Dee's Blog
Tue 08/26/2008
Long History of Secrecy
Topic: Power

The fact that there has been a lot of sexual abuse by priests stopped being a secret among priests in the 19th century!  In fact, in 1890 instructions were given from Rome on how to handle cases.  Because of the alarm that the mis-handlng of cases was creating.  In these thorough written instructions, it was said to be a crime even worse than murder and one that must be investigated.  Permission was given--in fact, it was expected protocol--that the "privileged communication" question was not covered by this crime.  Even back then, there was no assumption made about numbers being few.  What's more, they recognized that most of the victims were female--a fact that many of us suspect today, but it's hard to get the hard facts when so many are afraid to speak.

 All of this was presented by Patrick Wall at this year's SNAP conference.  Wall is a renouned consultant in legal proceedings that call the Church into accountability these days.  He's also a former priest, putting him in the camp with many of us who have been professionals formerly working for the institutional church in some aspect, yet unwilling to continue playing the games of collusion.

Problem was those instructions from Rome seem to have been ignored by the masses!  So much for following orders from Rome!  Maybe that's done only if it's convenient? 

As the problems grew, it seems that there was far more concern with controlling the messengers and evidence of the massive trends of cover-up.  In 1941, bishops were further instructed to destroy documents of criminals 10 years after the death of the criminal. 

By 1958 a property growing with inhabitants was shut down.  This happened because tourists discovered this island in the British Isle's that was the home of abusive priests who had been sent there to contain them. 

In 1964, a study revealed that half of the priests in treatment were there for substance abuse.  The other half for abuse of children (30%) or "affairs of the heart" (20%).  The latter, of course, were mis-labelled.  This 20% was the abuse of vulnerable adults.

And the beat goes on.  Only history will tell us if the number of adults who come forward with stories, when they are strong enough to do so, is reduced in decades to come.

What it will really be showing is whether the Church has faced it's shame and negative "pride" and replaced it with a genuine and well-earned pride that is a sign of spiritual health and courage.  For it's courage that is the hardest quality of all to muster, the one shortest in supply.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CDT
Mon 08/25/2008
How Shame and Pride Intertwine
Topic: spirituality

Two of the most destructive elements that work against real spirituality are shame and pride.

As a kid, I often heard that my grandfather had "so much pride."  Those who said this thought it was an asset that he possessed.  Truth is it was a negative pride that is born out of shame.  He was ashamed to let people know when he or his family were in need.   Ashamed of being needy.

Real pride IS an asset.  It comes when there is integrity and a healthy self-esteem.  It produces a balance between asking for help when it is needed and having qualities that deserve recognition.  A person with real pride knows that he or she has reason to be proud.

Destructive pride is what dysfunctional families and institutions possess, and both are filled with people who hide in shame and isolation, unwilling to be honest and often lacking integrity.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CDT
Sun 08/24/2008
Appealing to People Victimized in Various Ways
Topic: Making Changes

Berry encouraged us to try to connect with people who have been ripped off by church systems in other ways.  In other words,  people who have never experienced abuse nor been around those who have, may have difficulty understanding just how serious the impact on victim's lives.  The tendency may be not to identify and not to see that the entire congregation is, in one sense, a victim.

Yet those who have had their schools closed, either from abuse or from embezzlement, may feel ripped off and more willing to join in calling leaders into an accountability about many things.  They may be more willing to see abuse as not "just an error in judgment," but a matter of gross immorality that cuts to the hearts of those who have been victimized. 

Persuading people to talk will be a lot easier as we build bridges with a wider group of people.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CDT
Fri 08/22/2008
Making a New Story
Topic: Making Decisions

Jason Berry, an author who specialized very early in the issues of abusive clergy, was one speaker at SNAP that I didn't want to miss.   Especially since I'd heard him before and respect his wisdom and experience.

He talked about the need to have a new approach in trying to engage the press in covering the on-going saga, in light of the fact that the press is interested in what is really news, of course.  As a writer, I'm always looking for what is different in a story myself.  Have heard the "same old story" many times.  Survivors often do not understand that this is what moves writers and journalists and what makes the general public interested in hearing stories, as well.  Just as it moves us to see movies--we all want to learn something or be entertained in a different way, one or the other.  In this case, the subject matter doesn't tend to be entertaining, but it can be very interesting and instructive.

So Berry's suggestion is that we look for parallel trends to help the press expose the news.  To pique interest in the large percentage of diocese that have cases of embezzlement and to compare the way this is handled or not handled, covered up or exposed.  To show that this often happens in the same diocese where there have been grossly abusive priests.  That's a new way to approach it.


Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CDT
Thu 08/21/2008
The Work of the Bishop
Topic: Power

I'm still learning about bishops.  Cause, in my own little limited arena, being a part of the second largest denomination of Christians in the world (ie. Southern Baptists) until I was 40 years old, I'm not sure that I've ever met a bishop personally, though I've heard from several who have written to me about my work. 

Seems, from what I can gather, they are the Super Clergy who have the power to move the ordinary clergy around like a bunch of pawns.  In other words, the big bosses. 

Southern Baptists have a way that's just as strange to those who have bishops.  As strange, but not necessarily any more dysfunctional.  Baptists think of everyone in the church as being a priest.  There are no bishops.  Of course, it can get very messy and uneasy for everyone when a pastor needs to be moved, for whatever reason.  Or fired.  Or "run off," and that's what often happens. 

Mainline Protestants have bishops or the equivalent of one, but some are just as likely to be almost as loosely organized as Southern Baptists.  Generally, though, with some kind of profile system so that there is some way of approving the recommended clergy members that a church will consider as its next pastor, at least.  Though churches can be mavericks in many systems, calling unapproved people.

Bishops, as I understand it, are to be in charge.  Yet, according to Eugene Kennedy, this means a bishop is also someone who:

1. is expected to be a follower

2. has the job of controlling things so that questions get settled quickly

3. is not allowed to ask many questions

4. is obligated to conform

5. is uncomfortable with the mysteries of everyday life

Sounds like a child in the early part of the 20th century to me.  Just 100 years behind!  With the children in charge?  Talk about being stuck!

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Wed 08/20/2008 2:22 PM CDT
Wed 08/20/2008
The Doublebind of the Clerical Culture
Topic: Power

Andrew Greeley was the first to introduce me to the "clerical culture" concept, though I'd grown up in it.  He was describing priests in the Catholic Church--which is all most Catholics seem to think exists in the whole profession!  Of course, I saw far beyond that--and looked at the similarities and differences between Catholic and other faith groups.

Yet, until I came across Greeley's phrase "clerical culture," I never thought of it as being a separate culture.  At times, it is one of privilege.  At other times, one of much duty.  Often being a part of it (even as the wife or child of a clergyman) is to live in isolation in order to be protected from the idealism of outsiders who cannot accept the humanity of those inside this mysterious world that really looks quite ordinary inside whenever one has the luxury of being in a situation where protection from the fishbowl can be experienced for a little while. 

The truth is that the outsiders say they want us to be "human," but just try being human for a few minutes in the wrong setting!  Just try letting your hair down and see how much "human" people really like.   Believe me, every word is judged in some circles.  Every smile or frown, too.

Being the rebel that I am, I learned quite early in life to pretend when I needed to do so.  Yet I've also learned, as I've grown older, not to care much about what the masses think of me.  I actually learned to enjoy presenting folks with ideas that shock most people in the pew, who have never thought beyond their tiny little world of home, church, and a career that opens a few more doors, often requiring that one stay in another box that doesn't challenge the status quo and sees simplistic solutions to complex problems.

To most people in the pews, clergy and their families are like little gods, if not the God.  It's idolatry; and it doesn't all come from the clergy handing down this idea either.  It comes just as much from the people who want to equate God with their spiritual leaders.  So that they do not have to look further, to see the limitations of all humans. 

So the people blame the clergy, and the clergy often blames the people.  I really believe it's both.  Somehow, together, we have to learn to create new images of what God's Kingdom really is.  Because it's dangerous for everyone concerned, the way things are now.

All because we often prefer to believe lies and fantasy rather than reality.  As if any of us fully know what reality really is!


Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Wed 07/30/2008 9:14 PM CDT
Tue 08/19/2008
How the Fearful Handle Information
Topic: Power

People in places of power have a lot of fear and anxiety, Eugene Kennedy reminded us.  Because of this, they tend to take in information without doing anything about the troubling information that they have in hand.  This keeps those who trust them locked in puzzlement.

All because the followers do not understand power any better than those who possess it.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CDT
Mon 08/18/2008
Too Healthy?
Topic: coping

"You are too healthy for the world."  That was the assessment given by Eugene Kennedy, a psyhologist and former priest who first disocvered problems in the priesthood way back in the1970's.  He was speaking to the national conference of SNAP when he said this.  It's obvious that Kennedy fits in that category of "too healthy" folks himself.

Most people do not have the privilege of seeing the transformation of people who have been transformed from the depths of suffering to the mountaintop of the "upper room" where people "wash one another's feet,"  he went on to say.  People back away from those who have been transformed by suffering because the anxiety of witnessing this is just too high.

Especially those who are in a position to exercise authority and are uneasy about doing so.  He was speaking, of course, about the people in power in the institutional church.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CDT
Sun 08/17/2008
So Much for Average
Topic: Making Decisions

The day I brought home my first C, my father looked like he'd been hit in the face with a wet dishrag soaked in buttermilk!  I'd been telling him that I was struggling in math that year. Only when he saw the C did it register, I suppose.

I was rather happy to have the C, considering with how hard I'd been struggling.   And I told him so.  

Dad didn't punish me--at least not visibly.  Yet the look on his face was plenty of punishment.  I'd never seen him so devastated about anything I'd ever done. 

Perhaps he was revisiting his own youth.  After all, he'd been a high school dropout, having quit school to join the service.  Then, following World War II, he redeemed himself by getting into college on probation and managing to make the honor roll at times before graduating and going on to seminary.  I'm sure he was thinking that he didn't want his daughter to struggle as he'd done.  Like many parents, he and my mother had an inflated opinion about their firstborn daughter in those formative years.  I'd just burst my father's bubble, no doubt, and brought him down to reality. 

It wasn't my last C, but Dad learned to accept others when they occasionally made a dent in my otherwise above-average grades. 

In addition to his look, I remember his words more than any words I ever heard him speak!  That's just how big an impact that experience made on me.  So large that I'm certain I've internalized the feelings of that moment; and they continue to work in me, sometimes for good and sometimes not so good.

"Average!!  Don't ever be content with being average," he said.  "Average doesn't usually get much done that's important."

While I am definitely content to be average in many things, and even below average in some, if it's something that I think really matters, I do my best to remember my father's challenge.  The world is full of people who don't try to be above average in much of anything, and that keeps the world revolving.  It all depends on whether we want to revolve or evolve, as I see it.  I prefer the latter.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Wed 08/20/2008 7:45 PM CDT
Sat 08/16/2008
Having Faith in the Next Generation
Topic: Making Changes

Sixteen years ago, I met Jeannie Miller, founder of Linkup. This is an organization that only has a few people still using the name.  Yet the spirit of this rather short-lived activist organization lives on.  The spirit that was concerned about making changes in the faith community, but emphasizing the need to make changes in ourselves as the paramount concern.

The organization's leadership was willing to challenge survivors of abuse by clergy to not look to the Church with great expectations, though it challenged the Church to look at itself.  Today a small fragment of this group meets every week in Chicago, I learned reacquainted myself with some of them at SNAP.

It's such hard work to have faith in future generations and to trust the tedious process of change when making paradigm shifts.  That's what Jeannie told the national meeting of Linkup, however, back in 1992.  She said that we had to learn to trust the process--not the process of doing church, but the process of change that takes generations.  She even said we have to learn to enjoy the process--that's even harder for those of us who want to look beyond the standards that seem to satisfy most people.  Not because we believe we are better than others, but because we believe that we can all be better and more mature if we refuse to be satisfied with the status quo.

I've seen many people come and go in this work.  It seems to me that only those of us trust the process end up staying on. 

We believe in the next generation.  Or, at least,  we hope they will carry on in making progress.  And so we encourage the younger folks, empowering them and recruiting them in every way that we can.  As we dare to look into "the Promised Land," as Martin Luther King understood it.



Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CDT

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