There’s an old saying that where you sit depends on where you stand. And while that probably is true for team members at Anglican Watch, we nonetheless feel obligated to ask the question: Why does TEC attract so many batsnot cray clergy? We’re thinking narcissists, sociopaths, abusers, alcoholics, and more.
We don’t have answers. But in our work, we’ve come up with a few observations and conclusions. Let us explain.
- We recognize that clergy innately comprise a high percentage of narcissists due to their need to be the center of attention, desire for power and control, and desire to be associated with God.
- We also know that the seminal Canadian study on narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) that found one in three clergy suffers from NPD is faulty and discredited.
- Experts we work with, including in active ministry, consistently report that the rate of NPD is about 33 percent. Unsurprisingly, the incidence is estimated to be higher among bishops and similar positions, with most estimating that narcissists comprise one in two senior church officials,
- Our experience is the Episcopal Church experiences elevated rates of NPD, substance abuse, domestic violence, bullying, and anti-social personality traits among the clergy. We estimate that 40-50 percent of priests are narcissists. About 50-60 percent of bishops are narcissists.
- We do not have a good sense of the incidence of other disorders. However, we see elevated problems in all categories except sexual abuse, which appears on par with other mainline Protestant denominations.
- We consistently observe difficulty in addressing overt misconduct. Covert issues seem almost incapable of resolution, while hidden issues that implicate pastoral concerns are even less likely to be addressed.
Reasons for dysfunction among Episcopal clergy are myriad and overlapping and include:
- Clericalism within the church, including the notion that clergy are somehow spiritually superior to laity.
- An emphasis on maintaining boundaries between clergy and laity, which in turn reduces the visibility of mental health and behavioral issues among clergy.
- A polity that emphasizes committees (vestries, standing committees, General Convention) and single points of failure (priests, bishops, nominating committees, executive committees).
- Overlapping lines of authority, including multiple task forces, committees, working groups, and study sessions.
- A hierarchical structure that is innately attractive to narcissists.
- The conflation of friendly with faithful.
- Turf wars, including the separate legal entity that comprises the College of Bishops.
- Over-stretched episcopacies lead to bishops who too rarely take time to have coffee with the laity or otherwise learn what life is like behind the stained glass curtain.
- Lack of consistent denominational screening standards for mental health and behavioral issues among postulants.
- Reluctance by discernment committees to say no.
- Lack of regular ongoing clergy screening for mental health and substance abuse issues.
- A reluctance by bishops and other judicatories to impose the nuclear option of “clean up your act within 30 days or I will suspend you indefinitely.”
- Lack of training within seminaries to understand, identify, and appropriately address domestic violence, substance abuse, and other issues.
- A focus on preventing sexual misconduct, excluding other forms of misconduct.
- Lack of understanding of abuse as operating on a continuum.
- A desire to forgive.
- Confusing inclusion with anything goes.
- Church groups that are prone to us-versus-them dynamics, including standing committees, altar guilds, choirs, vestries, and executive committees.
- A high incidence of narcissists among Episcopal bishops. Given the inherent propensity of like to attract like, many narcissistic bishops instinctively protect narcissistic clergy.
- A tendency to do church versus be church.
- The tendency of hierarchical structures to engender loyal foot soldiers, particularly among seminarians, associate rectors, and assistant rectors.
- Naiveté among judicatories who are not narcissists, including failure to understand toxic clergy’s machiavellianism and moral bankruptcy.
- A lack of understanding of the lasting damage caused by toxic clergy to family systems.
- Chancellors and other chokepoints that prevent diocesan systems from addressing abuse.
- An awareness by clergy in other faith traditions that they can get away with almost anything in the Episcopal church.
- Clergy tenure, which fails to encourage clergy to speak out on controversial issues while promoting the retention of bad actors.
- The emotional investment of parishioners in the clergy who perform the sacraments and otherwise care for members.
- Difficulty by judicatories in intervening in parish family systems.
- Recognition by the laity that whistleblowers will inevitably face retaliation.
- Power structures that reward conformity.
- Lack of courage.
- Uncertainty among judicatories of their authority.
- Pointing people towards the church and their priest versus God.
- Failing to read, ponder, and inwardly digest Title IV and other disciplinary canons.
- Failure of diocesan staff to obtain Title IV training.
- Shambolic bishop disciplinary systems, with their aegis in the chaos in the House of Bishops in the run-up to marriage equality. As a result, the presiding bishop neither understands nor supports disciplinary action against bishops, notably when the bishop ignores the provisions of Title IV.
Anglican Watch invites readers to share their experiences with these issues in the comments below.