Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
“Give me a child until he is seven and I’ll show you the man.”
The quote above is often attributed to the founder of the Roman Catholic Order of the Jesuits, Ignatius Loyola. I chose this as the opening to this series of posts on what puzzles many non-Catholics I talk with and read about, lately, who struggle to understand why Catholics remain loyal to the Church in light of the Church’s abysmal–and arguably mostly hidden–record of bringing the child molesters and rapists in its midst to justice.
But this “outsider” frustration is discussed more often now, when so much of the abuse going back years has finally been disclosed and recorded and where the lawsuits against the clergy criminals have begun.
Just as outsiders, though perhaps well-meaning, often ask abused women why they stay with their abusers because the outsiders don’t know what really goes on “behind closed doors,”people on the outside of Catholicism or who have not studied the abuse issue there can not know what goes on “behind closed Church doors,” particularly to young children, and what impact it can have especially on “cradle Catholics” (those born into the religion). Non-Catholics, or even nominal Catholics, simply cannot understand, without a primer, of why “they” stay.
It also puzzles onlookers why Catholics might take the words of the current Pope, Francis, to heart when he recently suggested in the context of talks about the sexual abuse that there are times believers are to “remain silent and pray.“
Even more recently, he suggested that certain whistle blowers are “instruments of Satan” as they go about accusing the Catholic Bishops.
Those dedicated Roman Catholics who do not leave the Church at this point might split their experience in two, one reserved for their own personal faith, the other, for faith in an institution they have been carefully trained to maintain faith in, despite everything.
Because, you see, the quoted statements of Pope Francis, above, though carefully word-crafted for likely legal purposes in the vague context of “suggestions,” are really much more than that in the minds and psyches of good, sincere Catholics who have been raised to believe that the Pope has special privileges and directives from God that no one else on earth possesses.
Good Catholics are prompted (and in my view manipulated) in myriad ways mentally, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually, to believe that the Pope, in his “official capacity” as “Christ’s Vicar on Earth,” (“acting for and in the place of Christ”), is very likely speaking as if he were Jesus Christ, Himself, and that’s some serious (alleged) credibility.
And the hearers might not see the subtle plausible deniability inherent in the rhetoric of “suggestion” versus actual “declaration of dogma” on “faith and morals”.
It also puts good Catholics in a mental bind, a state of cognitive dissonance (as psychologists would define the conundrum).
On the one hand, they may know that child molestation and child rape are serious crimes with life-long ramifications, they may have even been victims, but at the same time, the dissonant thought exists that, “but if God’s representative on earth who speaks AS Him tells us to remain silent and pray over this, and that the whistle blowers are the Devil’s agents, maybe I should just shut up and pray?” To put this in very simplistic terms.
And the frustrating, crazy-go-round of mental, emotional, psychological, and spiritual anguish continues.
Even for those who courageously step forward to right the wrongs, the old Catholic specters of shame, guilt, and fear over resisting the Roman Catholic spiritual hierarchy in any way (lest it be some class of sin meriting Purgatory or Hell, even) cause additional emotional and mental burdens to what already exists for any abuse victim in any effort to come forward and seek justice.
In the midst of the growing exposure and controversy, outsiders also scratch their heads over why many Catholics will not only become even more fiercely loyal to the “Holy Mother Church,” as the Roman Catholic Church is also commonly known, but also will continue to give billions worldwide to the religious institution as well as countless hours of volunteer work.
I am not a psychologist nor a criminal investigator, but from my own experiences as a “cradle Catholic,” a veteran of twelve years of Catholic school education, and from a typical large Roman Catholic family of the 1950s and 1960s in the Middle West part of the United States, I offer my first hand experiences as to why not only will good, sincere, Roman Catholics remain in the Church, but also how it may have been really very easy to groom young Catholic children for the crimes committed against them. And to get away with it.
Additionally, from my own experience (however, not sexual abuse experience, thank God) and my own extensive research into the Catholic Church in the six years it took me to fully transition out of, and recover from, its mental, emotional, psychological, and spiritual constraints after I became a Bible believing Christian in November, 1973, I understand why parents of victims were likely duped by themselves having been raised in the same religious milieu that rendered Catholic clergy as somehow more holy and pure than the rest of us–not to mention on some presumed higher spiritual plane.
And you just did what those “holy men” said.
For no matter the circumstance of Catholic mental and spiritual constraint, the age of the person or any other status, Catholics are held to the Church by some very strong dogmatic and traditional ties, most of which are add-ons to, or deviations from, original Christianity*.
So, if the friendly, outgoing, generous local priest offered to take a few special children on camp-outs or some other activity sponsored by the parish–or perhaps just your child–a parent would have considered this not a potential curse, but a blessing of sorts in a religious system filled with many extra-biblical “blessings” and “opportunities”.
But most importantly, why wouldn’t both parent and child trust the clergy?
And exploiting such institutionalized trust, so to speak, is one of the key reasons so many children were traumatized and so many parents were duped. I will attempt to explore how this trust is carefully formed between clergy and laity in the Roman Catholic Church, in part of this series.
Another topic is the “soft trauma bonding,” as I would label it, of several experiences, suggestions, and even dogmas, that arguably exist in that religious institution.
I have already written about why I consider the Roman Catholic version of “confession,” which is not the Scriptural version of confession, to be one of the “soft trauma bonding” agents for children who normally make their “First Confession” at about age seven (the so-called “age of reason,” as we were taught). This series starts here and is part of a larger series with related posts called “Out of the Fire: On Leaving Roman Catholicism,” where I discuss many other topics.
I believe the soft trauma bonding “Sacrament” of Confession that incorporates guilt, shame, and fear, as I wrote, was/is likely an influence in the early grooming of potential sexual abuse targets by the criminal clergy. Nowadays, confession has become more a community event, of course, so it is perhaps a little less fearful and/or traumatic for children.
But, of course, the abuse can start even younger than seven…
In this series, I hope to be able to help outsiders, or nominal Catholics (as in those who might just fulfill “Holy Days of Obligation, and the other Catholic “obligations” and not take the rest of it too seriously) understand the forces that keep many good, sincere Catholics in the fold of the only “authentic or true” Christian denomination, as they have been carefully taught.
However, my main goal is to encourage all that no matter the strength, longevity, pomp, circumstance, and incredible wealth–material and cultural–of the Roman Catholic religious system, there is one Way, Truth, and Life, Who is the real Jesus Christ Who will not only answer the heart’s fundamental yearning for Truth but Who is not in the least intimidated by the strength of anything mankind can conjure up to try to usurp His power on earth.
Most importantly, as I can attest, as well as millions of others will attest who have “come out from Her (the Holy Mother Church, aka, Roman Catholicism)” to the saving power of faith in Jesus Christ, He is more than able to calm fears, save souls, and deliver those in bondage to abusers of all categories including the clergy in the Roman Catholic Church and their enablers.
For the real God gave His Son for this purpose.
To put it in the words of St. John, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NIV).
Please pause, even amid the cacophony of rituals, relics, and religion, and think about that…
At the end of one of the dozens of testimonies I have been reading and viewing given by many brave people who are now seeking justice from the Catholic hierarchy for all of what they experienced as victims of sex crimes perpetrated by Catholic clergy against them years ago, horrific stories, I heard this sad comment by a man, now in his forties, active in the cause:
“I go every Sunday (to Mass) because I believe in the Eucharist. We’re a Eucharistic church, and that’s why I go. Church sometimes to me is the loneliest place in the world. I feel absolutely isolated in that place. But still…I go because I still want to be Catholic. I think.”**
May I encourage the reader, especially if you are a good, sincere Roman Catholic, that there is another spiritual reality.
It predates the official establishment of the Roman Catholic expression of Christianity.
It begins and ends in Jesus Christ, Who is the “same, yesterday, today, and forever.”
He hasn’t changed His mind about the real meaning of giving His Body and His Blood, one time, for all time.
He hasn’t changed His mind about loving you and what He did for you, that one time, on the real cross.
And He waits to heal you, too.
*Here is an interesting historical summary from one view. Of course there are myriad others easily accessed Online from both Roman Catholic and Non Roman Catholic points of reference.
**From “Betrayal: Abuse in the Catholic Church in Nova Scotia (2010) – the fifth estate.” YouTube.