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29 November 2005, 08:15

A comment by Dr. Gerard J. M. van den Aardweg, psychologist: "Candidates for the priesthood should be well-balanced heterosexual men"
It would be a very cautious estimate to state that 10% of the West European priests have some kind of homosexual orientation, but here and there it is likely twice that number (It is not much more than 2% in the overall adult population). Something is wrong, undeniably. The problem is not specifically Catholic, by the way, as the situation in Protestant circles is not different. From personal experience and contacts in many West- and North European countries, I am acquainted with the fact that many male Protestant ministers and theology students have homo-erotic inclinations, irrespective of their denomination or adherence to their Protestant orthodoxy : Reformed, Lutheran, Anglican, evangelicals adherents of so-called Free Churches. As for the female theology students and pastors, the over-all impression is that lesbianism is overrepresented there too, although it is more difficult to get a realistic estimate than with the men. Otherwise, the fact that nearly all Protestant congregations have more or less blessed homo-relationships and homosexual ministers does not mean that tensions about the subject are absent; to the contrary.

Well and good, but what exactly is so problematic about homo-priests and monks, or for that mater, homo-deacons, homosexual and lesbian lay persons in key ecclesiastical functions, and lesbian nuns (The last category is not directly at issue at present, but there is a similar problem that should be addressed)? Priests and religious with this inclination may exercise a morally obnoxious influence, sometimes openly, often subtly, not seldom underhand; subjectively well-intentioned or not, out of naiveté or not.

It was mostly openly in the case of the Amsterdam homosexual student pastor van Kilsdonk, who for years promoted the moral acceptability of homosexual relations and occasionally tried to persuade a such-inclined student to “accept” his penchant. U.S. readers may remember the case of Fr. Burtchael of the Holy Cross Congregation, at the time President of the theology faculty of Notre Dame University, who called for “conscientious resistance” after the appearance of Humanae Vitae and had to resign when students under his guidance accused him of homosexual harassment and abuse.

Once a priest or seminarian has decided that to him, “gay” is all right, he may be expected to defend and justify the homosexual lifestyle, often with missionary zeal, in overt or covert ways. It is self-evident that this implies his unsettling the whole fabric of sound sexual an marriage ethics. This is not to say that, on the other side, a homosexually inclined priest or church leader who chose for the orthodoxy and for refraining himself from homosexual contacts would actually be able to understand Humanae Vitae and everything connected to it, or that he would fully acquiesce in it, deep down.

In actual practice, he may at times display a measure of ambivalence concerning sexual behavior, inclusive of homosexual relationships of persons other than himself. Somewhat painfully hurt many Dutch orthodox Catholics took cognizance of the unexpected revelations in a recent newspaper interview of Fr.

Antoine Bodar, an orthodox priest of national name and fame. His statements demonstrated how priests with these feelings can be inwardly split. Homosexuality, he declared, is a deviation and as for himself, he would prefer being normal. Yet he extols (“romanticizes”, makes an idyll of) his former “love affairs”. They were “sincere”, and when he broke off his last relationship on account of his choice for the priesthood, that was “neither a conversion, nor a break with sin” (Compare this to what saint Augustine wrote afterwards about his heterosexual affairs).

And in general, thus Fr. Bodar: “If we love one another, also in embracing each other and going further, I cannot see what would be against it”. A homo-couple that does not “provoke”, he would no doubt spend Holy Communion. Followed the trite clincher: “God is not a cheese-paring Person”. Now, how someone having such hazy and contradictory ideas could teach, for instance, Catholic marriage morality, or build Humanae Vitae-consonant habits in the married life of his flock? How does he want to present and explain the real virtue of chastity? This example illustrates how respected and even sometimes admired priests with homosexual inclinations may unwittingly mislead the faithful; this man spoke out, many others will not.

The moral orthodoxy of these priests, deacons, pastors, Protestant ministers, moral theologians, or leading lay people may mainly be cerebral or intellectual, without being integrated into the whole of their personality and emotional life. They easily tend to rationalize their affections, including the erotic component, and don’t grasp normal people’s aversion of homosexual behavior, of its dirtiness and the whole atmosphere around it, and often have only a rudimentary understanding of man-woman love and its erotic dimension. This is to ascertain a sad truth, a defect. Evidently, feeling heterosexually does not necessarily imply psychological maturity in non-sexual respects, however, in general heterosexual men and women (without heterosexual anomalies) are normal in masculinity and femininity, have normal masculine and feminine “identifications”.

Homosexually afflicted persons cannot reach this full masculinity or femininity, at best incompletely. Hence, to look at homosexuality with reference to the priesthood or other church functions exclusively in terms of sexuality leads to errors of judgment, as though it were just the question of whether or not the prospective priest can persist in a life of continence.

Important as the latter condition is, certainly in view of the reality that homo-feelings use to be considerably more obsessive and dominating one’s mind than normal hetero-feelings, there is a lot more to take into account. Homosexual longings are not isolated drives but symptoms of the person’s overall defective emotional growth to masculinity (femininity). This is not a subordinate mental area. Being a man (a woman) is part of the substance of the psychic nature, of one’s personal identity. It is from this essential dimension that the person relates to others: to adults of his own sex and of the opposite sex, and to children.

A man who cannot feel “one of the other men” or not relate to and understand women from his psychological manliness suffers a serious blockade in person-to-person communication. That cannot be satisfactorily compensated by being or behaving in a sympathetic or charming way, by behavioral roles of being understanding, compassionate, entertaining, or popular, by exhibiting sweet-boy-to-his-mother behavior with respect to women, and the like.

I agree with the formula of auxiliary bishop Andreas Laun of Salzburg (Austria), a man who tries to help people with homosexual problems both charitably and realistically: Candidates for the priesthood should be well-balanced heterosexual men. That is an indispensable condition for functioning optimally in contact with those who are married and who are preparing for marriage.

At this point, I recall the programmatic text of Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae: for our generations of priest, one of the most urgent tasks is to work for holy marriages, that is what the bishops should do together “with the priests, your collaborators: zealously”. But how would that be possible for a man who does not possess the required inner capacities or masculine maturity? And let us not forget that someone who today is a priest with homosexual desires and a defective masculinity tomorrow may be a bishop with homosexual desires and a defective masculinity. It comes down to a matter of psychological assessment of crucial professional capabilities.

2. Immature masculinity also manifests itself in fatherhood, the “father role”. The average homo-priest is characterologically too weak to embody the stronger or “harder” aspects of the father role: to exert a firm, consistent leadership and where needed to correct, to educate and make use of his authority. It seems that priests and bishops whose friendly, affectionate fatherly attitudes are at the same time masculine and firm constitute a minority. That should be all the more reason to attentively consider this point when it comes to selecting them. In effect, the aforementioned personality shortcomings are intrinsically linked to the inherent emotional instability or neurotic nature of the homosexual orientation. We can only point to a few central realities about homosexuality here: it is a gender inferiority complex, a kind of neurotic immaturity or psychic infantilism or puerility resulting from imbalanced parent-child and sibling relations and failing adaptation to same-sex peers. It stems from childhood traumas at the same time as defective behavioral and emotional habit formation.

Homosexual attractions stay alive as long as the person suffering from them is unable to fully break loose from these deep-rooted attachments to emotions, views, and habits of his childhood or adolescence (The same as with other neurotic conditions). Since a couple of decades, it has become indecent to call this spade a spade, i.e., to point to the inherently neurotic nature of a sexual deviation like homosexuality, despite its lying openly at hand. This has important practical implications, for the private as well as professional life of persons thus afflicted.

A solid Dutch statistical study (of the university of Utrecht, 2001) reported that two thirds of homosexuals (many more than heterosexuals) go through periods of mental break down, depression, display anxiety syndromes, psychosomatic troubles, etc. Everyone who has experience with homo-priests will recognize this picture. Officially we are supposed to believe that everything less flattering to the social image of homosexuals must be the lamentable effect of “discrimination”. Also those who buy such a shallow explanation must however admit that people with homo-tendencies pose an enhanced risk of problems in their jobs and social contacts because of emotional unrest, immaturity, depression-proneness, paranoid tendencies, over-sensitivity or excessive self-centeredness.

Homo-priests, -deacons, -ministers, or -pastors are no exception here. Not seldom their inner tensions and frustrations incapacitate them to cope with the strains and stresses of pastoral care, adversities, disappointments or loneliness. Well-intentioned priests who take pain to discipline their homo-erotic fantasies remain nonetheless susceptible of relapsing when confronted with painful or disillusioning events, more so than well-balanced (non-neurotic) heterosexual colleagues. That way, they may slide down into a kind of double life, the priestly alongside the homo-erotic, albeit “only” in their imagination or solitary self-manipulation.

This danger is the more real when the man unconsciously views his erotic inclination as an expression (admittedly, morally dangerous) of the superior sensitivity of his special “nature” or emotional endowment; or when he dejectedly or rebelliously stops fighting it any longer. Either way, those who derail may end up as insolent and mendacious seducers, or become sex-obsessed, while their conscience is dulled. Dyed-in-the-wool gay types sometimes possess some peculiar charisma which makes them land in high positions in society; likewise, in the Church.

Like elsewhere, the ones within the Church who do not oppose their homosexual tendencies constitute smaller or larger informal networks, “cliques”. The members play into each other’s hands as for privileges and jobs.

A year ago, Stefan Kiechle S.J., a novice master in Nürnberg (Germany), disclosed his experience on this point. In several German seminaries and within several orders “homosexual hierarchies” exist, he said, which like all coteries that shun the light of the day work subversively and make others in the community dependent on them.

It are tumors, blighting the community and repelling normal men, if not expelling them from their midst. What Kiechle had the boldness to give a name is, in spite of certain recent measures, still not very exceptional. I might add that according to reliable information, the situation in certain European monasteries is much the same. And there are dioceses where a shadowy homosexual network can pull a string or two regarding assignments and nominations; that some such persons have been removed from their positions does not necessarily mean that the structures affected have been sufficiently cleaned up.

American-Brazilian Fr. Gino Nasini did his doctoral thesis in pastoral psychology (2001) on the behavior of acting-out homo-priests. His observations might as well have been collected in Europe. “Usually”, notes a Brazilian priest-psychologist quoted by Nasini, “these ministers are described by their colleagues as intelligent, very creative, and effective. They have a way of impressing people favorably. They know how to win over their environment, because mostly they are sympathetic and obsequious.

On the other hand, they operate in a crooked manner, seldom without hidden intentions, and their inner discontent, emotional frustrations and lack of self-control are obvious. Through their sexual behavior they try to fill a void”. Nasini himself summarizes: “They impress as spiritual and meditative, with feminine gestures and a tendency to passivity. ... They are very well informed and very influential. They are eager to cajole those in power, play roles, and feign”.

One priest’s experience was that homosexual acting out among priests often goes along with forms of aggression, laziness, and pharisaical behavior. One also finds bishops among them. Further, Nasini lists as the most frequent personality traits and habits: “Too intensive intercourse with specific persons who are their subordinates; attitudes of distrust; authoritarianism; money-directedness in order to coddle their confidants”; sometimes “alcohol dependency”; mood changes “from euphoria to depression”; “views himself as a victim; may cause divisiveness; ignores the reality of facts and hides his problems to himself”.

And: “At times, he lives in inner loneliness and superficiality and can be aggressive to his colleagues. Driven more by their impulses than by their reason, some go on having homo-relations until they die of AIDS under the eyes of their bishop. Among homo-priests there is an increasing clustering characterized by the striving after ecclesiastical careers and economic power: rich parishes”. Nasini doesn’t mince his words. But he is right to do so, eyes have to be opened, among others, of those who prefer keeping them closed. The topic of chasing church careers is particularly serious, for sometimes the endeavor succeeds and thus homo-bishops or other homosexual key figures in high ecclesiastical functions appear. Such ambition flows from a neurotic need of self-affirmation, narcissism, and from a flight from the labors and toils of the daily pastoral work to which some such men do not feel equal on account of their personality defect and character weaknesses.

The homo-priests studied by Nasini belong of course to the most sick category and conclusions drawn from this group must be mitigated if applied to priests who try to live in continence. However, as I said above, there is little certainty that these well-meaning men can or do persist in the long run, there is ample evidence to prove this point. It is significant that one seldom, if ever, hears of a homo-priest or seminarian who, in imitation of saint Augustine, openly and humbly regrets his former homosexual activities and witnesses of his inner conversion, even if his story is a public secret. The final conclusion I arrive at is that it is highly undesirable to admit men with homo-feelings to the seminary, the priesthood, or other ecclesiastical functions.

The risk of harm to the Church and the faithful is simply too great, whereas the persons concerned are themselves exposed to inner dangers and conflicts that may be too overpowering for them to find their way out.

Mutatis mutandis, a similar conclusion must be drawn for women with lesbian problems. Perhaps lesbian inclinations of a really mild degree may on occasion be evaluated as less ominous and therefore be judged somewhat less strictly, provided the woman receives sound spiritual guidance, is upright and fully well-meaning, and her religious position does not challenge her feelings.

With reference to homosexuality, what criteria can be given for distinguishing an authentic calling to the priesthood, minor ecclesiastical functions, or to religious life? Even as there is authentic and false mysticism, there are authentic and pseudo-callings. Personality defects or handicaps are known to be reasons to doubt the authenticity of a calling. Often it seems that what is subjectively interpreted as a calling by the person concerned rather stems from his inability to cope with life, or other forms of immaturity or personality imbalance. Soft, “tender-minded” or feminine men whose masculinity is underdeveloped may especially feel attracted to the priesthood and in consequence are incontestably overrepresented in it. Men with homo-feelings (and other infantile erotic fixations like pedophilia) must be reckoned to this generic category. The best practical guideline seems to start with the assumption that homosexual tendencies indicate a pseudo-calling, which assumption should only be abandoned in case of compelling proof to the contrary.

Men with homo-feelings are liable to confuse religious sentiments, real or imagined, with basically ego-centered motives such as the wish to feel accepted and secure in a protected, unaggressive environment; to live among non-competitive persons of their own sex; to identify with a central, admired, “beautiful” role that does not call for virility. Being a priest ( deacon, pastor, monk, minister, rabbi, or vicar) may present itself as the solution of social and emotional shortcomings or handicaps. Fact is that men with homo-tendencies have been attracted to priestly and hieratic roles and professions in all times and cultures. From playing these roles they may derive the narcissistic satisfaction of being valued and respected as important persons, superior to the common man (elitist mentality) and exempt from the obligation to behave in a manly way, to be manly combative. Two (Dutch) examples. The popular anti-establishment politician and overtly homosexual Pim Fortuyn (subsequently murdered) related his persistent boyhood dream to become a Pope.

He identified with what he in his childish imagination perceived as a role of power and glamour of the man on the throne with the beautiful (“feminine”) robes, cheered by the crowd (Not a king or knight in full armor, like the fantasy of other boys would produce!). Much of this infantile identification was recognizable in his adult apparel and airs of specialty and superiority, though he acted it out in non-religious power roles. Jos Brink, a homosexual entertainer and actor, performed marriage and burial ceremonies on his own, outside any ecclesiastical context, in an outfit suggestive of a Catholic priest (It was dead serious, not a practical joke, and he knew how to arouse the sentiments).

A periodical of the Dutch Dominicans, who have a dubious reputation as to our subject, advocated the view that the priesthood is a specifically homosexual profession. As far as the interests of many homosexuals, male but also female, are concerned, the author had a point (Objectively, the proposal was perverse, of course). I reiterate that with an eye on this universal, non-religiously motivated affinity for priestly or priest-like functions and activities of homosexually inclined persons, which spring from a distorted gender identification, it is erroneous to accept them either as seminary students, deacons, or whatever other job of religious leadership. Nor should “mild”, not acted-out homo-feelings be regarded innocent.

And if the well-intentioned candidate for such a function is prepared to seek sound therapeutic assistance to overcome his propensity? Fortunately, some succeed indeed in conquering their orientation to a substantial degree, some even thoroughly and permanently. But even so, prudence prescribes not to admit such men to seminary or priesthood in the hopeful expectation that they will radically change in the course of time. That would be reverting the proper order of things. Proof of a radical and overall change (towards normal heterosexuality, normal masculine identification, and emotional stability) should be supplied before applying for the seminary, and part of the proof is about sustained change in behavior and inner feelings for several years (My proposal would be a minimum of 5 years). Predictions in individual cases are unreliable. However, in case of a radical change it is by no means assured that the man will still feel “called”; maybe his calling was not really supernatural.

An additional advantage of such strict selection standards is that they are a disincentive to men with homo-feelings to head for priestly functions. Today the Church in most West European countries is in need of men who have the character strength and persistence to build it up again, practically from scratch. That gigantic task requires normal, masculine priests, neither sexually infantile men, nor softies. More than ever, when it comes to screening Church personnel, a certainty should be taken for an uncertainty.

Dr. Gerard J. M. van den Aardweg