The End to Bending the Knee

There is an emergence of a maturity in Ireland with regard to upholding the dignity of person.  This development was very evident in the reaction to the recent newspaper photograph of one of the Irish bishops bowing to kiss the ring of the Pope.  What hope is there for change in the Church when its present leader would even allow such a bending of the knee?  Does the Pope somehow feel that he is superior, not only to the cardinals, bishops, other clergy, laity and to all the children who were spiritually, emotionally, physically and sexually violated by members of his ‘flock’?  What is the nature of the blindness that is perpetuating such blatant inequality?  Each human being is individual, precious, sacred and an unrepeatable happening in this universe and it is for each of us – no matter what our status is – to be in awe of our own presence and the unique presence of every other person.  I have no doubt that the man Christ would be absolutely horrified at the Pope’s behaviour and also at those who actually choose to bend the knee.  The intention here is not to criticise the Pope – he too is worthy of our unconditional love; no, the aim is to assert the dignity and worth of each individual and challenge behaviour that darkens that sacred response.  The Pope may argue that on Holy Thursday evening he washes the feet of twelve lay people, but showing such Christian humility and devotion one day in the year is not even remotely enough.  But why am I surprised?  After all the Pope still supports a male-dominated hierarchy and continues to marginalise women.  Women are still not seen as worthy vicars of Christ.  Christ’s message was gender free: all persons – male or female – who ‘love God with all their heart and their neighbour as their self’ are worthy vicars.   And so if women are still second-class citizens in the eyes of the Pope and the cardinals, why is it that we are dismayed by the lack of empathy in the Pope’s response to all those who have been victims of clerical abuse under his and his predecessors’ stewardship.

Related to the issue of male dominance is that any male-dominated system suffers from the extraordinary absence of the feminine – those qualities of love, compassion, empathy, tenderness, kindness, fairness, nurturance, support, emotional expression and emotional receptivity that explain a lot of what is good in the world.  The Church lost is heart many centuries ago and leadership was head driven rather than infused with both head and heart qualities.  Whether it is men or women who hold leadership positions there is an urgent responsisbility on each of them to address whether or nor each possesses the essential presence of both masculine and feminine qualities.  The mind without heart is not mind at all and great danger exists when this is the case. 

To his credit the Pope did make some attempt to explain the source of the clerical abandonment of children who had sadly already been abandoned, but his explanation came nowhere near the truth. His suggestion that ‘it was the weakening of their faith’ that led to the unspeakable neglect does not address the much more serious issue of the very dark psycho-social immaturity of those men and women responsible for the violations.  Neither does the Pope’s explanation address the very dark culture not only of the Irish Church but also of the Vatican itself in the covering up of these abuses.  For far too long, the Church has neglected to examine the level of the maturity of those they appointed to be shepherds of their flocks, an omission that does not yet seem to have reached the consciousness of the present Church leaders.  It is not ‘lack of faith’ that perpetrates abuse; there are many people who are not catholic who abuse children; it is a dark interiority, a profound immaturity that lies at the heart of it.

The reality is that emotional violations continue in the Church – not just in terms of the side-lining of women – but also in the authoritarian and superior ways of most Church leaders.  President Barrack Obama recently stated that whatever abuses in American society occurs under his governorship, the responsibility ultimately comes back to him.  Such accountability on the part of not only Church leaders, but also political, financial and other governors is worryingly missing and is a great source of concern.  I believe there is a deep healing needed within the Catholic Church, a healing that needs to bring light into the darkest corners of the Church’s centuries’ old dark practices.  Such healing can only happen within individuals but it helps enormously when the quest for enlightenment starts with those in the top positions.  Whether the Church survives or not, these individuals will remain a threat to the wellbeing of others until they resolve their inner turmoil.   When ownership by the Pope and other Church leaders of their immature responses is present, and a willingness to put on the sack cloth and genuinely express ‘Mea culpa, Mea culpa, Mea culpa’, then the haemorrhaging that is occurring in the Irish Church and elsewhere may stop.  However, maybe the exodus is what needs to happen!  The hope is that a new movement that truly represents the Christian message will emerge. 

Dr. Tony Humphreys is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist/Author and International Speaker. His book The Mature Manager is currently available.