My mind has been ready to explode with all the angry commentary surrounding the growing list of incomprehensible actions by some of our church leaders. It’s depressing, disheartening, and energy sucking. I’ve given way to many a rant myself, but the brief moment of catharsis is quickly overshadowed by hopelessness. Why is all this happening? If we could perhaps identify the source of the problem, and not just spout bitter vitriol and anger, then maybe we can begin a process of reform and healing.
Today, the National Catholic Reporter published an eye-opening piece by Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea, Hierarchy’s inability to mourn thwarts healing in the church. Frawley-O’Dea is a clinical psychologist, and the only mental health professional to address the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on the sexual abuse crisis at their 2002 Dallas meeting. She is coauthor of Treating the Adult Survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse, and coeditor of Predatory Priests, Silenced Victims.
From a psychological point of view, she believes that the inherent problem with our church leaders is their unwillingness to admit that the unquestioned power and authority of the past is no longer accepted by the majority of Catholics. A healthy response to this kind of seismic paradigm shift would be to allow a healthy mourning of what is lost, in order to make room for a new way of being. Instead, we are observing our leaders desperately hanging on to power by more and more shows of authority. Here is what she writes,
When a large group’s identity is threatened and power is lost, the healthy group will mourn before reworking their sense of self to accord with a new reality. When mourning goes well, there is a cleansing of mind, spirit, and psyche to go on after loss; to reconstitute self, relationships with others, hopes, dreams and beliefs in a renegotiated engagement with the real and the possible. There is self-examination about our own contribution to the control we are losing, perhaps ending in a rueful recognition that we never should have had that much control. The crisis of mourning well done can morph into a kairos leading to deeper connection with self, others and the Divine.
When mourning is refused, however, we may deny that loss is permanent and instead manically try to restore that which is forever changed. Nostalgia, memory’s rose-colored cousin, rules the mind and soul. In some cases, we select someone or something defined now as “Other” onto whom we direct rage for “causing” our loss of power and control even if our own behaviors actually ushered in the loss. Mourning is submerged beneath rage and exclusivity — we are OK, they are not; the badness is out there while goodness and heroism is within.
The failure to mourn power that is crumbling is rampant among the Catholic monarchy. A manic thrust to restore the past can be seen in a nostalgic return to cathedral length trains, cassocks, birettas, and a new/old missal in which words are more important than meaning.
Of course, this is but one thesis trying to explain the present situation in our Church. And, complex problems can seldom be explained in easy terms or solved with easy answers. But, in my opinion, Mary Gail Frawley-O-Dea has put up a mirror that gives an easily identifiable reflection of the continued power struggles of some of our leaders.