"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Trauma in the Church (I)

I've previously mentioned the impending release of Gerald Arbuckle's book Abuse and Cover-up: Refounding the Catholic Church in Trauma (Orbis, 2019). My copy has now arrived. I will be discussing it extensively on here over the coming days, not least in dialogue with my own new book on the structural issues in the Church which have contributed to the crisis, and without changes to which nothing will improve: Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power (Angelico, 2019).

The theme of the book is picked up immediately in the introduction: the trauma of the current crisis is actually long-standing, going back at least thirty, and closer to fifty years, during which time the conciliar promises of a more locally accountable and synodally governed Church were never materialized--were, indeed, rolled back. So the crisis of abuse has been but the latest in a long line of hierarchical betrayals leading, the author repeatedly says, to sadness, rage, and grief: all three are manifestations of trauma, as I discussed here.

Those betrayals were led by men who, Arbuckle rightly points out, feared "scandal" more than the truth--a point I also made in my discussion, here, of the uses and abuses of the whole notion of "scandal," a word which, in episcopal usage, means "what makes me as bishop look bad."

The author moves quickly into a discussion of cultural theory and the incredible resistance built into cultures, including ecclesial culture, to any serious efforts at change. He notes, rightly as many of us have been saying for some time, that this must be an all-hands-on-deck affair: not just "prayer and fasting" types of change, not just "new evangelization," and not just new structures: the reform required is a radical change in the way we think, pray, structure our life, and act together. One discipline that will help us see the far-reaching and comprehensive nature of the changes needed is cultural anthropology. Here Arbuckle references such key players as Clifford Geertz and, later on, Mary Douglas, whom I am reading with my students this semester.

I had forgotten what an exhilarating ride Douglas is in Natural Symbols as well as Purity and Danger and other works. But I also hadn't realized how merciless she is in the former book, too, which is so tightly written it's almost an act of warfare. She lobs one dense, high-powered sentence after another without warning, introduction, transition. She packs an incredible amount of high theory into a very short book and clearly takes no prisoners.

The author concludes his introduction by laying out the plan of the book. Chapter 1 will look at cultural dynamics in the Church leading to cover-up; 2 will ask what makes the Church uniquely prone to such cover-ups; 3 will focus on grief in the Church today; four will look at new leadership; 5 at new structures; and 6 at other assorted action plans going forward.

In the coming days we will proceed systematically through the book, first discovering what the author argues and then critically analyzing it.


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