I was like a trusting lamb, not knowing they were hatching plots against me. Jeremiah 11:19
I read a long time ago that “the brighter the light, the fiercer the attack.” I thought of these words when I was reading about Pope Francis’ trip to a slum at the end of his July 2015 pastoral visit to Paraguay. He had given passionate speeches about economic systems that are unfair to the poor and visited a prison and a hospital for children. At the end of the article, someone had responded with these words. “Communist, imbicile Pope!”
That is certainly not the first, or last, criticism we will hear about Pope Francis. In fact, the nastiness is increasing, especially since he promulgated his encyclical on the environment. Any pope who not only says the things he says, but can back them up with dramatic action, will certainly become an even bigger target for such harsh criticism.
“I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security,” Pope Francis says.
His words can be applied to the church itself, but also to how he views the way a pope should act.
All this, I believe, is part of a pervasive problem in the church — a curious problem that I have been aware of for years. The problem is this: We punish our brightest lights, our most talented leaders and our most imaginative thinkers on one hand, while coddling, protecting and even rewarding our dimmest lights, our most mediocre leaders and our biggest protectors of the status quo on the other.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen put it this way: “Jealousy is the tribute mediocrity pays to genius.”
Father Andrew Greely, an award-winning journalist and novelist, put it this way: “The worst thing a diocesan priest can do is to get good at something.”
One seminary professor agreed, “Anybody who rises above is cut down quickly.”
The brighter the light, the fiercer the attack.
In the church, some are not so crude as to come right out and attack those who dare shine brighter than most. Often, they merely attempt to starve them to death emotionally.
This form of abuse makes victims feel unworthy and denies them emotional care, praise, affection and positive feedback. It is a form of repetitive abuse that is aimed at controlling and diminishing their well-being in order to hurt, punish, harm and control.
The person on the receiving end can end up resigned to feeling isolated, intimidated, insignificant, despondent, angry, resentful and even vengeful. Some victims have noted that their abusers become notably happier the more worn down and miserable they become. These abusers derive a great sense of triumph if they can get their victims irritated, annoyed or upset, making them capitulate, apologize or plead with them to speak to them.
Meanwhile, they convince themselves that they are free of any blame, having only the “good of the church” at heart.
Father J. Ronald Knott