusing priests and bishops? Are we supposed to exercise a form a charity which has not been shown to clerical victims and never will be? Are we supposed to accept that we need to let some people get away with abuse for the sake of those who minister on the sly, under the radar of their bishops?

Am I supposed to extend to priests sympathy and understanding for their particular plight, (brought on themselves by their own decisions), while insisting on a much different professional accountability for myself and practitioners in my own very similar field? Am I to operate under the assumption that priests have no real professional standing, and are not professionally accountable because of that? Or am I to concede that in general priests are too immature and dependent on the hierarchy to deal with the consequences of their decisions and behaviors like other adults. If any of this is true, than why in God's Name, would I look to them for leadership of any sort?

If priests and bishops really feel that publicly pointing out abuse and violations of their professional code of conduct is unfair, (Canon Law) then let them come up with a real peer review board, a professional ethics board which has real teeth. If the Vatican doesn't like it because it usurps their supposed authority, too bad. It's not real authentic authority anyway.

SNAP has proven beyond a doubt that without a real alternative to a bishops' absolute authority, there are very few options for any kind of meaningful accountability outside of public exposure. I don't have to like it, and in fact I don't, but the alternative is to leave the status quo in place. That will be only result in more and more victims and more and more tolerance of a co dependent, immature, and easily victimized priesthood.

Is that really the kind of professional religious leadership an adult laity needs, or does it more reflect the kind of professional 'leadership' the Vatican wants? I think I know that answer to that question.


  1. Colleen, I agree and have suggested that the Episcopacy is far behind the general society in finding expectable ethical limits. This has been true for a very long time and the model of leadership is what is responsible. I suggested some time ago that the People of God must not stand for this type of leadership. Pointing out hypocrisy is the ethical way for us non clerics to react. There are sexual harassment laws that apply to even non professional society. But what the Bishops have done is go far beyond harassment of our children. They have been codependents in the rape of our children. In some instances, maybe more than we now understand, they are also the rapists.

    They harass women in general by their misogyny. They harass people in the Church who are grieving and hurting when a marriage breaks up. They harass their own better theologians who can not agree with them. For some reason they see themselves as teachers without resumes; they suffer from the delusion that they know more theology than the learned professors, more medicine than the doctors an more science than the scientists - this is megalomania and is a symptom of a cancer in our midst. They harass politicians who for good reason can not agree with them. It is time for the People of God to give them the truth about themselves that they are hypocrites unworthy of our resources both monitory and our time working on their gradizement.

    Yes, it is time to call out the hypocrisies. The Bishops have lost the respect of a large section of the laity and they are doing irreparable harm to the Church and society in general. It is time for those that can not fully trust the Episcopate to move on without them. Those that can fully trust them are likewise guilty of the crimes and misjudgments of these men. We can no longer be codependents for this very borderline group in society.


    R. Dennis Porch, MD

  2. I'd like to restate this:

    "Is Catholicism training priests as professional clerics, or fixating pious young men in co dependent adult immaturity?"

    as a statement, followed by a question:

    [Roman] Catholicism does not train [its] priests. Instead if fixates pious young men in [to] co- dependent, adult immaturity.

    This in contrast to the [insert your example or examples here], who make a demonstrable effort to train professional clerics.

    My question: if the Roman Catholic Church trains its priests incorrectly, what community trains their clerics correctly? Where do we turn for an example of how to do this right?

  3. Mark, maybe we need to first redefine what a priest or the priesthood is as far as role in the church.

    As an example, one of the first steps I've often thought is that maybe the role of pastoral counselor should be given over to folks who have actually had serious training as therapists or counselors. I would also allow these specially trained people to offer sacramental absolution. There is nothing in scripture which would necessarily preclude such an option.

    The diocesan priest as jack of all trades and master of none may be past it's sell date given the complexity of modern society.

  4. What a mess the Church and the world are in. Colleen, I agree with your analysis here. Those who agree with Fr. Geoff are concerned about Outing it seems to me for good reasons, however, it only leads to allowing for the abuse to continue and perhaps grow into a larger cancer. Their view, it seems to me, essentially ignores the scores of injustices that the Church hierarchy imposes upon a vast majority of people who suffer from the weight of their abuse.

    For example, the abuse of making it illegal to have an abortion in each and every circumstance and to punish the woman, and perhaps send her to jail & render her unavailable to care for her other children, perhaps even lose her children and her job, for the doctor to lose his medical license, for his or her family to be thrown into the streets, etc., etc., etc.

    I should have more sympathy for a Bishop and a system that is not accountable to anyone who holds this stance against women & their doctor, but want to allow that same Bishop or his peer to abuse children or young adults, to condemn gays and divorced and remarried, women priests while they have adulterous affairs?

    I should have more sympathy for a Bishop when he is proclaiming self-righteousness while abusing others by indicating he will ruin your life and even your ability to remain in the Catholic Church if one has a different opinion than he?

    It seems to me that the Catholic Church needs to clean up its act and expect of itself to act as if they are servants of Christ, not bullies intent on belittling others and everyone else for their supposed sins, while they sin unmercifully and hypocritically.

    What a mess, and the Church has had plenty of time to clean up their act. Outing is the unfortunate but natural answer to the hierarchy's hypocrisy and bent for outing others and abusing them with a system of power that desires to not be accountable themselves for their abuse against many more people.

  5. Training priests. Seems to me that Eastern Orthodoxy has something to offer. For example, priests can marry prior to ordination to the diaconate but not after. Thus, if they're not called to celibacy, they can delay ordination. I presume also that given they have married priests, that all of those training get some training on ethics related to their obligations to the flock. (For example in Eastern Orthodoxy, it is a sin to pass judgment on someone while hearing confession. And all they do is - together with the penitent - face an icon - and the priest simply listens and then gives absolution. Possibly some pastoral advice.) I bet there are other ethical/moral rules they have to follow as well.

    Not only that among the Orthodox bishops must be celibate - thus most of them end up coming from the ranks of monks. Thus, spiritual men, elevated for their sanctity.

    Need I remind people that the Orthodox do not recognize papal infallibility, etc.

    I'm not saying they are the be-all and end-all of ethical wisdom. But I think much could be learned from their training and behavior.

    Next, I surely agree with everything in the post regarding a need for a professional ethics code. Not only that - if clerics are given the privilege of performing a civic function, such as signing a public document certifying marriage, then the law could insist that those performing civic functions and acting as clergy have a written code of ethics and be licensed by each state for this civic function. If they have to be licensed first, then there is a way for a licensing board and review of failure to live by the ethics code.

    Also, in some states sexual abuse by anyone "holding themselves out to be a counselor" is a felony. Every state should pass such legislation.

    Among the Espiscopalians in such states (likely others as well), priests or ministers do not "counsel" for more than a couple of sessions - for liability reasons.

    Just a few ideas here.

    Great title. Fabulous post! Timely. Should be required reading for many!