from Clinical/Therapeutic Issues and Ethical/Theological Issues
Makes Distinctions of Same-Sex Attractions
By Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons
(Editor's Note: The following is reprinted by permission from Zenit.org, a Catholic news service. This interview was published in two parts on December 5-6, 2005.)
The new Vatican document on the priesthood and homosexual tendencies mentions a range of conditions, from deep-seated homosexual tendencies to transitory same-sex attractions.
To learn more about the nuances of the range of homosexual tendencies and their treatment, ZENIT turned to Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, a psychiatrist, author and contributor to the Catholic Medical Association's document "Homosexuality and Hope."
Part 2 of this interview will appear Tuesday.
Q: How would you distinguish between someone with same-sex attractions and someone with deep-seated homosexual tendencies?
Fitzgibbons: Those with deep-seated homosexual tendencies identify themselves as homosexual persons and are usually unwilling to examine their emotional conflicts that caused this tendency.
Strong physical attraction is present to other men's bodies and to the masculinity of others due to profound weakness in male confidence.
These individuals in the priesthood have a significant affective immaturity with excessive anger and jealousy toward males who are not homosexual, insecurity that leads them to avoid close friendships with such males and an inordinate need for attention.
Most of these men had painful adolescent experiences of significant loneliness and sadness, felt insecure in their masculinity, and had a poor body image. Well-designed research studies have demonstrated a much higher prevalence of psychiatric illness in those who identify themselves as homosexual.
Under severe stress they may even experience strong physical and sexual attraction to adolescent males, as has occurred in the crisis in the Church. Frequently, they may have difficulty working in a collegial and comfortable way with heterosexual males.
Unresolved paternal anger is regularly misdirected as rebellion against the magisterium and the Church's teaching on sexual morality. Unfortunately, their denial, defensiveness and anger block their openness to seek the Lord's help with their emotional and behavioral weaknesses.
Those with mild homosexual tendencies do not identify themselves as homosexuals. Such men are motivated to understand and to overcome their emotional conflicts. They regularly seek psychotherapy and spiritual direction.
The goal of counseling is to uncover early conflicts, forgive those who hurt them and increase their male confidence -- which in time may lead to the resolution of same-sex attractions.
Such men accept and want to live and teach the fullness of the Church's teaching on sexual morality. They do not support the homosexual culture but see it as antithetical to the universal call to holiness.
Q: Are there psychological tests which can be helpful in identifying candidates with same-sex attractions or deep-seated homosexual tendencies?
Fitzgibbons: Yes, the Boy Gender Conformity Scale from the University of Indiana and the Clarke Sexual History Questionnaire can identify with 90% accuracy males with same-sex attractions. Also, an extensive history of childhood and adolescent experiences with the father and male peers, and of the body, can identify deep-seated homosexuality.
Simply asking a candidate if he is heterosexual or homosexual, as is done in many seminaries and religious communities, is not sufficient.
Q: What would your recommendations be for a candidate who has same-sex attractions or who demonstrates homosexual tendencies?
Fitzgibbons: When the evaluation reveals probable same-sex attractions, a recommendation is given to uncover and engage in the hard work of resolving his emotional pain with a competent mental health professional and spiritual director. After the candidate's male confidence has grown significantly and he no longer has same-sex attractions, he could reapply.
In our clinical experience those with deep-seated homosexual tendencies lack an understanding of the origins of their conflicts and of the possibility of healing. Many of these men also make a commitment to work on their emotional conflicts.
Q: What would your recommend for current seminarians who have same-sex attractions or demonstrate homosexual tendencies or significant affective immaturity?
Fitzgibbons: Given the present crisis in the Church, with 80% of the abuse involving homosexual assaults of adolescent males, seminarians and those in formation in religious communities with same-sex attractions have a serious responsibility to protect the Church from further shame and sorrow.
They should attempt to understand and resolve their emotional conflicts with a qualified mental health professional and spiritual director.
Seminarians with effeminacy, a clear sign of serious affective immaturity, usually failed in their childhood to identify sufficiently with their fathers and male peers. They can benefit from therapy to extinguish effeminate mannerisms and to strengthen their appreciation of their God-given masculinity so that they may become true spiritual fathers.
Seminarians with deep-seated homosexual tendencies should discuss their conflicts honestly with their spiritual directors and be guided by the Church's recent statement. We have seen many young men overcome these tendencies over the past 30 years when a spiritual component was incorporated into their treatment plan as in the treatment of substance abuse disorders.
The research of Dr. Bob Spitzer of the department of psychiatry at Columbia University School of Medicine has given hope to many young men in regard to the healing of their emotional conflicts.
Q: What are the major emotional and character issues which you believe should be addressed in the human formation programs in seminaries?
Fitzgibbons: A 2005 national study demonstrated that 28.8% of Americans will have an anxiety disorder in their lifetime, 24.8% an impulse-control disorder and 20.8% a mood disorder.
The most common origins of these emotional weaknesses in men arise from a lack of closeness and affirmation in the father relationship and with male peers. These emotional conflicts result in weaknesses in male confidence, sadness, loneliness, anger and often a poor body image. In addition, those from divorced family backgrounds have major trust weaknesses.
The predominant character weakness in our culture is that of selfishness, which is a major obstacle of self-giving in every vocation.
Good psychological testing and history taking could identify various types of emotional pain that the candidate could address in his spiritual life with his spiritual director, and if necessary with a qualified mental health professional. Conferences for seminarians on growth in affective maturity and in self-giving can be helpful in identifying and in resolving the conflicts which interfere with affective maturity.
Q: What criteria would indicate that a seminarian has achieved affective maturity?
Fitzgibbons: In my professional experience the major indicator of affective maturity in every vocation is healthy, balanced self-giving that includes the ability to receive from God and from others.
Affective maturity is also demonstrated by the ability to address the most common emotional stresses; that is, anxiety, weak confidence, anger, loneliness and sadness.
Anxiety can be overcome by growth in trust and in confidence; anger by growth in the virtue of forgiveness, and loneliness or sadness by growth in the ability to receive the love of God and others on a regular basis and to give oneself.
Childhood and adolescent conflicts in these areas may also need to be uncovered and addressed. Also, a commitment to grow in numerous ways is necessary for the development of a healthy personality.
The Psychology Behind Homosexual Tendencies (Part 2)
Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons on Help for Those With Same-Sex Attractions
Many priests grow in holiness and happiness in their ministry as a result of the healing of their childhood and adolescent male insecurity, loneliness and anger and, subsequently, their same-sex attractions.
So says Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, a psychiatrist, author and contributor to the Catholic Medical Association's document "Homosexuality and Hope."
Fitzgibbons shared with ZENIT how some seminarians, candidates for the seminary, and priests can make strides in resolving their homosexual tendencies, and what bishops and religious superiors can do to help them.
Q: How can spiritual directors help seminarians or priests who have same-sex attractions?
Fitzgibbons: Spiritual directors can help seminarians and priests by understanding that same-sex attractions are treatable and are not genetically determined. They can encourage seminarians and priests to face their emotional pain with the Lord's help, particularly their loneliness.
Spiritual directors who actively and honestly engage in inner healing prayer and who can help apply the healing graces of St. Ignatius of Loyola's rules for the discernment of spirits can facilitate the healing process.
Q: The new Vatican instruction says that homosexual tendencies that are a manifestation of a transitory problem -- for example, delayed adolescence -- must be clearly overcome at least three years before diaconal ordination. What is your opinion of that?
Fitzgibbons: I believe that this statement means that it is not sufficient for the seminarian to be chaste for three years. He must also first know himself; that is, understand his emotional conflicts which cause same-sex attractions and have worked to resolve those conflicts.
Chastity for three years is not adequate because under stress in priestly ministry unresolved loneliness, isolation or insecurity from the adolescent life stage could lead to same-sex attractions -- even attraction to adolescent males in an unconscious attempt to escape from one\'s pain.
Dr. [Robert L.] Spitzer's recent research findings and many clinical studies support this view that homosexual tendencies can be transitory and resolved.
Q: What would you recommend for priests who have same-sex attractions or homosexual tendencies?
Fitzgibbons: I would recommend that they become more knowledgeable about the emotional origins and healing of same-sex attractions, as well as the serious medical and psychiatric illnesses associated with homosexuality.
Also, in view of the John Jay report findings that 80% of the priestly abuse cases were with adolescent males, priests with same-sex attractions have a serious responsibility to protect the Church and youth from further scandal by working to understand and resolve their same-sex attractions. Adolescent males need to be protected from homosexual predation.
We have observed many priests grow in holiness and in happiness in their ministry as a result of the healing of their childhood and adolescent male insecurity, loneliness and anger and, subsequently, their same-sex attractions. This healing process has been described in the statement of the Catholic Medical Association, "Homosexuality and Hope."
Our experience over 25 years has convinced us of the direct link between rebellion and anger against the Church's teaching, and sexually promiscuous behaviors.
This appears to be a two-way street: Those who are sexually active dissent from the Church's teaching on sexuality to justify their own actions, while those who adopt rebellious ideas on sexual morality are more vulnerable to become sexually active, because they have little to no defense against sexual temptations.
Growth in forgiveness and humility are essential in the treatment of such priests.
Q: How could bishops and religious superiors help their priests who have same-sex attractions?
Fitzgibbons: If bishops encouraged priests with homosexual tendencies to pursue appropriate therapy and spiritual direction with those loyal to the Church's teaching, they too would witness healing of their priests.
Also, priests would be helped if the "crisis boundary" programs did not mask the role of homosexuality in the abuse of the adolescent male victims. Instead, these programs should describe why adult males might be sexually attracted to adolescents and how this conflict can be resolved.
In view of the John Jay report, bishops should consider protecting young men by not permitting priests with deep-seated homosexuality to have teaching or other ministries in schools, colleges and seminaries.
Finally, bishops should be aware that there are many "experts" who ignore medical science or are swayed by political correctness.
USCCB National Review Board member Dr. Paul McHugh, former psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital, stated recently: "I'm amazed that this fundamental bombshell" -- of the abuse of adolescent males -- "has not been the subject of greater interest and discussion."
He told the National Catholic Register, "I'm astonished that people throughout America are not talking about it, thinking about it and wondering about what the mechanisms were that set this alight."
There is every reason to hope that with this new document the Church will progress along the necessary path of purification described by John Paul II in April 2002 in his meeting with cardinals and bishops on the crisis.