Tom McMahon offers his own introduction today: Let's go into the dark tunnel — a non-expert with reluctance and bewilderment offers some thoughts on THE BOYS OF ST. VINCENT. Let's call it an on going random series with two prefaces aka preparations for reading and appreciating the complexity of clerical abuse.
Into the dark tunnel...
PREFACE 1: Mobilizing my thoughts so as to offer to Catholica readers my appreciation of the film THE BOYS OF ST. VINCENT has been difficult for this little boy from 15th St. San Francisco who happened to be ordained a Roman Catholic priest. I have viewed the DVD in 1995 and three times since. While applauding the film and its message I have led myself back into the dark tunnel of my own sexual maturity. I am experiencing flashbacks of youthful loneliness and vulnerability that are focused upon in the movie with wonderment at my travels thru the Scylla and Charybdis [Wikipedia] of the Odyssian kid [Wikipedia] who survived as a human being [Wikipedia: In Greek mythology, Scylla was a monster that lived on one side of a narrow channel of water, opposite its counterpart Charybdis. The two sides of the strait were within an arrow's range of each other—so close that sailors attempting to avoid Charybdis would pass too close to Scylla and vice versa.]
Five fundamental concepts...
PREFACE 2: Five fundamental concepts make up the following study, namely inattentional blindness, mindfulness, the now church institution as a dysfunctional family, the healthy need of human touch, and the theology of ordination. These concepts are fundamental planks in the platform of this presentation.
Inattentional Blindness: The September 2012 edition of THE SMITHSONIAN carries an article "But Did You See the Gorilla? The Problem with Inattentional Blindness". It opens with "for more than a decade my colleagues and I have been studying a form of invisibility known as inattentional blindness" Viewers of a video were asked to count how many times white-shirted players passed the ball. 50% of the viewers did not see the woman in the gorilla suit while trying to keep track of the ball.
Mindfulness is now fast becoming a practice taught to grade school children, using a psychology of the importance of each individual person and the rights and dignity of the human being no matter what is their status, ethnic origin, gender, or age.
A Satir approach to dsyfunctionality views the interlocking relationship of each and all members of the unit under study. Dysfunctionality is never in one person.
Human touch is a natural gift of nature. Used properly it heals and comforts whereas unhealthy touch harms deeply and permanently.
This writer's belief is that much of the sexual abuse problem stems from a deliberate misunderstanding of human nature and the Sacrament of Holy Orders. I recommend a study of Richard Sipe's excellent paper THE CONTEXT AND CAUSES FOR CLERICAL SEXUAL ABUSE as carried in Catholica. We shall refer to this as we go through our own series.
I limit myself in this series to work with the above concepts, applying them to the clerical abuse crisis with The Boys of St. Vincent as a model. I have no intention of documenting abuse cases, feeling comfortable to leave the way to those far more qualified than I.
Jason Berry and Richard Sipe lead the way in offering abundant material and psychological understanding of the enormity of abuse. Having lived inside the Roman system all my life I want to examine the underlying theologies and philosophies that have effected my life.
The problem is systemic...
As a boy who went to seminary at age 13 and was still immature as a priest ordained at age 25, I have much in common with every priest who have gone through the seminary system, especially those who have become religious leaders. The demoniacal supposed spiritual use of power that made victims of innocent children has haunted me since the early days of my priesthood. Removed now 75 years from my childhood days, 70+ years from seminary and 58 from the boy who was ordained in 1954 I have keen memory of the way society – including clergy – bungled the issue of human sexuality. I use my own life experience, falling back upon many videos and newspaper clips, particularly to appraise time elements and vastly separated locals. Along with Richard Sipe I hold that clerical abuse is endemic in the very systematic nature of the present day Roman priesthood. I have been familiar with the abuse of boys in New Newfoundland (the Boys of St. Vincent) from the initial expose in the late 1970's. While tracking clerical abuse on a map of the United States in the 1990's I checked off the the 50th State in which a cleric was involved, aware that a conspiracy of abuse and cover up was underway internationally.
The first part of THE BOYS OF ST. VINCENT opens with a lad of 10 being interviewed by a mature and understanding policeman who is investigating accusations of child abuse brought against the Irish Christian Brothers of New Newfoundland. The policeman has penetrated the wall of secrecy that predators use to ward off discovery. The ten-year-old's near the same age as I when I entered the seminary in 1942, age 13. Both boys are pre-puberty, having in common a harsh Irish Catholic version of religion taught by stern "men of the cloth". The boys share an aurora of sadness as the orphan boy has lost his parents and the young seminarian his father. Neither understands the psychological impact of their loss. The seminarian enters the Roman system voluntarily whereas the orphan will be remanded to the boys home for his protective safety; he will know only harsh treatment by male superiors while the "little boy from 15th street, San Francisco", will know tender love from his widowed, church-wise mother and her brother priest, the seminarian's surrogate father. Sadness and the want to be accepted will leave both vulnerable in an all-male system that is filled with pathologically unfit teachers, particularly males who per chance have been themselves deprived of healthy guidance in their own youth and will use illegitimate power to crush the energetic healthy spirit of their charges. The perpetrators are mentally sick boys in men's bodies.
Irish spirituality is loaded with negativity, fear of an unknown God, and condemnation of the human body as a evil. The seminarian (again myself), grandson of James Bresnahan born in San Francisco in 1866, will for twelve years have the silent backing of balanced spiritual people, his practical mother and her brother a native son American-born priest ordained in 1922. This 40 years in America and two generations separation from Ireland are key components to young Tom's upbringing. Our great grand-parents came from Ireland during the Potato Famine. We were/are Americans, far removed from the malicious influence of Cardinal Paul Cullen, the Primate of Ireland and Archbishop of Dublin, who preached that the Famine was a direct result of the infidelity of the simple Irish people. The orphan boy has no defense against the pathological rigidity of a dysfunctional Irish Roman Catholic system, led and taught by severe men in monk's garb and following old European Jansenistic customs. The defenseless orphan would be victimized by men who themselves were more than likely victims of past abusers. My imagination accepts the fact that most victims of abuse and those who speak out, often violently, are genetically or socially possible victims of some form of abusive conduct. No one inside the system can see the gorilla or elephant in the room. The I.P. – aka Identifiable Patient or kid who acts out – will become the legitimate whistle blower.
Let me close out the first of this series with study of John Chuchman's reflection (carried in Catholica on 16th September [LINK]) on the contrasting view that Jesus held as compared to the angry God of the Old Testament.
The picture of an angry God as presented by Cardinal Cullen sharply differs from that of Jesus who uses the term Abba/daddy. Church law and practice until Vatican Two are heavy with medieval negativity, sin, excommunication, and appeasing God for human sin while the spirit of Vatican Two reflects the paradoxical mercy and forgiveness of the Gospel Jesus. Reconciliation, peace among all human kind, communion/common union/community, mercy and forgiveness, all are the pathway to salvation in the here and now as laid down by Jesus. (All found in Pacem in Terris of John the 23rd). Our present era struggles with the elimination of the ancient eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth justice system that Jesus preached against. The newness of a Jesus' understanding of human relationships is presently a resurrection in itself. Daily in my personal life I can say: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. (Personally I prefer the name Jesus not his post-Calvary title The Christ. Jesus has died, has risen, and is coming again... is here.)
From John Chuchman:
One's spirituality reflects one's image of God.
The bible presents us with many and sometimes contradictory images of God.
NEXT WEEK: What's a religious brother?
Tom McMahon, San Jose, Ca. 05Oct2012
What are your thoughts on this commentary?