French religious are tackling head on the “lies, deception and usurpation” behind spiritual abuse, the deviant ‘divine’ guidance from Church leaders that they say can be just as damaging as clerical sexual aggressions.

Driving the news

A hundred superiors of religious orders, victims, psychotherapists and lawyers came together recently in Paris to tackle the issue of perverse spiritual guidance.

It’s a problem that’s gone under the radar for too long in a Church still under the shadow of priestly pedophilia.

The Conference of Religious Men and Women in France (CORREF) seminar was just one of the many events French brothers and nuns have been organising to better understand the pain of survivors and to ensure that the Church is free of abuse in the future.

Go deeper

One survivor told the CORREF meet that her spiritual abuser – a priest – “used the Word of God a lot, and for me it was the Word of God”, thereby highlighting the role of bad Biblical readings in the grooming of victims of spiritual abuse.

Another victim lamented that, in spiritual abuse, “the whole personality is fractured, even at the level of faith; something of death has been sown at the level of the soul”.

Why it matters

The CORREF experts agreed that behind every act of spiritual abuse lies an abuse of power and an abuse of conscience.

The breach of trust represented by spiritual abuse amounts to “a manipulation of the faith” that in victims “undermines their search for a meaning”, denounced Dominican Gilles Berceville.

For her part, CORREF president Veronique Margron deplored the “lies, deception and usurpation” used to crush the target of perverse spiritual direction.

What’s next

Key focuses in the Paris CORREF meeting on spiritual abuse were how to identify the phenomenon and how to manage religious authority to keep in check the physical and psychological manipulation that drives the abuse.

The religious present recognised the need to be able to say ‘no’ to a spiritual seeker.

That ‘no’, they said, is one way of making clear that their direction and guidance doesn’t come with God’s guarantee or the assurance that they can solve seekers’ problems completely, and of ensuring that they’re not intruding into seekers’ personal freedom.

The CORREF seminar attendees agreed that keys to those limits that spiritual directors must keep to are the insights of psychology in spiritual accompaniment, supervision from other religious in pastoral care and self-help for spiritual directors themselves,

For the record

As for the victims, they stressed that the love of friends and family and the help of psychotherapists are vital in terms of coming out of episodes of “spiritual coercion” and the guilt and shame associated with them.

“My companion helped me a lot”, celebrated a survivor at the CORREF meet, who also explained how important it is – to avoid spiritual abuse – to “distinguish between the false image of God and the true God who respects freedom”.

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