Cardinal O’Brien and the recipe for disaster

Posted on February 27, 2013 by The Quest

“Doing the inner work gives us access to our own power. This creates the conditions for a transformed world”

There has been a lot in the press over the past couple of days about Cardinal O’Brien in terms of him allegedly having ‘inappropriate relations’ with a couple of priests. Not sure if it is indeed true, but if it is, what came to mind for me was – here we go again with a closeted homophobic person who has unresolved shame issues. What thoughts and feelings came up for you?
Darren: A mixture of feelings. Partly I was sad at the idea of somebody being trapped in a role that demanded suppression of a central part of their identity and who then allowed this to find release in circumstances that were not consenting. Another part of me felt excitement that a silence was being broken, that some truth – however dark – was coming to light. How about you?

Ade: Yes, also a range of emotions. I felt sad that someone in a position like his was not using his life to help heal the wounds of others. This is a guy who has been very openly homophobic and infact last year was named Stonewall Bigot of the Year. He is someone who could help bring about change and help many gay men and lesbians heal their relationship with God. Instead, due to his unhealed stuff he has not helped at all.
Darren: Yes the ‘unhealed stuff’ can have a powerful and negative impact and when that is present in someone with power and responsibility it can be a recipe for disaster. For most of us – who do not hold these positions – I suppose we can look at the negative impact that our own unhealed stuff has not only on ourselves, but also on those around us. If we do this we can begin to understand – not condone – the behavior of people branded as bigots.

Ade: That raises two points for me – First is around the ‘unhealed stuff’ and the second is around ‘responsibility’. In terms of the unhealed stuff, I can certainly empathize with the Cardinal, for I can see the human side of him when I do that. I remember in my early 20s being in the closet and I did not like being in the presence of gay men. In fact, I remember outing someone in a not so nice way – I had plenty of shame around being gay and outing someone made me think that no one would then ever guess that I was ‘that’ too… but that was a long time ago and I did the work to heal that shame and continue to do so. If the cardinal is indeed gay, he needs to consciously go on that journey of doing his own inner work and heal that shame. In terms of the second point, I do believe that if we are going to be in position of working with people, we have a responsibility to do our own inner work. Otherwise, we might find ourselves consciously and unconsciously emotionally and mentally abusing those who come to us – as a priest, the cardinal therefore had a responsibility to do the work. This is a man who is almost 80, and while shame has no age limit… as a priest, he could have done better. But then as Alan Downs said in The Velvet Rage, perhaps he was simply ‘overwhelmed by shame’.
Darren: Yes the responsibility aspect really hits home to me. Thinking about my own role and responsibility as a coach / group facilitator I am mindful that I also bring my ‘stuff’ to the table. It is important that I keep healing myself and that I am conscious in the work I do and the interactions I have. I have to be constantly vigilant that I am centered and keeping my interactions as ‘clean’ as possible – meaning that I do not impose my own shame onto others. What occurs to me is that we are still at such an early stage in our evolution as human beings and that awareness of our self is still in its infancy. As such there are many people out there who have immense power and responsibility, but are malnourished when it comes to their sense of self and therefore do not have the ability to lead.

Ade: I guess to an extent many people (myself included) who work with other people in helping them step into their best lives are ‘wounded healers’. And with that comes a responsibility to acknowledge our own wounds. For as you say, if we do not acknowledge those wounds, then it will simply lead to wounding other people who come our way for support.

I guess the other thing that comes up for me is around why gay men hang out in environments that are homophobic. I heard that it is estimated that around 40% of catholic priests are gay. And yet, the doctrine of the church is not accepting or loving towards gay people. I can certainly relate to the hiding, for again during my closeted days, I went regularly to a homophobic Pentecostal church – it was the perfect place to hide as everyone there played ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ and colluded in the denial and silence … and yet deep beneath the surface, there was also a huge self loathing that I carried…. shame and self-loathing… again, that brings us back to the matter of  ‘unhealed wounds’…. Perhaps that is the answer to all that is going on in life – if we take the time to face and do the work on our unhealed wounds – then we transform, those around us transform and our world also transforms… But it takes courage to face those wounds….

Anyway I digress, why do you think gay men hide out in homophobic environments?
Darren: Part of me thinks that we want to be accepted and that we put ourselves in those environments in the hope that we will somehow, eventually, by some miracle, be accepted. I remember at school being drawn to the bullies and part of me thought ‘Wow imagine being accepted by these boys, of all the boys.’ That thought felt powerful because if it were to come true it would be the biggest turnaround possible and would be the biggest proof that I was actually ‘ok.’ I suppose I was looking for validation from the people least likely to give it to me. That felt like the biggest prize. To be accepted by the other ‘outsiders’ was alright, but to be accepted by the enemy felt exceptional. I’m sure there are other things at play too… That was just my first thought.

Never looked it that way before. I often think it’s about finding a place to hide and in some cases simply to reinforce a denial of being gay. This quote is from The Velvet Rage –

“ Many gay men who are in denial of their sexuality gravitate to strong, anti-gay activities and organizations. Venture into any church that preaches a strong anti-gay message, and you are guaranteed to find more than a sample of gay men who are actively in denial of their sexuality….”

That also relates to something that I read about Gareth Thomas recently, who said that he had hoped playing rugby would make him straight during his closeted days, and that he hid his sexuality because of his shame.
Darren: I never had the experience of hoping that by being amongst straight guys that it would somehow make me straight or that it would help to hide me. I just wanted to gain acceptance for who I was from those groups. I did not really position myself within such groups – even though I wanted them to accept me. Instead I found my own tribe – girls and other boys who were witty and clever (and usually gay) Within these groups I found my own sense of freedom but it was still very limited and it cut myself off from the wider world. It was damage limitation. Today my challenge is to step outside of the protective world that I inhabit (some may say hide within) and live in a wider context. When I look at my life now it is a very subtle and elaborate structure that enables me to avoid what I imagine to be a hostile wider world. That was quite a revelation to me as I thought I was simply living a free and self-expressed life!

Ade: I guess each person has his own reason. For me staying in a place that is so openly unaccepting of me implies that I am not nurturing or valuing myself. For why would I want to be in a place that is telling me that there is something wrong with me. And I’d be interested to know how Cardinal O’Brien’s parishioners who are gay felt about sitting in church and listening to one of his sermons and knowing that he and the Church felt that homosexuality was ‘immoral’.
Darren: Indeed. I don’t think I would be able to do that. If something does not feel right for me I usually manage to move away from it. I remember being taken to boy scouts and it just did not work for me so I never returned. Also, when I knew I was gay and was a teenager I saw all the boys hanging out on the playing fields behind my house and although I felt lonely I also knew that I could not join them as it just wasn’t me. The same thing happened when a big Evangelist Church roadshow came to town. Part of me wanted to find a spiritual pathway but even among all the clapping and enthusiasm, I just did not feel right so I stopped attending. The more I think about it, the more I am realizing that I have always had a reasonably healthy relationship to this. I attended a Young Conservatives group when I was around 14 and only managed 2 meetings. Even though I wanted to belong to something, this environment and these ideas did not resonate and so I stopped going. I found my place of acceptance and companionship in the Youth Theatre groups that I attended. Not only was I accepted, but I was also applauded!

So thinking about this conflab and where we started I think that there are many challenges to face. Because of where we are in our evolution it is imperative that we challenge the status quo – be that religious thinking, politics, social policy, education… the list goes on. We can investigate and learn and evolve so that we can then apply that awareness and understanding to our families, structures and communities. We can do this on a very personal level by challenging ourselves and looking deeper. This will then result in us living our lives differently and that will impact and influence others. As for those already established in positions of authority – well they will no doubt be tested and at times exposed. Actions always speak louder than words and when there is a big discrepancy between the two, we know there is still a lot of work to be done both for ourselves and the world at large.

Ade: There is plenty of work to be done indeed…. one of the things that I would love to see come out of this unfolding story are more discussions about the importance of doing the inner work. I already hear some talk about outing closeted homophobic people, I feel that is counter productive – for that simply shames the shame, rather than release the shame. What we need to be calling for is the importance and necessity of doing that inner work – there are no shortcuts, if we want to transform our world, each of us needs to do that and go on that inner journey.
Darren: I agree. Doing the inner work gives us access to our own power. This creates the conditions for a transformed world.
Ade: Indeed. Look forward to more conversations with you on this topic as the story continues to unfold….Ade & Darren

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