Monday, December 22, 2014

Kilpatrick: The Sensitivity Movement was Damaging to the Catholic Church

As an American Protestant born in 1951 and converted to the Catholic Church only in 2008, I missed a lot of the “good stuff” that cradle Catholics of my generation had to endure.

Like Vatican II. Like priests and nuns marrying each other, strumming guitars, and feeling OK/OK about themselves. Like much of the abortion wars. Like the abuse scandal that began to rock Boston and then the entire Church in 2002.

Missed all that. Came to the Church in 2008. Said, “Hey, wassup? Golly, this is a beautiful place.”

One thing I did not miss on my long and winding road to the Roman Catholic Church was the sensitivity movement that began carpet-bombing the American landscape with love, love, love in the 1960s and 1970s. Several chapters in my memoir, excerpted above as Lilliput, Europe, and Dulcinea, show that I got both sensitized and bombed.

What I hadn’t realized until I read a recent William Kilpatrick article in Crisis was that while I was being roped in by Gulliver the Guru, the Catholic Church was undergoing its own sensitivity training and seduction. Kilpatrick’s title pulls no punches: “How the Sensitivity Movement Desensitized the Catholic Church to Evil.” It bears reading and re-reading. (I’ve looked at it several times since it appeared four weeks ago. Being up-to-the-minute is not one of my strengths.)

The sensitivity movement, a/k/a the human potential movement, was led onto the playing field by a generation of so-called humanistic psychologists like Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow. Their influence was so effective and pervasive, Kilpatrick writes, that “It’s no longer necessary to seek out a sensitivity group, because the culture itself is now one large sensitivity group.” Net net, this was not a good development, according to the writer, who seldom pulls his punches, swinging from the right: “The sensitivity movement was meant to liberate human potential, but it now serves as little more than a tool for enforcing conformity to the codes of political correctness.”

For Catholics, the damage was drastic. One example: Carl Rogers’s views on marriage were integrated into Catholic textbooks and hence teachings about marriage. According to Rogers, according to Kilpatrick, “The governing priority in any marriage is not fidelity but self-growth.” 

Sinfulness was another major casualty of the sensitivity movement. We did not sin any less; we just didn’t allow ourselves to think or talk or teach our children about sin any longer. According to Kilpatrick, sinfulness “collided” with a main tenet of the human potential movement—that we are all good. “Convinced of their own self-worth, many Catholics abandoned the sacrament of penance.” 

You see, if I had not read this article, I would have blamed changes in the Church on Vatican II. Vatican II changed the Church for the worse, goes the narrative, and Catholics followed along. But the real culprit, Kilpatrick says, was the human potential movement. Self-fulfillment, not sanctity, became the aim for men and women, including the vowed. Kilpatrick cites one order of teaching nuns, the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Angeles, that collapsed after inviting Carl Rogers and his team in as consultants in “educational innovation.” The order was laicized and left the church. Within four years, their count went from six hundred nuns and fifty-nine schools to two schools and no nuns.

Kilpatrick blames the human potential movement for “skyrocketing” divorce rates, as parents began seeking their own fulfillment and abandoned families. He also draws a connection between the movement and relativism, since it is a principle of the “self-actualizers” that right and wrong are subjective.

The article makes a final jump to the Church’s response to global evil. A Church that has lost the desire to teach its own about sin can be counted on for a tepid response to real evil abroad in the world. “Up to now,” Kilpatrick writes, “the Catholic response to global jihad has been nothing more than continued calls for dialog”—just as we were taught in the glory days of human potential.

“Unfortunately,” Kilpatrick notes, “trust in the power of trust seems to have rendered dialog participants unable to grasp the possibility that their Muslim dialog partners are not motivated by the same vision which inspires them. . . .

“Contrary to human potential psychology, the world is not a giant safety net [as in the trust-fall exercise], and human nature is still fallen.”

My own lessons from this excellent article are more personal. After reading Kilpatrick, I feel an even louder call to explain how someone—I—could have stumbled through the minefield of human potential and found himself bloodied but still standing on the doorstep of the Catholic Church.

Every day, as I contemplate my own missteps and stupidity, that story seems more miraculous to me.

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