ROME (CNS) — Anger awareness and management are vital for priests and members of religious orders because they are called to be people of dialogue, fraternity, service, peace and justice, and to treat others with charity, said an influential Jesuit magazine.
If clergy and religious don’t have “an adequate integration of aggression, they can become hostile, rigid and obstinate and risk exploding the often delicate and complex balance present in the communities” where they live and work, said an article written by Jesuit Father Giovanni Cucci in La Civilta Cattolica.
“The denial of rage certainly does not lead to a calmer or quieter life, but rather to a potentially more explosive situation; emotions rebel when they are not listened to, when they don’t find an adequate place” to be expressed, said the article in the journal, which is reviewed by the Vatican before publication. The article was released to journalists Oct. 31.
In fact, many perversions, including the sexual abuse of minors, are linked to the “dynamic of repressed anger” that often is found together with psychological wounds caused by violence and abuse the perpetrator experienced and never “recognized and worked through,” said the article written by Father Cucci, a professor of psychology and philosophy at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University.
The Civilta article cited studies done by U.S. Msgr. Stephen Rossetti, a licensed psychologist and clinical associate professor of pastoral studies at The Catholic University of America, Washington.
His years at the helm of the St. Luke Institute, a treatment center in Maryland for priests and religious with addictions or psychological problems, showed that at the root of many “deviancies and sexual pathologies there is a kind of pent-up rage or rage that has been eroticized,” the article said.
The monsignor’s research showed that many priests who sexually abused minors said their acts were motivated by a desire to be a paternal figure and show the child the love they never received as children from their own fathers.
However, in actuality the behavior against the child was “a destructive act that sprung from their hidden rage and violence, and which leaves their victims terrified. They were reliving the violence they suffered as children with the same destructive results,” the journal quoted from Msgr. Rossetti’s findings.
An awareness and acceptance of anger is critical then in trying to bring healing to perpetrators and victims of abuse, the article said.
Though it seems counterintuitive, “aggression is the natural foundation of hope” because at the root of anger and rage is the belief that something can or must be done to right a wrong, protect the good or overcome a challenge, it said.
In order for any good to come from feelings of rage, “it is important above all to recognize the presence of anger, paying close attention to how it is then expressed,” Father Cucci wrote.
Aggression that is internalized can become “a terrible poison” causing health problems, insomnia, obsessive-compulsive tendencies or passive-aggressive behaviors, he said.
“Suicide is the most extreme manifestation of aggression turned against oneself,” the article said.
When anger is denied and pent-up, it becomes “combustible,” and instead of solving problems, it makes them worse, resulting in often tragic consequences, it said.
“Hope — the mirror image of aggression,” it said, “fosters vigilance and a sense of expectation,” which are unique qualities of the Christian experience.
“The ideal of a Christian life is in fact, holiness, not perfect, unflappable serenity” or to simply “be well,” the Jesuit wrote. “Limits and fragility, even if they can become sources of suffering, are not something negative, to get rid of,” but are rather signs of being human.
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