Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Lament To A Spritual Abuser

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


  1. Colleen, "Mr." Carretto was a member of the Little Brothers of Jesus, after many years heading up Catholic Action in Italy. He was a priest, and served the suffering and poor both in Italy and in the desert of Algeria.

    I wonder what he might have said about the last 20+ years. He saw enough in his lifetime, and he may have been more anguished, but maybe not. Like most people, there is that love/hate relationship that we struggle with.

  2. I often question why I remain Catholic especially when Iget caught up in some of the posturing of our leaders, but, at my core, I know there is something wonderful and distinct in Catholicism. I believe that the Church is going through a period of purification right now, and I agree that we are a church "in process". I think Rome is so blinded by their need for control and power that they can't see that they are loosing both.

  3. I've come to think that my being Catholic is much more about my relationship with God, and with my family particularly some in the generations before me than it is about the institutional RCC. It certainly isn't about membership in a social club. I strongly suspect there is plenty of depth to the Church, if it could only be bothered to focus on that rather than surface sexuality and who gets the authority.

    Every now and again, I think I've gotten past the abuse of a person in my past. The past few weeks have been something of a test of that. I start to wonder if I'll ever really be healed from it and find the idea depressing. This column I will have to think about. I know it will be helpful.

  4. Bingo! Spiritual abuse is real and distinct from physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
    I think of the pastor of the parish where I had the misfortune to spend my teen years. This parish was highly affluent, all white, mostly Irish who have made it. Since it was a money maker for the Archdiocese, the pastor could have committed murder and gotten away with it.
    He ruled like a little king. He used to be driven around by a chauffeur in a Caddy that looked like it was a mile long. Jesus would not have been caught dead in it.
    He saw my own adolescent vulnerabilities and zeroed right in on them, holding me up as an example of beneath-our-standards, worthy of ridicule and contempt. It was an evil, hateful thing to do but he did it because he could get away with it, and did.
    Ancient tradition holds that the road to Hell looks like it is cobblestoned, but is in fact paved with the skulls of unworthy priests. His skull is one of several I know about in that road.

  5. Hmmm...the nature of Catholicism...
    Is emphatically not the hierarchy and emphatically not their misguided, silly, insulting rules and regulations.

    After that, it's sort of like the process some asian religions take. Once you are done declaring everything divinity is not,(like abusive) then there's a wide open field for everything divinity *is*


  6. Insightful and pointed as usual. Well done. I do wonder though what you're on about 'in process'.

    RC Management/Senior leadership is still promoting the same corporate message of the last 30+ years.

    Meanwhile, low-level management and labour (read priests, deacons and laity) have become more disquieted with employee relations as well as civil rights/EEOC issues. These have come to a head under the current CEO, who appears to rely on brand-loyalty than on quality control and has more interest in ensuring short term profitability than long-term stability and growth.

    There is, I guess, an 'in process' regarding labour (and some management) transitioning to other companies or dropping out of the workforce entirely, but apart from an unionization effort to demand workers rights from management (something not even hinted at, from my read), the prospect for substantive change is minute until the market share is low enough to stimulate crisis mode.

    I realise that it sounds horrible to describe it in that way, but replace the cassock and stole with a coat and tie (i.e. don't be distracted by the religious trappings) and it sorts out much like many corporations in trouble today. Also adds that certain tang of irony to any discourse against 'worldliness'.

  7. An insightful analysis. This line says it all for me: “ [The church] won't get there going backwards, and it won't get there preaching and living from fear while giving lip service to love.”

    It seems to me that the Catholic bishops grabbing the headlines today are the ones acting like righteous cops concerned about what is outside their sometimes very narrow moral law.

    It is spiritual abuse. They give only lip service, as you say, to love.

    The world, let alone the church, could do with compassionate people as leaders who speak and act with loving hearts and voices. I cite bishops because they have set themselves up as leaders and arbiters in the Catholic Church, but seem to have forgotten how to be pastoral people.

  8. No, we atheists/agnostics don't struggle; we've abandoned or never had any relationship with religion and don't miss it.

  9. I agree, Jamie Manson's post and the comments were powerful. You comments are excellent also and many good comments here too.

  10. "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."

    That's pretty much why I joined the Church, but now I'm wondering if it is necessarily so. Everything I love about Catholic spirituality seems to come from outside the hierarchy, if not from outright dissidents, loose cannons, and trouble-makers, some of whom were even excommunicated for a time. Maybe there is a hint there! Is the spirituality of the great saints really Catholic? Do I have to be Catholic to benefit from their teaching? I think I've been suffering from a far too narrow concept of the communion of saints. I blame my own lazyness, but the Church's tribalism doesn't help.