Summary: If you can work and don’t, you shouldn’t eat.

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Emotional Blackmail by Fr. Emmerich Vogt, O.P.

Something I always like to cover in my missions is the role of feelings and emotions in our moral lives. Someone just gave me a copy of a book by Susan Forward, Emotional Blackmail.

It’s about those who prey upon people’s emotions as a form of manipulation. Such people are masters of knowing how to win from their victims what they want.

A typical example I give is the person who shows up at the rectory to receive a free handout, someone who portrays himself as desperate for some Christian charity. He obviously wouldn’t go to an Apple store or to a Ford Motors dealer for

a free handout. It is those who work in the name of Christ, i.e. those who minister from churches, who are easy prey to this emotional blackmail.

I jokingly tell people that such manipulators learn their skills from street people conventions, where they learn what tools of manipulation are currently in vogue and which churches are easy prey.

But there is some truth to this, for it often happens that they come with the same modus operandi. One year the tactic was having a relationship with a Vietnam veteran.

At that time there was a lot of sympathy generated for the veterans, and rightly so. The street people convention presented the attendees with some scenarios of manipulation relating to the Vietnam veteran tool.

Thus one day when it was my turn to be on duty in the parish, I encountered one such emotional blackmailer. “Hello, Father, my name is Johnny and I live in a little apartment across the street”—lie number one. Why would he tell me where he lived? Because I don’t recognize him as a parishioner, so why would he come to us for a handout?

Because he lives in our neighborhood. Are you starting to feel responsible for his well-being? After all, the Bible teaches, “Love your neighbor.” Make no mistake, manipulators who come to the church for a free handout know their Bible. It, too, can be a tool of manipulation!

Second, he doesn’t have a job right now, he tells me. At street people conventions the attendees are trained: “Don’t portray yourself as a lazy bum who doesn’t want to work!” So the guy explains, “My company downsized“—lie number two. Smells like convention advice to me. “And”, he

continues (now get this),

“I’ve taken in a Vietnam veteran”—lie number three, meant to bring on the sympathy. Poor man, lost his job to downsizing, but is he wallowing in self-pity? No—he’s thinking of others, in this case a Vietnam veteran with whom he graciously shares his apartment. Wow, what


What Christian wouldn’t want to help someone in his predicament? The truth is, however, he’s lying. The scenario he paints is a typical one.

And so over the years I’ve had to come up with a test. If they don’t pass my test, I can’t help these people. So I politely ask:

1. “Can I get hold of your family members who can help you?” He has none! Sad, indeed.

2. “What about some of your friends who might be able to help you?” He has none. Terribly sad to be all alone in the world.

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