Examining the Unconscious Goes Beyond Examining Conscience

The Murphy Report was not a surprise – we all knew what was coming. It appears inauthentic for the Archbishops, Bishops, Government representatives and others to say that they are ‘shocked’ by the findings. The ‘shock’ came a number of years ago and the abject horror and deep apologies being made have a hollow ring to them. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin recommends that Bishops and Priests examine their conscience – A Catholic notion – and light years away from a much deeper examination that is essential, urgent and will determine whether individuals who systematically covered up the violations will truly come to maturity. The examination that is required is that of the unconscious – the uncovering of the repressions that led to making the Church’s reputation and wealth more important that the wellbeing of children. Ironically, one of the few times Jesus got angry was when he spoke about the care of children: ‘whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea’ (Matthew 18:6).

There is a story behind every violation – whether that be of children or adults. What is becoming abundantly clear is that the non-listening to children, the covering-up of dark practices and the failure to act decisively in the face of known violations is as much a neglect of children as the violations of those who were perpetrators. Certainly, in the last decade those clergy who perpetrated sexual violations of children have been required to attend for in-depth and group psychotherapy in order to source the repressions that led to the appalling violations. This is the response that was always required. What does not appear to be emerging is that the Pope, the Papal Nuncio, the Archbishop, the Bishops, the Garda Commissioner and Senior Gardai, parents who ‘covered up’ the violations also need to attend for individual and group psychotherapy.

I believe that our nature is fundamentally good and I know of no child who emerges from the womb with the propensity to physically, sexually, emotionally, intellectually and socially violate another human being. Such violations arise from the nature of one’s life story, not from one’s biology. The answer to perpetrated violations or covering up responses lies in the perpetrators – albeit, often, unconsciously – but no matter what happened to them as children the matter is in their hands as adults. When these adults do not take on the responsibility for their violating actions it falls on leaders and managers within institutions, churches, schools, work and sports organisations, government and social organisations to take action. The action needs to be of a nature that safeguards others, especially children, from the major threats posed by these individuals, enforcement of the law and a non-negotiable requirement to attend for psychotherapy. The problem now is that those in charge were not in a mature place to take action and are in as much of a need of therapy as those who engaged in the violations. I have a real worry that the reasons being given for the deliberate covering up – the ‘good name’ of the Church and protecting the assets of the Church are still a means by those in positions of power of distancing themselves from the individual decisions that were made. The behaviour of each person arises from within (not without) and unless all those major players own their own responses as being about their own personal dark interiority, no real progress will be made. Dark times and major crises call out for each individual to find the support and professional help to travel the inner journey to acknowledge, understand and take responsibility for their defensive actions and move towards a solid interiority where it is no longer possible to violate, dismiss, lessen or exile the presence of children, and, indeed, all other adults. Whether we like it or not or are conscious of it or not, each person’s interiority – how they see themselves, others and the world – determines their ways of being in the world. There are none of us who do not need to examine our inner worlds and the future direction of society will be determined by the degree to which each citizen – no matter what their age, gender, status, wealth – takes up this responsibility. Leaders and managers especially cannot afford to ignore, trivialise, ridicule or dismiss the responsibility to know self. Failure in this regard will inevitably lead to a continuation of neglect – and the recession is evidence of such emotional and social neglect.

Dr. Tony Humphreys practices as a clinical psychologist and is author of several books on practical psychology including The Mature Manger.