Part 2: Making Sense of the Scandals in U.S.

Gladys Sweeney of Institute for the Psychological Sciences

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ARLINGTON, Virginia, JUNE 13, 2002 ( The key problem involving scandals with priests in the United States isn´t what the media generally lead us to believe, says a Catholic psychologist.

Dr. Gladys Sweeney, president and dean of the Institute for the Psychological Sciences, gave her insights into what lies behind the scandals that have rocked the Church in America.

This is the second part of an interview she gave to ZENIT. Part 1 was published June 6.

ZENIT: Some say the sex-abuse scandals involving priests are a good reason for rethinking the rules on celibacy for the clergy. Is that a logical suggestion?

Sweeney: To suggest that the solution to the problem is to change the celibacy rules is not a logical suggestion.

If there is infidelity in a marriage, the solution is not to rethink the principle of fidelity. Celibacy is not the problem. It might in fact be the answer. The answer is for priests to live a chaste life, no matter if they are heterosexually, homosexually or otherwise oriented.

There are theological and practical reasons to support a celibate life. Pope Paul VI in his encyclical «Sacerdotalis Caelibatus,» explained that priestly celibacy is a model of what heaven will be like, where there is no marriage.

Priestly celibacy represents the relationship of the priest to Christ the High Priest, who voluntarily chose to be celibate, the relationship of the priest to the Church, the Bride of Christ, and the relationship of the priest to the future goods of heaven, where there is no marriage.

Practically speaking, a celibate priest can be much more available to all, free to pour out his life for many. He freely renounces the goods of marriage and family to completely give himself entirely to God and to men. However, ultimately the commitment to a celibate life is a response to Jesus´ call to imitate his way. It is a gift freely given «for the sake of the Kingdom.»

It cannot be a flight from unresolved sexual conflicts, avoidance of intimate relationships with women, or an escape from the pressure of marriage. Celibacy is the fruit of fidelity to Christ, the High Priest, rooted in love, given as a gift for the sake of the Kingdom. If understood this way, there is no reason to rethink its existence.

Q: Can a celibate priest lead a balanced life, psychologically and otherwise?

Sweeney: Yes, absolutely. Celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom is a free gift on the part of the priest, and in no way indicates a pathology.

Fidelity to the freely given oath to live in uncompromised chastity is at the crux of the issue. Temptations can be overcome with prayer, and ascetic discipline of one´s dispositions.

All we need to do is to think of our Holy Father, Mother Teresa, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and many of the great saints, to realize that when celibacy is lived faithfully, the fruits are overpowering and long-lived, even after death.

Q: What qualities should a seminarian have in this regard?

Sweeney: The seminarian should possess all of the qualities necessary for a committed married relationship. He, in freedom, chooses to renounce the good of marriage and family for the sake of the Kingdom.

A candidate to the priesthood should be «normal» psychologically, a balanced person and without major psychological impediments which could prevent a «free» vocational decision. He must realize that temptations against chastity, sexual desires — heterosexual or homosexual — will manifest themselves.

Like any other temptations they reveal the weakness of the flesh. The fidelity to fight them, through prayer, the sacraments and other means of grace, will help the priest to overcome them. We should always remember that grace builds on nature.

Q: In general, what could a normal priest do in order to maintain the right balance in a culture so steeped in sexual imagery?

Sweeney: He should be faithful to prayer and the sacramental life, avoid near occasions of sin, guard his senses, but most importantly nurture a loving relationship with the Lord, who will give him the strength and the graces to fight temptation and increase in holiness.

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