Saturday, August 27, 2011

Catholicism And Codependency: It Isn't About The Holy Spirit

In the JPII Catholic Church I can think of one demon possessed who wa$ worth way more than three codepents.  Come to think of it, that person specialized in turning out codependents.

I have written in one way or another for almost four years that the abuse, addiction, codependency paradigm explains what is currently the prevalent psychological mind set in Roman Catholic leadership.  This is easy to see in the behavior of too many of our American Bishops, but codependent behavior seems to be the litmus test for the often praised JPII priest as well.  Obedience, loyalty, self abuse, codependency, and addictive behaviors have been hallmarks of historic Catholic religious indoctrination for about fifteen hundred years.  One of the problems with Vatican II was it seriously attempted to cut the heart out of this dynamic.  Unfortunately for the people of God, codependency was too ingrained in the clerical family and the usual reversal, frequently seen in the family abuse dynamic, took over.  The promised radical change turned out to be mostly empty words.  The Catholic family is now expected to close ranks and pretend all is well in the family and always has been.

If one looks at specific Catholic cultures and leaves out the addiction issues with in family structures, one can not begin to put together an explanation for Catholic abuse in countries like Ireland, Australia, Canada, or the US.  Children raised in families that are essentially units in the addiction cycle and who are then exposed to a Church run by codependents from other addictive families,  are going to have a very hard time avoiding their own abusive, addictive, or codependent issues when it comes to their own spirituality or own families.

The signature trait of a child born and raised in an addictive family is trying desperately to control and make sense of a life situation which is by any definition utterly unpredictable and too often abusive.  Or to put it differently, trying to make sane what is insane.  This task is usually accomplished by a predictable set of behaviors which includes an incredible ability to deny or reinvent the facts of their lives.  They are then   hypersensitive to criticism about their reinvented reality or the people close to them who necessitated the creation of this reality. They become very secretive in order to control information about themselves and protect their invented reality.  They learn to compartmentalize or divorce themselves from both the real facts of their lives and the emotions associated with those facts. They bend over backwards to serve the whims of their addictive abusers becoming in a very real sense addicted to perfect martyrdom. They become almost exclusively reactive and crisis oriented because that's what they grew up with and it's all they know.  Finally, they frequently repeat this pattern in adult relationships and situations.

All the service professions have a higher proportion of codependents than other fields.  This should hardly be a shocking surprise.  Neither should it be a shocking surprise that all religious bodies have their fair share of sexual predators.  The problem comes when the two faces of addiction/codependency intersect.  Then you have the  familiar situation of codependents covering up for addicts and predators because the codependents belief in their invented reality is more important than the facts of the damage done by the addicts and predators.  Ergo scandal to their image (invented reality) of the Church was far more of an issue for codependent bishops than the sexual abuse of some non consequential ten year olds. Besides, those non consequential ten year olds could be bullied into acting like perfect little Catholic codependents--which too many of them then tried to be to their own destruction.  Clerical abuse only became a problem too big to deny when too many of those inconsequential children started coming forward.  Tens of thousands of inconsequential victims and thousands of exposed predators are no longer inconsequential.  At this level the fantasy reality is facing a whole lot of unwelcome reality.

A corollary consequence to this process is that it inevitably stops maturation and development.  The individual, family, or institution seeks the return to the familiar cycle of abuse, crisis, placation, and the safety of the invented perfect world. That the codependent dynamic is alive and well in Roman Catholicism is not hard to see.  The hard part to see is how to change the dynamic.  The first step is to recognize and acknowledge the problem which this Vatican is not about to do.  They are in fact using all the codependent strategies in their tool box to hide this problem:  

1) The Vatican under Benedict is always creating a crisis for itself.

2) Secrecy reigns supreme even though we're told it doesn't.

3) Differences of opinion, criticisms of the hierarchy,  or views of the Church which differ from the imagined ideal are inflated to dissent or even heresy, and never tolerated.

4) Issues which result from actual clerical behavior- and which do undercut the fantasy of clerical holiness- are shoved aside and minimized in favor of over reacting to issues brought by outside others which are perceived to directly threaten the idealized notion of the all male celibate clergy.

5) The Vatican is now purposefully engaging in a strategy for convincing Catholics their personal identity resides in the institutional church, totally dependent on the all male priesthood,  and not the person of Jesus Christ--hence the whole Catholic identity movement.

6) The 'do as I say, not as I do' strategy becomes more and more evident.  This is especially evident in the treatment of gay Catholics.  "Yes we love and affirm your dignity as God's creatures-- as long as we don't know you, but if you make yourself evident, it's all about sinful behavior not personal dignity.

7) The use of the 'us against the world' strategy and it's corollary, "no one has the right to criticize us who isn't one of us".  In this strategy, those on the inside who criticize are systematically and forcefully hunted out and made outsiders.

8) The final one, which personally drives me nuts, is there is never direct communication.  It's always indirect communication and usually in the form of the behind one's back kind of thing.  In this scheme, organizations like the USCCB or the Maryknollers become go betweens for the imposition of Vatican authority while vociferously stating they are not.  Two examples of this indirect communication strategy are the Bishop William Morris saga, and the imposition of the new liturgical translations.

I wish the True Believers would understand this codependent/addiction dynamic.  Forget the battles over this that and the other dogma or liturgical preference.  Those are just diversions to keep Catholics from seeing the truth, and that truth is the clerical system has a power addiction problem and has for a very very long time.  It is for this reason that I do not advocate adding women priests to this addictive clerical family.  I actually suspect that if this Vatican were to ever ordain women priests, they would all come from the new habited cloistered convents.  You know, the obedient loyal ones, which just happen to be the two traits must highly valued by addicts in their family enablers.

Here's a great humorous read about this same topic.  The link is to the second part, but that contains a link to the first part.  It's by Australian Graham English and written for Catholica Australia.  I will freely admit I laughed a lot and can now stand up and say: My name is Colleen and I had a Hair of the Dogma problem.


  1. A lot of the things we were taught early on in the VI Church only instilled fear. My poor mother was so full of fear and really fell for the line, the false line, that is always brought up here in your blog. I think it caused her Alzheimer's disease. Seriously. And it was the worst thing to witness. That's what happens to the minds of fearfully led people.

    "8) The final one, which personally drives me nuts, is there is never direct communication. It's always indirect communication and usually in the form of the behind one's back kind of thing."

    This one really drives me crazy too.


  2. "I wish the True Believers would understand this codependent/addiction dynamic."


  3. Invictus, expand that, please. Why are you laughing?

  4. mjc Maybe that sentence hit too close to home.

  5. Thank you Colleen for this truly enlightening post. What you wrote about the childhood of codependents was very helpful to me in understanding an individual churchman. The biography fits perfectly.

    Each of us needs an spirituality that begins in the awareness of being loved, grows into freedom and is energised by love. For me the exemplar and teacher of such a spirituality is St Teresa of Avila. We know so much more about her when we know the historical context in which she lived. She was far more than a pious saint. Thank God for the feminist scholars who have also discovered her power and originality.

    Thank you for all your reflections. May you always flourish.

  6. Thanks for this blog. You have put into words my experiences in the Roman church. In any addictive system the abnormal becomes normal & so nothing in the system works. Everthing dysfunctions, doesn't do what it was supposed to do. So there are pedofile priests & enabling bishops not doing what they are supposed to do.

    The addict must be healed first & then the other members of the system. This will not happen in the Roman church because the addict ( the clerical hierarchy) is tightening its control over all the other members by tightning the bondaries of the family (purity tests). Codependency means that members become responsible in their own minds for the feelings & actions of the addict & lose their own self-indentity. Hence the cover-ups by the hierarchy because they have come to believe this behavior is "normal". Obviously to an outside observer it borders on criminal behaviour.

  7. Thanks, I think this is a great reflection on our situation. It made me think of the poem Home To Roost by Kay Ryan which is below.

    Home to Roost

    The chickens
    are circling and
    blotting out the
    day. The sun is
    bright, but the
    chickens are in
    the way. Yes,
    the sky is dark
    with chickens,
    dense with them.
    They turn and
    then they turn
    again. These
    are the chickens
    you let loose
    one at a time
    and small—
    various breeds.
    Now they have
    come home
    to roost—all
    the same kind
    at the same speed.

    Kay Ryan

  8. I wanted to wait a few days before commenting.

    This is the most insightful and useful commentary I have read here. Thank you Colleen.

    Perhaps it is because I have witnessed and experienced the cycle of addiction and co-dependency that it so speaks to me. These and other serious problems, such as depression and suicide, can echo through the generations of a family. One person may believe he or she is alone in their suffering but the dynamic may have been set before they were born, such as in fetal alcohol syndrome person.

    I am somewhat puzzled by Dr. Graham English's article being referred to as humorous. Perhaps the phrasing is, but I could relate quite seriously to every point he made. Perhaps that's the Irish in me. Like Dr. English I have an ancestor from outside that awful circle and perhaps it was his anti-clerical nature that saved at least half of my family from swirling that debilitating drain of despair.

    Trying to deal with addictive and co-dependent behaviors among co-workers has been the greatest frustration of my working life too.


  9. p2p, to be honest I think my own work situation was the genesis of this post. I can not believe what can happen when codependents and active addicts are so prevalent in a corporate culture that crisis after crisis after crisis is generated---and never solved so the interminable crisis cycle can continue. I've said for quite a number of months now, where I work is a microcosm of the same dynamic now prevalent in Catholicism.

    And what's worse is I go home to codependent cats!!!!

  10. Thank you so much for sharing something that so many of us children who grew up in the Catholic families struggle and try to make sense of every day. I am often at a point in which I want to run away from it all and live alone somewhere that I can learn who I truly am without someone telling me I am right or wrong for what I believe. I know I am a codependent addict that feels like a cat constantly trying to chase her tail but apologizing the whole time for bumping into anyone along the way. I don't know where to begin in healing but I think the first step is identifying this problem. The fear factor we have instilled in us at a very young age from our parents and grandparents because that is what they know can make you feel that you are the sane one who refuses to stay on the merry-go-round of life.