Religious Masquerade

The persona of charismatic spiritual father

“During a carnival, men put masks over their masks.” — Xavier Forneret

 

Masks have been in use all over the world since before recorded history. In Central Africa, masks developed with a wide diversity and conveyed spiritual and religious meaning to ritual dances and ceremonies. In ancient Egypt, they had two uses: death masks (e.g. King Tutankhamen) and elaborate ritual masks worn by priests during ceremonies. Sacred mystery shrouded everything concerning religion. Priests who wore a mask of a god during a ceremony would instantly become an avatar of that god, an embodiment of the god himself, speaking his words and conveying his will.

The ancient Babylonians worshiped Dagon, the god of agriculture, for plenty of food and good fortune. The Babylonian priests wore a headdress that represented the worship of Cybele and Dagon. It featured a tall, open-fish-mouth headpiece with the rest of the fish’s body forming a cloak. In the Roman Empire, the head priest of Cybele (the Magna Mater or the Great Queen Mother Goddess) wore it. Today, cardinals, bishops, and the pope all wear that same tall, open-fish-mouth headpiece called a miter, long ago used in worship of Cybele and Dagon.

Masks were integral to ancient Greek drama because their use allowed participants to leave behind social mores and standing, transforming the actor into the character portrayed as much as would scripted stage antics and speeches. Spectators of Greek drama did not distinguish the masked actor from the theatrical character.

Contemporary stage productions rarely use masks, but films have done so (The Lone Ranger, Darth Vader, Batman, Spiderman, et al.). With or without a mask, if an actor repeatedly acts in a specific role, he is typecast as that character. He and his fan base will come to believe that actor is the character portrayed, e.g. Sean Connery had become the James Bond.

The Church’s scandalous cabal of abusive priests, swayed by post-1960s libertinism, can be seen as wearing or having worn masks — masks not made of clay or paper but more a Jungian persona. Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung called a persona “the pleasant social face” an individual presents to the world, designed to make a definite impression upon others “while concealing the true nature of that person’s private desires and intentions.” A high-ranking predator such as now defrocked ex-Cardinal McCarrick offered a convincing masquerade as a charismatic spiritual father. By mesmerizing and wowing young, impressionable altar boys and seminarians, he gained sexual favors and offered in exchange favoritism, gifts, or rapid promotions within the Church hierarchy.

Like the ancient Egyptian priests, those favored newbies who easily became cardinals and bishops get to wear gilded vestments and miters, performing high-mass ceremonies. They seem to truly believe power and prestige places them above moral law. But after they remove their elegant vestments, lock their chamber doors, and dim the lights, they become slaves to lustful debauchery. They keep the persona to hide the ugliness of the character beneath it.

These mere mortals must one day admit they are spiritual desperados in need of redemption.

 

Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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