by John Allan Loftus, S.J., PhD.
Copyright 1989 by
Emmanuel Convalsecent Foundation
St. John’s Sideroad, RR #2
Aurora, Ontario L4G 3G8
All rights reserved
Printed in Canada
Many of us tend to be afraid of what we do not understand. Yet often enough, increased understanding itself paves the way for healing, acceptance, reconciliation, and decreased levels of fear.
The invitation to expand our understanding is the focus of this presentation. And we are a community in need of specific understanding at this point in our history. This is preventative care at its most fundamental.
The public focus on reports of sexual impropriety by so many priests and brothers in the Canadian Catholic community has left many normally astute and vocal commentators, stunned and speechless. Both within the church and without, people have either been frighteningly quiet or frustratingly loud. And there are still so few answers for such obviously painful and pointed questions.
The following paper is not an attempt to answer all of the important questions; some questions have yet to be phrased, others admit no answer for the time being. It is merely an attempt to articulate some responses to questions that I am most often asked as the director of Southdown. The information is by no means definitive; the exposition by no means exhaustive; the conclusions by no means final. It is an introduction to some of the complexity of this entire situation.
There is so much more that needs to be known. We hope to be able to prepare a much more complete and scientific perspective in the coming months. We are trying to initiate a careful and thorough process of research not only at South-down, hut in collaboration with colleagues throughout North America. But we had to start somewhere and the present need for some increased understanding seemed pressing. Hence these initial observations.
I am indebted to so many members of the professional staff at Southdown. What is expressed here is based on the collective experience of women and men who have dedicated themselves for many years to understanding and to caring for us, the ministers of the church. The ideas presented here are a direct result of many hours of careful reflection and honest self-examination. It is only a beginning, but it is one based on many years of careful listening and on a certain “seat-of-the-pants” experience.
There are still many un-probed facets to this painful issue. Some will become quite obvious in the following pages. We are also aware that this initial exploration encompasses only one side of the problem: the perpetrator. Let me be clear from the outset that we are equally concerned for and engaged with the other side of the issue: the painful consequences for “victims,” individually and within our society. Much more needs to be explored here as well, and we hope to be able to present some additional reflections on this front in the future.
This is, nonetheless, Southdown’s initial exploration; it is offered in order to stimulate even more whole and honest portraits of ourselves as ministers. While clearly a collective effort on the part of the staff, I alone take full responsibility for the articulations below.
What we don’t know may be the most important thing for any of us to know. I invite you to consider with honesty and compassion even a few facets of an experience that is surely reshaping the face of ministry in today’s church.
John Allan Loftus, S.j., Ph.D.
SEXUAL ABUSE IN THE CHURCH:
A QUEST FOR UNDERSTANDING
These are troubled and troubling times for the Canadian church. As I write there have been at least 30 allegations of sexual impropriety of one sort or another brought forth in some public form. I think most would also agree that we have probably not heard the last of these charges. Quite aside from whether or not these men will be eventually judged guilty or innocent of the crimes with which they are charged, myriad questions abound in the minds and hearts of clergy and laity alike.
Many of these questions do not yet have answers. The questions, like the allegations themselves, are complex more complex, indeed, than our frustration and impatience can often tolerate.
Several questions are asked repeatedly, however, and to some we do have the beginnings of an answer; at least there is a greater clarity in some areas than popular media presentations would sometimes lead us to believe. If nothing else, we are refining the questions more carefully and that is very helpful.
The most basic question seems to be at the same time the broadest: “What is really going on”? And there are many others: Why this? Why now? Is this a “new phenomenon”? Why haven’t we heard about it before? Has there been a “cover-up” in a systematic and malicious way? Is the phenomenon related exclusively to celibacy? Loneliness? The abuse of power? The absence of women in positions of authority in the church? Sexual repression? Isolation? Cultural or geographical factors? The list could go on.
Let me comment on several of the questions I am asked most frequently, in both public and private conversations. I pretend to offer no more than considered reflections on some of the issues about which I do have something to say. Many other good and pressing questions will have to await more careful and nuanced answers. There is simply too much we do not yet know. Permit an immediate caution, however: Anyone who suggests the contrary at this point is doing us all a great disservice. Our information about the clergy and Religious population involved in the issues of sexual impropriety is primitive, at best; our reflections on the “not-yet-gathered data” are of necessity, therefore, pitifully shallow and piecemeal. But we do know some-thing. It is possible to offer some intelligent and experience-based commentary. Even to know what we do not yet know is a significant step in the right direction.
Why Has “The Church” Done Nothing?
This question is one of the most heated and painful ones asked these days. It is a complex question in itself; there may be answers on several levels.
I have no desire to serve as apologist here. There is little doubt in my own mind that insensitivity, narrow-mindedness, fear, and plain stupidity have been conspicuously present in some responses to this issue. It is, nonetheless, quite a different story to suggest that neglect has been systematic, willful, malicious, or pervasive.
I cannot comment directly on various responses of church authorities to alleged “victims” of sexual misconduct. In my experience (which is limited when dealing with immediate “child” or adolescent victims), responses have been varied but generally positive. Certainly in recent months, it
is my impression that every effort has been made to respond with compassion and concrete assistance by way of medical and/or psychotherapeutic interventions. I have no way of knowing if this has always been the case. Although even if responses in previous times were slower or more half-hearted, there may be some explanatory circumstances, as we will see in a moment. Remember, hindsight always offers clearer vision.
Let me speak of my experience of the church response to alleged perpetrators. On this front, many of the charges of non-action or delayed action seem more clearly unwarranted. One hears cries of “protecting an inner club”, meaning that people who have engaged in misconduct of whatever sort are systematically merely slapped on the wrist and moved somewhere else. Again, I have no doubt that this has happened. It does not suggest, however, that this response is typical or terribly wide-spread. Even one such case, I realize, is one too many. But there is evidence to suggest that the church has taken very seriously indeed, the personal difficulties of its ministers and has supported swift and professional assistance for them.
The very existence of a Southdown serves as a clear illustration. The church is used to dealing with personal or ecclesial “problems” that ministers confront in their service of the gospel. For almost 24 years the church has supported a facility in which women and men in ministry could explore a variety of life issues that had begun to become more or less dysfunctional. In the beginning, the most pressing issue was that of alcohol abuse and dependency. Over the years a variety of other issues surfaced, including a whole range of psychological and spiritual “crises” related to the demands of caring for the people of God. Hence the classic “burnout” cases, or vocational indecision brought on by exhaustion, or the depressive experiences of young and/or middle-aged ministers, or the anxiety attacks related to our shifting expectations in the church, or the disillusionment toward the end of a life-long process of “self-donation” in the service of others.
These issues, and these ministers, still constitute the primary focus of the Southdown ministry. As an aside, know that it is a serious disservice to us all to suggest or imply anything
other; Southdown is not a “clinic” for sexual dysfunction or any other exclusive “problem”, but a place of healing and growth for all who have dedicated themselves to the service of others in the name of the gospel.
Nonetheless, over the years sexual issues have often played a significant part in the self-exploration of ministers at Southdown. There have always been those for whom the sexual landscape actually provided the most telling and painful locus of their “problem”. And in recent months especially, the sexual theme has emerged again with painful urgency in the cases of the priests and brothers charged with specifically sexual offenses. The exploration of these issues, among many others, is not something new either to Southdown or to the church at large.
The church can be justifiably proud of this tradition of care and concrete compassion toward its own ministers. It should not be minimized and it does provide a much needed historical context in which to discuss the present allegation of “non-care” or lack of action. In addition, several dioceses and communities have more recently published careful guidelines that include immediate professional assessment and treatment for all parties involved in allegations of misconduct (See Carter, 1989; Paulson, 1988).
Is This A “New” Problem?
This is a very difficult question to answer with any precision. Most people have their own “educated” or not-so-educated guesses (or prejudices).
There is no doubt that cases of sexual misconduct have appeared throughout the church’s history. That fact, it seems to me, is incontestable. But without a context within which to understand the behaviour, we know little more than simple and single instances. That people find themselves “unfaithful” to publicly avowed commitments is a judgment probably as old as recorded history itself. This justifies nothing; it simply encourages us to look further than “the obvious facts” for genuine understanding.
It should also be noted that a good number of current charges against priests or brothers are for incidents that are alleged to have taken place many years ago. When the number today appears to be thirty “brand-new recent cases,” a very skewed impression can be conveyed.
The context of a contemporary culture increasingly sensitive to the implications of sexual exploitation provides an at-tractive horizon for interpretation. We are as a society much more aware of the devastating consequences of sexual oppression. We are sensitized in a special way to the history of neglect and abuse that have characterized many of our dealings with women and with children.
The church does not exist in a vacuum. We too are challenged, buffeted, shaped, and ultimately re-created in the context of our present culture. Some might argue that we are re-created too slowly, but, in any case, we cannot choose to ignore the cultural context in which we grow to greater awareness and sensitivity. All of this is to suggest that we are the “products” of a new-found sensitivity. It is not surprising, therefore, to have analysts suggest that there is no new up-surge in sexual dysfunction among clergy and Religious, just an increased awareness and vigilance at all levels of society.
Indeed, this hypothesis is borne-out in the realization that allegations of sexual impropriety have increased dramatically in many sectors of society. Clergy of various affiliations have been charged with similar crimes, as have doctors, lawyers, psychologists, social workers, teachers, administrators, members of the judiciary, police, parliamentarians, and parents. Whether sexual abuse of children and adolescents is really an entirely “new” phenomenon, or the result of a greatly heightened sensitivity on society’s part combined with more aggressive response in discovering and handling cases by social welfare agencies, will have to await a further judgment of history. If it is the former, that this is a brand new phenomenon seen for the first time in North American churches, there are staggering sociological and cultural questions that need to be answered.
Most commentators, therefore, tend to use the law of parsimony particularly in the absence of any convincing historical evidence to the contrary. The most logical explanation for the apparent increased incidence of sexual misconduct in society at large, as well as with clergy and Religious, would seem to be the increased awareness of the problem at all levels. This hypothesis would also explain why the reports of incest and sexual exploitation within family structures have also risen dramatically in the past few years.
Is this phenomenon new, therefore? Yes and No. Yes, in that our whole cultural context argues for greater and greater awareness of individual exploitation in a sexually charged environment. No, in that there is no evidence to suggest that we are observing a radically new phenomenon, nor that some specific “new” psychopathological virus is now afoot in our churches. Increased sensitivity to the whole arena of sexual exploitation is probably the key to understanding the apparent rise in incidence. This is true for all levels of society and among all professions.
Why Do People Behave This Way?
This may be the most complicated question of all. It calls for openness and patience to hear the only answer the professional mental health community has to offer: We are not really sure!
It is imperative to realize that the study of sexual dysfunctions, their etiology (causes), epidemiology (pattern of incidence), and treatment is in its infancy. Our science in this regard is primitive and any serious social scientist who suggests otherwise is, at best misguided, at worst dangerous. Indeed, much of the process of “normal” or typical sexual development remains, in large part, equally shrouded in untested hypotheses and speculative theories.
Very little actual research concerning so-called “sex-offenders” has been accumulated. What little there is has been gathered from a specific and fairly narrow population, often enough the prison population itself; even that information has been gathered only over the past fifteen years or so. It is also very difficult to extrapolate with any scientific certainty beyond this population into another one, specifically, for example, priests or brothers. To the best of my knowledge no one has clear data at this point on this specific population. We have impressions and anecdotal material to provide the basis for individual treatment, but no systematic, empirically-based, data for analysis. This severely limits the ability to answer crucial questions about what the church is experiencing these days.
Some treatment facilities, Southdown among them, are presently in the process of gathering what we hope will be useful information. It is important for analysis, for increased
understanding, and ultimately for prevention that we do know something other than clinical impressions. But at the moment we do not know with certitude; we do not often know even the individual etiology in a given case, let alone the sociological, ecclesial, or cultural contours for a single individual. Take with caution, then, analyses that suggest definitive “causes” for what the church is presently experiencing. Sexuality is an extremely complex process in any individual’s development; it becomes an almost unfathomable labyrinth in a web of social or ecclesial concerns.
Some areas can be clarified, nonetheless; some impressions can be modestly shared; some dialogue opened. The best place to begin is with our language.
The word “Pedophile” is tossed around quite loosely these days. It is obvious that not all realize the word has an equivocal meaning depending on the context of its usage. There is legal pedophilia and there is psychiatric pedophilia. They are not necessarily the same and there is more at stake here than semantics.
Pedophilia is certainly the media’s choice to describe al-most all incidents of sexual impropriety when a minor is involved. When it is thus used, it is presumably to be taken in the “legal” sense, i.e. any inappropriate sexual contact or invitation to such sexual contact between an adult and a person “legally a minor” (taken in most jurisdictions to be under either 16 or 18 years of age).
Pedophilia is also the word used to describe a specific psychosexual dysfunction in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Third Edition Revised (The DSM 111-R). Here the essential feature is “recurrent, intense sexual urges and sexually arousing fantasies, of at least six months’ duration, involving sexual activity with a prepubescent child” (DSM 111-R, 1987, p. 284). Note that this definition speaks exclusively of prepubescent children and implies a more or less permanent and exclusive orientation of the sexual and erotic impulses toward such children. This is often referred to as “constitutional” pedophilia in that it “constitutes” the very psychosexual structure of the personality.
What actual data do exist suggests that this group is more likely to be heterosexual in orientation (at least twice as often and in some studies up to as high as 90% heterosexual). It is also clear that “isolated sexual acts with children do not war-rant the diagnosis of pedophilia,” and that such isolated acts, as well as the condition of pedophilia itself can be exacerbated by stress, marital discord (the majority of adult pedophiles are married men), intense loneliness, or recent loss (DSM 111-R, 1987, p. 284).
The clinical mental health community seems agreed, for the most part, that the “cause” of this pedophilic dysfunction is unknown at present, that the course of its pathology is equally obscure, and that the prognosis for significant, long-term and permanent shift in psychosexual organization is slight. (Please note that this does not mean that treatment is impossible or that “there’s nothing one can do with these people.” Treatment concerns will be discussed in a later section.)
It is of crucial importance that the two senses of pedophilia be distinguished. Why? Because, in fact, there is little evidence to suggest that many Roman Catholic clergy/Religious are psychiatric pedophiles. There are some, to be sure, but the vast majority of the people about. whom we have been reading of late do not fit the profile. Most of the Canadian clergy/Religious in question have been homosexually involved with post-pubertal adolescents, for example, and in some cases, at least, the behaviours do appear to have been isolated acts. So much for the DSM 111, psychiatric definition.
Are we just picking at straws? Not really. When some in the press can suggest that “psychiatrists” say that there is nothing one can do to permanently change a “pedophile” by any known treatment method, and then imply that all the priests and brothers reported of late are “pedophiles,” the implications become seriously damaging and the subsequent ecclesial analysis quite flawed. Most of these allegations have been about legal pedophilia, not psychiatric pedophilia; it is an important clarification and has serious treatment and prognostic implications.
Please notice that these clarifications do not really simplify the diagnostic or treatment challenge. In fact, they may make it more complicated. Why don’t the clergy/Religious “off-
enders” fit into a neat scheme? What other factors are important? What’s missing or what’s present that we do not yet understand? What new hypotheses now arise? As is often the case, simply being more careful and clear about our language only creates more interesting problems for diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.
Observed behaviour is only the first step in the process of diagnosis. It is often the easiest. One can see what was done or not done. The really important question becomes: why? What are the factors that lead to certain behaviour? Are they predictable? Are they constant? Are there certain “causes” a very carefully guarded word in scientific analysis?
These are the questions for which we are only beginning to gather intelligent and consistent hypotheses. Knowing that a certain priest or brother did actually engage in some inappropriate sexual behaviour with a young person is only the initial fact upon which investigation can proceed. Often enough even the establishment of this “fact” can be a therapeutic challenge of some magnitude. People deny reality in primitively unconscious ways as well as ingeniously conscious ones. And the denial process seems to be particularly active among people accused of sexual offenses perhaps understandably so given the negatively-toned preoccupation with sexual themes in our culture.
But once the behaviour has been established, the field of possibilities is just beginning to open. The man in question could indeed be a pedophile (in the psychiatric sense of the word), or he could have been drunk, been “blacked-out” and have no conscious recollection of the event in question, or he could be so sexually repressed in general, so out-of-touch with his body and/or affective life that he is not evensure that he did anything at all “sexual.” In a “worst-case scenario,” I suppose that after some careful therapeutic exploration one could turn out to be all of the above.
One might argue that in any case these are all dangerous men. That may be quite true, but they are dangerous men in quite different ways and their “treatment” had better be quite different as well. Careful iagnosis is at the heart of any treatment; indeed it ought to be at the heart of any condemnation or exculpation as well. But it is a complex art best
left to those with the training and experience to do it well.
The scientific community itself is responding to the paucity of diagnostic criteria with expanded sensitivity to the actual experience of these sexually dysfunctional persons (See DSM 111-R, 1986; Money, 1972,1986a, 1986b). Hence the more recent descriptions of ephebophilia, in which the sexual energies are directed toward post-pubertal adolescents, or the distinction between “exclusive” and “non-exclusive” types of sexual organization in order to distinguish those who are capable of sexuo-erotic attraction only with one specific group, e.g. pre-pubertal children exclusively, and those who are capable of adult sexuo-erotic response but regularly choose children or adolescents (are non-exclusive therefore.)
Even these distinctions are increasingly viewed as fundamental and almost primitive distinctions as sexual researchers try to detail the complexity of the sexual energy field. Someone like Dr. John Money at Johns Hopkins University provides an almost exhaustive list of the various paraphilias the generic term used for all sexual attractions that “go beyond the typical or `normal’ ” (Money, 1986). This is instructive reading for anyone who still thinks that sexuality or sexual attraction is a simple affair.
A continuum of explanations
I propose for your consideration that there is a broad range of explanation that needs to be considered in the attempt to “diagnose” our present situation. It is simply too easy to demarcate clear lines of pathology in simple and distinct categories: the “pedophiles” and the rest of us. Our sexual energies and attractions are simply too fluid.
Some among us, to be sure, have relatively exclusive and permanent developmental dysfunctions that can be categorized and “treated.” Most, however, are shaped by life-long variations on a theme. Why we do what we do, or think what we think, or dream what we dream, changes and shifts de-pending on circumstances, depending on the age at which one asks the questions, depending on the quality of one’s faith experience, or one’s loneliness quotient, or one’s sexual orientation. Only simple questions yield simple answers.
Subsequent research will have to detail the specific con-tours of the priest/Religious sexual “offender.” What are the principal characteristics that dominate his psychic landscape? But even for now, experience suggests to us that it is not a simple, single explanation; nor do these men “look” exactly like a more general sexual offender population. These men are not “all the same”. Unfortunately, clinical experience will have to be grounded in careful and systematic research before anyone in the wider audience of clinical colleagues and public observers can be expected to change their own convictions.
One impression that can be shared at this point, for example, suggests that many (if not the majority) of the priest/Religious “offenders” are really quite immature sexually and more aptly described as “sexually repressed” than as pedophiles. Many of these are men whose sexual awareness is quite low. They are woefully out of touch with their own bodies, with sexual energy itself, and, in general, with them-selves. Many are not yet at the point developmentally where they could be described as sexually differentiated; they don’t know, for example, whether they are homosexual or heterosexual yet, or whether, indeed, they have any explicitly sexual feeling at all. They are in lay terms simply and grossly immature. In some cases, these are men who really don’t know themselves as adult at all; they still “feel” adolescent themselves.
Furthermore, not a few of these men are at the same time literally and radically starved for affection. They have no per-son in their lives with whom they can feel themselves; no one for whom their life seems to really matter.There can be an intense emotional isolation that fosters equally intense longings for human interaction.
This is certainly a sad situation and there may be some interesting and important sociological and eccelesial questions that need to be asked about how this can continue to happen in today’s church. But the person with no sexual differentiation does present a quite different picture clinically than the exclusive and genuine pedophile. There are significant treatment variations and, often, quite different prognostic probabilities.
Can These People Be Treated Successfully?
The answer here contrary to much of what one hears from the media experts is a decided yes! Three observations fuel my optimism. First, our actual lived experience over the past years at Southdown; second, the need to distinguish carefully what is meant by “successful treatment;” and third, the realization that we are not dealing with a single homogenous pathology but a continuum of varying degrees of wellness and dysfunction.
It should already be abundantly clear that “these people” represent not a homogenous, single pathology, but a continuum of sexually dysfunctioning and infinitely variable developmental pictures. Since this is true, it becomes more clear that outcomes will vary greatly depending on the sensitive diagnosis of the initial presenting issue. If, for example, the presenting issue is really seen as one of gross sexual immaturity and sexual repression, the long-term prognosis (depending on age, degree of motivation, and other personality characteristics) could be quite good. Good enough in some cases to be able to say with a fair degree of confidence that the objectionable sexual behaviour will most likely remain permanently extinguished.
Similar prognoses can be entertained in cases wherein the initial presenting behaviour is complicated by a more immediate dysfunction, e.g. alcohol or chemical dependency. Once these dynamics are laid bare (with, of course, the underlying personality defenses exposed as well), then the treatment of the specifically sexual component can proceed more optimistically.
Can there be any “guarantees” even with this “non-pedophilic” but sexually problematic group? The short and honest answer is no. But that is because of the nature of any guarantee within the psychiatric/psychotherapeutic enterprise; it is not because of the particularly heinous or impregnable nature of the “disease.” Only a fool would attempt to predict another’s behaviour; no one who has even casually studied human nature could ever assume that we are clinically or socially predictable. Besides, psychology is always at its best in describing human behaviour; it is notoriously inept at predicting it! But there are, nonetheless, degrees of confidence.
Let me be clear. No one who has a history of behavioural indiscretion with legally under-age minors should be allowed back into ministerial contexts without a carefully detailed commitment to supervision and to receiving continued therapeutic support. This is simple prudence and a concrete expression of understanding and concern for the individual involved. It need not be seen as a wholly negative comment on the possibility of significant or permanent change in the individual’s affective life. It is simply a caution and can be temporary (for a period of several years at least). People do change and grow even those who have admitted sexual misconduct with minors.
We turn now to the other end of the continuum, the exclusive pedophile (in the psychiatric sense). What of “treatment” in this case? Again, “successful treatment” is not only possible but actually experienced by many as a path to freedom that allows them to re-direct their entire lives.
There is a terrible misunderstanding here. Some people assume that any “successful” treatment for genuine, constitutional, pedophilia must mean that the person can be “changed” permanently into a non-pedophile. It is as if this radical shift is the only one that could be designated “treatment.” People want to think in terms of “cures”. Then when these people hear from the social scientists that such radical sexual re-assignment does appear impossible, they assume that any treatment is a waste of time and energy. This is a tragic misconception.
If successful treatment must mean the total “conversion” from constitutional factors in sexual development, then the picture is bleak indeed. By definition, the personality structure is at least partially constituted by a pedophilic sexual organization. It appears that these constitutional factors are terribly resistant to change. Such is also the case, for example, with sexual orientation organization (homosexual or heterosexual); there’s little genuine evidence to suggest that one can “change” or shift these in any permanent way either.
But treatment for the constitutional pedophile is still far from pointless. These men can be helped to internalize and “own” their personality structures; they can be offered a greater freedom from impulse control fears through chemotherapeutic intervention; they can come to accept their in-
ternal sexual landscape with its often frightening limitations and can come to accept the external controls that they must live with for the rest of their lives. This “treatment” can be, and often is, quite successful.
While these men may not change their sexual organization in any permanent way, they can learn to live more comfort-ably and safely. They can be helped to realize that effective behavioural controls are the only path to freedom. Medication, in the form of anti-androgen therapy (usually Androcur in Canada), can be offered; it has the effect of significantly lowering or extinguishing sexual drive or energy in general (sometimes referred to as “libido”). The medication can be monitored for the maximum effect and can be taken indefinitely. There are potential side-effects that can be quite serious; they need to be explained carefully. But the medication route has fostered increased freedom and peace in many men afflicted with permanent sexual dysfunction (Money, 1986a).
The therapy process can also be helpful in motivating these men to maintain a constant vigilance over their intentions and behaviour. Indeed, behavioural restrictions must be kept in place for a lifetime; these men ought never again be in the presence of their “target” population (children or adolescents) in any unsupervised way.
These conclusions can be taught and internalized. In fact in the final analysis the best monitor will be an internal one, the increased self-knowledge that the pedophile has appropriated for himself. He needs to know that he will, most likely, again be “tempted by,” or interested in, or “turned-on” by his target population; he also needs to know that he can use specific and concrete means (including medication, supervision, support groups) to avoid any future incidents.
Why does the psychiatric literature point to such dismal long-term results in terms of recidivism (i.e. repeat offenses even after treatment) for pedophiles? Because that is the only conclusion the data gathered thus far will allow. I am not suggesting that the data are incorrect. I am suggesting that we at Southdown, and others in similar treatment settings, have had at least slightly different outcomes.
Perhaps one of the differences lies in the specific population with whom we deal. I know some professional col-
leagues would argue that priest pedophiles are no different than any other pedophiles. In many respects they are probably right. But in some respects they may be wrong, and the differences could spell a crucial difference. Here, too, we just don’t know yet; not enough systematic research has been collected.
We do know that priests and Religious are, by and large, a more highly motivated, more intelligent, more emotionally available group than the general prison population of “hardened, repeat, sex offenders” on whom most of the research thus far has been based. Do these factors account for some of the significant differences in outcome that we see? Are there really significant differences to begin with, or are just more careful follow-up programmes needed? We don’t know yet.
I must confess that we at Southdown are generally encouraged rather than discouraged by the outcomes we have experienced thus far with our limited population of “sexual” cases. No doubt we are missing crucial follow-up information in some instances, but we do routinely manage at least a several year follow-up and in some cases have been able to maintain a lengthy continuous treatment contact. There is no 100% success, to be sure; but on the whole “treatment” seems to have been effective in that many of these men are living more peaceful, productive, and whole lives and have been free from any repeated sexual misconduct. Some have returned to active ministry (with appropriate safeguards scrupulously monitored) and are living productive and peaceful lives.
What accounts for the apparent discrepancy between our experience and that of some other colleagues? Perhaps the multi-model, community “milieu-therapy” model we use is the significant factor. Perhaps the strongly integrated focus on explicit spirituality is central. We also do not focus on exclusively behavioural treatment models like many other treatment facilities; such “behavioural re-structuring techniques” can be a useful adjunct to our array of therapeutic tools, but are always contextualized. Perhaps this accounts for a greater “apparent success.” We frankly don’t know.
What is clear is that even our relative optimism needs to be empirically tempered by further study. There is too much we still do not know; but a wholesale, negative pessimism about “successful treatment” seems premature and unwarranted.
Is This Part of a Growing Homosexual Problem?
There is an obvious and somewhat understandable neatness to the assumption that the growing awareness of a sexual misconduct problem in the church must be related to increased numbers of homosexuals in ministry. After all, most of the reports of sexual misconduct have been “homosexual” in nature and there have been serious rumours around for years about the “homosexual problem” in seminaries and rectories. It all fits together, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, once again, the apparently obvious may betray us. There are deeply entrenched feelings, fears and prejudices about homosexuality that none of us can avoid; many of these “convictions” are so culturally determined that they operate as unconscious structures of interpretation in day-to-day experience (Greenberg, 1988). There is also a culturally sanctioned and religiously buttressed “common” understanding about the etiology of homosexuality, about the dangers to society and religion, and about the need for constant vigilance lest “they” undermine cherished values and institutions. Simple, “common,” or Pius folk are not the only ones thus affected. Witness the acrimonious debate among psychiatric professionals that still attends discussions of the removal of homosexuality from the official lists of pathology in the American Psychiatric Association (Bayer, 1976).
All this is to say that it is very difficult, indeed, to challenge popular notions that run so deep with mere facts. “Prejudice remains rife,” suggests the latest, insightful commentary by the New York Times Magazine, entitled “Homosexuality: who and why?”(Konner, 1989). Nonetheless, the challenge must be again offered; it is a crucial challenge to re-examine pre-conceived notions and prejudices about homosexuality and homosexuals. What is at stake, at the very least, is greater understanding of present circumstances in the church.
There is little doubt in my mind that there are significant numbers of persons in ministry who would identify them-selves as predominantly or exclusively homosexual. Let’s avoid for now questions about “how many,” or “what significant impact they have on our church structures or communities.” These are good and, perhaps, important questions for other analyses (See, for example, Loftus, 1988). For present
purposes, know that there are homosexuals in ministry. No great surprise, you say. What do you assume it means?
This is not an observation that necessarily implies anything about specific sexual behaviour. Sexual orientation is a very complex and sophisticated developmental task we all face; it involves far more than simple behaviour. What people actually “do” or “do not do” genitally may have little to say about their affectional preferences or their more basic sexuo-erotic impulses. Most of us are capable of “performing” genitally in a variety of ways even ways that would be explicitly contrary to what we typically know ourselves to “be.” Behaviour alone is only the starting point for deeper exploration.
Therefore, I suggest that it is not enough to simply know that someone has made inappropriate sexual advances (or appropriate ones for that matter) to a member of the same sex in order to assume he or she is homosexual. Such a per-son may be or may not be constitutionally homosexual. Too facile a “diagnosis” in this context actually does a great disservice to mature homosexuals. Adult acceptance of sexual orientation is a developmental challenge of major significance; it is a process that requires considerable self-knowledge and self-acceptance.
Many of the men charged with sexual offenses involving minors have indeed engaged in behaviour that is “homosexual” on the surface. In many cases, however, their own psychosexual development manifests such impoverishment that no serious question of sexual orientation could yet have been asked. These men are almost “pre-sexual” in their self-understanding. As they mature, they may appropriate for themselves a more permanent orientation as homosexual or heterosexual; at the moment, they are often simply too out-of-touch with the whole experience of being embodied or having any sexual identity.
Other personal intuitions or impressions die hard as well. There is simply no evidence to support a conclusion that homosexuals (of either sex) are given to more pathology than heterosexuals. There is no evidence to suggest that homosexuals are intrinsically more promiscuous, or more likely to be pedophiles (Money, 1972; 1976; 1986a; 1986b; 1988). In fact, there is some evidence to the contrary.
The situation presently confronting the church is not the direct result of an increased homosexual population within our ranks. Most homosexuals, like most heterosexuals, are responsible, adult, committed, sexually mature individuals who live lives in radical continuity with the gospel they seek to proclaim and serve (Loftus,1988). Some of us may not want to believe this for whatever personal or political reason, but lived experience will continue to invite a chastening and courageous honesty.
At the same time, it must be admitted that our entire culture is woefully inept at celebrating human sexuality with openness, honesty, and courage. Ministers in the churches are no exception; in fact misinterpretations from our religious heritage often leave us more vulnerable. There are serious issues to be explored here. The wholesale repudiation of affective dimensions in the human experience of celibate ministers (read: sexuality in its various manifestations) will certainly take its toll. We may be witnessing just such a “reaping of the whirlwind” in our present crisis.
Is Mandatory Celibacy the Problem?
From what has already been said, it should be clear that there is no simple answer here either. While it is clear that there is no evidence to support a direct, causal link between the church’s requirement of mandatory celibacy and the reporting of instances of child or adolescent sexual abuse, it cannot be said that it is entirely irrelevant either.
In the cases of genuine, constitutional pedophiles, it is quite improbable to assert any causal connection. Their psychosexual constitution would most certainly pre-date any commitment to priestly celibacy. It is also clear that a large number of constitutional pedophiles (perhaps the vast majority) appear to be married men and this too would rule out any specific causal link with chosen celibacy. At the same time, it is clear that environmental stressors do play some role in pedophilic behaviour (DSM 111-R, 1987). To what extent is celibacy a stressor in our population? No clear or simple answer exists yet.
Turning to other cases of inappropriate sexual conduct with minors, when the men involved may not be constitutional, exclusive-type pedophiles or ephebophiles, celibacy factors
may play an even larger role. Loneliness and isolation are repeated themes in the clinical picture. To what extent these factors would be minimized by a non-mandatory celibacy posture remains unclear. Perhaps these would be lonely and isolated men under any circumstances. There is some evidence to suggest just such a scenario; some of these men are simply impoverished in interpersonal skills and social grace. Just as often, however, they are among the most gifted inter-personally and exude a warmth and caring that is almost intoxicating to a young person. Frankly, it is simply hard to tell to what extent celibacy is a central factor.
It would be simply naive, it seems to me, to pretend that celibacy has nothing to do with the present situation; it would be arrogant and simplistic to assume that it is the single “cause”.
Much the same could be said for other factors that have been mentioned as possible roots of the problem. These have included the loneliness and isolation of ministry (quite apart now from celibacy demands), the very structure of ministry itself in today’s church, the use (or abuse) of power, the strains created as a result of the position of women, the de-creasing numbers of ordained ministers, the “looseness” of seminary formation programmes, and, I’m sure, many other possible “causes”.
In any individual case of sexual misconduct, one or more of these factors could have played a significant role. In fact, several of them occur as at least precipitating events with some frequency. But no one of these factors seems to be able to yet claim priority in any careful analysis. That many of them are significant is of little doubt; how they affect the actual course of the dysfunction is still open.
A final note on some of the more sociological or cultural explanations that have been offered. Again, it would be naive and unprofessional to ignore social or cultural factors that could be of major significance, e.g. the rural context of much of the reported abuse in Canada. At the same time, an identical caution must be urged. These are facets that will require careful and systematic study. There is little doubt in my mind that in some cases they are quite significant; whether that conclusion can be extrapolated to the entire population of clergy and Religious “offenders” remains to be seen. Once again, there is more that we do not understand than meets the eye.
What Do We Do To Prevent This From Ever Happening Again?
The best course of long-term prevention right now is in a commitment to increased understanding. There are many facets to this whole issue; it is extremely complex. In order to prevent something from happening in the future, we need to be as confident as possible that we really do understand what the experience is and what it means in the present. We are not yet at that point either as a mental health network or as a church.
The call for increased vigilance in seminary screening processes is a well intentioned and prudent one. Many do not seem to be aware, however, that recent seminarian classes are already among the most carefully screened sub-groups in our society. Young men in seminary formation programmes throughout North America already are subjected to more clinical and spiritual interviews and psychological testing than almost any other group, including young teachers, police, leaders of political parties, or military personnel.
The fact that “problems” are not completely screened-out is a vivid testament to the complexity of this issue; it may also be a testament to the relative poverty of our psychological understanding and the gross insensitivity of some of our testing instruments. As I said at the outset of this exploration, the state of our knowledge concerning sexual development, its “normalcy”, deviations, patterns, and dysfunctions is frankly primitive. Ironically, what we do know from the data that are available seems to be systematically ignored by some. As the old adage goes: there’s nothing like a few facts to ruin a good theory!
In any case, I have little doubt that as the science of sexual dysfunction progresses in understanding and sophistication, testing instruments will become more refined. There is also every reason to believe that church leaders will continue to use everything at their disposal to “screen” as effectively as possible. In the meantime, our best hope for long-term prevention remains an uncompromising commitment to rigourous understanding and reasoned analysis.
What we don’t know can hurt us. But when we know what we don’t know, it helps. Furthermore, to know the difference between what we know and don’t know leads not only to modesty and genuine humility, it often ignites the charge of compassionate understanding.
There is so much we do not yet know about ourselves: as individuals, as a community, as an entire church. And there are implications for explicitly sexual themes at all levels. There is no need for hushed embarrassment regarding our individual or collective psychosexual journey even when it takes apparently skewed paths. There is a need for compassionate understanding on all sides even as there are tears and anger on all sides.
These men of whom we now speak, the sexual “abusers” in our church are not a strange new breed of degenerate monster; they have much more in common with the rest of us that we would usually care to acknowledge. Often, what we fear most in ourselves is most easily externalized and destroyed. And the young adolescents and children who have been hurt and confused in a maelstrom of mistrust and apparent malevolence, they too illumine the shattered victim in each one of us. In the last analysis, it is a matter of belief, and of faith, and of God, and of an entire, single community of wounded people.
And we do not yet uunderstand.
John Allan Loftus, S.J., Ph.D.