Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Must Read

Are these nuns or nurses or both?  If the Church is looking for a very similar example of poor cognition, the male medical model should be eerily familiar.

The National Catholic Reporter has just posted an article by Fran Ferder and John Heagle in which they analyse the thinking of clergy sexual abusers.  For those who wish to try to understand how the Vatican can make some of the statements they do, this article is a must read.  I have excerpted the heart of their analysis.  This link will take you to the full article.

We have conducted psychological evaluations of dozens of clergy sex abusers over the past 25 years, becoming familiar with their style of cognitive processing. Similar to sex offenders in general, they typically deny responsibility, minimize the seriousness of their offenses, blame their victims, react with outrage when accused and redirect attention away from their behavior. They are self-centered and often exhibit a sense of grandiosity -- a belief that they are above accountability. If this sounds familiar, it is because we have repeatedly -- and sadly -- been seeing it in the responses of church officials from the cathedrals of the United States to the basilicas of Rome.

A mentality is a way of thinking, a deeply ingrained pattern of perceiving, reasoning and decision-making. A sex-offender mentality is one that prompts defensive, self-serving, deceptive and blaming responses when faced with credible accusations of sexual crime. Unaware of their abnormal processing, sex offenders display a blindness that is central to the problem.

Even more disconcerting, however, is that characteristics observed in the mentality of individual offenders can also be present in systems and institutions. The similarity in cognitive processing between actual offenders and the system that seeks to shield itself from their offenses is often chilling:

•“Holy Father, the people of God are with you and will not let themselves be influenced by the petty gossip of the moment” (Cardinal Angelo Sodano, former Vatican secretary of state, Easter 2010, St. Peter’s Square).

•“Pupils told me on concert trips about what went on. But it didn’t dawn on me from their stories that I should do something” (Fr. Georg Ratzinger, brother of Pope Benedict XVI, BBC, March 29).

•Only 300 of about 3,000 sexual abuse cases spanning 50 years involved allegations of “genuine pedophilia” (Scicluna, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s promoter of justice, March 13).

•“All we ask is that it be fair and that the Catholic church not be singled out for a horror that has cursed every culture, religion, organization, institution, school, agency and family in the world” (Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, March 28).

•And the latest -- the attempted ordination of women is a grave crime that ought to be treated with the same severity as the sexual abuse of a child.

These and similar statements illustrate a mentality whereby the characteristic way of thinking of sex offenders has found its way into the collective psychic structure of an institution. The same “default” setting in the brain that triggers distorted mental processing prompts members of an entire group to think and respond in much the same way that sex offenders do. This “group think” inadvertently offers protection to actual sex offenders, and may have attracted them to the institution in the first place.

Let us be clear: We are not suggesting that church leaders are sex offenders. But we must name a tragic reality: Many of them think or respond the way sex offenders do when confronted with clergy sex abuse and its cover-up: They deny, defend and blame. They minimize and cover up. They become outraged when their abysmal handling of abuse cases is exposed. Most egregious of all, they display appalling deficits in empathy for victims: They turn to categorizing crimes when all people want is a heartfelt pastoral response from their leaders.......


The process of cognition described here is certainly not limited to the clerical system of the Catholic church.  It can be seen in the medical profession when doctors think of patients first as a collection of symptoms rather than real live people.  For some doctors, it's been the nurses job to take care of the 'people' needs.  Thankfully this pattern of cognition is being addressed in medical schools.

But the medical field is another good example of a systemic patriarchal culture which has had the same cognitive issues the Vatican and clerical culture now present.  This can be seen historically as well, as the upswing in medicine as an exclusive province of males is happening at the same time the witch Inquisition is going full bore in Europe.  The suppression of female herbalists, midwives, and village healers can be seen as a necessary component in furthering the advancement of the scientific academic approach to medicine. Some would say this period of history represents the ascendant of the rational ordered left hemispheric world view over the emotional irrational and unprovable right hemispheric world view.  One mode of cognition is the purview of the male mind, and the other is the purview of the female mind.  The justification of the one over the other is the notion of 'complimentarity'.

One of the really fun things about experiencing the Native American world view is that both the spiritual and the medicinal is embodied in the same person. Although there are some distinctions with in the concept of medicine person, a holy person incorporates the practice of 'doctoring' as one of their gifts for the community.  On the other hand, a medicine person need not be consider a holy person.  For Native Holy People exposed to Christianity,  such as Black Elk, Jesus as a Holy Person is considered the epitome of both spiritual person and medicine person.

I just think it's most fascinating that the spiritual and medicinal practices as espoused in Western thinking, have in the past, and are now,  faced with the necessity's of trying to restore a gender and cognition balance to both fields of endeavor.

These are also both historically 'service' vocations, and both, under patriarchal domination have become paths to status and power with in Western culture. This accumulated wealth and status has too frequently come at the cost of exploitation rather than service.  We need to restore the balance, because we literally can not afford the status quo.


  1. This is dated, and it doesn't fit here, except as a "must read" if you haven't already read it. I found it last night. And it so describes what we've been circling of late: What's a frustrated catholic to do?

    By a writer! Powerfully showing how the church used to be a refuge and how hearts have been broken - not just for those who were physically or sexually abused but by the bystanders who can no longer "stand by":


    I found it very powerful (maybe you found it in April!) for it demonstrates how the church is imploding and losing her "most faithful" and most authentically heartfelt and God-filled seekers.

  2. I'm surprised this article didn't get more response. I thought it articulated the situation very well. However, maybe we are just preaching to the choir at this point. Although I think many other people need to get this, this group may be long past it.