Tuesday, February 21, 2006

'Til We've Seen This Journey Through: The Suffering of Priests with Psycho-Sexual Disorder

Who could comprehend the suffering of a person with psycho-sexual disorder unless one is involved in some of the struggles? And, in certain vocations, those struggles are immense and broad- reaching, cataclysmic in proportion to the degree of life lived in duplicity.

My son hasn't had the advantage of years, or of reading primary source research on the topic, or decent secondary sources, for that matter. He hasn't traveled the road with one who is afflicted with same sex attraction, trying to exist in a vocation that isn't a journey to vocation success.

The media presents a different side to homosexuality than what research bears out. Many studies quoted in the secular press are studies, from what I've read, that have not been replicated. This means the research was performed once, and often without validity in the process. But even if the process is valid, if a study cannot be replicated (done again under like circumstances with like results), the study is deemed weak and inconclusive.

Studies in which the premise that homosexuals are "born that way" have not been conclusive. Genetic and heredity studies, DNA studies--show otherwise. Although the American Psychological Association decided in the last decade to delete homosexuality as a psycho-sexual disorder from their diagnostic manual, the disorder remains an illness of the psyche. Other studies have proven that homosexuality can be healed and reversed. But this takes a desire and effort on the part of the afflicted, as well as therapy--just as is necessary for most psychological disorders (and also physical disorders).

One can read books on this subject, so I won't go on, although a fascinating topic when one is dealing with truth and not flap-trap that is motivated by agendas. I recommend the books by Fr. John Harvey, O.S.F.S. who has researched, studied, and provided therapy for homosexuals in the clergy for well over 40 years—with success. He is the founder of "Courage," a support/therapy for homosexuals who are striving to lead celibate lives and who are uncovering the etiologies of their disorder and reversing the affects. Perhaps it is the acknowledgement of it being a disorder, the work involved, and the length of time that persuades others to desire an acceptance of this affliction as simply "another lifestyle" or that "it can't be helped."

Many with psycho-sexual disorder live their lives in relative freedom and open disclosure, have jobs and family awareness, with or without chastity. Others, however, by the virtue of vocation exist in double lives. The priesthood is such a vocation, and for homosexuals is bantered in debate. As my son asked recently, "You mean you don't think gay men should be in the priesthood even though they aren't 'acting on it'? You think this even with the great need for more priests?"

I am disheartened at my college-age son's confusion but more so at the confusion among clerics in the answer to this question. The confusion stems from ignorance of the full range of manifestations of the problem, beyond chastity or "acting on it," as many are wont to say.

The answer to the question, "Should homosexual men be ordained in the priesthood?" is NO! Not yes, not maybe, not if this or that is agreed upon. No, no, no!

Why not?

Let's walk the mile and share this load. Here are some reasons.

First, it is a disorder of the mind and emotions. Regardless the sad causes that more often than not are not the individual's "fault," a problem occurred which affects the sexual health and perceptions of self and relationships, usually at a critical stage of the person's sexual development. Environment and family relations, peers, and physical attributes all play a part in this.

Chastity issues of same-sex passions provide obvious mismatch with priesthood. Proximity to other men and particularly to young men exacerbates the potential for wrongs. The same-sex attraction remains a daily struggle in a vocation in which one is trying to be a father not only in physical presence but also through mental, emotional and spiritual counsel, leadership and mentoring.

Pornographic addiction frequently holds hands with psycho-sexual disorder. This addiction is considered one of the worst to overcome because studies have shown that unlike chemical dependent addictions in which the substance can be cleared from the system, the memory forever stores pornographic visuals. These images come unbidden like flash-fires, at any time, into the mind. The images trigger a chemical release in the brain, and this triggers erotic sensations--even if the person does not want these images to reoccur.

Simply driving by an “adult movies” advertisement can trigger the images that trigger the mental desires and bodily responses. With the ease and abundance of visual sexuality in our society, pornographic addiction is a night-and-day struggle. A priest's mind can be tormented and distracted beyond the energy and focus required for the welfare of his flock, regardless of how hard he may fight the temptations.

But other difficulties accompany psycho-sexual disorder which specifically impede a priest's ability to succeed in his vocation. One is the arrest of personality and maturity at the age of trauma, leaving some men virtually ensconced emotionally and best relating with those of high school or college age. The resultant insecurity in relating with older adults prods neediness—at times obsessive--for acceptance and friendship with the young.

Some homosexual men have had difficulties with father relationships. Equally problematic are issues involving real or perceived over-bearing mothers, sisters, and other significant female relationships. Thus, relating with strong, older men and women in a parish setting can result in negative experiences. Control struggles, also, align and feed from and within these relationship obstacles.

For a Catholic with this disorder, often reared in a faith-filled family, the pressure rises for the young person because the Catechism expresses explicitly why, theologically and scripturally, same-sex attraction is disordered. It is a perversion of sexual health and wholeness that seeps into other aspects of personality and over-all health.

A young man afflicted faces either dealing openly with the disorder, fearing family reaction, or denying and developing a double life. Becoming a priest seems a natural way out of painful realities. Where else could a young Catholic man not only serve God but also have esteem of family and friends, use brilliant and gifted talents, and be in an assumed comfort zone surrounded by those with whom he relates best: males?

There will be no questions asked regarding why he isn't dating or marrying; in fact, family and friends will no doubt pray and protect against the threat of women becoming attracted to the priest.

A major spiritual problem with a homosexual male entering priesthood is that his vocation is not wrought of sacrifice. Do you understand? A father of a parish does indeed sacrifice biological fatherhood in order to devote himself fully to spiritually fathering many people throughout his lifetime. Where is this particular physical sacrifice for a homosexual man?

If there are affectations caused by hormonal imbalance, the man afflicted with psycho-sexual disorder can monitor these and work on correction. Learning through therapy how to reverse the disorder's effects includes opposing any existing effeminate tendencies, hobbies, and interests by introducing more masculine traits. Being born with more estrogen and less testosterone is not the fault of the person, but the effects can be re-ordered to achieve balance.

Size can be a root cause. Men who are small can be traumatized at crucial adolescent stages of life. This includes being made to feel inadequate and not able to control the events of life on their particular "stage." Perhaps they are not able to excel in some sports, teased for size, or picked on; or maybe not. Maybe they find an alternate activity and accommodate for damaged esteem through academics, drama, music, art, humor, or "cuteness." The etiology, nonetheless, remains and needs to be addressed and healed. Damage stemming from the juvenile cruelty of others is damage enough.

Immaturity often benchmarks those afflicted with psycho-sexual disorder, and the extension of the problem as the priest ages is obvious. This hindrance exists even for multi-talented, gifted homosexual priests. In a disorder that runs contrary to Scripture, the afflicted priest has always to live a "double life." He always has a major "something" to hide. He is never free.

Juggling this life of unintentional (or intentional, heaven forbid!) deceit is daunting--and haunting. Using others becomes necessary. The man in such a plight may allow hints of female attraction to provide a "cover." This is unfair to innocent women. It is unfair, also, to pathetic women who, unhealthy themselves, are intrigued and desirous of conquering that which is forbidden: the Catholic priest avowed to celibacy.

If issues arise in the parish needing Diocese attention, the priest with something to hide is not always free to deal with it lest he be found out. While many homosexual priests tend to live in removal or detachment, introverted and possibly secure from discovery, others may try to compensate. The compensation may initially seem fruitful in gains, but the underlying unhealthiness of the individual eventually displays itself. In the meantime, young people as well as old stand to be devastated in the event that the subterfuge flakes and crumbles, or explodes.

Those who know the truth are put in a position of covering up and protecting the afflicted priest. This, too, is unhealthy for the protector who is either burdened or delighted with what is rather powerful knowledge. The priest, then, becomes subject to a kind of personal, psychological, and emotional "black mail", whether or not of a conscious intent of those who know, or of the priest himself. Others may suspect, and suspicions breed gossip. They think they mean so well, all involved. Good Catholics don't want anyone to be hurt. In the end, or sooner than later, more people are hurt than imaginable.

Have we mentioned the role the devil delights in swirling within such a situation? The priest (and this is another aspect of the disorder) may exhibit what could be described as a "misconnect" from his problems. His mind scrambles the picture of what could happen. Although he intensifies doing good for God, the Church, and laity--enrapt in devotion, fidelity, and orthodoxy--the sky can and will fall. The devil counts on this; and if he can take the priest's soul in an act of final despair, or prevent healthy men from entering priesthood, or cause others to doubt and leave the Faith, all the better.

All told, the life of a psycho-sexually disordered priest can become a nightmarish attempt to keep everyone happy and the devil at bay. If an issue does need to be addressed (and running a parish is filled with people-problems multiplied a thousand-fold to that of any large family), and if the priest irritates someone or other, he runs the risk of their pulling the little ring on the grown-up grenade.

And, whether or not people with charitable-but-blind acceptance admit or not, the priest with psycho-sexual disorder is a teaching, preaching, sacrament-bequeathing grenade ready to explode if the circumstances present themselves. And the devil makes sure they present themselves. They either haunt interiorly or display exteriorly. This is so no matter how hard the priest tries to counter the disorder's multiple facets.

The brother priests--don't they have an obligation to report the homosexual priest and his need for healing and help? Yes, if they know and if they comprehend the disorder. Unfortunately, most are amazingly ignorant of the layers of manifestations and the root causes needing to be addressed professionally, over a long period of time. Who wants to judge or turn on a brother, for that is what it may seem? Sadly, some brother priests do not want to become involved; they have their own weaknesses, fear their Bishop or superior, or are "too good a friend" to be the one to step forward.

The reality is, who dares to have true compassion and prevent the devastation to many souls by deftly and charitably securing help for one soul?

My son, wise from nearly four years of college life, snipped at me when we had this discussion. "How would you know anything about homosexuals, Mom? It's not like you know any personally!" Oh my son, I do, I do. I have been right there, called on assignment by God Himself, to love and to suffer for and with some of these priests.

But when the time comes when either God pulls me from the scene for my own good or when the afflicted one decides to go his own way, there is nothing more I can do but continue to pray, suffer, and to report as necessary: when too many people stand imminent to harm.

The person who is harmed the most, of course, and who has been damaged since childhood or adolescence, is the one with psycho-sexual disorder.

Who knows to what extent the person will go to hide the problem when all roads verge upon public disclosure? Lie and deny the truth? Sidestep into a religious order or teach in a seminary? Turn to full-blown dysfunction and unfettered embrace of the homosexual lifestyle? Endure physical and psychological collapse? Commit suicide?

The perpetrators--such as ignorant, uncouth relatives who leave pornographic magazines where impressionable eyes discover them, or bright-minded seminary professors who expound that young men must explore their sexuality, or some perverse friend who just once gropes a young man too afraid to tell his parents--need to be confronted and learn what they have done before they die and face judgment. This is from God's law and not ours.

The question of holiness is also God's to answer. No mortal must judge who is or is not holy; but know that souls grow holy when suckled in wholeness. Every soul can become a saint. Sanctity comes through the reality of the cross, however; and the sanctifying moment for a homosexual man could be accepting that the priesthood is not a viable vocation given the cruces of his affliction.

Finally, perhaps foremost, the priest suffering from psycho-sexual disorder enters the Sacrament of Holy Orders having lied. Along the road to ordination the Bishop or Superior asks questions regarding all aspects of the candidate's body, mind, heart, and soul. To deceive oneself and others (even if sincerely duped) disfigures the sanctity and beauty of truth.

I can write no more. This is enough, surely, this and more prayer and penance. And to do what has to be done, since situations are coming to a head, again, and the concern for the soul is more important than ought else. Right is always right, and the most right is honesty rather than to let the pustule be either band-aided or explode and splatter.

My son, oh my son! Do you understand now, a little better? Believe the last Holy Father and the current one: There is no place in the Catholic priesthood for same sex-attracted men.

And those of you who have known but have done and said nothing, I write this and pray for you, too. Please forgive me for my own ignorance and naive hopes and waiting, hopefully, not too long.

We sang The Servant Song* at Mass the other morning. I dedicate these verses to the ones for whom I suffer and pray. The words sing my heart's weeping for you. And I do not regret any of the suffering God has reaped from me. I wish I could have done more. Now it is in the temporal range, and you chose it to be so. Now it must be dealt with in a temporal way, but always, always, adorned by God's love.

We are pilgrims on a journey,
We are trav'lers on the road;
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load.

I will hold the Christ-light for you
In the night-time of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you,
Speak the peace you long to hear.

I will weep when you are weeping;
When you laugh I'll laugh with you.
I will share your joy and sorrow
'Til we've seen this journey through.

When we sing to God in heaven
We shall find such harmony,
Born of all we've known together
Of Christ's love and agony.

*The Servant Song. Text: Richard Gillard, 1977, Scripture in Song, as reprinted in GIA Publications: Chicago, IL. 1994, p. 476, verses 2-5.


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