“Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16)
Former FBI Agent Joe Navarro examines why predators find clergy positions desirable in an April 2014 article in Psychology Today. (See below). He cites an article that claims that a career in clergy is the eighth most popular profession chosen by predators, following on the heels of that of law enforcement and with CEO topping out the list.
Citing Robert Hare’s definition of a psychopath from his landmark book on the subject, the author points out some distinctions that he finds important regarding some of the terminology that may limit the definition of who might be a predator. He finds that the term “psychopath” (someone with a chronic mental health disorder) is overused and seems to loose meaning among a host of other types of predators.
For the average person working through the aftermath of a spiritual abuse experience, it might be worth exploring the different types of predators listed in the article. It depends on the person and their unique recovery issues, though consideration of the characteristics of leaders is a necessary part of recovery for all to some extent. All high demand or cultic groups surround and support the needs of a charismatic leader which helps a survivor understand the nature of the group that they’ve exited. Therapist Roseanne Henry, an expert in trauma and the phenomenon of high demand religions, has stated that it may be helpful for some in recovery to look at the diagnostic criteria for Borderline, Antisocial, Narcissistic and other personality disorders to see if they can find similar patterns in their abusive religious leader’s behavior. It can be quite vindicating and eye opening, for it gives the survivor the additional perspective that puts blame where blame is due – on the manipulative and abusive group leader.
Why Psychopaths, Sociopaths, and other Predators in the Clergy?
Sociopaths like to cloak themselves in a mantel of respect. They seek careers, or pretend to have careers, in fields that people associate with good character, trustworthiness, and authority, such as law enforcement, the military and the clergy.
Pursuing a career in religion or spirituality is particularly useful for sociopaths. People tend to trust religious figures simply because they are religious figures, which puts a sociopath several moves ahead when trying to scam someone. A sociopath claiming an inside track to God has a very powerful tool when it comes to manipulating people.
Plus, for a sociopath, a career in the clergy is easy—the primarily visible job requirement is an ability to talk. With typical inborn charisma, and a willingness to lie about other credentials, the sociopath is a shoo-in.
Reasonably healthy and functional people fail to think like a predator and don’t naturally consider things from such an unhealthy point of view. Ignorance of the basic insights about how a manipulator and abuser thinks makes a healthy person vulnerable to their deceptions.
Among other general factors factors, predators find religious organizations/institutions desirable because they offer an already established infrastructure, the appearance of legitimacy, a pool of access to victims who are often quite vulnerable, readily available access to information, a network of protection/information provided by the system, and the opportunity for financial gain.