Spiritual bullying

There have been a lot of important discussions and efforts taken in recent years regarding bullying, and for good reason. It’s a big problem: the National Center for Education Statistics reveals that close to 21 percent of students report being a victim of bullying.

But students and young people aren’t the only victims. We’re seeing more and more incidents of bullying among grown men and women who pressure and intimidate others to do what they want or simply make those with whom they disagree feel threatened enough to keep quiet.

The mob mentality was blatantly evident during and after the nomination hearings and eventual confirmation of newly appointed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh; senators who supported him were shouted out of restaurants and cornered in elevators. The bullying continued on social media with Sen. Susan Collins from Maine — once considered a moderate as well as a friend of the pro-choice movement — who was called “a rape apologist” by the organizers of the Women’s March. The Women’s March went on to say in additional social media rants that they no long wanted anything to do with her, as she was now an enemy of women. In typical bullying fashion, those who dare disagree are insulted, shunned or worse.

Over the years in the Church, there has been a type of spiritual bullying that’s been going on, which I believe is in part responsible for some of the mess we’re in the middle of now. And I am not just referring to the major problems in the area of sexual abuse involving clerics. I’m referring to the lack of catechesis, along with the moral relativism that has moved in among many charged with forming disciples, the efforts to water down core teachings of the Church and the acceptance of a worldlier view.

When discussing this on my radio show recently, several listeners shared their experiences of being bullied for daring to go against the current tide. One woman approached her associate pastor after daily Mass recently and asked him what he meant by the strong criticisms he was lobbying against several EWTN personalities, going as far as claiming they were “very bad” people. Instead of explaining his position, the priest, according to this listener, began to scream at her and tell her that he had every right to express his opinion from the altar. This woman, thank goodness, wasn’t at all intimidated. Instead she stood her ground and respectfully told the priest that while he was entitled to his opinion, she didn’t believe it was appropriate to attack people with whom he disagrees from the altar without explaining himself. Another woman told me of the pushback she received from parish leaders after she expressed concerns about articles her pastor was writing on the upcoming election; articles that minimized the life and marriage issues and elevated environmental ones. She was severely scolded by these same folks, and they tried unsuccessfully to get her to stop her pro-life educational efforts.

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Now more than ever, we need more Catholics who are willing to push back against the bullying that’s been going on for far too long. We need to pray for the bullies, that they have the courage to take a look at their actions and the harm they’ve done. And while I don’t agree with many of the political views held by Senator Collins, I admire and applaud the guts she had to do what she thought was right for the benefit of many despite the negative repercussions she knew she would suffer. Let’s also pray that more and more Catholics can show even a small percentage of this type of courage.

Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio, and the author of “Beyond Sunday: Becoming a 24/7 Catholic” (OSV, $14.95).