I have written this commentary for several reasons. I could have written it long ago, and do so now because the time for restraint and silence is past. My research and teaching, and the content of this website, is about psychopharmacology, so this is somewhat peripheral to my errand.
The first reason is articulated by Edmund Burke’s attributed words, ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’ I this instance professional experts like me, who have special confidential knowledge, and skills and experience at evaluating people’s stories and motivations, must speak of what they know about wrongdoing in the churches etc., ‘for the record’: to stay silent is to do nothing.
The second reason is to offer reassurance to the legions of people, who have been abused in many and various ways, that their accounts are believable and believed, by sensible observers, and professional experts. Take note of the ongoing Royal commission findings.
Third, to remind everyone how the ‘simple inaction’ of not supporting (that may also mean ‘not believing’) is the power they already possess to foster change.
I am focussing on my experience of treating Catholic ‘clergy’ and consulting in a Catholic private hospital, since they have made themselves the center of attention in what seems like an endlessly repeating sick ‘real-life’ TV drama (see today’s episode).
I also proffer my clear conclusion that preventing these perversions*** requires nothing less than removing the power and privilege accorded to this dysfunctional institution. Installing new actors and directors to run the show will change nothing. This is because what drives all this is not just individuals, but the nature of the institution itself.
*** Throughout, I use the word ‘perversions’ in both senses defined by the SOED.
The simple realization that the inaction (of not supporting) is one key step is empowering, because it shows that ‘adherents’ could choose to end it all, simply by ceasing to support and believe. Neither fairies nor monsters exist for people who do not believe in them. It is such a simple way to further diminish the steadily dwindling remnants of this unbelievable erstwhile theocracy (well, not quite ‘erstwhile theocracy’, since the Vatican still exists).
This commentary pertains particularly to my first-hand experience, as a specialist psychiatrist, of Catholics and of the misbehaviours of Catholic ‘non-laity’ (clergy of whatever gender, species, title or presumed authority).
I shall say ‘they’ and ‘them’ from now on, because they deserve no self-granted grandiose titles, dwellings, robes (bit of a give-away there?) or descriptions. Many of them have mediocre intellects and modest educational achievements that would make it less easy for them to attain similar status or position in the ‘outside’ world.
NB. Definition: Clergyman. ‘A man who undertakes the management of our spiritual affairs as a method of bettering his temporal ones’. Ambrose Bierce.
I now offer this variant of Ambrose Bierce’s acerbic observation:
‘A man who undertakes the betterment of our moral life as a method of bettering his own opportunities for an immoral life’. Ken Gillman.
Perhaps, from this record of my experience, people adversely affected by the misbehaviour of ‘them’ may be reassured about the complete justification for the disbelief, that any ‘man-of-the-world’ must experience, of the chorus of denials we hear (forgetting, lying about, turning-a-blind-eye to, whatever evasive tactic or euphemism for perfidy is employed). Be robustly assured that ‘external’ observers and experts like me are convinced, beyond doubt, from their professional experience, that the evidence of wrong-doing that is now evident is but the tip of the iceberg: a large proportion of them are indeed practitioners of various types of perversions (not just sexual) and are also cowardly (but well-practiced) liars who are utterly undeserving of their privileged position in society. Relegation to the role of ‘translocation of ordure’ is for many of them closer to their deserved position in society.
Any psychologist who can come up with a way to enable the deceived, bullied and betrayed supporters of this institution to gain insight into its cruel bullying premises and wicked practices, would be doing society a great service. Such insight would facilitate removal of support for ‘them’ so they would wither and fade away, faster.
As a recipient of abuse, or a friend or a supporter of sufferers, try to educate people that any support for the institution, makes them, by proxy, abusers themselves. This is because the very existence and continuation of the institution inevitably means continuation of abuse and perversions. Simply being a passive observer involves a degree of collusion, as does merely attending one of their churches: the quotation attributed to Edmund Burke says it all: ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’ That sentiment has been a major motivator for me to write this commentary. I must tell what I know, and give my expert opinion, or I too am a complicit bystander: but I can only tell a part of what I know, it would take too long to tell all of it, and some of it simply would not be believed by most people.
As I write this, in the early part of 2017, we seem to be drowning in a sea of news about the perverted behaviour of enormous numbers of people in institutions, mostly religious, and especially Catholic (news here in Australia – but I am quite sure it is equally bad where-ever Catholics have a presence, as documented in the book by the famous Australian jurist, Geoffrey Robertson QC ‘The Case of the Pope’).
Pervasive and persistent perversion
I need hardly have said ‘as I write this’ because opinions such as those I am expressing have been given by informed persons over the last couple of thousand years of the Catholic church's domination of Western religious thought and western society.
Perversion’s very persistence and pervasiveness is what indicates it is part of the warp and weft of the institution itself. There will be, in all times and places, individuals who will thrive in, dominate over, and pervert, any institution with such a belief system and structure.
I state, ‘any informed person’, with due recognition of the fact that until more recent times the church's domination of society, at all levels and in all professions, was such that it was simple for them to suppress knowledge and criticism rather effectively (books, especially the contents of the bible, knowledge, their own bad behaviour – I know, bad behaviour may seem an understatement, but if understatement is not employed we will exhaust hyperbole in no time).
A powerful example of the deep insidious roots of a belief-distorted mentality, from my personal experience, is given below (in anecdote 1), when I was accused by a (Catholic) medical colleague of uttering the words of the devil (perhaps he could have arranged an exorcism foe me! – see below). It will shame, enrage or amuse, depending on your viewpoint.
As their ability to achieve universal domination and bullying has been steadily eroded, by education, knowledge, science, rationalism, and secular society, the extent of their undesirable behaviours in so many spheres have become more and more apparent to more and more people. I doubt not that perversion has been just as frequent throughout the history of the church. It has just been revealed more often, and to more people, in our age.
If belief about their deity, and the assembled writings associated with their message, makes ordinary mortals torture and burn to death other people, just for translating it from one language into another***, then one might easily suppose that all the perversions we have been informed about in recent times might have been accomplished with ease and an unruffled conscience, before breakfast.
***A reminder, for those less familiar with the history of their perverted practices: poor Tyndale was murdered and burned, essentially for translating the bible into English. So much for church claims to lead the improvement of the moral behaviour of society! There was a death penalty for possession of the bible in English. If this reminds you of the sorts of behaviours by other religious groups currently reported daily in the international news, and if you still think religion advances moral outlooks and behaviours, then I suggest you have a bit of explaining to do, and that will involve you in some pretty tortuous and tiring mental gymnastics.
I do not propose to expend a great deal of my time, or my readers time, in discussing religious belief and the Catholic church. Essentially, belief is the adoption of precepts and ideas for which there is no sound reason or reproducible evidence, usually against the laws of nature and what common experience demonstrates to be the case – miracles, divinely inspired prophets (very few of whom agree with each other on even the most fundamental of facts), inscriptions found on mountains in remote locations which have a habit of mysteriously disappearing, etc. One believes in fairies, but one deduces (if only vicariously) Darwin’s theory of evolution (or any other scientific ‘theory’) from evidence. Such evidence is not a unique one-off experience by an individual. It is reproducible, and to an extent modifiable, by anyone, at any time, who wishes to go and dig up a few fossils. Fossils were not ‘revealed’ to Darwin, only to then disappear from human perception, leaving only his word. As Carl Sagan said (in the tradition of Hume), ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’. And indeed, Darwin produced extraordinary evidence, and a very great deal of it. So much, that those able to understand even simple science, cannot doubt or contradict it. How spectacularly different that is to the belief demanded (often under threat) of a potential adherent to a religion.
Definition: Faith. belief in one instance of the extra-ordinary, related in another tongue, from another land, by persons of unknown sobriety, which contradicts what we know to be true here and today.
My experience of ‘channelling’ the devil
As a doctor of reasonably broad experience I can affirm that most of these people are up to no good, and many of the others know, or suspect, that the rest of them are up to no good. That leaves few who are truly innocent and blameless, in the ‘Burkian’ sense. The oft repeated story that they did not know ‘that sort of thing’ was going on might very occasionally be true, because some of them may be that naïve. The phrase, ‘lying for God’, covers it for the rest of them. That rapidly morphs into lying for their own good. Many of them become fluent and frequent liars.
When they revealed to me their behaviours and their problems in consultations, I would often ask, what happens when you confess? What help and guidance does that give you? The standard reply was ‘Oh! I wouldn't confess to that’.
Time for another definition in the spirit of Bierce
Definition: Confessional. A place for perfecting and practicing the arts of lying and denying.
It is also essential to appreciate that an enormous amount of self-selection, and selective screening, of who gets into the church, and who progresses once in it, has been going on for centuries. As with any powerful, hierarchical and secretive organisation these elements inevitably foster perversion and corruption. The added element of celibacy in the Catholic church means that it is almost inevitable that a substantial proportion of the entrants will be unusual personalities, by whatever criteria one applies to such things.
The indications are clear, that the church’s tendency to attracted abnormal personalities has always been prominent, and is probably becoming more pronounced as the church, and educated western societies, move further apart – I am told most Australian seminaries have empty echoing rooms, and many parishes now need to import their incumbents from Africa. The immigration department could put a stop to that one right away! Especially since we do not know which ones are paedophiles (the United Nations, no less, have been blocked by the Vatican on child protection issues – because those measures would allow extradition of thousands of paedophile Catholic priests to face prosecution, which at present cannot be done).
My experience was that they had more than their fair share of nasty, bullying, pathetic, neurotic, inadequate men, quite often of rather second-rate intellect, like Cardinal Pell from Australia***, who presided over a process supposedly to help those who had been abused, whilst having very convincing evidence hanging over him that he too had an abnormal physical interest in young boys. To be specific, he spent a lot of time at the Ballarat swimming pool where he physically handled many boys, playing in the pool, and where he spent long spells naked in the changing rooms in the presence of young lads. That much seems hard to deny – what else? I, for one, am not awarding any prizes for the answer to that.
So, Pell dealing with accusations of abuse. Talk about setting set the fox to guard the henhouse!
Thus, the bizarre greenhouse of the Catholic Church allows these odious specimens to grow and thrive.
*** This courageous and principled gentleman finds his health insufficiently robust to make a trip from his refuge in the Vatican (what a timely appointment) back to Australia to answer questions at the commission of enquiry, relating to abuse, including by him. It is easy to learn for yourself how specific, and in my professional opinion, convincing, the many accusations against Pell are.
I think he might find himself to be well enough to attend a ceremony to honour a new (fast-tracked) saint. Is his health really any worse than the millions of retirees who jet about the world daily? His excuses for non-attendance at the Royal commission have been accepted.
Update: July 2017 — Pell has now been charged and is due to appear in court in Australia in mid-July. Will he leave his secure bolt-hole in the Vatican (from where he cannot be extra-dited, will he turn up, or have a convenient ‘relapse’ of whatever his claimed health problem is. Do not hold your breath.
Definition: Saint. A dead sinner revised and edited. Bierce.
A here is a lovely song in Pell’s honour
When a grossly disordered group of people like this are permitted to retain money and power, with no accountability, one will always have the perfect recipe for perpetuating perversions and much else undesirable and unpleasant: that is made self-evident by these tediously ongoing revelations.
The lesson from this is simple and revealed by history. It is utterly impossible for them to self-regulate. This obscene farce will continue for as long as they are permitted to retain the status, power, privileges and influence that our naïvely deluded society still allows them to retain. Until a sufficient proportion of the population demand the removal of their status and powers and make them answerable fully to all the proper constraints of society, nothing will change, Royal commissions or whatever.
It has always puzzled me that so few clergy have been assaulted by family members, or church property or churches burned down. I wonder if those who insure them are re-assessing the level of risk and may be thinking of upping the premiums a bit! Think of it like this: churches get hit by lightning just as frequently as other buildings, so that indicates ‘God’s’ influence, or opinion, over such matters.
Stop supporting. Stop believing, neither fairies not angels exist, however comforting such ideas may be. To continue supporting is to collude in, and be complicit in, a panoply of perversions.
It is important to understand that ‘belief’ will turn apparently educated people into irrational and immoral people: no religion can escape that trap. Belief is antithetical to rational thinking, the more fervent the belief, the greater the distortion of rationality. Once belief is established it can pervert any action, or inaction, and justify it, because it is ‘in God’s name’ or for the church, not necessarily quite the same thing.
Remind yourself, what I relate here happened close to the dawn of the third millennium! Not in the dark ages - the halcyon days of the church when there was no accountability whatsoever.
After I had been practising in town for a few years as a specialist I established a psychiatric unit at the local private Catholic hospital. They engaged in all sorts of dubious behaviours. I remember discovering that on Sundays, when I was not around, they were taking psychotic patients into the chapel to cure them by speaking in tongues, or casting out devils, or whatever (medieval madness that I presumed, till then, had disappeared from civilized countries).
In due course things started to go more seriously amiss, because senior nuns in the hospital were exercising their sexual predilections in a manner that became harmful to the hospital, and to other staff who were not ‘in on the act’. I decided to advise them to curb these activities, and as a first step in that process I arranged a meeting at my home with the senior Catholic doctor on the board of the hospital. What I had to tell him need not be described in detail, in outline it was simply that inappropriate sexual relationships were occurring involving this nun in charge of the hospital. As an atheist, there was nothing in that to concern me (only adults were involved), except that it was resulting in other members of staff who were aware of the situation being dismissed, disadvantaged etc., and it was bad for the proper operation of the hospital.
So, this doctor, a fellow specialist at the hospital, arrived. I sat him down at the table and began succinctly to tell him the problem. I said that there was a serious situation that was harming the running and reputation of the hospital that involved Sister X who was having a lesbian … .
Well readers, believe it or not, that is as far as I got, well, at least as much as he heard. This grown professional man heard no more of what I said because he thrust his fingers into his ears and started repeating over and over in a loud voice something like the following: "this is the Devil speaking, I will not listen, this is the Devil speaking, I will not listen …".
He went on repeating that until he saw my lips stop moving. At that point, he got up from the table and left hurriedly, saying, in Parthian style, ‘over his shoulder’, as he went, "I'm not calling you a liar, but …".
I must say that I thought, as a psychiatrist, I was knowledgeable about psychology and the extent to which belief systems distort people's rational processes, but this first-hand example of such an extraordinary piece of behaviour illustrates the enormity of the problem. It left me appalled and aghast: but with laughter not far behind. Belief turns people who might otherwise be rational into immoral idiots***. Is there any other way to describe that educated professional person’s behaviour? Not in my book. Could you have respected that man? I hope not.
Never forget, there are millions more just like him.
I did not let it rest there. I ‘persuaded’ the board to act. No prizes for guessing what they did with her: Africa, I seem to recall. Needless to say, I was ‘persona non grata’, and my unit closed.
*** I must record how one of the oldest nuns, a dear lady, who I am quite sure knew exactly what was going on, came up to me in the hospital, after all this had unfolded, and took me gently to one side (I was of course being shunned by most). She indicated the sign of the ‘Sisters of Mercy’ and whispered to me, ‘they should take that down’, and tottered away. So, you see, some people can transcend the power of belief and see the truth! But I guess she said nothing, except to me, and one can understand that: she was too old for Africa.
If there is anybody out there who rates the chances of these abused people, who have been mistreated by the church for so long, being listened to by the church and its followers in anything approaching a sane and fair hearing, let them ponder my account. This was a doctor dealing with a fellow professional. What chance would a child, or a lay-person, have, if they related their account to a priest, or policeman, teacher, or even their own parent.
Such knowledge and experience makes it hard not to have sympathy with the view that religion poisons everything, as expressed by Hitchens in his book ‘God is not great’. Poisoning the trust between a parent (who will react similarly to my colleague above), and a child, is surely up near the top of the ratings in the ‘league table of wickedness’. Young children pick up the not-so-subtle clues which tell them that making any adverse comment about the clergy will attract instant, and sometimes severe, disapproval and censure (just as your dog learns to read you). Indeed, it is all part of the ‘grooming’ process. What a horrible and insidious way of poisoning a child’s perception and trust.
But, such events and consequences are inevitable, they are built into their system as much as gold and interest rates are part of capitalism.
This commentary could go on forever: however, one cannot let this one, from today’s news, go by unremarked on. I thought I had become inured, but I suggest you look at this next link only if you have a strong stomach and but little imagination, it is about the Irish single-mothers’ home:
And on the same day, I saw this (it is not an excerpt from Mr Brown’s ‘Da Vinci Code’, it is real life): ‘Mastering the devil: A sociological analysis of the practice of a Catholic exorcist’ which indicates they are still performing many thousands of these rituals.
and if you think Pell has any vestige of a decent intellect this might make you question that