Do Priests and Bishops Have a Superiority Complex?

I came across an interesting article today on Max Lindenman's blog, Diary of a Wimpy Catholic, called Clerical Narcissism: Myth or Mess?

My answer: BOTH. By "clerical narcissicm" he refers partially to bishops covering up sex abuse scandals that have been in the news for 10+ years now, but also a root cause of it: the belief that bishops and priests believe themselves to be superior to other members of the church, and certainly to lapsed Catholics. (It's worth noting here that one reason people have left Catholicism is because of the abuse AND the cover-ups.)

However, he delves deeper into the issue, citing mandatory celibacy as a reason for narcissism by putting forth inhuman asexuality as the ideal. And, if priests and bishops are practicing this, the "ideal," they may accidentally tend to have a superiority complex toward others who are not.

But what makes this article so thought-provoking is Lindenman's Devil's-advocate approach to the issue, stating: "I am curious to know whether a certain excessive self-regard might be a priestly occupational hazard." He means this as an honest question, not a put-down or assumption: he truly wants to know. Further down he writes, "The mistakes of the institutional Church have much less interest for me than the experience of the individual priest, whom I take on faith to be an essentially good guy who wants only to do right. If any Church norms or practices do, in fact, encourage priests to adopt a narcissistic self-concept, I am assuming they adopt it unwittingly and probably unwillingly."

Personally, I agree with him wholeheartedly. Narcissism is a job hazard of the priesthood, but it is also a job hazard for many other professions--especially professions where people tend to believe their job is their near-total identity. Even little things in all of our daily lives can cause us to be narcissistic. And, despite my own run-in with a priest that I write about on this website, I too believe that most priests are trying to be a good guy and do the right things. I will even say this is true of the of priest I have written about.

And yet, the Church does foster narcissism in the clergy, intentional or not. One brilliant commenter stated that hearing Confessions humbles the priest because he hears sins that are his own and is reminded of them. This could be a post in and of itself. Hearing confessions, on the other hand, can certainly foster a sense of superiority--imagine the power inherent in being the mediator between the sins of the laity and God Himself.

Being alone, though, compounded by being at the whim of one's superior (there are many hierarchies in the church) for not only your livelihood, but your reputation, your identity, your living quarters, can be the toughest job of all.

I would be sincerely interested in what priests themselves have to say about this. Please comment respectfully.


Rose said...

Agree!!!! I see this ALL the time with the clergy! As a convert from Protestantism, the clergy experience was really different for me than now as a Catholic. Now, in my experience, there is this sense of "not even human" or "above humanity" in many ways, despite them "not wanting" it, but yet they "feed off it" because they're sooooo lonely and starved for attention living "alone", effectively. They go home to an empty house or one in which they may not get along with their brother priests. They become the "local celebrity" at their parish - for better or worse - and people "put them on pedestals" and "worship" them, give them gifts, dote on them, cook for them, take them out for dinners, vacations, provide all sorts of "free-bees" or "discounts" everywhere...... How can they NOT get all puffed up!

I've always just treated them like "normal guys" who happen to be priests. My guess is, it's rather refreshing - if they're being honest - at least the guys who are priests for the right reasons!

FigTree said...

I find it completely draining of any confidence I ever had that I can have JESUS in my life. Whether they do it intentionally or not, their sermons seem to focus on how "holy" the clergy is, while we lay people are talked to as if we practice the same sins week after week and are incapable of holiness. A pastor at a local cathedral in a sermon made mockery of how we lay-people pray, "Hail Mary...ho-hum (looks at his watch)...uh, er, oh yeah...full of grace." He said what would we do without them as "fathers" leading us in prayer, as we are all too stupid. I have been a Catholic for 7 years now, and I feel like they have sucked all the life out of me, like I'm drained completely dry. I had a medical emergency where I easily could have died, bleeding heavily for 4 hours. I called the church emergency line. The priest told me to get off the phone line, as it was only for "dying" people and promised to call me back, but he never did. They aren't even available when we are dying. I need a church where somebody actually prays with you and ministers show up when you're in the hospital.

Anonymous said...

I do think that priests are full of themselves. And as my fellow commenters have pointed out, they are given everything they ever want - so why not be full of themselves? I do think that celibacy, in conjunction with being given everything, teaches them that they can't have intimacy and that people are simply "avenues" for which they can get what they want in both the tangible and intangible realm. I know priests who will only befriend people in certain professions, professions that seem noble like law enforcement, medicine, and law. If a person doesn't fall into one of those categories, they are useless to that priest and his ego and they are completely dismissed.

The are also set up to be narcissistic because everyone puts them on a pedestal. Whenever they walk into the room, they are always the center of attention.