Thursday, November 11, 2010

Does the church decry bullying or use it as a tool of choice for controlling behavior?

Recently a Catholic priest preached against bullying at a children’s Mass I attended.  He said this particular parish would say “no” to bullies and reassured students that bullies would be told to leave.  That was a great message for the kids to hear. 

I applaud him for addressing the topic especially against the U.S. bishops’ backdrop of thunderous silence.  Despite numerous bullied youth recently committing suicide, the bishops remain mute on the topic.  Their silence caused me to wonder, “What does the institutional church think about bullying?"

To explore this question, I needed a definition of “bullying”.  Here are a few I found:
  1. The act of intimidating a weaker person to make them do something.
  2. Repeated acts over time that involve a real or perceived imbalance of power with the more powerful individual or group abusing those who are less powerful.
  3. Behaviors and actions that are verbal, physical and/or anti-social, such as exclusion, gossip and non-verbal body language.
Direct bullying involves physical aggression like hitting, shoving, choking, punching and kicking.  Indirect bullying involves social isolation, the “silent treatment” and manipulation.  Bullies use tactics like gossip, rejection, bullying people who support the victim, and criticizing core social identities (like race, gender, sexuality, appearance or religious convictions).  Using combinations of these tactics bullies talk behind the victim’s back often spreading discord and ruining reputations while they shun the victim.  In essence they “charge”, “try”, “judge” and “reject” victims without victims knowing the ”charges”, seeing the “evidence” or having the opportunity to defend themselves.

My parents taught me “actions speak louder than words”.  So, I thought I’d look at the institutional church’s actions to understand the church’s views on bullying.

Isn’t excommunication a form of social isolation and rejection?  Isn’t the threat of this isolation an intimidation tactic, especially since the institution says eternal salvation ties to a Catholic’s reception of the Eucharist?  The hierarchy feels it has a right to exclude people "for medicinal purposes" but is it bullying?

In the U.S. more and more clergy tell Catholic voters they commit grievous sins if they cast votes divergent from the bishops’ wishes or if they vote for public servants who vote divergent from the bishops’ wishes.  The bishops spend millions of dollars in education campaigns to persuade Catholic voters to reject legislation they dislike.  This rhetoric also sets cultural tone in the faith community often causing social isolation and ridicule in addition to intimidation surrounding eternal damnation.  Again, the hierarchy feels justified but is it bullying?

This past weekend thousands of Catholics attended a social justice conference.  Many attendees were experiencing some form of exclusion or censure by the church.  Several had been rejected from teaching ministries, music ministries, liturgical ministries, pastoral ministries, and parish councils without explanation or due process.  Many also were targets of gossip with priests and parish staff often originating the gossip.  Many suffered the “silent treatment” from parish staff, clergy and bishops while learning they were discussed at meetings they were not permitted to attend.  Are these classic bullying tactics?

The church hierarchy seems to love secrecy, enshrouding pedophile cases in secrecy, conducting secret meetings, even having an “occult” form of excommunication wherein the excommunication is not made known; the person is just ostracized.  Some members of the hierarchy believe secrecy is a respectful way to treat people. Most laity find it very disrespectful.  Is secrecy respectful or a form of bullying?

The hierarchy believes it is justified talking about people behind their backs, using intimidation, isolating and rejecting people.    However, all these practices are considered extremely destructive to organizational dynamics.  Laity when operating in the secular realm are protected from such tactics and culturally reject them as unhealthy.  Yet, they are subject to these tactics by the institutional church often with no recourse for escalation to a higher power.

All this causes me to wonder, "Does the church decry bullying or use it as a tool of choice for controlling behavior?"  

Is this what Jesus meant when he said he desired “mercy not sacrifice?”

1 comment:

  1. I especially like your point at the end "Laity when operating in the secular realm are protected from such tactics and culturally reject them as unhealthy." The hierarchy could learn quite a bit about Christian behavior from the secular world they so despise!