Papal Fallibility

In the recently published book Relationship, Relationship, Relationship, The Heart of a Mature Society, myself and co-author Helen Ruddle write on what we call holding worlds and heads of holding worlds.  A holding world is where people gather together to live, learn, work, play, create, heal and pray.  The most important holding worlds are the family, the community, the school, the classroom, the church, the educational institution, the workplace, the wider society including, for example, the HSE, the Garda and the Social Welfare agencies.  Those who head these holding worlds – parents, teachers, lecturers, managers, employers, clergy ( priests, nuns, bishops, Pope) and medical and social welfare professionals doctors -  have a responsibility to know and govern themselves before they dare take on the governorship of a particular holding world.  Change in familial, social, political, educational, religious, work, recreational, health and social welfare systems needs to start from the top down as it is very threatening for individuals who are in a dependent place – particularly, children, teenagers, adults who are ill or vulnerable or poor or unemployed or suffering disabilities – to challenge the status quo.  Certainly, adults themselves need to find the wherewithal and support to come into possession of and responsibility for themselves but that road is more easily trod when heads of the relevant holding worlds have resolved their own identity issues, repressions and insecurities.

We have seen how the Roman catholic clergy at all the levels of the ecclesiastical hierarchy failed to provide mature and safe holdings for children, and through cover-ups, perpetuated that neglect when these same violated children became adults.  It was individual members of the clergy who perpetrated the violations and the cover-ups, and resolution lies with each of them.  Heads have a particular responsibility to ensure that such accountability emerges.

It was with genuine amazement and consternation that I read how Pope Benedict – the Shepherd of the flock of the holding world of the Roman catholic church – expressed his views and laid down church law on the ordination of women and the clerical abuse of children in the same breath.

When I consider the sheer inadequacy of the Pope’s response to the Irish reports on clerical sexual violation of children and the subsequent cover-ups the faux pas is mind-blowing.  The depth of the insensitivity of combining these two matters beggars belief and is only explainable (not excusable) by the presence of powerful unconscious emotional forces that lie beneath such outrageous behaviour.  I have no difficulty in the Pope expressing his own belief regarding women priests, but I do strongly question his calling it a ‘sacramental crime’ on the behalf of anyone who attempts to ordain women or women themselves who seek ordination.  For this so-called crime ‘automatic excommunication’ follows.  No such total exclusion followed the uncovering of sexual abuse of children and the attempts to keep all the darkness from coming to light.  Ironically, the priests who did perpetrate the violations are ‘defrocked’ – surely a Freudian slip given the Pope’s and other leading church members’ stance on women.  The hidden emotional processes have to be related to the Pope’s own (and other individual catholic prelates) fear of women, of femininity and of sexuality; there are probably power issues involved as well.

Disassociation, denial, dissonance, reaction formation are just some of the unconscious mechanisms that possibly underpin the Pope’s discrimination against women and the bizarre faux pas.  It puzzles me why anyone would consider that the provision of spiritual care is a gender and not a purely human issue.  There is nothing in the scriptures where Christ indicated that women were less than men and when Christ requested to ‘let the children come unto me’ he did not segregate them into males and females! 

When any head of a holding world is operating from the darkness of repressions he or she is not in any fit place to tender to those in his or her care.  This person urgently needs to seek the help of a psychoanalytic/psychotherapist to uncover what lies hidden.  But who is willing to challenge the present Pope?  The bishops and cardinals continue to bend the knee and kiss the ring of Pope Benedict and it appears that his vicarship will not be ended by them.  What is then required is a grassroots response – where catholic women no longer tolerate their unequal status – and resign their citizenship of the catholic church and practise  their spirituality where they are embraced in the fullness of their sacred and individual humanity.  Men, too, need to loudly and actively protest by leaving the catholic church because the church’s discrimination against women does not serve their humanity.  Indeed, putting men in ‘superior’ positions has created havoc – religiously, socially, emotionally, sexually, politically and economically.  Societal progress will be hugely enhanced by the equalisation of the sexes in all areas of human functioning.  At the moment such a transformation seems to be beyond the minds and hearts of catholic clerical heads and, therefore, it behoves the catholic flock to shepherd its own wellbeing.  

Dr. Tony Humphreys is a Clinical Psychologist, Author, National and International Speaker and Director of three UCC Courses on Interpersonal Communication, Parent Mentoring and Relationship Studies respectively.