One of the most common, and commonly misused concepts in discourse about spiritual direction is the concept of “rigidity.”
This concept can mean a legalistic and unmerciful mentality that places the letter of the law over the Spirit, as Pope Francis appears to use the term.
In the US seminaries of the 1950s through the 1990s, rigidity was associated with the psychological concept of the authoritarian personality, a post WWII trope typified by Theodor Adorno’s heavily Freudian work of the same name.
But unfortunately, rigidity is often vaguely defined and subject to the eye of the beholder. The term “rigid” was terribly misused in US seminaries for decades to disqualify men from the priesthood as “rigid” who might have done any of the following–
- Attended Mass and prayed every day
- Prayed the Rosary and had a devotion to the Blessed Mother
- Read Papal Documents and catechisms
- Once attended a Latin Mass
- Did not go out and drink alcohol or take drugs with the other guys
- Were not open to homosexual relationships
- Were not Democrats or Republicans like a given seminary faculty member
I am sadly familiar with a case from the 1960s in which a priest and seminary faculty member, who himself was later removed from ministry for a credible complaint of abuse, made it his personal business to disqualify seminarians as “rigid” for some of the above reasons. Some corrupt spiritual directors have tragically sought to shape a priesthood that is safe for the likes of themselves. While Pope Francis’ use of the term conveys the priority of mercy, “rigidity,” because of the term’s vagueness, allows for great abuse by a given spiritual director based upon that director’s own theological, sexual, and political preferences. “Rigidity” can be made to mean whatever a given spiritual director wants it to mean.
So whenever I hear the word “rigid” in a religious context, I urge caution. The term is terribly general and vague, without a strongly articulated Biblical and theological history, not to mention a precise psychological definition, having different connotations in different languages and cultures.
© Copyright 2016, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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The views posted at sanityandsocialjustice.net are those of Albert J. Schorsch, III, alone, and not those of any of his employers, past or present.