Lay Catholics and Stockholm Syndrome

He was a bold, cutting edge "street priest". Leading lights in his community pored over his tapes on ''Counseling Parents of Gays'' and ''Changing Norms of Sexuality'' like Holy Writ. He was inspiring, charismatic, and lionized. He wrote a bold, iconoclastic newsletter (largely featuring himself in a starring role) which inspired devotees with his courageous stands against a backward, medieval Catholic sexual theology that condemned homosexual practice and that called homosexual orientation intrinsically disordered. He was a celebrity and hero to his flock (which consisted of many more people than his parish due to his finger-in-the-eye-of-the-Magisterium reputation). Indeed, he advocated fervently for gay rights from press and pulpit, accusing the Church of "homophobia". He was "a man we all looked up to", a counselor sought out because "I admired his life" according to one adoring fan. His influence was crucial to many. As one nun put it, ''He is the person who really educated myself and a lot of others.''

He is Paul Shanley, Catholic priest, one of the founders of the North American Man Boy Love Association, public advocate of sex with minors, and the notorious serial rapist of at least 26 victims who have taken legal action against him. Shanley's downfall and arrest are but part of the horrendous scandal of priestly abuse which has shaken the Catholic Church in the United States in the past year beginning at the epicenter of this seismic event: the Archdiocese of Boston.

The Scandal has included a fresh crop of attempts at reforming the Church among laity, as well as among clergy. But here is where things take a strange turn. Take, for example, Voice of the Faithful. The major media are terribly enthused about them, hailing them as one of the major reform movements in the Church.

VOTF is a lay Catholic organization that sprang up in the Boston area as a result of the scandals. They are a profoundly ad hoc group, a sort of gut impulse to lunge for "change" in response to the horrendous realities of abuse by some priests and the still more horrendous realities of episcopal neglect, mendacity and abuse perpetrated by some members of the hierarchy in shielding abusers and persecuting their victims. Only people lacking a pulse could fail to be outraged, so there is a healthy and human laudability to VOTF in its forthright desire to "do something."

But what, exactly, do they propose doing?.

It's a profound irony really. For these people have received their catechesis for most of their lives in an archdiocese that did not see a problem with creeps like Shanley, posing as Cutting Edge Street Priest in Conflict with a Medieval Church, dolloping out a brew of dissent and ignorance of the Faith. Their shepherds were in such a state of torpor that, after somebody complained to Bp. John McCormack that Shanley was giving public talks on the glories of Man Boy Love, McCormack did nothing. "I wish I did zero in on it more," McCormack said about a 1985 speech on homosexuality in which Shanley was quoted as saying children seduce adults into having sex with them. "But, at the time, Paul was known as one who would push the envelope and kind of make statements that were in some ways extreme. But I never thought he believed it or he would practice it." In an archdiocese with this magnitude of episcopal irresponsibility, people are "taught the Faith" by pastors like Shanley. So what happens?

Psychologists call it "Stockholm Syndrome": the tendency of some hostages to identify with their captors and even fight against their rescuers.

And so, like Patty Hearst, the laity in organizations like Voice of the Faithful parrot what they were taught. When Fr. Courageous Dissenter is revealed as a scum and the bishop who did not have the courage or integrity to stop him is shown to have badly failed to teach or uphold the Tradition, what do the laity do? They do what Shanley and his ilk taught them to do: demand power for the People's Democratic Republic of Heaven. It does not occur to them to return to the teaching of Christ and the apostles and demand that their bishops be more--not less-faithful to it.

And so, a visit to the VOTF website reveals a veritable hive of outrage and cluelessness. Enthusiasm for the recent "ordination" of women in Europe, twaddle about remodeling the Church based on the US Constitution, fruitless discussions about "how the Church needs to change its teaching about sex" and other chatter that sounds... remarkably like all the things Paul Shanley was lionized for saying. Meanwhile, when somebody suggests the real need is for bishops who will actually insist on teaching, believing and living the apostolic Tradition, this is ridiculed as troglodytic. Then there's a flurry of rhetoric about "the good that dissenting Catholics do" such as (like Shanley) insisting on care for the poor, the homeless, the dispossessed, etc. In the words of one baffled Bostonian, ''Paul Shanley, if he weren't a damned pervert, would be my hero. He said all the right things.''

Yes. But what victims of Stockholm Syndrome fail to realize is that the "right things" Shanley taught (when he wasn't raping children) were things the Tradition teaches. But people's minds are too dominated by the simple media template of "Plucky Dissenter with Social Conscience vs. Evil Empire of Tradition" to realize this.

And so, sudden populist movements like VOTF, born in the hatchery of Boston's (and America's) wretched, wretched catechesis of dissent have no clue what the Tradition is and speak as though the Tradition is part of the problem, not part of the solution. They are, all unaware, acting as the disciples of the people who betrayed them.

"And he had pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd." God have pity on your poor flock in this country. We have been so badly, badly served by our shepherds.

Copyright 2003 - Mark P. Shea