A big topic over the coming year is going to be the subject of priesthood. Pope Benedict in part acknowledges this in calling for a Year of the Priest to try and rescue the tarnished image of priesthood. Others though are suggesting it is not time for any more pr exercises but for a frank re-examination of the entire notion of priesthood and what role the priest plays in modern society. Tom McMahon is one of them. Today he begins a new series.
When John Henry Newman, the Anglican priest turned Roman Catholic, wrote of his conversion (turning and walking another way) he offered an explanation of his life, an apologia. Newman although made a cardinal was always held in suspicion by Rome; on his tombstone there is reference to the shadow that accompanied him as a Roman Catholic. John Newman was a prototype of many priests who converted from harsh Roman Catholicism to gentle Christianity. The following is Tom's conversion story. I offer my version of life and psychology after I met John the 23rd in 1961. Hopefully I can shine some positive light on the dark shadows that engulf the Roman priesthood today.
In 1956 Eric Berne MD of Transactional Analysis fame invited clergy to a clinical demonstration at MacCauly Clinic, St. Mary's Hospital, San Francisco. Three psychiatrists and six or more patients interacted with one another in a group session, I being the only clergyman watching. I was confused, taking home an awareness that as ordained priest I knew nothing of human psychology. As my pastoral knowledge grew I began to be aware of peoples' conduct, wondering over the years if psychology played a role in religion and what was the psychology of priests. Eugene Kennedy's FASHION ME A PEOPLE, MAN, WOMAN AND THE CHURCH (1967) opened for me the doorway to education in psychology, a period during which I earned a Masters and a California State License as a therapist.
I am trained to appreciate humans using the Virginia Satir Family Systems approach.
In the Satir way one never separates an individual from the life sustaining system; it is the priest in the church system that I observe in the following series. I combine nearly 70 years of observing and studying priests in the roman system. For most people I sense that the priest is the system. I wrote 23/11/99 THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK, reflections on past and future priest. Today I approach as a well informed amateur, an insider now looking in from outside.
For years I collected newspaper articles, anecdotal cases, and VCR's on clerical abuse, as well as having contact with accused priests. The sexual life of a priest is most difficult to appreciate, a massive silence reigning amongst the worldwide clergy. In all that I can amass I have yet to find a secular priest revealing his sexual identity and innermost personal thoughts. I have studied myself and my own maturity from seminary days and I am doing the best I can to offer an objective analysis of the psychology of the present day tragedy. Two years ago I gave up collecting individual stories of abuse; they poured into my computer from every state in the Union and from every country in the world; all are clouded in ambiguity and secrecy. The penalty for any cleric caught or speaking openly is complete annihilation and disassociation from and by the institutional roman church.
For sound information I have fallen back on writers whom I consider as the best informed and reliable; authors like Jason Berry, David France, Donald Cozzens, Michael Crosby and Richard Sipe, experts in the field who write truth and well documented reality. There are many excellent books on this mystery called sexual abuse, aka dysfunctionality. My contribution is not historical, rather I am searching for that harmful psychological thread/link that runs through the Roman Catholic clergy of the Second Millennium. Finding the link is a daunting and complex experience; writing about it is a challenge. The link is right under my own nose, yet highly camouflaged.
The Ryan Report...
The 2009 Irish Government sponsored Ryan Report (clerical sexual abuse in Ireland) triggered me to dig back into my own family history and write about the evolutionary development of sexuality in the Roman Church. I am often asked what is happening to the Catholic clergy. I am a poor man's historian and psychologist; I have no modern research engine, having to trust in my own integrity to fill in the gaps in history that are like mine fields, intellectually and emotionally laid down 1000 years ago and exploding today. Father Edward Schillebeeckx says: hard facts are difficult to come by in this period of time (Middle Ages). I take the liberty of using my imagination, based on my experience of life, a talent denied to us/me during seminary and early days of ministry and I couple this with the hard facts that confront everyone today. It is in the Middle Ages that clerical psychology goes underground, suppressed particularly with the institution of the seminary system in the 1600's. A seminarian of the 1700's is duplicated in the 1900's/2000's, outwardly dressed the same and inwardly mind broken to a rigid inhuman pattern. Pavlov's dog experimentation comes to mind. I sense many of my friends and peers will be disappointed. Again I tell my story in no way asking that other priests make it theirs.
I recommend David Rice's SHATTERED VOWS for modern historical evidence. There are no experts. In justice let us proceed with careful and honest steps. I have no axe to grind. I spent 38 years inside the Roman Church's guarded and secretive system.
Throughout this paper I keep in mind a quote from Joan Chittister, found in her book FRIENDSHIP OF WOMEN (2006). "Two are better than one" the Book of Ecclesiastes teaches "for if they fall, the one will lift the other up; but woe to the one that is alone". From the early 900's the mission of the institution has been to make the priest an isolated dehumanized machine, the lone wolf lonely man. I see the priest as alone in a crowd and the remnants of that loneliness are still inside me, even after 3 decades of marriage. My archetypes (first impressions) are deep and after 15 years of post ordination therapy fairly easy to study. I am the study in this paper, the man trained for 12 years in the marine corp of the Catholic Church. I feel it fair to say that I have been matched externally one hundred thousand times over in other men who have been ordained Roman Catholic priests. In my day St. Patrick's Seminary was known as the priest factory. At ordination the expectation was that we were all from the same cookie cutter worldwide. The seminary was an efficient system for creating robots.
Tom McMahon, San Jose, Ca. (28/06/09)
What are your thoughts on this commentary?