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Op-Ed: Addiction To Power

By Mark Vincent Serrano
April 11, 2003

au·thor·i·tar·i·an: o-"thär-&-'ter-E-&n, &-, -"thor-, adjective, of, relating to, or favoring a concentration of power in a leader or an elite not constitutionally responsible to the people

Last year in Boston Tom Doyle was awarded the first-ever priest of integrity award. He is a Roman Catholic priest and an advocate for victims of clergy sexual abuse.

Doyle first addressed the sexual abuse crisis over 18 years ago as a rising star in the Vatican Embassy in Washington. Since then he has been an outcast in the institution of the church. He took refuge as an Air Force chaplain based in Germany.

In his remarks at the Voice of the Faithful convention, Doyle cited the cause of the great crisis facing the Catholic Church today. He explained that it is a great affliction that grips Catholic Church leaders and that "we must free our church leaders from these chains" when he appealed to the gathering of Catholic faithful to assist church leaders in overcoming their affliction.

What is this great malady that bishops and cardinals suffer from throughout the world? It is a disease called "clericalism".

The outward symptoms of this disease include a predilection to authoritarian thinking. One who suffers from clericalism develops an expectation that rank and file believers should offer them reverence, deference and respect in all things.

Elitist trappings of power are important to those afflicted with clericalism, including first class air travel, residences in mansions (typically contributed by wealthy followers), offices made up of young and submissive staff members (often clerics as well), and legions of attorneys and public relations professionals, as well as hefty bank accounts that receive no audits or independent review.

This disease manifests itself in most "clericalists" in the form of an all-consuming addiction. It is an addiction to institutional power. Institutional power is like no other drug for clericalists; church leaders are slave to it.

In addition, since most waking moments in the life of church leaders are spent with other clerics and church leaders, there is no escaping this "drug culture". When church leaders are among rank and file believers, their primary thought and motivation is to retreat back to the underworld of fellow clericalists, so they can further consume their drug of institutional power unabated.

Living life everyday around rectories, chancery offices, and monasteries is much like living life in crack houses for the clericalists who are hooked on the drug of institutional power.

In the Catholic Church, power is ordained by the Pope and trickles down through the ranks of clerics to the local pastors (some of whom are sufferers of clericalism). They are fed their drug from the most central authoritarian power base, the Vatican.

In America though, power is ordained by the people. Power shared in a democracy is kind of like the distribution of a controlled substance that can have positive and medicinal value in society. In its most centralized from, power is madly addictive. But when power is distributed in a more decentralized form, and shared throughout the land on a limited basis, its addictive qualities are dissipated.

Thus we have a great clash in our society with the holders of the controlled substance - power. Those who have centrally possessed this substance since the dawning of Christianity are not inclined to cede control of it to those who have acquired it since the dawning of democracy.

The problem is, as Tom Doyle pointed out, those afflicted with clericalism are so addicted to "unbridled" institutional power that they have neglected some basic values of human life, like the protection of children and vulnerable believers, as has been exhibited with the great crisis of clergy sexual abuse.

Like the family who conducts an intervention for Uncle Harry who is a severe alcoholic, it is time for the Catholic faithful to intervene on behalf of church leaders. Those who have suffered from their addiction to power for too long, devastating the church family in their wake, must change their behavior and be freed from the chains of addiction.

Previously incurable, there is now hope for a cure to the clericalism disease and its manifest addiction to power in the form of a 5-step program. The 5 steps include: humility, disclosure, compassion, reform, and trust.

Regular Catholics must rise up and take back their church from the addicts of power by intervening with the 5-step program:

Step one, humility, is a process of acknowledgement by the clericalists to their addiction. They must genuinely and fully acknowledge their wrongdoing, and the suffering it has caused the great many children and vulnerable adults because of the dereliction of duty of church leaders. This will require genuine apologies, repeated over and over again, to the victims of clergy sexual abuse.

Step two, disclosure, is a process of releasing all of the concealed proof of addiction, much like tossing out all of Uncle Harry's liquor bottles from the house. This step will require publicly purging all information, files, and data about all past and present cases of clergy sexual abuse and clerical sexual offenders once and for all.

Step three, compassion, is a process of contrition by discontinuing abusive behavior against the most hurt members of the family. This will require commitments to release all victims from past confidentiality agreements so they may speak out and begin to heal, and agreements to immediately stop the use of hardball legal tactics against victims in the courtroom and out. It will also require a commitment to support changes in the statutes of limitations and charitable immunity laws in every state so that victims can seek justice without inappropriate legal barriers.

Step four, reform, is a process of changing the environment that lends itself to addiction. It will require reforming the church structure so that the laity can direct all administrative, legal, and financial decision making at the parish and diocese level forevermore. Thus the trappings of power and its addictive lure will no longer be in control of the clericalists, and they can be aided in their recovery.

The final step, step five, is called trust. A new trust in the laity and the attributes of democracy must be adopted and embraced for the sake of recovery by the clericalists and survival of the church itself. Regular Catholics who have the most at stake today must be trusted with the legacy of Christ and must have a role at the base of power to ensure that this addiction can never take hold of clerical addicts again.

Through this 5-step program, the disease of clericalism and manifest addiction in institutional power can be controlled and cured. Most importantly, the anguish that is shared among Catholics everywhere can be turned into moral action. Ultimately this should result in the leaders becoming followers and the sufferers becoming healed, the way that Christ would have it.

As we have learned from Tom Doyle, clerics must be willing to stand by the victims of abuse first, as Christ Himself would do. This can happen when church leaders are willing to address their own addiction to power.

Mark Vincent Serrano is a board member of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) and was sexually abused by his Father James Hanley from the ages of nine to sixteen in Mendham, NJ from 1974 - 1981. He lives today in Leesburg, Virginia with his family.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests