Are Catholic Hierarchs Bullies?

Are Catholic Hierarchs Bullies?   by Diane Dougherty http://dianedoughertysblog.blogspot.com/


            Meeting Fr. Roy Bourgeois, MM was an exceptional treat.  I could be open with him about my upcoming ordination as a Women Priest. This was a homecoming of sorts after a long period of being “limbo-ed” at the hands of Catholic hierarchs.  I use the word limbo-ed because it denotes a suspended state. 
            In my case, I have felt I was neither in the Catholic Church where I had spent all of my adult years in service of God and God’s people, nor was I out of it.  I explained the long series of events that led me to spend my last 10 years in a hiatus of sorts, trying to recuperate from the devastating psychological roller coaster experienced when the Legion of Christ entangled itself in every aspect of diocesan ministry. 
            As a well formed educator, I stood in a state of shock when I returned from a summer of study and was told my services were no longer needed. The people of the diocese were paying for my master’s in Religious Education and Pastoral Formation at Boston College and I was one summer away from graduation.  This did not make any sense.   Assured that I was a delightful person, and this was simply a business decision, I was to be given one week’s pay. (I negotiated 14 weeks which was in accord with the personnel manual).
            As I looked around the offices, I intuited others were scheduled to follow this path.  The atmosphere had turned toxic.  That this clean sweep of the most highly qualified ministers  the diocesan religious education department  had ever put together, led me to believe our collective services were considered more of a politic, one that would not be continuing. Time and further events proved this perception was dead on.
            Fr. Roy and I came to understand we shared feelings of grief, dismay and disbelief surrounding our vocational choices. A profound grief overwhelmed us that the gospel we proclaimed could be reduced by a hierarch to a lowest common denominator without consultation or consideration.  For me, that included limiting Catholics access to empowering catechesis, by changing the climate to such a degree, leaders were forced to find other employment and be replaced with those who received minimal training. For Fr. Roy, that meant his community would become silent when he received the Vatican’s excommunication over his involvement in Women’s Ordination Movement.
            Dismay overwhelmed us as we experienced the hierarchs use of power to manipulate and maneuver systems by eliminating people they named as having agendas not suitable for Catholic service, so that they could achieve their self appointed goals without recognition of wrongdoing or thought of future consequences.
            And finally we shared a common disbelief that such actions could leave the polity so poor.  In my case, Catholics saying rosaries and going to novenas or being organized by those with little formative catechetical training are much poorer than those who are given full access through quality catechesis that empowers. And for Fr. Roy, Catholics become impoverished when they are denied the right to discuss and debate issues relating to women’s ordination, most particularly when the only roadblock is the hierarch’s own dictates based in their own immovable stamp dated at the particular time they want to define as the beginning of our Catholic Tradition.         
            As we reflected on the hierarchs use of power, we came to the realization that bullying was used to gain access and influence over Catholic people. When Fr. Roy asked me if anything is being done in the schools about bullying, it was an AH-HA moment.  Yes, I found many interesting parallels in what we are now teaching children to reduce bullying in the schools.  Just as public awareness was raised through the terrible issue of sexual harassment in the workplace and abuse of children by those they trusted, public awareness should now be raised about workplace bullying and for Catholics, bullying within the church.   

What is bullying?
          Bullying is a form of abuse.  It involves repeated acts over time attempting to create or enforce one person's (or group's) power over another person (or group), creating an "imbalance of power". http://www.bullyonline.org/workbully/amibeing.htm#What
            The Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute says workplace bullying involves "repeated, health-harming mistreatment, verbal abuse, or conduct which is threatening, humiliating, intimidating, or sabotage that interferes with work or some combination of the three." http://www.workplacebullying.org/
            As full time laborers in the field, we can both attest that workplace bullying has taken place.

Characteristics of bullies
            Research indicates that adults who bully have personalities that are authoritarian, combined with a strong need to control or dominate. Prejudice has also been seen as a risk factor in bully identification.     
          These characteristics fall in line with the hierarchs present day teaching that women cannot be priests.  Could this stance be an indication of bullying God by saying God cannot call women into the priesthood? This authoritarianism could also be seen as lay professionals were dismissed without cause or warning, bypassing due process or any formative intervention.  It is a clear indication of the use of domination and control.

Characteristics of bystanders

        A very important piece of research notes that bullying continues when people see themselves as bystanders.  Their belief is that they are not obligated to intervene in certain issues because it is not their problem.  Assuring that laity remains uneducated and ignorant, by denying them access to higher education and formation is one way to keep Catholics, most particularly the next generation in tow. Bullies are then able to say they have the support of the majority instilling fear in anyone tempted to speak out.  The statement by the Vatican that anyone supporting Women’s Ordination commits a crime equal to those who sexually abuse children and will be excommunicated, instills fear in many who attempt to learn more about this subject. Most steer clear.
            Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, Arizona recently excommunicated  St. Joseph Hospital, CHW over their choice to save a mother whose pregnancy was killing her.  Could this be an example of a Bishop instilling fear in the polity, expecting the laity to accept the authority of his word? The hospital claims Catholic teaching is about saving life.  They decided to save the mother so she could care for her children, rather than lose both through the pregnancy.  Who is living out Catholic teaching in this instance? 
            Bullies become empowered when people walk away.  In groups where bully mentality is allowed to thrive, injustices and abuses become a regular and predictable group experience. My experience in diocesan work characterizes this injustice short term, while the issue of Women’s Ordination has maintained an unjust presence for centuries. Hopefully in the next few years this will subside because people are speaking out and accepting the consequences.  The broader organization of Catholic Health Care Systems housed in San Francisco stands in solidarity with those operating the hospital in Phoenix.  This verbal affirmation of the decision may be the key that unlocks the door toward stronger and healthier Catholic people.

Strategies to End Bullying 
Understand Bullies will not Mediate
            A key awareness that one is dealing with a bully, lies in the fact that conflict resolution and mediation never work.  As if the issues were set in stone, the bully will never bend.
This comes to light in the three examples given.  Although numerous attempts were made to understand the bishop’s motivation at the Office of Religious Education, the bishop simply went through the process of listening, turning a deaf ear as we all left.  When Fr. Roy requested a meeting to discuss the issue of Women’s Ordination after receiving the letter of excommunication, there has been no response.  That was two years ago. And although mediation was attempted between Bishop Olmsted and the Hospital Board, even allowing an extension for further discussion, nothing changed.
               

Form talking groups
Discuss events with others who share or do not share your concerns.  Look outside the organization for help.  Read and join others who share your concerns. If you work for the church, explore your concern anonymously with individuals in the groups listed.

Birth it into law
In 2001 Professor of Law David Yamada of Suffolk University began the process of encouraging state-by-state anti-bullying laws.  He drafted the Healthy Workplace Bill. Join this effort.

UNITE
Although it is most active in New Zealand and England, explore a new union called UNITE, that believes clergy and ministers need protection from Church bullying.  The union has set up a special helpline for priests intimidated by their bishops or congregations, and reviews complaints as part of its campaign for full employment rights for clergy.

Taking Action
            Rather than becoming a silent bystander that participates in the bullying mentality, I would encourage Catholics to make determined efforts to deal with their issues and creatively bring your concerns to light. Develop a shared, loud voice with others who are concerned!

Inform Yourself
Listen to stories-judge for yourself

Read and Study
Complete a search of books and literature on Workplace Bullying.
Inform yourself of all sides of the issue

Study the foundation of the Women’s Ordination Movement.  Read Women Priests; Answering God’s Call by Catherine Cavanagh for a complete digest of issues.
http://www.womenpriests.org/


Diane Dougherty 770-683-8101  add57@numail.org
 

2 comments:

Katie Elberfeld said...

I am so glad to find you. Even though I am an Episcopal priest, I have experienced much treatment from the church and its people that could well be described as bullying.

I would very much like to talk with you further and am wondering if we might be able to support each other in our struggles -- and to help others who feel this way in both churches.

I haven't been able to find an email address for you, but you're welcome to write me at kae@gabrielcenter.org.

Thank you so much -- I am so grateful to find that I am not alone.

Godspeed.

The Rev. Katie Elberfeld
President, Founder
Gabriel Center for Servant-Leadership
Marietta, GA

Anonymous said...

I just heard this news today... about women being ordained priests. If you look at history, the great saints went through many trials. Sometimes the trial came when they thought God was calling them to do something, but things prevented them from carrying it out. But one thing ALL the great saints have in common is.... OBEDIENCE. St. Theresa of Avila was told by her spiritual director to make offensive signs at Christ during her mystical visions because he thought her visions were really the devil. She obeyed and made the offensive signs, but Christ was all the more pleased because she was obedient.

I could list thousands of examples of obedience by the saints. Satan can imitate many things... he can pretend and imitate kindness, peace, and even humility, but there is one thing he cannot do, and that is obey. His disobedience is why he was sent to hell.

God's will will happen no matter what. Mother Theresa had to go through many trials before starting the Missionaries of Charity, she even said that she "had to do violence to herself" in order to obey her superiors. But she obeyed, and GREAT graces followed because she was obedient.

If you really think God is calling women to become priests, then why is it that you can't obey Church teaching? The FIRST duty of a priest is to obey. If you cannot obey your superiors, then you cannot obey God. You are a sister. Under vows, you are required to obey your superiors. By obeying the Catholic Church, you are obeying God. Do not be misled into thinking "I don't have to obey the pope, because I obey God first." That is a huge deception and a lie from the devil!

Look at the saints... read their stories... especially the saints whose faith was tested through obedience. One of the signs the Catholic church looks for when someone claims to be a visionary or a mystic is "are they obedient?" If they cannot be obedient, then it's clear that this cannot be from God.