May 5, 2013 by lucieromarin
A few years ago, I had lunch with a friend who, after her experience with a certain Personal Prelature (the one occasionally mistakenly associated with albino monks), had left the Church. She did not hate God, or deny the existence of grace or virtue. She was simply too traumatised by those things which spoke specificially of Catholicism (I mean, other than me!) to go near them. After she told me her story, I understood why – it was worse than I’d thought.
I talked to my spiritual director. “Lucy,” he said, “We’re never going to be able to shut them down. All we can do is be there for the people they’ve broken.”
I went away, and did a finger count. How many people did I know who had left the Church, citing as their reason for it their experiences in one or more reputedly conservative movements, apostolates, agencies, or subcultures? I knew nine. How many did I know who had not left the Church, but who described themselves as permanently shaken by their experiences, or as carrying a disappointment or bitterness which they felt unable to share? I knew six. Then, I thought about priests, and realised that I knew five priests who had either left the Church, remained in the Church with permanent physical or psychological suffering, or committed suicide.
Now, I’m no one in particular – not a counsellor, not popular, not in the habit of going about wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with ‘Tell Me Your Problems’ and I knew at least twenty people carrying some degree of trauma as a consequence of too-intense a commitment to a conservative subculture which had disappointed them.
Lucy, I thought, that’s too many casualties. I use the word ‘casualty’, rather than ‘victim,’ with good reason. None of these movements or agencies sought to hurt anyone. They certainly never intended to destroy anyone’s faith. Rather, most of them saw themselves as involved in some kind of war; my friends were not their targets, but the casualties of their strategies and their fighting methods.
So, I thought the obvious thought: Mobilise! I had a vision of a fancy website with a section for each of these groups, so that their respective casualities could more or less safely discuss their experiences, their methods of healing, and so on. I could see all the little buttons, and ‘Click Here,’ in my head. The problem? The instant you name any group aloud, the conversation steers right off course, away from compassion, away from a practical plan for healing, and onto a debate about the group itself. We’ve come to believe that saving the world and winning the war means leaving particular organistations immune from respectful but truthful scrutiny, which means pretending that their casualities don’t exist.
Every casualty of burnout I knew had one thing in common, and that was that any attempt on their part to describe their experiences would be met with flat denial and rejection from their families or friends. Part of the reason some of them became so aggressively anti-religious was not the burnout itself, but the fact that none of their friends would listen to them talk about it. (An aside – where otherwise wholesome ideas to the effect of ‘We’re all called to be saints,’ and ‘All that matters is God,’ have been used to justify bullying or exploitation, it doesn’t help them to hear it again.)
We need to meet the demands of justice: for people to heal, an acknowledgment that an injustice has been done them is vital. You can pray as much as you like for them, but if you never say to them, “They did you wrong,” they wil never heal. We need to meet the demands of charity: vengeance doesn’t heal, and we can’t accuse individuals of motives they probably never had. We need to meet the demands of prudence: No one needs to write a bestselling expose, or appear on national television with a gripe in order to heal. We need to meet the demands of truth: if you encourage someone to join an organisation while simultaneously keeping silent about the damage you know they’re doing to others, you become complicit in that ongoing damage. We need to meet the demands of forgiveness: it is more than possible; it is necessary, and it is healing. It could win the very graces that that movement needs to adjust its methods, so as to continue to do good, without the side-effects.
But we have to do this without actually naming anything, so that people who aren’t roadkill don’t freak out and think we’re attacking the Church.
So…instead of my shiny, fancy website, we have this semi-anonymous blog with no interesting pictures and no sensational stories in it, which I keep up anyway, in the hope that one day someone might stumble upon it and feel listened to…even if that is by one doing all of the talking!