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.

6 responses to “Humiliation vs. Shame

  1. Couldn’t agree more.

  2. That makes me a little queasy. I remember having a similar mindset. What do the opinions of outsiders matter, except as their opinions affect my “relationship” to the supreme divine judge, who is more than eager to forgive my wrong actions or thoughts? I’m one of the good guys, because I’m on the side of the good god. The truth of god seems like foolishness to man’s way of thinking. If they disagree with me, clearly I’m the one who’s always right.

    This mindset formerly sounded so sensible to me, but now it sounds like lunacy.

  3. The shallow depth of his understanding about himself or the analogies he makes show how utterly foolish it is to trust that he knows anything about true spirituality. There is a difference between humiliation and humility. If a person doesn’t have much of the latter, it’s unlikely that he or she will be moved to true guilt and sorrow (not simply shame, which may not do much to encourage change).

    And herein lies the fallacy of thinking that someone with authority in the ranks knows anything at all about truth. I have always liked the concept a circumcised heart–one that has been uncovered, wounded, humbled. He doesn’t seem to have submitted to any knife or mohel.

    Having said that, I am not commenting in order to vaunt my own fabulously marvelous humility–that’d be a nice self delusion, huh?! Rather, it’s just that when we allow the blinders to come off and the natural questions to arise, we begin to see that we don’t need reality interpreted by some official of any religion. If only we will stop and really think about it, we can figure out what walking in love looks like. Certainly it isn’t comparing ourselves to Jesus reviled and accused when an angry person confronts us about the sexual abuse inflicted upon little children. (That’s a far cry from what Jesus meant when he said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not.” )

    WWJD? Probably shake his head in chagrin.
    Care for a serving of Pharisee, anyone?

  4. Perhaps more telling would be too look further back as to why Cardinal Mahony sees himself as being scapegoated. In a sense, he’s right. He’s been taking most of the heat for something that every bishop of his generation was equally guilty (Cardinals George, Rigali, Dolan, etc). In his own words, he explained his evolution of how he handled the sex abuse cases during his 26 year tenure.

    Also not really seen is how Mahony handled the shame. From a 2008 reflection on Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the U.S. and what it did for him personally:

    • As an addendum, from the LA Times:

      Mahony’s voice became husky with emotion when he acknowledged the damage done to the church’s moral authority by the clerical sex-abuse scandal that haunted his final years as archbishop. “I’m surprised,” he said, “that more people didn’t leave the church over this.”

      At the end of our two-hour conversation, he came back to the subject, describing “the incredible sorrow” he has “for what the victims of these terrible wrongs went through, and are going through. I’ve met with more than 90 victims. I watched all the videotaped depositions of those involved in the settlement. I could only watch for a time, and then I had to go to the chapel. They were heartbreaking. I also read all the victims’ statements. One, I simply couldn’t believe the terrible things that had been done. It took me three days to read; an hour of reading and then back to the chapel. I had no idea what these people had suffered. It still has a profound impact on me.

      “I have apologized to those who suffered whenever I could. I can never say, ‘I apologize’ enough times.”

      • Thanks for both of your comments, Jane. I’m glad to learn that Cardinal Mahony has been touched by the situation to the extent you describe. Of course, that does leave me puzzled as to why the language in his blog is so different. Maybe people are different in writing than they are in person?

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