The Psychology Behind Homosexual Tendencies (Part 1)

Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons Makes Distinctions of Same-Sex Attractions

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WEST CONSHOHOCKEN, Pennsylvania, DEC. 5, 2005 ( The new Vatican document on the priesthood and homosexual tendencies mentions a range of conditions, from deep-seated homosexual tendencies to transitory same-sex attractions.

To learn more about the nuances of the range of homosexual tendencies and their treatment, ZENIT turned to Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, a psychiatrist, author and contributor to the Catholic Medical Association’s document «Homosexuality and Hope.»

Part 2 of this interview will appear Tuesday.

Q: How would you distinguish between someone with same-sex attractions and someone with deep-seated homosexual tendencies?

Fitzgibbons: Those with deep-seated homosexual tendencies identify themselves as
homosexual persons and are usually unwilling to examine their emotional conflicts that caused this tendency. Strong physical attraction is present to other men’s bodies and to the masculinity of others due to profound weakness in male confidence.

These individuals in the priesthood have a significant affective immaturity with excessive anger and jealousy toward males who are not homosexual, insecurity that leads them to avoid close friendships with such males and an inordinate need for attention.

Most of these men had painful adolescent experiences of significant loneliness and sadness, felt insecure in their masculinity, and had a poor body image. Well-designed research studies have demonstrated a much higher prevalence of psychiatric illness in those who identify themselves as homosexual.

Under severe stress they may even experience strong physical and sexual attraction to adolescent males, as has occurred in the crisis in the Church. Frequently, they may have difficulty working in a collegial and comfortable way with heterosexual males.

Unresolved paternal anger is regularly misdirected as rebellion against the magisterium and the Church’s teaching on sexual morality. Unfortunately, their denial, defensiveness and anger block their openness to seek the Lord’s help with their emotional and behavioral weaknesses.

Those with mild homosexual tendencies do not identify themselves as homosexuals. Such men are motivated to understand and to overcome their emotional conflicts. They regularly seek psychotherapy and spiritual direction.

The goal of counseling is to uncover early conflicts, forgive those who hurt them and increase their male confidence — which in time may lead to the resolution of same-sex attractions.

Such men accept and want to live and teach the fullness of the Church’s teaching on sexual morality. They do not support the homosexual culture but see it as antithetical to the universal call to holiness.

Q: Are there psychological tests which can be helpful in identifying candidates with same-sex attractions or deep-seated homosexual tendencies?

Fitzgibbons: Yes, the Boy Gender Conformity Scale from the University of Indiana and the Clarke Sexual History Questionnaire can identify with 90% accuracy males with same-sex attractions. Also, an extensive history of childhood and adolescent experiences with the father and male peers, and of the body, can identify deep-seated homosexuality.

Simply asking a candidate if he is heterosexual or homosexual, as is done in many seminaries and religious communities, is not sufficient.

Q: What would your recommendations be for a candidate who has same-sex attractions or who demonstrates homosexual tendencies?

Fitzgibbons: When the evaluation reveals probable same-sex attractions, a recommendation is given to uncover and engage in the hard work of resolving his emotional pain with a competent mental health professional and spiritual director. After the candidate’s male confidence has grown significantly and he no longer has same-sex attractions, he could reapply.

In our clinical experience those with deep-seated homosexual tendencies lack an understanding of the origins of their conflicts and of the possibility of healing. Many of these men also make a commitment to work on their emotional conflicts.

Q: What would your recommend for current seminarians who have same-sex attractions or demonstrate homosexual tendencies or significant affective immaturity?

Fitzgibbons: Given the present crisis in the Church, with 80% of the abuse involving homosexual assaults of adolescent males, seminarians and those in formation in religious communities with same-sex attractions have a serious responsibility to protect the Church from further shame and sorrow.

They should attempt to understand and resolve their emotional conflicts with a qualified mental health professional and spiritual director.

Seminarians with effeminacy, a clear sign of serious affective immaturity, usually failed in their childhood to identify sufficiently with their fathers and male peers. They can benefit from therapy to extinguish effeminate mannerisms and to strengthen their appreciation of their God-given masculinity so that they may become true spiritual fathers.

Seminarians with deep-seated homosexual tendencies should discuss their conflicts honestly with their spiritual directors and be guided by the Church’s recent statement. We have seen many young men overcome these tendencies over the past 30 years when a spiritual component was incorporated into their treatment plan as in the treatment of substance abuse disorders.

The research of Dr. Bob Spitzer of the department of psychiatry at Columbia University School of Medicine has given hope to many young men in regard to the healing of their emotional conflicts.

Q: What are the major emotional and character issues which you believe should be addressed in the human formation programs in seminaries?

Fitzgibbons: A 2005 national study demonstrated that 28.8% of Americans will have an anxiety disorder in their lifetime, 24.8% an impulse-control disorder and 20.8% a mood disorder.

The most common origins of these emotional weaknesses in men arise from a lack of closeness and affirmation in the father relationship and with male peers. These emotional conflicts result in weaknesses in male confidence, sadness, loneliness, anger and often a poor body image. In addition, those from divorced family backgrounds have major trust weaknesses.

The predominant character weakness in our culture is that of selfishness, which is a major obstacle of self-giving in every vocation.

Good psychological testing and history taking could identify various types of emotional pain that the candidate could address in his spiritual life with his spiritual director, and if necessary with a qualified mental health professional. Conferences for seminarians on growth in affective maturity and in self-giving can be helpful in identifying and in resolving the conflicts which interfere with affective maturity.

Q: What criteria would indicate that a seminarian has achieved affective maturity?

Fitzgibbons: In my professional experience the major indicator of affective maturity in every vocation is healthy, balanced self-giving that includes the ability to receive from God and from others.

Affective maturity is also demonstrated by the ability to address the most common emotional stresses; that is, anxiety, weak confidence, anger, loneliness and sadness. Anxiety can be overcome by growth in trust and in confidence; anger by growth in the virtue of forgiveness, and loneliness or sadness by growth in the ability to receive the love of God and others on a regular basis and to give oneself.

Childhood and adolescent conflicts in these areas may also need to be uncovered and addressed. Also, a commitment to grow in numerous ways is necessary for the development of a healthy personality.

[Tuesday: More help for same-sex attractions]

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