"THE MEMORY OF JESUS IS BOTH SACRED AND SUBVERSIVE"
Tuesday, 14 November 2017
ABBOT ON SEX
Former abbot warns against dangers of moralising
Pandemic of sex abuse is a ‘religious problem’, says ex-head of Glenstal
The Irish Times
Patsy McGarry Religious Affairs Correspondent
Moralising will not help us understand the wave of sexual harassment and child abuse cases that have emerged nationally and internationally, says Mark Patrick Hederman, former abbot of the Benedictine monastery at Glenstal, Co Limerick.
Instead, he believes we must look at the human passions that connect people such as Harvey Weinstein and Tom Humphries.
“We’ve had three philosophers of the 20th century that decided there are only three basic energies that move us all. One is power, the other is sex, and the other is money.”
While this does not capture the full picture, “it’s a good beginning . . . The world goes round because of sex, said Freud; or money for Marx, and power for Nietzsche,” he says.
“The church had found that out in the Middle Ages and they said: ‘We’ll put three stops on those three things – poverty, chastity, and obedience’. So they put vows over them. It was like putting a manhole over the sewer. It doesn’t work like that.”
Fr Hederman, who last year completed his term as abbot at Glenstal, ruffled some feathers in the Catholic Church last week when he appealed to priests to stop calling their bishops “spineless nerds and sycophantic half-wits”. Next week, he is giving a talk at Dublin’s Smock Alley Theatre entitled “what Ireland needs to nurture its soul”.
Speaking to The Irish Times in advance, he says religion is “absolutely essential for us. Connecting with the spiritual is vital to our whole culture now and when it disappears you’re into drugs and alcohol, everything that will block everything, or suicide”. Or criminal activity, he adds.
‘Lowest of the low’
“With Kevin Spacey and all these people, you get to a point where your whole life is destroyed. Tom Humphries again. We’re all moralising about this and saying: ‘Oh these are the lowest of low.’ The real truth is what were those people looking for? I don’t know but it is a religious problem, that’s what I’m saying.”
It is not about “judging or condemning – it’s a finding out. And I’m absolutely certain in every one of those cases it’s spiritual. In other words, those people were trying to achieve something at a level which was carnal and which should have been spiritual.”
The idea “that we can all sit and moralise about it and say, ‘Oh they are dreadful’, I mean, that’s all of us. We’re all in the same boat. It’s not as if they are monsters. These are all people and we’ve all got the same humanity.”
In Ireland, he says, “we’ve had a huge liberation but the trouble is that every culture – no matter what you’re talking about – they all had a taboo about incest”. That was now gone, he says. “We had a culture here and it was very repressive but at least it was a taboo.”
Nowadays, “every child in fifth year wants a child, and they don’t want a husband either. ‘We’ll get a sperm bank.’ We’ve gone to a stage now where it’s so completely devoid of all notion of morality, everything. It really is a tsunami.”
He says: “There’s a pandemic now of child abuse and incest and actually what people are looking for is that rebirth which is in Christianity . . . Most people are looking for a second half of life, something which will allow them to be reborn and many of them see that in a child or they see it in a younger person.
“What’s so terrible is that instead of actually finding the religious answer to that – which is to do with going to another level symbolically to become reborn – they’re allowing their instincts and their impulses to lead them into crime.”
Psychologically speaking, he says: “Incest is actually calling us. It’s part of mid-life. It’s one of the most experienced fantasies in people’s lives and it’s calling them to the second half of their life. It’s calling them to the rebirth which Christianity and every other religion talks about”.
Raising the Humphries case, he felt the coverage in The Irish Times “was a kind of overreaction, where you’re kind of guilt-ridden or something like that”. Humphries “is a human being. He is destroyed at the moment and he becomes a kind of scapegoat and he becomes the pariah. All of that is wrong in terms of society.”
He felt “we’re not dealing with the situation. We’re actually sensationalising it and making it a form of entertainment.” Instead “of just punishing people and moralising about it and condemning them, it’s a question of making them understand so that they can move on.
“It’s certainly possible. The big, big religious movement of the 20th century was the AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] and the basic principle of that was that you have to recognise what you’ve done.”
A “sympathetic counsellor – that’s what you need to have. Locking people up in prison where they torture one another, that doesn’t do any good at all. They’re pariahs when they come out and nobody wants to have them in their vicinity.”
There has to be “an attempt to reintegrate them to their own humanity and that’s what spirituality is. That’s what the incarnation is about: that we are human beings but there is a hope and that there is nobody without hope.”
In general, “we’ve gone from one extreme to another and we’re using very blunt instruments – a legal situation where one size fits all – for dealing with things which really require very careful and very personal counselling”.
Mark Patrick Hederman will speak on What Ireland needs to nurture its soul at Dublin’s Smock Alley Theatre, 7.30pm on Wednesday, November 22nd. http://smockalley.com
We’re all moralising about this and saying: ‘Oh these are the lowest of low.’ The real truth is what were those people looking for? I don’t know but it is a religious problem, that’s what I’m saying
PAT SAYS: The words of Dom Hederman seem a bit confusing at times - and at other times they are asking important questions. Some of his statements are very sweeping like: Nowadays, “every child in fifth year wants a child, and they don’t want a husband either. ‘We’ll get a sperm bank.
I do not think that EVERY FIFTH YEAR wants a baby and wants a baby without having a husband. In my experience, young girls and woman of that age are very romantic and want to find a young man to love and marry - and perhaps have children with. I don't think that many young girls of this age are thinking about sperm banks? I think he will anger the parents of fifth-year girls with his generalizations? He is right in saying that, for most people, sex, money and power are strong motivators. Most people want to have sex, enough money to live on - and many people like to have power. But there is nothing wrong or immoral about the proper use of all three. I agree that spirituality is very important for a meaningful life. But there are other spiritualities than religion? And, there is no conflict at all between an authentic spirituality and a good and healthy sex life. I tried to address this topic in my 2005 book - A SEXUAL LIFE - A SPIRITUAL LIFE (still available on Amazon and Kindle).
My chapters include chapters:
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH - SEX, LIES AND GUILT.
JESUS, SEXUALITY, AND LOVE.
A NEW SPIRITUALITY OF SEX.
I include a quote from a Sherward A. Treadwell:
"Passion between the covers of a book
May come in the form of the undraped body of
Or the naked form of
A man hanging from a
Save for the look of love"
The good Abbot Emeritus is right to point out that sexuality and spirituality belong together.
But not all sexual criminals are lacking spirituality.
Some of them are just bad or twisted men and women.
For instance, all priest abusers had spent six years being "formed" spiritually by the Catholic Church!
And some of those were Dom Hederman's fellow Benedictine monks!