“All power is a trust and we are accountable for its exercise.” — Disraeli.
According to recent news reports, the pope is concerned about the fact that more people are straying from the church these days. Could it be that more parishioners are realizing that no one has all the answers, no one is beyond reproach, that those operating under the myth that they are omnipotent have psychological quirks and problems that have led them to seek refuge among their rigid convictions?
It’s the patriarch thing — still predominate in many institutions of our culture. From many families, to the church, to government, men obsessed with authority and power run things, people often revere them and, no matter how corrupt the patriarchs, there are enough people that cling to the father figure so tenaciously that many get away with it.
In spite of the women’s movement, patriarchy has largely managed to remain alive and kicking — and its destructive ramifications are often evident in the news. This is not only about the priests who have molested children, but the church’s hierarchy’s cover-up — patriarchal mindset turned catastrophic. Add all those who allow them all that power.
Many questions come to mind. Why were so many children who were sexually abused by priests unable to talk about it? Why were the parents who were told about it in such denial that they couldn’t comprehend? What kind of arrogance imbued the hierarchy who went to great lengths to cover it up? Why was it more important for those in charge to protect the perpetrator than to protect innocent children?
Makes you wonder if these priests and the hierarchy feel at all sinful because they betrayed those who trusted them as examples of morality, integrity and compassion? How desperate are they to protect their position of unquestioned authority? A clue: The dean of the College of Cardinals once dismissed the accusations as “petty gossip.”
Why do so many people who live in a supposedly free society go along with any organization that is its antithesis? Doesn’t everyone know that giving a closed system that much authority and power is never a good idea — even when cloaked in the mantle of religion? Is believing that those aligned with religion and the church have godlike qualities and are beyond reproach comforting to those who feel they are unworthy or who can’t stand uncertainty in their lives?
Haven’t we known all along that some of those who answer a religious “calling” do so for reasons other than what we might expect such as guilt, arrogance or to escape freedom?
Erich Fromm, in his book, “Escape From Freedom” wrote about authoritarians of all kinds. “In a psychological sense, the lust for power is not rooted in strength, but in weakness. It is the expression of the inability of the individual to stand alone and live. It is the desperate attempt to gain secondary strength where genuine strength is lacking.”
So what results from this “secondary strength?” Brainwashing a child into unquestionable obedience to any authority may stroke the ego of the authoritarian and satisfy his aberrant need for power, but the child loses his autonomy in the process — often the authoritarian’s goal. Many such children come to believe that they are not capable of independent thought and, in the case of the church, that those who are in charge are omnipotent. In this way, followers, including the children’s parents, aided and abetted the pedophile priests by going along with the patriarchal mindset of a church that should have emerged from the dark ages long ago.
Is there any better reason for children to be brought up to be psychologically strong, self-confident, able to think critically, aware that they are worthy individuals who don’t have to be attached to some deity, dogma or a charismatic person to compensate for the emptiness in their lives? Especially in today’s world, learning to be skeptical and being able to say no when appropriate is more important than ever. Learning to recognize and become wary of anyone who would exploit them (whether someone on the internet, a lecherous relative, corporate interests or the religious zealot) is essential to a child’s well-being as well as an adult’s.
It is helpful to remember what Alon Gratch, Ph.D. wrote in “If Men Could Talk” regarding patriarchy and its related conformity: “Clearly orthodoxy, be it religious, intellectual or political has a vested interest in keeping its followers childlike. As long as they’re emotionally and intellectually dependent on the rigid truths espoused by a higher authority, followers are less likely to question the legitimacy of the entire system.”
Since 1984, Dorothy Dimitre has written more than 1,000 columns for various local newspapers. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.