Monthly Archives: February 2013

Humiliation vs. Shame

Sadly, the story itself is nothing new, and you can guess 90% of it from the headline alone: Records Detail Cardinal’s Failings in Abuse Scandal. What interested me as I read the piece on CNN’s Belief Blog was Cardinal Mahony’s reaction to the scandal in which he was caught. According to the article,

[Mahony] has recently taken to his personal blog, scribing an array of posts about praying for humiliation.

“… I am for the first time realizing that I should be praying for the very things from which I cringe, the disgrace I abhor, the fool that I seem,” he blogged on February 15.

CNN continued,

De Marco, the attorney conducting the deposition [of Mahony], said Mahony should feel one emotion far greater than humiliation: shame.

Cardinal Roger Mahony

Cardinal Roger Mahony

Mahony feels humiliation. The deposing attorney says he should feel shame. What’s the difference?

I decided to go and read Mahony’s recent blog posts on the subject to get his thoughts first-hand. It’s clear that he is feeling some heat, and he’s trying to turn it into an opportunity for spiritual growth, as he understands that concept.

See what you think of these excerpts (emphases mine).

From Called to Humiliation (February 14, 2013):

… few of us set out to embrace humility for Lent or as a pattern for our lives.  Most us us accept a few affronts and neglects as humility, and then move on.

But as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are actually called to the fullness of humility:  humiliation, and publicly. …

In the past several days, I have experienced many examples of being humiliated.  In recent days, I have been confronted in various places by very unhappy people.  I could understand the depth of their anger and outrage–at me, at the Church, at about injustices that swirl around us.

Thanks to God’s special grace, I simply stood there, asking God to bless and forgive them.

Over the coming days of our Lenten journey I hope to explore with all of you some deeper spiritual insights into what it really means to take up our cross daily and to follow Jesus–in rejection, in humiliation, and in personal attack.

From St. Ignatius Loyola and Humility (February 15, 2013):

[Ignatius'] most perfect kind of humility … consists in this.  … in order to imitate and be in reality more like Christ our Lord, I desire and choose … insults with Christ loaded with them, rather than honors; I desire to be accounted as worthless and a fool for Christ, rather than to be esteemed as wise and prudent in this world.  So Christ was treated before me.

From Carrying a Scandal Biblically (February 20, 2013):

One very insightful and powerful Address has sustained me over these past difficult years as all of us in the Church had to face the fact that Catholic clergy sexually abused children and young people. …

Entitled On Carrying A Scandal Biblically it was first delivered in late 2002 by Father Ronald Rolheiser…

He calls our suffering what it really is:  painful and public humiliation, which is spiritually a grace-opportunity.  I have tried to live out–poorly and inadequately far too often–his two implications of humiliation:

1.   the acceptance of being scapegoated, pointing out the necessary connection between humiliation and redemption;

2.   this scandal is putting us, the clergy and the church, where we belong–with the excluded ones; Jesus was painted with the same brush as the two thieves crucified with him.

In a nutshell, Mahony is identifying with Jesus, who was indeed humiliated, especially at his crucifixion.

Does anyone else see how upside-down this is?

According to the Bible, Jesus was completely innocent. According to church documents, Mahony is guilty of obstructing justice.

He paints himself as the humiliated one. In none of his four most recent posts – all four about the fallout from the sex-abuse scandal — is there one word about the humiliation suffered by the boys who were abused by the priests Mahony abetted. He does admit that “Catholic clergy sexually abused children and young people,” but all discussion of human feeling is about his own so-called humiliation.

Based on how Mahony himself uses the word on his blog, humiliation is what one suffers when one has done right and yet is reviled (e.g., Jesus on the cross). There is a certain righteousness attached to it.

Attorney De Marco got it exactly right when he said that Mahony should be suffering shame rather than humiliation.

Shame is the complete opposite of humiliation. It does not struggle to embrace the approbation of society, as Mahony struggles on his blog, for one feels that the moral scales will be moved toward balance if one is punished. Most importantly, one who is truly ashamed is predominantly concerned with the feelings of those he has wronged, rather than with his own.

Mahony blogs that he is learning to pray for humiliation, but until he prays to feel shame, he will be praying in the wrong direction.