Church must tackle spiritual abuse

spiritual abuse

Little is being done to target the spiritual abuse that allows the clerical sex scandals to happen says theologian Dr Rocio Figueroa.

Figueroa is a lecturer in Systematic Theology at the Catholic Institute of Aotearoa New Zealand in Auckland.

To understand the underlying causes of abuse the Church needs to rethink its ts power structure and concept of leadership, she said.

If the Church were to rethink its ts power structure and concept of leadership, it would be a start, she says.

“Whenever there has been sexual abuse in the Church, you could see that there was first a spiritual abuse.”

Figueroa is also a former member of the Marian Community of Reconciliation (the women’s branch of the Peru-based Soldalitium Christianae Vitae – SCV).

She was among the speakers addressing an online course on abuse prevention in priestly formation settings

In 2017, the Vatican sanctioned the SCV founder after accusations of sexually abusing several minors and physical and psychological abuse of community members.

All the victims talk about spiritual abuse, Figueroa said.

“They are always together, spiritual abuse and sexual abuse.”

Spiritual abuse “has never been addressed [in the Catholic Church],” she said.

“You see lots of courses about sexual abuse prevention, but nothing about this systemic problem. You also have to ask yourself why the system has allowed sexual abuse to happen?”

Figueroa said spiritual abuse happens when anyone who holds some sort of spiritual authority over another and uses that power to control them rather than helping them grow.

A superior telling a subordinate to do something because ‘this is the will of God,’ is an example of this, she said.

People can commit spiritual abuse without realizing it, largely due to the lack of preparation and maturity in those tasked with formation, she said.

Part of the problem is a misguided understanding of obedience, she said.

In the Catholic Church, obedience is understood “in a vertical way, where the one who has the authority is the word of God; it’s a very vertical dimension and you have to just obey.”

This, opens the door to other forms of abuse, including sexual abuse. It is one of the underlying causes of abuse.

Many who enter religious communities make vows of obedience, “but they don’t promise to be authentic and to follow myself and my conscience.

“This is as important as the vow of obedience.”

Clericalism is another major issue, Figueroa raised.

“Every person in the Church has to be accountable, because sometimes authorities in the Church are not accountable. They do anything they want to do.”

This is especially true for women, Figueroa said.

Women religious are especially dependent on their male superiors.

“We have structural problems. For me, they are all together. If you put clericalism, sexism, and the situation of women together, it’s like a bomb.”

In her view, “the servant leader” is the best choice to counter spiritual abuse.

The servant-leader “first wants to serve, and then wants to lead generates another type of leadership in which the person who leads does not look for power, but really looks out for the good of the people.”


Additional reading

News category: World.

Tags: ,