Friday, April 8, 2011

Dysfunctional Systems

There are dysfunctional systems and dysfunctional game playing, and too often one does the other.

The following article describes a survey taken from a significant cross section of Australian priests.  I strongly suspect the same kinds of results would be found amongst American priests.  It seems the Catholic priesthood is as frustrated as Catholic laity, and it has as much to do with the over all Catholic system as it does the clerical system.

Survey finds discontent among Australian Catholic priests  
Apr 05, 2011 by David Crampton- The Christian Century
Sydney, April 5 (ENInews)--Many of Australia's 3000 active and retired Catholic priests are critical of their bishops and admit they do not believe crucial church teachings, according to a survey to be released this week.
Dr. John O'Carroll, a communications lecturer at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst and colleague Chris McGillion, who coordinates the university's journalism program, sent the survey to 1550 active and 160 retired priests, and 542, or about 32 percent, responded. They they conducted 50 face-to-face interviews and are publishing the results in a book, "What Australian Catholic Priests Really Think About Their Lives and Their Church."

"You've got a very representative group of mainstream priests responding," McGillion told the Sydney Morning Herald. A former Herald journalist and author of two previous books on the Australian church, McGillion says the priesthood crisis is professional, rather than vocational.

While most clergy find fulfillment in the priesthood, many say they are overworked, poorly managed and feel constrained in their religious vocation by bureaucracy and parish administration. Nearly half of the surveyed priests consider their bishops as "an exclusive group and one far too subservient to Rome," the book says.

One priest described the Vatican as a "bully-boy," adding, "I want no part of it." A younger priest, age 47, wrote, "given the state of the church today, I look forward to the night when I go to sleep and just don't wake up again." (This is a very sad statement.)

Brian Coyne, editor of the independent Catholic website Catholica, believes bishops, while aware of priestly dissatisfaction, choose to remain silent and not address the issues. "We have firm evidence of what the priests are actually thinking. It brings out into the open what people have suspected for a long time. But Cardinal George Pell and the bishops are blind and deaf to all of this." Pell is archbishop of Sydney, writes regularly for religious and secular publications and has appeared on television and radio. He declined to comment on the book.

In the survey, almost 70 per cent of priests thought abortion was always a sin and priestly celibacy should be optional. Several volunteered their sense of frustration that some married Anglican priests have been accepted into the Catholic priesthood in recent years. About 40 percent said pre-marital sex was sinful, and just 19.2 percent thought it sinful for married couples to use birth control. Several priests admitted they were in long-term committed relationships with women. One priest said he learned more about God from Alcoholics Anonymous meetings than the Catholic Church. (Maybe this is because AA deals in spirituality and not dogmatic religion.)

McGillion says that while most find the priesthood satisfying, "there is still a worrying minority that we uncovered that are locked in this situation. They talk about depression, alcoholism and so forth," he told Australian television. The general secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Fr. Brian Lucas, said he has not seen the book.


The first thing that struck me is the authors of the study were able to get such a high response rate from a group which has to have a high level of caution when it comes to stating opinions.  I'd be curious to know if the responses were statistically higher in some dioceses rather than other dioceses.  Off hand I'm inclined to believe the response rate might not have been quite so good in Cardinal Pells' Archdiocese of Sydney.

I am not terribly surprised with some of the results--especially the results on premarital sex and birth control.  This just seems to underscore the huge disconnect between the hierarchy/Vatican and the rest of the Church when it comes to sexual morality.  I often wonder if this is because the rest of the Church lives in a world with women and the Vatican doesn't.  As some of  my clients inform me, it's easy for me to lecture them on taking their meds when I don't have to worry about it.  They live a life I don't, based on physical issues I don't have.  Occasionally being reminded of that makes me much less the know it all, and much more the listener/problem solver.  I'm not sure the Vatican ever gets the same kind of feedback when it comes to women because they don't demonstrate much understanding about the unique problems of women.  

The level of frustration has been documented in other studies done elsewhere.  There's a lot of loneliness and it's resultant problems with self medication.  Alcoholics anonymous is a secure haven for a lot of priests. So are illicit sexual relationships, both short and long term.  None of these issues are the sole province of the priesthood. Off hand I can think of some other helping professions which have the same kind of profile, and some of those professions are very well paid.  Money doesn't seem to help the helpers cope with helping.

Sometimes I think there's a great deal of similarity between and with in all the 'helping' professions.  I remember in grad school one of the profs telling us students that about 75% of us were in his class in an attempt to deal with our own issues more so than garner the information which would make us qualified to help others.  I often remember that observation when interacting with co staff.  It seems a lot of us just found a whole slew of better rationalizations for not changing our behavior.  It's a fact that my clients, who are not all that taken with titles and degrees, are a better source of honest feedback than any staff meeting could ever be.  Like the mental health system, there are all kinds of reasons that the clerical culture is a dysfunctional system.  Not all of them have to do seminary training or notions of clerical superiority.  Some of them are just the product of humans searching for healing and validation and not finding healing or validation because they can't heal or validate each other.  Garbage in, garbage out. Dysfunctional system.

Roman Catholicism really is showing the signs of a collective organism which is being poisoned by it's own waste products.  The Vatican bureaucracy with it's emphasis on sacred tradition and creeping infallibility is serving as a cork backing up the whole system.  Living systems die when they can't eliminate their waste products.  The Body of Christ needs either a good dose of Ex Lax or the cork removed.  The sixty four million dollar question is who is going to serve as the proctologist?



  1. your article reminds me a book by Drewermann, "Clergy, psychology of an ideal"

  2. Ana, thanks for the link to Drewerman's site. Why am I not surprised another theologian was silenced by Ratzinger for speaking the obvious truth.