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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Clergy and Lust Addiction

By all accounts, a large percentage of clergy defrockings is caused by sexual sins.  This is not unique (or at least it wasn't up until a number of 'denominations' dispensed with traditional morality in recent years) to the Orthodox Church.  Most of the recent religious scandals in Christianity have been sexual in nature.

Now, there are those who tisk-tisk at such events and wonder aloud how such 'hypocrites' could end up as religious leaders in the first place.  The reason is simple: clergy are made out of the same fallen humanity as everyone else.  They are exposed to the same temptations, and even more in some cases.  Every field has its own pitfalls, and internet porn has only accelerated the temptations available to clergy.

By and large, most clergy are upright and decent fellows.  We can be a bit odd, but considering the fact that most of us choose a line of work that has lots of emotional hassles and few material benefits... odd is understandable.

But, why does Lust/porneia represent such a temptation to clergy?  In my estimation, there are a number of reasons:

A typical priest is the weakest man in his parish, stuck usually between the canonical authority of the Bishop above and the emotional authority of the laity below.  Therefore, a sense of powerlessness often sets in.  

This is often aggravated by how the priest is dealt with, most often by being reminded, directly or indirectly, that he is replaceable.  This is true, but being reminded of one's uncertain relationship with others does not breed and degree of confidence.  Unless the clergyman in question is a saint, he will be tempted to worry about his situation to varying degrees, and more than likely try to manage the uncertainty.

Though many clergy have 'secondary skills' in secular work, these skills are often forsaken for his ministry, and so his options of dealing with financial uncertainty become rather limited.  Financial insecurity is a constant companion of most Orthodox clergy.  Remember, he lives off of what other people consider 'charity.'  We all know how important charitable giving is to most folks, even if they themselves are the primary recipients of the charity (i.e. a functioning parish).

Clergy often live in relative isolation, both from one another as well as society as a whole.  Facing constant scrutiny from both the bishop and the laity, clergy often get to a point that they distrust one another due to political wrangling over assignments and status.  This is typical in any human organization, and Church segments often deal with their own 'pecking orders.'  And, since clergy 'work on weekends' and are usually in demand during the free times of the rest of the community, they do not always have time to socialize 'off duty.'  When they do take time off, and this falls during everyone else's work hours, they are accused of being lazy.  I had a parishioner say, in response to my contention that the parish has my full attention for at least 40 hours a week, that he thought I was short-changing them by not offering "all of your time."  Seriously.

I know clergy who have referred to their homes as 'forts' to escape the prying eyes of dysfunctional parishioners.  So, the clergyman gets on the phone and calls another priest to break the loneliness of his solitary life, only to end up engaging in gossip, which makes him feel all the worse.

Typically, the priest has a bishop he sees only a few times a year, and these events are usually as brief as they are formalized.  Given the power of the bishop, the priest will often feel he has to 'manage' his relationship with his bishop and cannot let his guard down.

Then, let's assume the priest has a spiritual father: he's usually a monk or priest who also sees the priest on an infrequent basis.  He's willing to give lots of advice, though he can only go on what the priest tells him because they do not see each other often.  He can do nothing but respond to what the priest tells him.  

Here is the danger: can anyone be totally honest with himself?  You are tricking yourself if you assume that you are.  We all have blind spots.  This means the spiritual father only gets the information the priest, assuming he is totally honest, is willing to look at himself.  This is one reason why I get a bit uncomfortable with people who rave about a 'spiritual father' that they only have contact with for an occasional confession.  In AA, most folks will tell you to get a sponsor you go to meetings with, and in a monastery the spiritual father is a fellow monk who sees you 'in action.'  Again, the atomized condition of the Church here makes this a difficult if not impossible arrangement. 

All of this leads to a sense of isolation and powerlessness that porneia fits well with.  The priest can gain sense being desired, being powerfully confident, and being in control... all from the comforts of lustful temptations.

This condition can be aggravated when he learns that, to settle down an unruly parish, he cannot act as one meek and mild.  He must use the full force of his ego to push back other unhealthy egos.  Once he experiences the intoxicating effects of power, he can develop Lust/porneia not is the sexual sense but in the manipulative one.  He will become a jaded schemer or a dictator.  He will obsess about his authority.

These conditions can be found in other walks of life, but I am speaking here to members of the Church who look down their noses at fallen clergy when their addiction and/or dysfunction comes to light.  I recall once hearing the story about a young man who was offered a substantial amount of money by his family to not go to seminary.  It wasn't out of hatred for the Church, but the only thing relatives thought they could offer him to not throw himself into these circumstances.  He refused and everything worked out for the best.  It was actually done out of love, though one could question the technique.

Every walk of life has its burdens, and out of these burdens can arise the passions.  We should examine our lives to see if we are too lonely, tired, and insecure.  These conditions leave us vulnerable to porneia, either as we try to manipulate our way out of these circumstances or indulge in the fantasies of dysfunctional sexual activity.

Most of my comments here have had to do with clergy getting involved in internet pornography, a problem that is rampant in the general population as well.  My sense is that this problem goes largely unaddressed.  Clergy only really get in trouble when they go beyond internet pornography and involve another person (some jump right over the porn part and have affairs, so I'm not saying pornography is part of every clergyman's problem).

But, the flip side is that porneia/Lust can also manifest as authoritarianism.  Sex and power have long been tied together.  Some clergy 'act out' by being manipulative and dictatorial.  This is just as perverse as any sexual act, since it is equally as dehumanizing of the people who fall under such 'authority.'

All people, clergy and laity alike, must be cautious about how we treat others.

1 comment:

  1. Among other things, this post helps me be more understanding towards clergy. They have indeed a uniquely difficult mission. I believe us lay people should judge less and pray more.