Leon J. Podles :: DIALOGUE

A Discussion on Faith and Culture

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Cultivating Narcissism

June 1st, 2010 · 3 Comments

While I suspect that many priest sexual abusers and even some bishops may be true, congenital psychopaths with a different brain structure than the average person, most of their failure to feel the pain and damage that abuse was causing victims was brought about by the culture of clerical narcissism, Priests considered themselves other Christs, not just in the sense of ordained ministers of the word and sacraments, but in the sense that priests were the only really important people in the Church.


Narcissism which shades into psychopathy, can be learned, and, I hope, unlearned. Science Daily reports: 

The study, presented in Boston at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science, analyzes data on empathy among almost 14,000 college students over the last 30 years.

“We found the biggest drop in empathy after the year 2000,” said Sara Konrath, a researcher at the U-M Institute for Social Research. “College kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago, as measured by standard tests of this personality trait.” 

Nor is it just college students:

In a related but separate analysis, Konrath found that nationally representative samples of Americans see changes in other people’s kindness and helpfulness over a similar time period.

“Many people see the current group of college students — sometimes called ‘Generation Me’ — as one of the most self-centered, narcissistic, competitive, confident and individualistic in recent history,” said Konrath, who is also affiliated with the University of Rochester Department of Psychiatry.

“It’s not surprising that this growing emphasis on the self is accompanied by a corresponding devaluation of others,” O’Brien said. 

For centuries, in part in response to Protestantism, the Catholic Church developed a mystique of the priesthood that exalted priests above ordinary mortals. The sense of entitlement and self-importance that some priests developed tended to reduce the empathy they had for the sufferings of the mere laity

Tags: Narcissism · clergy sex abuse scandal · clericalism

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Joseph D'Hippolito // Jun 2, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    Leon, let me tell you what’s been happening in my parish…or, should I say, former parish. The new pastor reflects the worst of what you’re talking about.

    The new pastor, who was installed last Fall, has immediately made arbitrary changes. He has ordered new statues (there was nothing wrong with the old ones) and votive candles (electric, since the city’s fire department would not allow him to have real ones). He has ordered the choir to sing a new Mass, one that was used in his old church in Chicago. He wants the outside of the church to be painted in colors matching those of the new parish center. The pastor is 69-years 0ld, has never been out of Chicago for any extended period and, to the best of my knowledge, has never been a parish pastor. He worked in the archdiocesan chancery, or something.

    None of the parishoners know where the money is going to come from, and nobody knows what the parish council thinks.

    As far as the lack of empathy, I experienced that personally. This man officiated at my mother’s funeral in October. She died after a six-month battle with cancer. I am an only son, my father died in 1998 and the rest of my relatives are on the East Coast — so I had to deal with everything alone.

    God gave me the power to deliver the readings and the eulogy during Mass but hours later, after I had returned from the cemetery to pick up my mom’s belongings (that I exhibited at the reception), I broke down and wept profusely. The secretary was kind to me and asked me to come into the conference room. The pastor came in unexpectedly and said, “tell me what’s going on,” as if he were a drill sergeant. I thought he was incredibly dense, especially since he officiated at my mom’s funeral! So I told him, “I miss my mother!” He replied by asking, “How old are you?” and “You didn’t think she was going to live with you forever, did you?” Later, he told the secretary to call a couple of my friends (to make sure I wasn’t alone that evening), asked me if I had a doctor who could give me some medication, gave me the number of grief counseling at a local Catholic hospital and told me that I should take off my suit, take out a piece of paper and make some plans.

    I sent an angry e-mail to him the next day. I told him that I would never again attend his church as long as he was the pastor, and I told him that if he tried to contact me, I would file a complaint with the police and get a restraining order.

    I also sent formal letters of complaint to the Bishop of the Orange Diocese in California (where I live) and to his provincial at the Servite headquarters in Chicago.

  • 2 kkollwitz // Jun 3, 2010 at 9:24 am

    “…the most self-centered, narcissistic, competitive, confident and individualistic in recent history,”

    Ayn Rand would be proud.

  • 3 GregK // Jun 14, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    ISTM that most of the pathologies in the Catholic Church were born out of reactions against Protestantism.

    The reverse can the said of Protestantism.

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