clerical bullies…what to do?

Bullies have been on my mind lately. The issue of bullying in schools and among young people is finally getting much deserved attention. Bullies are present in academia, the work-place, cyber-space, governments and (sadly) in our churches.

It’s time for pro-action. We need to identify and name the bully for who and what they are. And, we need to do something about it.

Among the ordained, bullying too often goes hand in hand with clericalism. A culture that claims and promotes a sense of entitlement, exclusivity, and superiority needs to be carefully defended. As with most insecurities, the sense of self is protected by keeping others “in their place”. The paradigm of hierarchy is clung to as an absolute truth. Centralized authority and demands for obedience feed the beast.

We experienced this clerical bullying first-hand many years ago. I wish I could let it go…but I can’t. This experience, in many ways, formed the woman I am today. I’m saddened and maddened at every church news story of priests and bishops who reflect an aggressiveness or abusiveness that belies the gospel message they are preaching.

It breaks my heart to hear that so many have experienced clerical bullying first hand. Some learned from the experience, digging deep to embrace the core of their faith. Others experienced such hurt that they left their faith behind, locked up with the bad memories.

Yes, I have many friends who are priests of integrity. They are good and faithful men, who have chosen a life that is becoming harder and harder to defend. The dysfunctional clerical culture has hurt them too.

What do we do? I really do not know. All I have is my own experience and the lessons learned from it. We need an open discussion and sharing on this issue. I wrote an NCR Today blog post on this topic. The discussion boards produced some thought-provoking responses.

I hope the discussion continues….

2 thoughts on “clerical bullies…what to do?

  1. What an incredible dialog! When I was a teenager first starting in music ministry, there was a priest who was quite tall; physically he was an imposing figure. At five feet tall I’m definitely on the other end of the spectrum. I sometimes wondered if he used that physicality to his advantage…I’m sure I was quite annoying because I would sometimes give retorts to some of the comments he’d make. As you’ve said, this wears on you after a while. I eventually moved on for a number of reasons. Long story short is that speaking with this priest often frustrated me. I learned much later from my dad that the priest told him, “I wish we had a lot more like her in the parish…” I thought it was quite ironic that I may have had a different impression of him if he could have learned to occasionally acknowledge my point of view, but no, that didn’t happen, or, if it did, it wasn’t consistent enough to make an impression on me! 🙂

  2. Hi Cathy,

    I’m so sorry for the late reply….
    Whenever I share this story, I’m amazed (and saddened) by how many others have had similar experiences. There is some comfort in the sharing…and hope that by bringing these stories to light, perhaps some change will come. I also think that once we have a few years under our belts, we no longer suffer fools gladly! 😉

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