The Good and the Bad Inside the Catholic Church

churchCarl Jung was a brilliant psychologist who taught that each person had a “shadow side.” This “shadow” was often an unacknowledged part of a person’s unconscious mind. We tend to reject our “shadow” because it hides an unpleasant truth about our own selfishness. Carl Jung believed that it wasn’t until mid-life before we had the ability to awaken to our shadow. Like the human person, the Catholic Church is the living breathing mystical body of Christ on earth. However, the militant Church on earth is not perfect. Only the triumphant Church in heaven is perfect. The Catholic Church has a shadow side. Pope Francis calls this shadow “clericalism.”

Clericalism is responsible for many of the scandals in the Catholic Church related to money and sex. These two problems ( abuse of money and sex) tend to go hand in hand. I heard this wisdom as a teenager from an elderly married Catholic gentleman who had a lifetime of experience in the Catholic Church. I eventually experienced this unpleasant reality myself as a young adult in my own parish several years ago when my deacon went to jail for embezzlement. (He was stealing all the $20 bills out of the collection vault at 3AM Monday mornings.) Meanwhile, the priest went on “retreat” for fondling women in the confessional. (He was supposedly teaching women the mystical sign of Jesus’ love with skin on.)

The Church hierarchy responded quickly and effectively when the shadow made itself known. However, the parishioners adored the deacon and priest and even set up Facebook fan pages for them while they were in jail and on “retreat.” Some parishioners had wanted to make these Church leaders into canonized saints. From my perspective, the Catholic bishop responded appropriately; however, the parishioners appeared to reject the seriousness of the situation and instead made quick excuses saying, “The priest and deacon are only imperfect humans and they need our love and support now more than ever.” This tendency towards minimizing the problems can stem from parishioners own unacknowledged, unconscious childhood fears.

The lay parishioners are often psychologically saying to themselves something along the lines of, “Daddy (my priest/deacon) needs to be ok because we need Daddy to take care of us. So, we need to minimize Daddy’s abuse. We need to make it sound ok so we can be ok because we do not want to lose Daddy.”

The truth of the matter is: we are all priest, prophet, and king. God has no grandchildren. Clericalism can be easily identified wherever lay parishioners, who are psychologically healthy adults, are being rejected and demeaned. Healthy priests, deacons, and bishops do not need to dominate, control, or shame their parishioners to fulfill their own deep unmet psychological needs for approval, prestige, or power.

Clericalism will not change as long as we have Catholic parishioners that enable such dysfunction. This dysfunction in our Catholic Church needs to change from the bottom up, not from the top down. In my past parish, the Bishop responded appropriately but the parishioners displayed serious psychological dysfunction.

Lay people need to realize that we are called to be a light to the world, not a light to our priest, bishop or even to other Catholics. The shadow side of the Catholic Church focuses on protecting clergy instead of serving the poor. It is the people in the pew who are seeking the approval from the clergy that feeds and supports clericalism. This is how the sexual abuse of children was enabled and covered up for years.

Many bishops do not know that whistleblowers who report abuse can be shunned out of their parish or religious communities and labeled as “crazy,” “paranoid,” or “mentally ill” after reporting both financial abuses and sexual abuses by clergy. The Pope can’t change that childish mindset by making bishops accountable for things that lay Catholics cover up and keep from them. Lay Catholics need to own the fact that we are the hands and feet of the resurrected Christ on earth during our time period in history.

As a member of the Ladies of Charity, I believe that lay Catholics need to focus on serving their own families first, then be of service to the poor and marginalized. This is the shining bright side of our Catholic Church. The beauty of our Catholic Church is stated most clearly in the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium or Light of the Nations. The Church is called to be a light to the world.

Across the nations, Catholic families are the cornerstone and the future of the Catholic Church. Lay married Catholics need to practice healthy self-care as a first priority! Second, they need to love their spouses. Third, they need to serve their children and grandchildren. Finally, lay Catholics are called to serve their communities because by their example they teach their children to do the same. This service to community can be done through one’s career as well as through volunteer work. Catholic clergy are called to be of service to the people in their pews who God has untrusted to them. Lay Catholics are not called to take care of their clergy members or to make excuses for their abuses or negligence.

The need for strong families and strong communities is essential. There are so many children today whose trust has been violated; who have not experienced nurturing or safe attachments due to broken family systems. These children live in our own country! They have been subject to derogatory judgments. They lack the skills and self-esteem to build and maintain positive adult relationships. Thus, we have broken marriages and more children being raised without a secure family network or sense of community.

Stable non-violent communities depend on healthy families, healthy church communities, and healthy schools. Without healthy families, society and governments are left to pick up the pieces through mental health systems and criminal justice systems. The Catholic Church knows and sees this through its wisdom in moral theology. Today is the day for all lay Catholics to own and acknowledge both the shadow side and the bright side of the Catholic Church and move forward into the light – stronger and wiser.


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