Dee's Blog
Tue 07/22/2008
The Role of Conservative, Restrictive Theology in Collusion
Topic: spirituality

The paramount theme that runs through Joe Rigert's new book, An Irish Tragedy, is the role that is played by conservative theology in the secrecy pacts that make people even less likely to talk about abuse, especially sexual abuse.  Especially when it happens in the most embarrassing place that insiders can imagine--inside the Roman Catholic Church, that sees itself so much as THE Church that even this Catholic journalist talks about "the clergy" as if it is only made up of priests! 

In such an exclusive "club," there are even more "reasons" to justify secrecy.  Though many of these are shared with conservative evangelicals (ironically, I learned, the reason that Irish priests were given for coming to America was to evangelize!):

 The repression of sexuality in the larger culture of the Victorian times up until the 1960's was an issue wherever conservative theology was a strong influence.  In Ireland, where 90% of the nation is still Catholic and the culture is strongly old-style Catholicism, that makes Ireland a close cousin to the Bible Belt of the United States!

Another parallel was tragedy that encouraged the further repression of an honest, healthy expression of sexuality.  For the U. S., in the late 19th century, this involved the big lies that came about to cover the enormous sexual abuse of slaves, while projecting the hidden problems onto the male slaves or African-American men who were emerging from slavery. 

During that same time frame, the potato famine that either took the lives or impacted the lives of everyone in the culture!  That disaster sent many Irish survivors to the U. S., along with a lot of priests who came from the overflow of priests already in Ireland, where only those who were most desireable by the Church were retained for the limited number of posts in Ireland.  All while the disaster helped cause the breakdown of families and drove sexuality underground where deviancy was allowed to flourish without notice as people scrambled for their basic existence!

Now you can see the systemic, complex issues.  As Rigert wisely points out, there are multiple contributing factors.  Yet we dare not join the masses who have over-simplified both the causes and solutions--such as either celibacy or homosexuality as THE cause.  Nor the total destruction of the whole concept of church.  It is not the concept of church, but the institutionalizing of power and control that tends to circle the wagons and keep secrets--that's what must be kept in our minds as we wrestle with structures and theology, both of which have the power to protect as well as destroy.  Yet only when the two of them are scrutinized far more carefully than most are willing to do.  

The question for the Church and all churches is the same as it is for each of us as individuals:   How do we keep the good that lies within us, while throwing out the "bath water?"  That's the age-old question, however we approach the elephants.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 8:25 AM CDT

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