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One of the virtues of being a therapist is witnessing human beings up close, or as close as intimate conversation allows.
The space where moral imperatives can easily get fuzzy and slip into the background. It is the job of the priest to be strong in the midst of others' weakness. And it is precisely this private aspect that makes a priest vulnerable to lapsing into a relationship.
It is common in priest circles to find reasons for things, and there are usually plenty on offer as to why an ordained priest would forsake his vows and get involved with a woman (to take the obvious case) or with another man: frustration, disappointment, loneliness, experiencing one's self as sexual once the microscope of training has ended — even the freedom a man experiences being on his own. The world of the priesthood as I have observed it is, curiously, a male, even a macho one. Frankly, it does not take much for a youngish man who has little actual support, perhaps no sexual experience, and a lot of high-stress work to respond favorably to the attentions of an interested love object.
Over the past 30 years, the number of priests has been going down dramatically.
Young priests are often sent to parishes alone after minimal on-the-job training with an older colleague.
I am a psychologist, and I have spent much of the past three decades dealing with those kinds of problems.
The kinds that compel priests' superiors to send them off for treatment at a facility dedicated to priests.For the rest, I am sure there are many good men who have navigated the choppy waters of physical attraction with relative aplomb if not ease. I began to wonder why, if so many of them were so unhappy, they didn't just leave.Over 30 years I learned that the answer is more complicated than it looks — especially when the source of unhappiness is love.But when basic needs for support, warmth, and connection are unfulfilled, the impulse toward physicality increases. Usually, such contact begins with an innocent hug, which then lingers, which then involves a kiss ...not so different in kind from what many people experience.Most people would not and do not volunteer to live in such a world, but men who would be priests do precisely that.There are lots of reasons for this: a pious upbringing where priests are revered, or a desire to serve, to be special, to stand apart from others, to help humanity. There are other, less benign ones, which a man contemplating the priesthood may not even himself consciously recognize at ordination. Sometimes conflicts over sexual attraction or orientation, childlike shame over any sexual impulse, even limited ability to relate to people outside a structured role. This makes for life in a kind of fishbowl where everyone outside is watching.The sample with which I am familiar is biased — it only includes those priests whose behavior has been called into question, and it does not include those involved with minors.I have dealt extensively with men who have been involved with other adults, both men and women. In my first few months of counseling priests, I was shocked at the kinds of mayhem they could cause.(Sarah Turbin) After all, a priest's parishioners mostly have families to which they return, primary attachments in the context of which they can bitch and moan and feel generally safe in so doing. Christian values might be called "feminine" (patience, forbearance, gentleness), but the purveyors of those values are expected to carry on often intense work in a solitary way with minimal support. Confusion about sexual matters only makes him more vulnerable.It is easy to feel outrage at a priest who crosses professional or personal boundaries; the prospect of priests who abuse children is nauseating.