Leaving the Catholic Church is not usually as difficult as leaving other faith-based organisations, such as Scientology or Islam, where the consequences can be brutal. A Catholic doesn’t have to renounce Christianity in order to leave the church. There are many non-Catholic Christian churches that will happily welcome ex-Catholics. A Catholic could also decide to keep the Christian faith, but pray in private. Both options avoid having to address the veracity, or any other aspect, of the faith itself.
Yet, even with the constantly growing number of revelations of the magnitude of the sexual abuse pandemic in the Catholic Church, most of the faithful still feel a strong allegiance to the Vatican.
Why? Vatican Syndrome – a variant of Stockholm Syndrome.
In 1973 four employees of the Kreditbanken at Norrmalmstorg in Stockholm were taken hostage during an attempted bank robbery. They were held for six days in one of the bank’s vaults. Nooses, guns and dynamite were initially used to scare them into submitting to the robbers’ instructions. One of the hostages was heard screaming as a robber held her in a stranglehold while on a call to the Swedish Prime Minister.
The police moved into the apartment above the bank and drilled a hole in the ceiling of the vault. The bank robbers fired bullets through the hole, but eventually they surrendered after the police pumped tear gas into the vault.
After the event, none of the hostages would testify against their captors. In fact they raised money for their defence and visited them in jail. The police were baffled by this behaviour and called in criminologist and psychologist, Nils Bejerot. He said the state of mind of the hostages was the result of a type of brainwashing. Bejerot coined the term Norrmalmstorg Syndrome, which became known internationally as Stockholm Syndrome.
In 1974, heiress Patty Hearst was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army. They locked her in a closet for long periods, blindfolded her, gagged her and raped her. She eventually agreed to join her captors’ cause and was famously seen on surveillance video carrying an assault rifle during an armed bank robbery.
At her trial the defence tried to establish that brainwashing was the cause of her actions. The judge didn’t buy it. Hearst was sentenced to seven years, although she served less than two before being pardoned.
Following her release, Patty Hearst never showed any sign of reverting to the behaviour she exhibited while under the influence of the SLA. Her free will had been reinstated. She returned to normalcy.
There are many more examples. Today Stockholm Syndrome is widely understood and accepted. It not only applies to hostage and prisoner scenarios, but also to the sexual abuse of children.
“Aspects of Stockholm Syndrome could be identified in the responses of adult survivors of child sexual abuse, which appeared to impact on their ability to criminally report offenders. An emotional bond, which has enabled the sexual abuse of children, has served to protect the offender long after the abuse has ceased.” – Shirley Jülich, Stockholm Syndrome and Child Sexual Abuse, Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 2005.
Recovering from Stockholm Syndrome usually involves counselling, in which the patient is helped to understand that the feelings they have are part of a normal survival instinct. The recovery process involves a return to normalcy in the lives of victims.
An abused kidnap victim would have much less chance of recovery, including a return to normalcy, if the perpetrator was a famous and revered person who regularly appeared in the media, on magazine covers and billboards, everywhere the victim went.
The Catholic Church gives the appearance of being omnipresent and omnipotent, especially through the prominence of Catholic Churches, which are often the grandest structures in towns and cities where Catholics reside. So it’s not surprising that Catholics, any number of whom may be experiencing Vatican Syndrome to a greater or lesser extent, can’t begin to comprehend a mental escape, or a return to normalcy.
Which means that Vatican Syndrome, sadly, is likely to be with us for a very, very long time.
Vatican Syndrome – Definitions
Stockholm Syndrome – An emotional attachment to a captor formed by a hostage as a result of intermittent stress, abuse, threats and a need to cooperate for survival.
Vatican Syndrome – A strong, ideological allegiance, within a congregation, to an institution that beats, threatens, abuses, and intimidates them. A psychological survival strategy.
Beatings – Copiously reported from Catholic schools and orphanages
Threats – An omniscient God, Hell, eternal damnation, pain and suffering
Abuse – Sexual, mental and physical abuse by clergy and teachers
Intimidation – Priests learn of sins in confession Speak out and you will be ostracised
Vatican Syndrome – a variant of Stockholm Syndrome.