Bishops and Children

The bottom-line question is this: how could Roman Catholic bishops, for a period of at least 25 years, not perceive the heinousness of child abuse? I mean, this is not a population of convicted felons in penal institutions. These are supposedly spiritual leaders. This is something of a paradox. But I think it is a paradox that a valid psychology of religion can explain.

I am a sociologist and former Jesuit priest, and I formulated my theory of religion long before the pedophilia crisis came to light.

My answer to the question above is that bishops are “drugged.” The Mass is a sedative, and Roman Catholicism is a culture addicted to that sedative. And bishops, the ultimate insiders of that culture, have a double psychological problem. One, they view reality through the rose-colored lens of their religious trance, and so abused children do not automatically appear real to them. Second, when it comes to anything that threatens the production of the Mass, they will tend to go into a denial defense.

This is not some simplistic throwback Marxism. I have thought a lot about Marx, and eventually came to the conclusion that he was only partly right. The true nature of religion is that it has a dual character. On the one hand it is a vehicle for awareness of the ultimate conditions of human existence. But on the other hand, since it is an instrument that goes to the very depths of the human experience, it also has to handle the introspective disorders in the human psyche. And so, historical religion, in its beginnings, came up with genius-level trance induction techniques that permit gradual access to commonplace trauma imprints. The Mass is one example; the haaj experience of Muslims is another; bathing in the waters of the Ganges for Hindus is another.

The “real presence” of the divine in all these expercises is purely, but powerfully, imaginary. It is a culturally-supported halluncination whose historic purpose is the gradual healing of the effects of primitive child-rearing practices.

These practices are effective. People grow by using them. Therefore, they outgrow them. Their use declines over time. The alternative to them for mature spirituality is to engage one’s interior self without sedative, while fully awake. To paraphrase a Buddhist maxim: Stop sedating yourself with ritual; make friends with yourself; start sitting.