Priest Comments on Penn State

Click here to read: “A Priest’s View on Penn State,” by James Martin, SJ, The Washington Post – On Faith, November 13, 2011

Extended excerpt from above linked article:

“…Several years ago, I was invited to address a conference for psychologists and psychiatrists on the topic of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, held at a large teaching hospital in New York City. My own presentation focused on the ways that the sexual crisis came about in the church, that is, the factors that allowed priests to continue to abuse, and bishops to overlook the abuse. (Clergy from other denominations offered their perspectives as well.) Immediately following my presentation a psychiatrist stood to present his paper.

And what he said astonished me.

There were, he explained, two main characteristics of the sexual abuser: narcissism and grandiosity. The narcissist is almost entirely focused on his own needs and personal gratification. Think of it this way, suggested the psychologist: When an emotionally healthy person accidentally does something offensive to someone, and notices another person recoil or senses a feeling of discomfort in the other, the healthy person will stop, because he or she respects the needs of others. To take a benign example, if you are speaking to someone at a party and physically move too close, accidentally invading someone’s “personal space,” you may notice the other person take a step back. If you are healthy, you will say to yourself, “I’m making someone feel uncomfortable.” And you will take a step back as well.

When the narcissist, however, experiences another person’s recoil or discomfort, he will not take that step back. He will not consider the other’s feelings. He may not even notice those feelings. Why? Because, as the saying goes, “it’s all about him.” The narcissist’s needs are paramount. This, in part, helps to explain the tragic tendency of the abuser to continue to abuse even when the other is clearly suffering. Though I have never witnessed an actual case of abuse first hand, it is not hard to imagine the suffering that must be evident on the face of the child or young person. The healthy person registers this emotional response; the narcissist does not.

The second quality is grandiosity. Many abusers, explained the psychologist, are typically grandiose men and women. The grandiose person is often the “Pied Piper,” the one who easily gathers around him students, football players, altar boys, or even adults. Often a larger-than-life character, he may be the charismatic founder of an organization, the successful president of a school, the beloved teacher, the energetic Scout master, the popular pastor or the well-respected principal. Children and adolescents gravitate towards him because of his charisma; and, more importantly, because of his exalted status adults may feel more comfortable leaving their children in his care.

Let me be clear about something else: I’m no psychologist, and no expert in sexual abuse, so I cannot offer any further data other to say this: these words struck me with the force of a lightning bolt. Why? Because the majority of priests I knew who had been removed from ministry because of abuse claims showed precisely these two qualities. And in the case of Jerry Sandusky, Penn State football’s defensive coordinator accused of sexual abuse, we see some signs of both: the narcissist (who–allegedly –commits rape despite the terrible suffering it causes) and the grandiose Pied-Piper (who founds a center for boys).

But there is a further problem, one that is not often spoken about.

In my experience, after the conviction or removal from office or ministry, those two qualities merge in the person with terrible consequences. And these consequences make it far more difficult for the institution to address such cases. The grandiose narcissist now focuses almost exclusively on his own suffering. His removal from office, or from ministry, he believes, is the worst thing that has happened to anyone, and he (or she) laments this fate loudly and frequently. Because of his narcissism he focuses almost entirely on his own troubles; because of his grandiosity he inflates them to ridiculous proportions. He suffers the most. This is the “Poor Me” Syndrome.

Even more dangerous: he draws others into his net, and the suffering of the real victims, those whose lives have been shattered, is overlooked-even by otherwise intelligent and well-meaning people. The focus of those within the institution is shifted onto the person they know, rather than the victims that they may not know. “Poor Father,” some parishioners may say, “how he suffers.” It is difficult for a diocese, a religious order, a school, or indeed members of any institution to resist the powerful pull of the grandiose narcissist. Indeed, people often seem unaware that they are being deluded into an overblown sympathy for the wrong “victim.”

In addition, institutional leaders can be overwhelmed by repeated pleas to see how much “poor Father” is suffering, or by widespread complaining about how “hard-hearted” they are for taking action. Tragically, the result can be resistance to real institutional change…”

44 thoughts on “Priest Comments on Penn State

  1. Thank you, Susan, for that informative article.

    The leading priest expert on sexual abuse by priests, Tom Doyle, O.P., has just written an excellent article, “Sexual Abuse by Catholic Clergy: the Spiritual Damage”, in a new comprehensive book, “Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church, a Decade of Crisis, 2002-2012”. There is some free info about the book on Amazon, but the book is pricey.

    Tom Doyle’s chapter taught me, among other important matters, a lot about how some abuse victims find difficulty in approaching God because of the clericlism we all grew up with and its accentuation of the horrible effects of being abused by a “spiritual father”.

    The chapter also addresses how many well intentioned Catholics, including sincere priests, need to listen much better to victims to better comprehend their pain and to help them positively with their healing.

    I am working on trying to get Tom Doyle’s chapter posted on-line at . If I am successful, I will try to post it on C4C since some readers may benefit from it, as I did.

  2. Perhaps the ‘poor father’ syndrome is reinforced by clericalism that has been noted so often on this blog.

    I would much prefer a serious and effective concern for ‘poor fathers’ victim!

    1. I completely agree, Joan. Tom Doyle’s chapter is all about the victims. It is noteworthy how as a priest he is so pointed and critical about many priests, beyond the abuser priests obviously.

  3. Jerry, get Tom Doyle’s chapter, if you possibly can and post it here. I think it’s a ‘tipping point’ moment and Doyle has been so good, we need to hear from him!

  4. Jerry, if you get his permission to post it here, great! I know I’ll be reading it.

    But, if not, then spending the money to buy a book to support a man who “gets it,” might be even better.

    See what he says…I’d love to read that chapter.

  5. Jerry, perhaps Tom Doyle might well be sympathetic with the C4C folks and willing to help us out at what amounts to a critical moment? The number of ‘hits’ by folks who ate following these issues is compelling!

      1. Joan, I only read the chapter last night and began pursuing the separate chapter around midnight. Tom Doyle has given the last 25 years of his life to this cause and I would expect would love to support C4C, but he may not own the rights. Let me deal with this and let’s see what can be done.

    1. Joe, the You Tube video does not address Father Martin’s remarks on this blog OR the discussion on Archdiocese Omits Key Info blog

      1. Tom Roberts in the Nov 18 th National Catholic Reporter article, ‘Video:Why is there sympathy for sex abusers?’ has Father Martin’s remarks on tape, which I thought would be a tape RELEVANT to this blog.

        Sadly, when I tried to “paste” the tape, I failed. Perhaps someone could ‘bring the tape over’…The NCR article is good, too!

      2. Joan, if you click on to my “blue NCR link”, it takes you to the NCR article that has Fr. Martin’s video embedded. Just scroll down the article and click on the video arrow. It works for me. If you can’t access it, perhaps someone else can help. I have reached my limited computer competence level.

      3. Jerry, God love you…I have no problem clicking the arrow on the NCR website….what I am incapable of doing is bringing that You Tube video, over to the C4C website…Kathy has put videos on C4C ….perhaps she might be able to make the transfer?

        It’s very effective video…and the article is excellent, too.

    2. Joe it’ a nice video. My priest is even in one of the pictures but many of the priests disgraced themselves we did not need to do it for them. I love the church but the level of corruption is heartbreaking. The priests are silent now as before and that is why sexual abuse of children continues. I do hope and pray it changes but the silence is discouraging to many.

    3. Jerry I actually “lifted” it from the Philadelphia priests website. They posted this video and it is the most encouraging sign I have seen since I have followed that site. I left a comment under that post. Anyone can comment on their site,although no one ever seems to.

      1. That’s great, Kathy. I left a comment several weeks ago on the APP site linking them to an article on the bold Irish priest association. I am unable to find it on their site now. Let’s hope patience and optimism with Philly priests bears fruit.

        For now, I will pursue other venues that seem more promising. Sadly, the civil and criminal litigation approaches seem to make more of an impression on clerics than other softer approaches.

        Why this may be is explained in part in the recent article, “Catholic
        Seminaries: The Inside Story” , accessible by clicking on at:

  6. Susan,

    See my comments to Chris Walsh on dated Nov 10, 2011.

    I asked him if the association, Philadelphia Priests, was “actively supporting Statute of Limitation reform.”

    Walsh answered on Nov 15, 2011:

    “Dear Sister, the APP has not taken a position on the SOL legislation at this time. I hope that it will be discussed at our January Meeting in some manner. Thank you for you advocacy for children and victims of sexual abuse. Fr Chris Walsh”

    His comments appear to be out of line with the reasons given for the establishment of the APP. I then pasted an AP article dated 08/19/2011 by Mary Clare Dane.

    Sister Maureen

    1. Instead of “hoping” that Statute of Limitation reform is discussed at the APP meeting in January, what about calling a special meeting, immediately, specifically intended to formulate a position on it?

    2. Fr. Chris’ reply simply requires some interpretation. In seminary we referred to a priest who made this type of statement as a “well trained priest.”

      What Chris means is: “Sister, did you hear what they did to Bishop Gumbleton? Now if they did that to a bishop, what do you think they would do to me if I came out in favor of SOL legislation? They would mop the floor with me! You know that they don’t tolerate insubordination. Orders are orders, and they come right from Ben16. I don’t want be questioned about this again until at least January. I need some breathing room, please! Right now I feel like I’m being water boarded. Sister, I’m sorry, but I’ve been silenced.”

      1. Dear Priest Association members:

        drwho13’s post is the Truth.

        You entered the priesthood (The Fraternal Order of Priests) partly because its culture and hierarchical structure appealed to you. The appeal was especially nurtured in seminary, where your minds were manipulated, your values skewed, and your psycho-emotional growth arrested. You each had certain reasons and needs that made you vulnerable to this kind of “formation.”

        However, over the last century, the body of knowledge provided by the disciplines of psychology and sociology has come to translate “well trained priest” as “well trained cult member” or “well trained puppets.” While I understand that this modus operandi is a centuries old, ingrained groupthink, it is wholly unacceptable to a well informed, 21st century laity. No! It is wrong! It is no longer permissible! What is particularly distasteful is that you continue to present it to us, forcing us, personally, to accept it or reject it, take it or leave it, when it is YOUR duty to change it! YOU are in service to US!

        I find your association to have two agendas. One entails a whole lot of stroking– “poor us.” The other entails a genuine desire to articulate meaningful reform without attracting trouble. When the two agendas mix, the association amounts to a bunch of dispirited priests looking for “safe” ways to affect the issues that challenge the Church.

        Between your “poor us” demeanor and your determination to remain safe, you possess absolutely none of the attributes necessary for meaningful reform.


      2. Hadit catholic,
        I agree.Jesus never played it safe if he did we never would have been saved…….he risked everything…..on that note I hope the priests realize while they play it safe many are quietly exiting the church………be bold be brave be Jesus…………………..

      3. Thank you drwho and Hadit for your pointed and fair comments. Hadit, I am going to add you, along with Joan, to my new “Honorary C4C De Facto Lawyers Group”, no insult intended and assuming a lawyer can be “honorary”, which many doubt. I don’t doubt it because I know some honorable lawyers, but I fully understand and sympathisize with the general public’s view about lawyers. Please keep up your effective advocacy.

      4. Hadit, as you try to understand many Philly priests’ bad behavior, you might note the tendency of seminaries today to promote a clerical culture that generates many sociopaths, that is, men whose words and deeds are not connected.

        For more info on this, you may wish to consult the recently posted short article, “Catholic Seminaries-The Inside Story”.

        It is by the leading clinician worldwide on Catholic clerical child sexual abusers.

        It is accessible by clicking on at:

  7. What Father Martin speaks of I have witnessed first hand. To see it up close and personal is chilling. I have seen many crocodile tears from my husbands offender and he had everyone from his church(not catholic) and even the judge feeling sorry for him. He actually stood up and said he was sorry when a few months earlier he had told me he didn’t think he did anything wrong. Predators are master manipulators and many a good person have been fooled by them.

  8. Jerry,

    I am not a novice at priestly bad (and good) behavior, the world of seminaries, or the priesthood, itself. I have studied them for 41 years, which is why I relentlessly confront priests, the hierarchical system, and the priesthood’s culture and dysfunction.

    When I can speak directly to a priest, I do, therefore, many of my posts on this site inquire into the thinking of Fr. Chris and Rev. Wintermyer (and drwho13). My education and experiences have regularly brought me in contact with priests over the years. I have studied and worked side-by-side with them. Many are among my friends.

    I visit Sipe’s site regularly because he’s “been there,” knows the psychology of it, and doesn’t garble his words. I read the article you refer to several weeks ago. Thank you for bringing it to my attention, again. I hope others will read it.

    I am not anti-priesthood. I am an advocate and activist for a heathy, competent, inclusive and holy priesthood.

    1. haditCatholic, like you I have worked with a number of priests and count many as friends.

      I am struck by an age differential, the Vatican Two guys that I know, who have ‘kept the faith’ are anything but happy with ‘institutional’ Church, right now, and in my experience say so (somewhat carefully) from the altar.

      Sipe makes some good points and when I read that article, I recalled the fact that in the post conciliar period, we housed several ex priests, and one nun and I was amazed at their lack of ‘street smarts’ relative to very basic business and social functions. I taught them how to use a checkbook, picked ties out of my husbands wardrobe for them, found them jobs et al.

      They had multiple graduate degrees, but were like kids, relative to living and working ‘in the world’. Actually, my kids were more functional.

      Perhaps one of the cruelest parts of the ‘clerical’ enculturalization is the ‘ warping developmentally’ of these guys.

    2. Thanks, Hadit and Joan for your helpful comments.

      I am not anti-priest, but until more of them step up and speak out, they will not get much support from me. Being silent in the face of the evil of child sexual abuse that too many of them have been, and still are, very well aware of, means that protecting kids and helping victims is made that much more difficult for the rest of us.

      I am pleased to hear Hadit you follow Richard Sipe’s website, , which has much helpful info from Richard, Tom Doyle and Patrick Wall. I offer the links hoping all C4C readers will check them out.

      Richard and Tom have been supportive of my efforts, which has been

      1. Jerry, I share your feelings about “being silent in the face of evil” relative to the sexual abuse critique of priests, who don’t speak up.

        But ‘speaking up’ requires a fair amount of personal freedom and maturity. And that’s where I think ‘the rubber and the road meet’.

        Sipe himself says that some guys get through the seminary ‘unscarred’; many don’t.

        My own graduate school background is in Human Development, and I have always been fascinated by stages of spiritual development. I think that for some of these guys, they are simply not psychologically able to confront authority in their highly clericicallized world.

        I can mentally see your lawyerly mind working out a rebuttal….and you may well be right! Just a thought or two!

    3. Joan, no rebuttal. I went to 16 years of Catholic schools and each of my four children went to Catholic schools. I was active in my parish and was on the parochial school board. I think I understand sufficiently priests’ dilemmas.

      I don’t judge some who blog here who understandably may have some mixed feelings because of many good priests they have known and still know. I have known a lot of good priests.

      My position is that, notwitstanding these legimate positive feelings, it is a fair response and important for me to press priests to speak out. I accept others see things somewhat differently, and I respect their views.

      Hopefully, a few more priests will respond prophetically on C4C like Fr. John has, then a few more etc. It is a slow process sadly.

      1. Jerry, I not only have no problem with your ‘pressing priests to ‘speak out’ ; I totally support your point of view!

        I, personally ‘cut no slack’ for the guys who could speak out, (psychologically) and don’t. That’s a matter between God and themselves.

        Mine, is just a simple, and perhaps not a very compelling defense, for those guys not psychologically ‘free’ enough’ to speak out!

        I have appreciated your lawyerly ‘input’ a great deal, and thought your church related comments with Beth recently were very special, and holy.

      2. Thanks, Joan. I may seem harsh at times. I am just being honest. I would not try to press any priest who personally just is incapable of speaking out.I just don’t know how to sift out the good from the bad. I have little contact with many priests these days, other than a few of them who attack me regularly at NCR, etc.

        Unfortunately, I can’t help but think of some poor kid who might have been spared a life of pain if some priests didn’t keep silent. Sadly, I expect some of this still goes on, so I don’t see an alternative to pressing priests generally

      3. Jerry…only God knows which priests are capable of ‘speaking up’ and will, or won’t.And your concern to protect vulnerable children is totally terrific.

        I think this is one of those situations where one needs to leave it in God’s hands.

        I was struck, in the middle of last night , with the thought that I value the Eucharist highly and it’s the reason I remain Catholic, when I can think of a whole number of good reasons for not doing so.

        And it was a personal choice of mine to walk up the aisle today, on the feast of Christ the King to receive communion. And yet there are innocent children raped by ‘Alter Christis’ who have been ignominiously violated by those who stand in the name of Christ.

        Nothing easy, about this one! Suggest lots of prayer!

      4. Jerry you stated, “I just don’t know how to sift out the good from the bad. I have little contact with many priests these days…”

        I share you position. Even while in seminary and religious life, it was difficult for me to separate the good from the bad. The initiation into religious life has some similarities to being inducted into the Mafia, or a street gang. The new member is given very little information. As trust develops, one gains the insight necessary to sift out the good from the bad.

        It took me four years before I was certain who was who. I only then informed the Vatican, and it took several tries, and about a year to get a response. When I went public with the abuse, I was sued by the order for libel, slander, and defamation. The case was dismissed because (as you well know) the truth is an absolute defense against these charges, and (short of wearing a wire) I was documenting everything. The case was dismissed; the pedophile priest is currently in prison, and the order is in shambles. I helped to get justice for some kids, and perhaps prevented the abuse of others. I left religious life and never looked back.

        These days if I have contact with a priest it is only by chance, no interest, no desire. One would have to be psychic to determine the morality of any given priest based upon the degree of contact the average catholic has with them.

  9. Thanks so much, drwho13, for generously sharing your unique and instructive perspective. Thanks also for your earlier magnanimity, courage and prudence. You must have endured much agony, but you now prove there is a good life available after clericalism. May your exceptional example be emulated soon by many other priests, God willing.

    As you may be aware, in Austria and Ireland priests have organized recently and are collectively challenging their bishops and Rome over the current papal policies that have been so harmful to many Catholics worldwide. Perhaps their and your prophetic examples will stimulate some sincere, but hesitant, members of the Association of Philadelphia Priests to stand up more boldly for defenseless children and disrespected victims.

    For more info on the current Austrian and Irish priest uprisings, please note the comment and related cross links under the comment heading, “Austria First, then ??” , accessible by clicking on at:

  10. Hahaha! LOVE IT! Yes…I had a Priest once swear like a Sailor. Of course, he was a Navy Chaplain-type Priest, so maybe that had sehntmiog to do with it! Anyway, my mom was the director of the high school youth group, and Fr Gubbins routinely dropped the F-bomb in front of us! AND once, during Mass…actually, during THE CONSECRATION, he spilled the wine all over the alter and let loose a G-D!!! I about died. But then….another time, right after the procession, when Fr G and the alter boys were bowing at the alter, one of the alter boys bowed into his candle and lit his hair on fire and Fr whacked him on the head with the Gospel to put out the flames….And no….I’m not exaggerating….couldn’t make that stuff up if I’d tried!

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