SEXUAL DISORDERS AMONG RELIGIOUS AND PRIESTS: Presented by Fr. Luigi Morrell, Mafri
SEXUAL DISORDERS AMONG RELIGIOUS AND PRIESTS 0. Introduction. The topic is set within the context of the general theme of the meeting, that is, “Vocation a sign of hope founded in faith”. Much is said and written about the issue of sexual disorders. News about priests and religious at-tract attention because of the particular nature of a priestly and religious vocation. We want to be realistic, that is, we accept that events take place and some of them are scandalous. We know that sexual disorders occur among people who exercise secular professions as well as within the family. Statistically, priests and religious who act against celibacy are a minority. But it is not enough to say that. Even one consecrated person who would act against the promise of celi-bacy cannot be overlooked. Disorders of this type affect other people and we cannot tolerate that people get hurt in their intimate life. We cannot accept that people are hurt by religious in whom they trust and whom they regard as symbols of God’s presence. On the other hand, we are not launching into a finger pointing exercise. We all remember what Je-sus said to the accusers of the woman caught in adultery: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” [Jn 8.7b]. 1. The Terminology. We also need to clarify the terms we use. Sexual disorders generally indicate actions different from or in contrast with what it is considered the normal way of expressing one’s sexuality. Sometime ago, the newspapers reported that around Mombasa people were arrested because they had intercourse with animals. This is called bestiality, that is, the sexual arousal, and possibly, the act, between a human being and an animal. I do not know exactly what hap-pened there. But bestiality is listed among the sexual disorders. Here we are not talking about issues of this kind. Rather, by the expression we indicate that people, who may be able to exercise their genital sexual act, do not do so because of a religious vow or commitment as a result of a special calling within the Church. In this context, any action that points to the exercise of genital sexuality is a disorder, because it goes against the proclaimed commitment of the religious as well as the expectation of others, both Christians and not, who know that those particular people are not supposed to have genital sex. However, we all live out sexuality. We are sexual human beings from the word go, that is, from the moment the spermatozoon and the ovum of our parents met. We are sexual beings all the time, when we write and when we play, when we pray and when we relax. We could affirm that sexuality is us, it is our human condition. Whatever we are and do, we are men and women, as the Bible says, created in the image and likeness of God: “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them” [Gn 1.27]. In the plan of God men and women are ordered towards marriage. A text in Genesis which is quoted in various passages of the gospels spells it out in a very nice way: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife and the two of them become one body” [Gn 2.24]. Marriage is at the origin of humankind, although I think we have not yet began to realise the leaving of one’s parents, at least from the side of the man. From the side of the woman, it is more common…! Still, we can affirm that God’s plan in creation concerns the differentiation of the human being in male and female and their union in marriage. Sexuality is, should we say, original in humankind! A first affirmation may be that whenever sexuality is used to spoil marriage, one’s or others’, is disor-dered. Life experience shows that, although marriage is the way for humankind, not all do actually go that way. Reasons may be many. Family duties may prevent people from marrying. Others do not feel attracted to it, but prefer their own single condition. Others, after a short spell in marriage, have become widows or widowers. One of the best examples I find is that of the prophetess Anna of the infancy narra-tives in Luke: “…having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four” [Lk 2.36]. Others consecrate their life to God. That, in the religious traditions of many peoples, excludes marriage, but not sexuality! We are sexual human beings, that is, men and women, in marriage and celibacy. Reli-gious consecration in celibacy and virginity is a particular way of living one’s sexuality, that is, one’s humanity. It is not a suppression of something. It cannot be a frustrated way of leaving one’s sexuality in the hope that the church authorities may change their minds and allow us to change our status in life. That is to live in the realm of dreams, not of reality. 2. The Situation. We hear stories of priests and sisters who have sex. At times girls are attracted by priests. Attrac-tion may be mutual. Remaining at the level of man woman relationships, we hear that there are many in-stances of a behaviour that does not respect the appropriate boundaries. We also know that often our natural families crave for us to give them children. They insist that at least one child be born. Sometimes it is, I think, an emotional reaction, idealising the man-woman relationship. But the pressure is there and, undoubtedly, it places a heavy burden on many young men and women who want to consecrate themselves to God. To this we add the element of corruption within society: marriages break down, relationships out-side marriage happen frequently, children grow up without knowing who their parents are, often they know the mother but not the father, or they have no relationships with the father. So, if priests have children, well, it is human. People speak about that, but it remains in the quietness of conversations between people who know one another. Unfortunately, society shows many levels of assessment. Ladies are treated more harshly than men. A priest may remain to function as a priest even if it is known to have fathered children. A sister will have to leave the community if she remains pregnant. Women bear heavier consequences of their sexual conduct. When customs are spoiled by corruption, often it is the sexual field that is mostly affected. Cruelty takes the place of love and people are capable of anything. It is said that in Roman society of the 2nd and 3rd century after Christ, corruption of customs had entered into the texture of society itself. The state organisation became weaker and weaker and eventually it col-lapsed. Authors say, for instance, that theatrical representations were often dull and uninspiring. People were waiting for the end of the story when the bad person would be condemned to punishment. The actor would then be replaced by a prisoner to be tortured to death on the stage to the excitement of the audi-ence! It was widespread for the rich Roman families at the end of dinner to exchange wives and husbands in night long orgies. Christian writers affirm that Christian differentiated themselves from the rest of society precisely because they did not follow such practices. The list could be long. In a number of countries in Africa at the turn of this century a former superior general of the MSOLA was asked by the Union of General Superiors in Rome to make an enquiry with religious con-gregations about rumours that were going around sexual misbehaviour and to report confidentially. She did so and collected a series of facts that showed many compromises in the area of sexuality. But the re-port was seized by a journalist who leaked it before it reached the people who had commissioned it. She became the object of insults and a symbol of church colonialism. Some affirmed that they could solve the problems in Africa in the African way (whatever that meant!). Others were shocked by the contents, be-cause they were unaware of the situations. Few people recognised that there was an issue that needed to be tackled. The journalist in question, from the National Catholic Reporter, a USA based Catholic Newspaper, later on went to see the sister and apologised. But the damage was done. Not so much because it revealed what was happening - nobody doubted of the truth of the matter - but because when the issue became public it polarised people in a way that did not allow a serious and calm reflection to tackle the it in a constructive way. In addition, when thinking about the situations of sexual disorders we ought to include the aspects related to abuse of minors. It is an issue that needs attention. We recognize that there exist human condi-tions that bring people in the caring professions, which include priests, to sexually abuse minors. It may be the case of sexual union between a priest and a girl under eighteen, that is, a minor. It may be sexual play with children or adolescents. This is quite different from same sex attraction, both among men and women, or homosexuality, as it is commonly called. In February 2012, the Gregorian University in Rome organised a symposium for Catholic Bishops and Religious Superiors about the sexual abuse of minors. Presentations from various parts of the world stressed that the issue is worldwide. It is a human reality, not a problem of some cultures rather than oth-ers. One striking point came from the bishop of Papantla in Mexico, Jorge Carlos Patrón Wong, who, spoke about formation and quoted a document of Medellín published in 2003, stating that: “The centre of gravity no longer lies in the methods, theories and resources directed to seminarians, instead attention has been pointed towards the permanent formation of formators, since experience has taught us that what truly forms the person of the seminarian is the life and example of his formator” . The areas of addictions also need to be taken into consideration as they lead to sexual disorders, especially the addiction to pornography. Like alcohol, addiction to pornography, mainly, but not exclu-sively, through the computer can be brought under control, but only through specialised interventions. Good will and sincere promises from the person are not enough. 3. Sexuality, Morality and Religion. After stating the issues at stake, I would like to embark on same reflections about the theological, especially the moral side of what we termed sexual disorders in the life of priests and religious. Much of the following reflections derive from a wider theological reflection on sexuality. Much of the sexual dimension of the human being originates in the body and can be ascribed to the chromosomes, that is, the genetic make-up, and the instinct. The more the area is confined to genetics and instinct, the less the moral assessment has a place. We do not consider the behaviour of animals as moral, for instance. Precisely here lies the difference. Sexuality is an essential part of the human make-up. Like all things human it implies the activity of the being as a whole, not only of some organs. Human activity implies the body and the spirit, or soul, as well . First of all, we must consider the sexual activity as an act of the being. As humans, we always use our material and spiritual faculties. Animals act by instinct only. The study of the biological foundation of human sexual behaviour is the object of Ethology, a sci-ence, formulated in the 1930s, which studies human and animal behaviour through comparative methods. The merit of developing such a science goes to two 1973 Nobel Prize winners: Konrand Lorentz and Niko Tinbergen. These two scientists proved that living systems function through inborn mechanisms, i.e. reactions which are caused by stimuli. Reactions are spontaneous, i.e. they are not the result of training. That is why they are called inborn. Some reactions of such a type appear also as part of human behaviour, for example, to stand still, to turn around, to close the fist, to point the finger, etc. Although here cultural factors may have to be taken into consideration as well, often actions like these are reactions to something that confronts the person. They are spontaneous reactions. Sexual behaviour – to give origin to the little ones and to nurture them – is a behaviour that springs from the biological law of safeguarding the species. Secondly, we notice also enormous differences. The greatest difference between animals and hu-mans is that, whereas among animals sexual activity towards generation is periodical, people are available at all times. Also the position is remarkably different: among animals it is generally from behind, among humans it is frontal . With the development of the homo erectus the sexual act passed from relying mainly on hearing and smelling to emphasising seeing and touching. Science shows that human behaviour is often determined by biological factors. However, the moral quality of such behaviour comes from the meaning that it is given. Meaning is the field of morality whereas biology has not much to say about it. With regard to sexual activity, biology tells us that it is ori-ented towards the development of the species, that is, reproduction and protection. Morality has more to say, in the sense that it reflects on the meaning of actions. We realize that to introduce the concept of morality will link up with religion as well. Sexuality, morality and religion are deeply linked. This relationship has a symbolic dimension. The body is material and sexual, that is, male or female. It is never neutral. That is how it exists. Sexuality is, therefore, about human beings. If sexuality points to the material aspect of the body, never-theless it implies also a symbolic value. Sexuality implies objective as well as subjective data. It manifests itself as the desire to go out of oneself, towards the other. This desire for the other, when reciprocated, becomes the project of a life shared and built together. Obviously, this includes concrete actions; it is not just on the realm of ideas. Human experience includes both. If limited to the spiritual aspect, or to the material one, sexuality is not fully human. Religion is full of symbols. Religious experience is the experience of a relationship with another one, who is radically different. Such a relationship will imply also a certain capacity to describe that other one. Gestures are necessary, thoughts are indispensable, in order to establish such a relationship. In this way we can see the connection that exists between religion and sexuality. Symbolism runs through both of them. However, we are aware that the link is complex in the sense that it implies many elements. As a matter of fact, sexual experience may be a cause of rejecting religion. Religion, on the other hand, may block sexual experience. At times between the two there appears a complex game of influences that may assume pathological ex-pressions. The deep relationship between religion and sexuality is symbolic. In other words, there are simi-larities as well as important differences. First of all, religious experience, once it becomes faith, means accepting God into one’s life. In Christian thought, although it is affirmed that God can be found by human reason, nevertheless the full truth about God is based on God’s self-revelation. We can say, therefore, that it is not the human being who finds God. Sexual experience, like religion, implies the desire for another subject, in order to create union with that same subject. But, unlike religious experience, sexuality remains at the level of the acting subject (or sub-jects). Secondly, religious experience is expressed in symbolic language, whereas sexual experience im-plies a great deal of material aspect. Religious experience goes beyond sexual experience, in the sense that it develops symbolism to its highest limit, while remaining deeply and concretely human. Religious experience develops all human experiences, including the sexual one, beyond the material aspect. Through religious experience the human subject discovers the highest symbolism of the sexual aspect in searching for solidarity and unity, against the divisive tendencies of the human being left to himself or herself. I think this is the reason why religious experience, in its highest expressions, is described with the language of sexuality, especially the language of love and marriage (which is the deepest expression of sexuality). The best example I find is the way in which the prophets in the Bible use the language of mar-riage, both in its aspect of faithfulness and unfaithfulness, to speak of the relationship between God and the people. Likewise, I think this is the reason why the Canticle of Canticles (the Song of Solomon) found its way into the Canon of Scripture. It is appropriate that it should be there! In addition, the language of mystics, in Christianity as well as in other religions, is heavily loaded with nuptial, therefore sexual, images in order to express the union between the creature and its creator . 4. Criteria of morality in sexual behaviour. Moral reflection ought to take into consideration that sexuality is expressed in different ways dur-ing the various stages of growth of the person and of his or her relationship with others and with God. Within the Christian revelation, God’s love (agape) is the basis of human love (eros) . The human person grows into a deeper integration of eros and agape. Thus morality becomes integral part of the human real-ity and does not remain conditioned by taboos, pre-scientific expressions, nor by repressive methods of control. In this context I would like to point out three main criteria. 4.1 The human person a unity of body and spirit. We consider the human being as a unity of body and spirit, created by God, fundamentally good, touched by sin and redeemed by Christ. Sexuality is part of the expressions of the body. The body has its own ways to express interpersonal en-counters. It is important to recognise the constructive aspect of pleasure in the sexual dialogue. Erotism ought to be integrated, not repressed. Nor should it be exalted as the absolute expression of the human person. Sexu-ality is more than the satisfaction of physical pleasure. The process of integrating sexuality into the human person implies also some kind of control based on the ascetical practice of renunciation. It is in this context that the virtue of chastity finds its constructive role. 4.2 Interpersonal dynamisms. Interpersonal relationships are at the root of the exercise of sexuality. Only in that context the hu-man person is free from slavery to sexual desire. The experience of sexuality demands personal intimacy. A sexual encounter that happens outside the psychological and spiritual dimension of the person would be without value. The feeling of modesty (or shame), and the concrete actions that derive, have an important place. The feeling of modesty is a protection of the person against what is public. It is part of the moral development of the person to make modesty grow into a virtue. But modesty/shame contains some ambiguity. Its loss destroys the mystery aspect of human sexuality. But a too heavy insistence given to modesty/shame reveals the imbalance caused by a sexual formation based on taboos and repressive methods. 4.3 The value of the socio-political dimension. There is a social dimension in sexuality. That is why societies have shown interest in its expressions and have tended to regulate it. One way of regulating the exercise of sexuality is the formulation of norms of behaviour. The regulation of the sexual mechanisms in the field of interpersonal relationships enables the building up of society. We face now a mentality that tends to privatise the exercise of sexuality, including marriage. It is a char-acteristic of urban, industrial societies, where traditional practices are largely inapplicable. Norms of behaviour must aim at developing and protecting the values of the human person. They must free the creative energies of the human being. Norms must not be just series of dos and don’ts. This is particularly important in the Christian context, where sexuality expresses also the mystery of love of the Father in Christ through the Spirit. 5. Reflections on the way forward. The Priestly account of creation at every step affirms that all is very good: “God looked at every-thing he had made, and he found it very good” [Gn 1.31a]. To this echoes Vatican II, stating that all Christians are called to holiness: “It is therefore quite clear that all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love, and that by this holiness a more human manner of life is fostered also in earthly society” . All of us are aware that there is a different theological issue between priestly celibacy and religious life, both male and female. Celibacy is associated to priesthood in the Latin rite of the Catholic Church but it is not a constitutive part of the ministerial priesthood. The situation with the Eastern rites of the Catholic Church is different, as it is for the Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant Churches. On the other hand, celibacy is an integral part of the vocation to religious life. And this is true of all Christian churches that nurture religious life as a calling from Christ to live Christian life. Since religious are lay people (except those who have been ordained), the reflection intends to take into consideration also the numerous forms of consecrated life that exist in the church. In addition, I would like to mention here all those people who do not marry for a variety of rea-sons. If they accept their life condition as a vocation from God, then they live a kind of consecrated life, although without particular ecclesial structures. Two official documents of the Magisterium resume the theological position on the issue: the en-cyclical Scerdotalis Cælibatus by Paul VI in 1967 and the apostolic exhortation Vita Consecrata by John Paul II in 1996. Both documents outline the richness of God’s gift of celibacy in consecrated life and priestly ministry. Paul VI outlines also the formation required in order to attain the ideal of celibacy. The pope writes that formation must enable people to create harmony between grace and nature. Without a healthy psycho-logical balance people cannot be formed to live a life of celibacy. Consequently, when such a balance is not evident, the process of formation must be interrupted and people must be helped to find other ways of life. John Paul II adds a deep reflection on the value of chastity as a prophetic sign in a society where hedon-ism prevails. He also affirms that people who live the gift of chastity must be well balanced people who live that charism with joy and freedom. Theological and pastoral reflections stress the value of some traditional thinking, like the appeal to asceticism. Celibacy includes also renunciation. It means that in order to live such a gift one has to take the appropriate means with regard to the style of life and the friendships entertained. The fact that now in many societies it is common that both men and women share the same tasks demands also a renewed commitment to one’s ideal. Temptations are always present. One must detect them and act accordingly. The basic attitude, though, is that celibacy is a gift. A gift of God, first of all, that becomes a gift for God in the sense that one offers one’s life to God for the witness of the gospel. It becomes also a gift for others in the sense that the consecrated person becomes completely available for others. Thus to live without forming a family is not an unnatural style of life. Research shows that the non-use of the sexual organs does not upset the way the human psyche is built. One can live a perfectly normal and human life even without using his or her genital sexuality. That can be achieved if the person is psychologically mature, that is, able to integrate all the aspects of life in harmony. Sexuality must be integrated, not suppressed. However, human frailty is evident and the inclination to sin is at work in this field and it must be taken into consideration. If the existence of sin is evident, and perhaps more evident in this area, the pos-sibility of redemption is equally open to all. Consequently, to the condemnatory attitude we must oppose the affirmation that grace prevails over sin and that redemption is open to all. In the event of a fall, the way of forgiveness is open, because God is the God of mercy and for-giveness and in the church forgiveness is given as a sign of the presence of the risen Lord who takes away sin. That is possible when the person is able to recognise his or her own weakness that has led to sin and to assume the consequent responsibility respectively, especially when children are born. Since in the Latin rite Catholic Church celibacy is the expected style of priests, the birth of a child implies that the person must assume his responsibility and leave the ministry to exercise the ministry of parent and eventually of husband. Among the Eastern, as well as among the Protestant churches, where the celibacy discipline is different, there are also responsibilities to be assumed. Among women religious a fault in this respect is more evident. But, at times, religious women are left to themselves to bear the consequences. This is unjust. No act of sin and weakness may be pardoned and reconciled without justice. 6. Conclusion. As a conclusion of this presentation, I like to widen the field originally entrusted to me, to quote some passages from Fr. Bernard Häring, in the field of sexual morality, which I find particularly signifi-cant and meaningful. A Christian moral theology would be thoroughly unfaithful to the whole vision of revelation if, in the treating of sexual ethics, its purpose, ends and norms were defined apart from love” . “Our treatment of human sexuality is influenced not so much by a defence morality as by a covenant morality with its own dynamics and its proper protection” . “The truth of sexual love has much to tell us about being free and faithful in Christ. We would not be able to conceive any truths about the creative and redeeming love of God our Father, and Christ our brother, without the basic experiences of love that have come to us through the institutions of marriage and family . On a more general note, I find some remarks of Fr Bénézet Bujo interesting, even if they were written in the context of fundamental moral theology: This cross [of Jesus] will always remain a scandal and a folly. Only the African who has been converted and has faith will see in the Crucified Jesus the Proto-Ancestor whom he or she can identify with….”. Only a theology which takes into account both the traditional and the modern is capable of producing an original and effective model for Christians in Africa today . But traditions ought to be interpreted and developed. I find another quotation of Fr Bujo quite useful: There are those traditions that are unacceptable, but whose intentions in former times were justified and good. Other traditions, however, are not only unacceptable, but even regarding their intentions and aims, must be totally condemned and rejected. It is important to put a proper exegesis on African tradition. The traditions passed down by the ancestors must always be read and interpreted in the spirit of their authors. In other words, no tradition should be “read” or applied without its context . 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