What to Do About Priests and Seminarians with Same-Sex Attraction

Catholic Psychiatrists’ Recommendations in Wake of U.S. Scandals

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NEW YORK, JUNE 28, 2002 (Zenit.org).- As a response to the clerical sex abuse scandals, a group of psychiatrists from the Pewaukee, Wisconsin-based Catholic Medical Association sent an open letter to the U.S. bishops. Here is the second part of the letter, slightly adapted. The first part appeared Thursday in ZENIT.

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Psychiatrists Letter to the Catholic Bishops (Continued)

Your Excellencies:


Treatment for priests with same-sex attraction (SSA)

We observed many priests grow in holiness and in happiness in their ministry as a result of the healing of their childhood and adolescent male insecurity and loneliness and, subsequently, their same sex attractions. This healing process has been described in Father John Harvey’s book, The Truth About Homosexuality and in the statement of the Catholic Medical Association, «Homosexuality and Hope,» available at www.cathmed.org.

Bishops would also see this healing if they encourage priests with SSA to pursue appropriate therapy with those loyal to the Church’s teaching. Most males with SSA had painful childhood and adolescent peer relationships. Under the stress of loneliness and insecurity in adult life, there can be an unconscious association to this adolescent and childhood pain.

Attractions to children, adolescents or adult males then develop in an unconscious attempt to gain acceptance and lessen the pain of sadness, loneliness and lack of male confidence. The treatment of this emotional pain is essential in order to protect the Church and her children from further sorrow and scandal.

Priests, with or without SSA, who have themselves been the victims of childhood sexual abuse should receive counseling. Only a small percentage of victims of childhood sexual abuse will go on to abuse children, but a significant percentage will suffer from various problems which affect their ministry.

Our experience over 25 years has convinced us of the direct link between rebellion and anger against the Church’s teaching, and sexually promiscuous behaviors. This appears to be a two way street: those who are sexually active dissent from the Church’s teaching on sexuality to justify their own actions, while those who adopt rebellious ideas on sexual morality are more vulnerable to become sexually active, because they have little to no defense against sexual temptations. Growth in forgiveness and growth in humility are essential in the treatment of such priests.

Finally, priests should be screened for homosexuality by their bishops or religious superiors prior to being considered for a position of responsibility in a diocese, religious community or in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The previous attitude of «winking» at homosexuality in priests must end. Otherwise, all Church teaching on sexual morality is undermined. Also, complaints by priests of aggressive homosexual behavior in rectories and religious communities should be addressed and no longer ignored.

Screening of seminarians

Protocols should be developed which will allow those professionals who screen candidates for the priesthood to identify those individuals with serious problems, to recommend therapy for those with correctable problems, and to accept those who can live chaste celibacy and pose no threat to others. Simply asking a candidate if he is a heterosexual or a homosexual, or if he is sexually interested in adolescents or children is not sufficient. Proper history taking, a clinical interview, and psychological testing correctly interpreted will uncover most current and potential problems.

Two different studies have found that the answers to a small number of questions about childhood and adolescent experiences included within a larger questionnaire allowed the clinical interviewer to conclude, with 90% accuracy, whether the subject was a heterosexual or a homosexual.

When screening reveals probable SSA, the candidate is not automatically excluded from consideration. If he is willing to do the hard work required to come to freedom from his emotional pain, his same-sex attractions will be resolved and then he can reapply later. The Church should not take the moral risk of allowing someone with SSA to enter the seminary. Also, a period of sexual abstinence for five years should be required of those with SSA prior to entering the seminary.

It should be noted, that many men with SSA will have problems besides their SSA which could make admission to the seminary inadvisable. For example, men with SSA are more likely to have problems with compulsive masturbation, other sexual addictions, substance abuse problems, history of childhood sexual abuse, and depressive illness.

It is essential that mental health professionals involved in any way with screening candidates for seminary or with treating seminarians or priests, as well as the faculty at the seminaries support the teaching of the Church on sexuality, particularly on homosexuality. In our experience, there are some dioceses and religious communities relying upon the work of mental health professionals who actively disagree with the Church’s sexual morality.

Seminary/Formation Faculty

Pope John Paul II at his meeting with the American cardinals on April 23, 2002, stated: «People must know that bishops and priests are totally committed to the fullness of Catholic truth on matters of sexual morality, a truth as essential to the renewal of the priesthood and the episcopate as it is to the renewal of marriage and family life.»

Many faculty members of seminaries and religious houses do not adhere to the truth on matters of sexual morality and faith. For decades moral relativism, proportionalism and situational ethics have been taught in these centers of formation. These teachings have contributed to the present crisis in the Church. Seminarians who support Church teaching on sexual morality, Scripture, the liturgy, and fundamental moral theology have been labeled as rigid and often expelled from seminaries. Seminary faculty members and members of formation teams in religious communities who have a homosexual agenda are driven to remove from the seminary males who are loyal to the Church’s teachings on matters of faith and morals.

We recommend that cardinals, bishops and religious superiors either personally interview or send visitation teams to interview all faculty members of seminaries and formation teams. They need to be certain that these individuals are loyal to the Holy Father and the Church’s teaching on faith and morals and that they refrain from intimidating seminarians into questioning the value of orthodoxy. Those who are not loyal should be removed.

In order to protect the priesthood from further homosexual behavior with adolescent males by priests, we recommend ending the referral of seminarians to seminaries which are well known to be heterodox in regard to homosexuality. The purification of the seminaries is essential to the protection of the Church and her children. Finally, seminarians, including those in religious orders, with homosexual tendencies should not be ordained until they understand the emotional causes of their attractions, work to resolve them, and are emotionally healthy.

The availability of treatment and education in every diocese

Having seen the suffering caused by untreated SSA, the burden of sexual sin and the freedom that comes when the emotional problems are addressed and healed, we believe that nothing is more pastoral or more loving than the clear proclamation of the Church’s teaching on sexual morality, accompanied by effective, accessible treatment.

Courage is the only recovery program for those with same-sex attractions which adheres to the Catholic moral teaching on homosexuality and has been endorsed by the Vatican. This program should be available in every dioc
ese for both laity and priests. If priests and laity do not have access to therapy which can help them come to the freedom proper to the children of God and support groups like Courage, they may fall into despair and feel that the Church has placed upon them a burden that is impossible to bear. Unfortunately, in some dioceses groups, such as Dignity, which do not accept the Church’s teaching on sexual morality, have a voice, while Courage is not welcome.

Priests need to understand the origins of SSA and the healing approaches which have been demonstrated to be effective. In addition, because of the tremendous confusion over homosexuality, it would be beneficial that conferences for priests and seminarians be given by experts such as Father John Harvey, O.S.F.S., the founder of Courage, and by other mental health professionals who accept the Church’s teaching on homosexuality and are experienced in the successful treatment of SSA. Education for priests concerning the nature, origins and treatment of SSA should increase their compassion and help priests who regularly deal with these problems in the confessional.

Unfortunately, conferences have been offered to priests and seminarians in which homosexuality is presented as being genetically determined and no hope for healing is offered. The recognition of chastity as a healthy virtue is rejected. Chastity, in the experience of many mental health professionals, is, in fact, a positive quality in any individual’s life.

At the present time, a number of treatment centers to which priests are sent for sexual disorders treat homosexuality as an identity to be embraced. Influenced by the politics within the American Psychiatric Association and American Psychological Association, the possibility of healing is censured. Patients are encouraged to participate in 12-step groups for compulsive sexual behaviors, but the emotional origins of their same-sex attractions are not explored nor is a plan offered for healing unresolved emotional pain. These vulnerable men are often returned to ministry with serious untreated problems. Father Harvey’s program could be modified for incorporation into the present inpatient treatment programs in group and individual therapy, as well as in spiritual direction.

Since training in the treatment of SSA and gender identity disorder (GID) in conformity with the Catholic understanding of the human person is not being provided at most secular institutions, it is important that this training be available either in Catholic institutions or through separate programs.

On April 23, 2002, the Holy Father encouraged the American cardinals: «We must be confident that this time of trial will bring a purification of the entire Catholic community, a purification that is urgently needed if the Church is to preach more effectively the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all its liberating force. Now you must ensure that where sin increased, grace will all the more abound (Romans 5:20). So much pain, so much sorrow must lead to a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate, and a holier Church.»

There are reasons for hope. The problems of homosexuality in the priesthood have been painfully uncovered and need to be addressed. There is no proven genetic basis for homosexuality. The emotional wounds which cause same-sex attractions can be identified and healed. Large numbers of people, including clergy, who had SSA are now cured, especially if they brought the power of faith into the healing process. These men and women no longer view themselves as being homosexual. The statement of the Catholic Medical Association on homosexuality, «Homosexuality and Hope,» should be made available to all priests, educators and Catholic families. With the Lord’s help, the Catholic priests who struggle with homosexuality can be healed.

For the Catholic Medical Association by
Richard P. Fitzgibbons, M.D.
Peter Rudegeair, MA
Eugene F. Diamond, M.D.

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