Friday 21 November 2014

Spiritual Abuse

In our latest update from the Safeguarding Office we have been introduced to the concept of spiritual abuse as a category. This is not a particular thing of the Catholic Church but is to apply to all religious bodies. I quote:

Telling someone that God hates them or will punish them. Refusing them opportunities to worship- not allowing a partner to go to church, using faith as a weapon to control or terrorize a person for pleasure or gain; using religious teaching to justify abuse (wives submit to your husbands) or to compel forgiveness.

All people acting on behalf of the Church need to be sensitive in their pastoral care that they do not attempt to force religious values or beliefs upon another person especially if that person is deemed to be a child or adult at risk. Harm can be caused by the misuse of power in a pastoral relationship, inappropriate use of authority or leadership or oppressive teaching..

Possible indicators and signs of Spiritual abuse
  • A person is not allowed to exercise their own judgement or make decisions for themselves relating to their religious belief.
  • There is a closed and intolerant mind-set exhibited by the leaders in the Church which dictates how a person should conform in regard to their beliefs
  • A person is not allowed to read or study about their religion or explore other religions
  • The personal life of the individual is prescribed in regard to their lifestyle, occupation and marital choices
  • A person is not allowed to question the authority of the leader(s) of the Church and if they do so is ostracised or excluded  from taking a full part in the life of the community
  • The exclusiveness of cliques
  • When people are told that they are not praying hard enough and God does not favour them
  • Challenging the Church leader(s) is likened to challenging God
  • Any of the indicators of physical, emotional, sexual or financial abuse are present and linked to the person`s membership of or receipt of pastoral care from the Church.

I`m trying to digest this. Canon law which is about protecting the rights and setting out the duties of the faithful has long made provision for recourse when a person considers their rights are not being respected by a superior but little use is made of its provisions. I was surprised that no mention of canon law is made here. However all kinds of scenarios could arise from this and it will be interesting to see how it plays out. Is excommunication not permitted any more? Would Tina Beattie have a case for being forbidden to speak in certain dioceses? Is a person spiritually abused when they prefer to kneel for communion or even just to receive on the tongue and the priest refuses to  allow it? If a person`s rights in regard to Summorum Pontificum are ignored can they claim spiritual abuse? Am I spiritually abused if a priest does not follow the rubrics for Mass or I`ve been made to sit through `liturgical` dance at Mass? The possibilities are endless. I hope good will come from it.


  1. The part that includes "a child or vulnerable person;" would seem to exclude some of the examples you give, (is TB a vulnerable adult?) so the scope of the guidelines may not be as extensive as one might fear. It does seem an extraordinary extention of the scope though, and leaves some very grey areas.

  2. You raise many interesting questions Father. In this day and age there seem to be more and more of these rather sweeping policies, which are often produced using the convenience of 'cut-and-paste' rather than as a product of carefully considered thought and deliberation.

  3. Good point Seeker although the definition of who qualifies as an `adult at risk` seems to becoming broader.

  4. This is quite interesting. If the Government is going to tell religious leaders what they can and cannot preach; can and cannot do; require and not require from their religion's adherents, can the Government not be accused of engaging in spiritual (and indeed emotional/psychological) abuse of pastors? It seems to me to a massive contradiction.
    I would be interested to see Joseph Shaw's comments on this.

  5. Does "abuse" include "group hugs" at the sign of peace during a Yoof Mass?

  6. But when there are lots of people making their own judgments and questioning religious beliefs and practices and when there are people who won't accept absolute truths is this not just a licence to be a liberal and have an 'anything goes' sort of church? It looks like an attack on traditionalism. So it could just as well be said that the abuse policy (if it's a policy) is at the same time discrimination against traditional catholicism and an actual abuse of traditionalists' right to be traditionalists.


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