Toxic Loyalty – Part 3

–Beyond The Family

The family, as discussed in my previous articles, is firmly rooted in tradition and history. Their bonds are often so powerful they will never be broken even when murder and other crimes are involved. There are several institutions which in many ways, emulate the familial structure. Two, in particular, have wielded their might by reinforcing loyalty and secrecy, surrendering their moral responsibility of protecting the innocent.

The Church

Let me begin with the following: I am Catholic, and this is not a bashing of the Catholic faith. Although they should not, the teachings of Jesus Christ versus the institution often diverge. Many of us believe in the message but do not necessarily agree with the directives themselves. All organized religions have their strengths, secrets, and hypocrisies. Because of the sheer size of the hierarchy, however, the Catholic church’s sins have been the most flagrant in this regard.

Back in the early nineties before the clergical crisis that began in Boston erupted, the movie entitled ”The Boys of St. Vincent” was televised. Because the issue of clergy sexual abuse at a boys’ orphanage in Newfoundland was so prominently displayed, no mainstream television channel dared to screen this true story except A & E. At the time, discussing such a tawdry subject and targeting a highly-respected and sacred institution would have been scandalous.

The need to maintain the outward appearance of holiness contributed to the infection of evil.

Around that time, James Porter’s crimes came to light. He worked out of the Southeastern part of Massachusetts, known as Fall River. Sadly, this was just the beginning. Eventually, the worst of the worst, if you can even imagine, was exposed within the Boston diocese. There were many, but John Geoghan was by far the most egregious. It was believed he sexually abused over 100 children. There are no words to express the outrage of not only this deviant’s crimes but the fury toward those in the higher echelons of the church who contributed to this conspiracy of silence. The need to maintain the outward appearance of holiness contributed to the infection of evil. Here was ”Toxic Loyalty” at its worst. Not only, in my opinion, is sexual abuse the most destructive act towards a child that could ever occur, but to add the church makes it even more corrosive.

A few years after the publicizing of these crimes, I, along with my high school peers, received a letter from our alma mater indicating that our Headmaster and my guidance counselor had also been perpetrators. Not only was I appalled, but I wondered about some of the young men in my class who may have been victims. What happened to the predators? They died, escaping earthly justice. I hope the young men who fell prey to these wolves in sheep’s clothing were able to receive the help they needed to heal and be successful.

From everything I have heard, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of the Boston Diocese has placed a zero-tolerance on these crimes. Unfortunately, I do not get a sense this current Pope joins him on eliminating this ”Toxic Loyalty.”

Other Organizations

Other organizations maintain this code of conduct. Many of us recall Jerry Sandusky and the Penn State scandal. ”Toxic Loyalty” marred the legacy of Joe Paterno because of his alleged concealment of this atrocity. After a legal battle, a reinstatement of the coach’s record occurred, but it does not take away from the reality that questions will remain along with a stain about his knowledge of Sandusky’s crimes.

The long-ago situation occurred because I asked an off-duty officer his name when he asked me to move my car.

The police is another organization that has received the most significant spotlight of all regarding ”Toxic Loyalty.” Before I continue, I will be emphatic that I have great respect for the Men in Blue despite the latest unconscionable act, as well as the fact that a police officer once mildly bullied me. My example pales in comparison to George Floyd, who lost his life because of police brutality. The long-ago situation occurred because I asked an off-duty officer his name when he asked me to move my car. It was a snowy day, and I parked my vehicle legally to allow the plow to clear our driveway. I will not get into the specifics of the situation, but when I reported the bullying officer, the policeman who took my call claimed he did not know to whom I was referring even though I described him “To a T.” Thankfully, I knew one of the superior officers. When I contacted this lovely man, he told me the officer’s name and gave me choices on what my rights were. I informed him that I was not looking for trouble, and tearfully, I told him I just requested this officer who lived in my neighborhood never to bully me again.

Even as mild as my situation was, you can see that ”Toxic Loyalty” was in play. I understand police frustration. Like so many others, however, I have never been disrespectful to members of law enforcement. I have heard from a lovely person married to a police officer stories of people who spit and swear at those doing detailed work. I cannot imagine, but as someone whose background instilled politeness, I would not even think of being so vile towards those whose job is to maintain law and order. Also, to assume that all of the police are bad is another form of bigotry that often gets ignored.

There are “bad apples” in every profession. For those in positions of power, however, which include the police, changes are in order. Three officers remained immobilized as the murder of George Floyd unfolded. Perhaps, they were afraid or bound by ”Toxic Loyalty.” No matter, their lives are ruined, and George Floyd is no longer alive.

Conspiracy of silence contributes to “Toxic Loyalty.” It does not matter which organization is adding to this. As individual families, some organizations maintain this type of loyalty. Again, when it seems like it is a virtue, loyalty becomes a vice when it turns toxic.


Darlene Corbett
Darlene Corbett
Darlene Corbett views herself as a life-long learner, a pursuer of excellence, a work-in-progress, and a seeker-of-the-truth. For over thirty years, she has been assisting people to get unstuck. Darlene's primary professional role has been as a Therapist, but now she includes Author and Writer. In 2011, Darlene began putting her thoughts on paper and hasn’t stopped. Many of her blogs can also be found on Sixty and Me, Medium, and Penning these articles set the stage for her first book, Stop Depriving The World of You, traditionally published by Sound Wisdom. Throughout her career, Darlene has been described as animated or effervescent which contradicts the perception of a psychotherapist. She firmly believes in the importance of being authentic and discusses platinum-style authenticity in her book. As a believer in pushing oneself as long as one has life, Darlene’s first novel, Visible Forever, will be published in the spring of 2024 by WordCrafts Press.

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  1. Darlene, Thank you for this courageous article-the entire series -on toxic loyalty-which can be a difficult one to discuss, but incredibly important as the truth of criminal behavior must come to light much like a wound needs a salve along with light and air to heal. What we resist, persists. Like the silent epidemic of shame, toxic loyalty feeds on silence, secrecy, and heinous/criminal behaviors. The bonds of loyalty must be broken for healthy, new ways of interacting as human beings to emerge. How we parent children seems to be at the very core of these challenges. I do not believe an infant emerges into the world as a child molester, a murderer, or a keeper of heinous secrets.

    I remember vividly the Oprah Winfrey Show when she focused on men who had been sexually molested. I remember feeling shocked by this widespread reality that went beyond Jerry Sandusky and certain priests in the Catholic Church. I’ve met people who believe that when we bring an end to the sexual molestation of children we, as a human species, can truly begin to heal and evolve. How important to end the silence and secrecy around this particular version of “toxic loyalty.” Bringing difficult topics to the light of day, finding ways to seek justice/change laws, and getting up underneath what’s at the root cause of these sicknesses can be tremendously brave work for the sake of humanity, the health, sanity, and vitality of our species.

    • Thank you dear Laura for your thoughtful comments. I could not agree with you more. Sadly, for much of history as you probably know, children were not viewed as children but little adults. Disturbingly, children are being sexualized younger and younger. This must cease also.💖