Friday, May 2, 2014

Why Psychopaths, Sociopaths, and other Predators in the Clergy?

Former FBI Agent Joe Navarro examines why predators find clergy positions desirable in an April 2014 article in Psychology Today. (Thanks to Nancy Bicknell, artist and survivor, for drawing my attention to it.) He cites an article that claims that a career in clergy is the eighth most popular profession chosen by predators, following on the heels of that of law enforcement and with CEO topping out the list.

Defining Terms

Citing Robert Hare's definition of a psychopath from his landmark book on the subject, the author points out some distinctions that he finds important regarding some of the terminology that may limit the definition of who might be a predator. He finds that the term “psychopath” (someone with a chronic mental health disorder) is overused and seems to loose meaning among a host of other types of predators.

For the average person working through the aftermath of a spiritual abuse experience, it might be worth exploring the different types of predators listed in the article. It depends on the person and their unique recovery issues, though consideration of the characteristics of leaders is a necessary part of recovery for all to some extent. All high demand or cultic groups surround and support the needs of a charismatic leader which helps a survivor understand the nature of the group that they've exited. Therapist Roseanne Henry, an expert in trauma and the phenomenon of high demand religions, has stated that it may be helpful for some in recovery to look at the diagnostic criteria for Borderline, Antisocial, Narcissistic and other personality disorders to see if they can find similar patterns in their abusive religious leader's behavior. It can be quite vindicating and eye opening, for it gives the survivor the additional perspective that puts blame where blame is due – on the manipulative and abusive group leader.

Clergy Benefits Exploited by Predators

The topic encompasses a host of themes, but I found this quote from the article revealing. As is revealed in other posts on this subject here on this site, reasonably healthy and functional people fail to think like a predator and don't naturally consider things from such an unhealthy point of view. Ignorance of the basic insights about how a manipulator and abuser thinks makes a healthy person vulnerable to their deceptions. We Christians often have to work on that “wise as a serpent” aspect of life, and understanding skewed ways of thinking should be a part of of that wisdom.
It is disturbing because most of us don’t think about these things. Most people don’t think like a predator, but below are some insights that should make you think. These insights are based on conversations I and others have had with predators who intentionally sought to join religious organizations and from studying such individuals.

Among other general factors factors, predators find religious organizations/institutions desirable because they offer an already established infrastructure, the appearance of legitimacy, a pool of access to victims who are often quite vulnerable, readily available access to information, a network of protection/information provided by the system, and the opportunity for financial gain.

Navarro goes on to specify the benefits that religious systems tend to provide to predators (which I've summarized, highlighting notable consistencies in the thought reform and spiritual abuse models):
  • Predictable schedules (to either corner a victim or perhaps gain access to their home when they are expected to be at gatherings).
  • Encouraged confession of faults (which the predator can exploit for manipulation and gain – Cult of Confession per Lifton).
  • Information through informal social channels (gossip which provides additional personal details about individuals in their group and their potential vulnerability – Mystical Manipulation per Lifton).
  • Access to people who are not in one's own socioeconomic group (such as access to the circles of the wealthy who would otherwise be outside of one's reach).
  • Exploitation of forgiveness (at the expense of justice – Demand for Purity and Doctrine over Person per Lifton).
  • Exploitation of love (at the expense of the victim through suffering – Demand for Purity and Doctrine over Person per Lifton).
  • Scapegoating problems (on the “devil” or those who reject the belief system of the group – Image Consciousness per Henke and Milieu Control per Lifton).
  • Abuse of authority (who is seen as all knowing or enlightened – Sacred Science and Doctrine over Person per Lifton).
  • Invoking deity to validate actions or ideas (Sacred Science per Lifton)
  • Lack of screening prior to ordination (for traits or history of predatory behavior in most religious groups).
  • Overvalue of Leaders (encouraging lack of empathy and narcissism)
  • Society's reverence for religious figures (contributing to confirmation bias)
  • Parental trust (“Often, as we now well know, the fear of retribution, being ostracized or socially marginalized, or excommunicated keeps victims and parents silent.” – Excommunication speaks to Dispensing of Existence per Lifton)
  • Naivete of children (compounded by the appeal to authority, a characteristic of all people per Cialdini)

As the author aptly notes, “knowledge helps.”