Saturday, September 10, 2011
Harassment and Bullying in the Church
Harassment and bullying are not tolerated in most secular jobs and societies. Many secular governments and institutions enact laws and rules not only protecting people from harassment and bullying but giving recourse for victims and society to hold aggressors accountable. This is true whether the aggressor is an individual, group, or official.
Since church leaders promote themselves as superior purveyors of truth and justice, one might expect the church to be less tolerant of harassment and bullying behaviors than secular society. However, Canon Law barely addresses the topic other than in cases where someone was coerced into receiving a sacrament. Quite frankly, laypeople can be harassed or bullied because Canon Law grants few rights to laypeople and little to no recourse for holding clergy accountable when bullying occurs.
In addition to the reduced rights Canon Law hierarchically affords laypeople, Canon Law interpretations further enable harassment and bullying because they usually favor protecting the images of clergy and the institution over laypeople’s dignity. This occurs for a few reasons:
1. Clergy serve as judges in cases of Canon Law.
2. Clergy acting as judges almost universally incorrectly perform a mental substitution of the word “hierarchy” for the word “church” when it appears in Canon Law rather than correctly interpreting it as “the people of God”.
3. Many clergy such as Pope Benedict have transformed the apostolic duty to serve the least among us into a superiority complex, and perverted leadership into manipulation - believing clergy need to manipulate “simple minded” laypeople of “simple faith” “for their own good and salvation”.
However, manipulation is a form of harassment and bullying, as is coercion. These tactics combined with power imbalance induce stress and exasperate a person so as to control their behavior or get rid of them if they can’t be controlled. Threats, humiliation, fear, deception, lies, ignoring, ostracizing, stalling, or evasion to control people or situations all constitute harassment and bullying. Sometimes bullies try to make the victim seem like the bully which in itself is a bullying tactic.
In the case of coercion, aggressors present themselves as allies of the victim and then work to neutralize the victim's critical thinking skills. Consequently, victims gradually lose their decision-making abilities to exercise informed consent or dissent and instead complacently follow the group’s ideological dictates, conditioned by fears of rejection, exclusion, humiliation, excommunication, or damnation.
Any of these tactics place and maintain the victim in a state of disequilibrium. Victims often remain silent about the abuse because the abuser holds some form of power over them, or successfully undermines their confidence or credibility. By confusing, intimidating and silencing their victims, people who benefit from these behaviors often evade exposure, accountability or prosecution. Canon Law provides little to no protection, support or recourse for victims and actually promotes silence in the interest of preserving public image. However, harassment and bullying destroy church unity.
Stopping harassment, bullying, manipulation or coercion requires recognizing the abuse, naming it, rejecting it and exposing it. Since the people are the church, if we want the church to be intolerant of harassment and bullying, we must collectively reject it in our institution and its leaders.
In the spirit of educating people so that they can be aware of and name abuse, at the end of this article I provide some examples of harassment, bullying, manipulation and coercion that I’ve witnessed in the church. I have noted some examples where Canon Law actually promotes or allows such tactics to highlight the systemic support Canon Law provides individual abusers within the church. Individual and group codependent behavior combined with Canon Law and governing structures enable these types of harassment to occur. Until laypeople recognize and reject the behaviors en masse, only superficial corrections or improvements will occur.
Jesus did not commit, condone or permit harassment and bullying. He actually was a victim of these behaviors because he confronted religious bullies. Do we do likewise?
What harassment and bullying do we tolerate in the church? Why? How do we enable or contribute to such behaviors? What will we do to reject harassment and bullying in the church? Do we avoid exposing and rejecting abuses or supporting victims so as to maintain our stature, esteem or favorite ministerial duties within the church?
DEFINITIONS AND EXAMPLES OF HARASSMENT AND BULLYING
Harassment and bullying DOES NOT include persistently pursuing someone to perform tasks or duties reasonably associated with that person’s job or role. I mention this first because a pastor or other church leader might incorrectly try to label as “a bully” a parishioner who persistently pursues them to address a parish or church concern. Addressing parish and church concerns is a normal and reasonable duty to expect of church leaders. Thus someone persistently expecting church leaders to do this is not a bully. However, a leader’s evasion of duty is harassment and it is bullying if leaders label as “a bully” someone who expects them to perform their duties. Under Canon Law, the layperson has a right to question when this occurs but no recourse if their questions remain unanswered.
Harassment and bullying include:Deliberate insults, unsubstantiated criticism, ridicule, slandering or maligning the person or the person’s family
Example: A priest or parishioner calls a person “dissenter”, “out of communion” or “non-Catholic”, or even makes fun of the way the person participates at Mass. The goal is to undermine confidence and credibility. An excellent example of this occurred last week when an anonymous person wrote a comment in this blog inaccurately calling me “out of communion with the church” and ridiculing my singing at Mass. The anonymous nature of the comment added yet another dimension to the bullying.
· Discussions or supervision of the person without his/her knowledge. Though this practice is de-humanizing and not acceptable in most secular jobs, Canon Law explicitly permits it.
Example: A Director of Religious Education discusses “issues” about a catechist with the pastor or diocesan personnel without the catechist’s knowledge. A parishioner is discussed at parish staff or parish council meetings without their knowledge.
· Administrative penalties which are suddenly directed against an individual without any objective cause, explanation or effort at jointly validating or solving underlying problems. Penalties could be removal from office or dismissal from duties. This often results after secret discussions have occurred. The victim is “accused”, “tried”, “convicted” and “sentenced” without knowing the charges, being able to refute or defend against them, or having the opportunity to address valid concerns. This allows the harassers to avoid addressing facts or opinions contrary to theirs. Canon Law permits non-ordained people to be treated this way because Canon Law says laypeople don’t have a right to any ministerial position. Thus a layperson can be dismissed from any paid or volunteer position at the whim of clergy without due process or explanation.
Example: Continuing the example from above, the catechist is barred from all teaching ministries but had no knowledge that there was an issue. She is denied an opportunity to understand the concerns or address them because the desired effect is to eliminate her, not to have everyone in the situation learn and grow.
· Deliberately withholding information, supplying false information or spreading rumors Canon Law permits this tactic. It asserts that since laypeople don’t have a right to any ministerial position they don’t have a right to the human dignity of an honest explanation for dismissal. Canon Law explicitly calls for image management which inspires many church leaders to use this bullying tactic without any tinge of remorse. However, this tactic violates one of the Ten Commandments – that of bearing false witness. Thus, the rampant practice of this tactic indicates a cultural acceptance of favoring human-made Canon Law that permits deception, over God’s Commandment that demands truth.
Example: The church offers countless examples of this. Bishops have masterfully used this tactic covering up sexual abuse and moving sex offenders. However this occurs in many other ways too including by parish staff members. The parish receptionist tells a parishioner that “Fr. is out” when he is in his office but just doesn’t want to deal with this person. Fr. tells someone they must relinquish a volunteer position “for their humility” when Fr. really just doesn’t want to deal with the person. A bishop orders a pastor to sanction a parishioner but forbids the pastor from telling the parishioner why. The list is seemingly endless.
The Archbishop of Detroit recently provided a public example of this when he warned people away from the American Catholic Conference by spreading false information about the event. Cardinal Rigali likewise misinformed the public earlier this year when he said that no priests accused of sexual misconduct were active in ministry when dozens of them were.
All of these are not only examples of bullying and harassment, but also of breaking a Commandment.
· Isolating, ostracizing, boycotting, dismissing or disregarding the victim. This tactic is being used increasingly, especially by orthodox and conservative individuals, groups and clergy. It often coincides with the previous tactic of withholding information.
Example: Theologians are censured and barred without explanation. Their financial livelihood is impaired severely. People are ex-communicated. Even those remaining in full communion but with whom the orthodox crowd disagree suffer isolation, or elimination from church ministries and groups. Clergy do not acknowledge or respond to parishioners’ communications. Parishioners are barred from church sponsored ministries. A parishioner suffers “the silent treatment” from parish staff or clergy. The list is long.
· Intimidation, persecution and threats of persecution – In the church threats of excommunication, censure and dismissal are common tools for trying to control behavior. Excommunication tries to threaten people with eternal damnation, an especially cruel form of bullying. These tactics are permitted under Canon Law.
Example: People supporting female ordinations are threatened with excommunication. A church employee is forced to resign for running a progressive Catholic website. A bishop is dismissed for suggesting dialogue within the church on certain topics. People lose or fear losing their jobs and livelihoods for speaking their conscience.
· Humiliation, or repeated unsubstantiated negative remarks, criticism or sarcasm – These are permitted in the treatment of lay people by clergy because there is no recourse for those who suffer this treatment. Sadly, ill-formed clergy mistake humiliation for humility.
Example: The pastor puts a Catholic school teacher on the spot during his homily with the intention of “putting her in her place”. An instrumentalist who regularly participates in music ministry is told in front of the choir that his gifts are not needed one day when he arrives for Mass.
Manipulation tactics include:
Delay Tactics: “I know you are a trained and commissioned lector but I don't know when we can get you on the schedule.” “I can’t do anything about that until we have a meeting”…but the meeting never gets scheduled.
False Fronts: One justification is given as a front instead of the real, hidden, motive for the action or event. “We just don’t need any more help right now” is given as an excuse when the real reason is, “We just don’t want you.” Or, a bishop says, “we need to close this parish because of the priest shortage” when actually, “I want to close this parish because I can sell the property for a good price.” The pastor tells the parish, “We need you to donate for a new roof” when the parish already has funds to pay for the new roof but the pastor wants more money.
False Fronts and Possibilities: These are used to deceive by claiming that something is impossible giving false reasons when it is actually possible but the person just doesn’t want to permit it or discuss it. A pastor tells a parishioner, “I’d love to have you help in this ministry but the bishop won’t permit it” when actually the pastor just doesn’t want the person to help. A bishop says, “I can’t help with this situation because the pastor has rights under Canon Law” when Canon Law actually gives the bishop the power to act but the bishop just doesn’t want to deal with the situation. A bishop claims, “Canon Law prevented me from removing that pedophile priest” when Canon Law allows a bishop to remove a pastor for any reason he deems valid but the bishop didn’t want to undertake the administrative effort to follow the process.
Divide and Conquer: This uses division and conflict so that the different conflicting groups can be more easily manipulated or controlled. For example, the pastor tells members of the conservative organization things about progressive parishioners and vice versa. Both groups assume he is an ally but he is really working to keep the two groups divided and reliant upon him. If they actually cooperated, they might be too strong of a force for him to control.
Divide and Dismiss: This tries to weaken complaints by dividing or dismissing the complaints. Dividing the complaint pulls apart the argument and causes multiple people to deal with a fragment of the complaint when often complaints need to be addressed in the context of the entirety of circumstances. This is used to discredit complaints or make them seem trivial. A parishioner tries to show needs for systemic improvements in parish hospitality by assembling one example from each major ministry. Rather than deal with the systemic issue, the pastor looks at each individual example as a stand-alone matter for each individual ministry lead to handle. The single example, isolated from the full body of the complaint, looks trivial to each ministry head who is unaware of the totality of the examples.
Changing the Rules: The person in control arbitrarily changes operating rules to their benefit. For example a pastor tells parents that school tuition is based upon tithing a set percentage of income but then imposes a minimum tuition amount after he realizes some families’ incomes are so low they will contribute below his desired target. A parish employee is hired under an agreement that she will work for benefits instead of wages, but then is told she must take a part-time wage with no benefits. The pastor used to allow girls to be altar servers but doesn't anymore.
Security and Authority: Sometimes authorities or organizations will provoke attacks on themselves so that they can obtain more power and authority to address the attack. This is often used as a front to deal with legitimate complaints directed at them. For example, Legionnaires for Christ did this when the atrocities of its founder sexually abusing children and seminarians were exposed. They said it was an attack by the devil and members should redouble their efforts defending the organization and its leader. When pedophile priests and their enabling bishops are pursued for accountability, they cry they are being persecuted and ask the faithful to rally around the guilty rather than address the problem.
Administrative Maze and Complexity: This is used to discourage complaints. This tactic occurs when a person creates nebulous or complex feedback procedures to discourage grievances or complaints. It is actually a direct result of Canon Law permitting laypeople to ask questions but granting them no recourse when their questions are ignored, or answered with false answers. This is a common operating practice of many church leaders.
Ambiguities: No answer is provided to questions at all, or answers are given as an ambiguity. Ambiguities give the illusion that an answer has been provided when one has not. The pastor responds to an inquiring parishioner that he has read her expressed concerns. This might satisfy the parishioner to assume that his reading the concerns means he is going to address them. The hope is that providing an ambiguous response will get the person off his back so that he doesn't have to address her concerns.
Coercion tactics include:
1. Establish control over the person's social environment, time and sources of social support by a system of rewards and punishments. Social isolation is promoted. Contact with persons who do not share group-approved attitudes is limited and set as a thing to fear. Canon Law indirectly permits this tactic to occur.
2. Prohibit non-conforming information and non-supporting opinions in group communication. Rules exist about permissible topics to discuss. Canon Law explicitly permits this tactic.
3. Create a sense of powerlessness by undermining the person's self-confidence and judgment. Canon Law indirectly permits this tactic to occur.
4. Create strong aversive emotional arousal in the subject by using nonphysical punishments such as humiliation, loss of privilege, social isolation, social status changes, intense guilt, anxiety, manipulation and other techniques. Canon Law both explicitly and implicitly allows these tactics in certain situations.