In February 2009 the Seattle Times announced the following: “Northwest Jesuits file for bankruptcy. The Jesuit order in the Northwest beset by lawsuits alleging numerous instances of sexual abuse dating back decades, has filed for bankruptcy.” Sad. I grew up in Washington State, attended Jesuit schools, and served as a member of its Oregon Province for nineteen years.
Church authorities would like to blame others for such scandalous improprities: rampant materialism, a sex-inundated culture, a loss of fidelity to religious teaching, an absence of prayer in ones life. These reasons do not wash. I know these men; I know the way the Order raised them. Sure, we were not overwhelmed with the presence of saints, but, on the whole, the Jesuits attracted good people. So what happened?
After forty years of doing psychotherapy, I can say with certainty that emotions repressed will some day explode into chaotic and destructive release.
In the name of celibacy, religious superiors indoctrinated these men, generally high school graduates, some with college education, into the following religious culture:
- we left behind our families and the Order became our new family;
- we did not reminisce about our former life ; we focused upon our new and holier life as religious;
- we did not develop close, emotional relationships with our brothers for fear of the divisiveness of personal friendships and the unvoiced terror over homosexuality;
- we did not much see, and certainly did not relate alone with, women our own age;
- we enjoyed collegial relationships with our brothers, like members on the same ball team; we eventually formed relationships with women, like a father to a daughter, with the power in the relationship decidedly in our religious hands;
- our training focused on the intellect and the will; sports alone recognized our bodily being; except in the context of scriptural prayer the imagination deserved only profound suspicion as the gateway to sexual sin; the emotions, powerful vehicles of personal expression and interpersonal scaffolds of relationship, were dangerous and in constant need of the will’s firm management; finally, we tolerated the senses, but never coddled them.
When it comes to developing a healthy emotional life, this training had the following predictable results:
- at the best, the young religious maintained the level of emotional maturity that he might have had upon entering the Order; usually, however, the maturity level diminished into a kind of locker room comaraderie that passed for relationships. With women it took the form, most usually, of superior to inferior; in the worst scenario, it became a compost of estrangement, emitting fear and even condemnation;
- the young Jesuit related to others usually in two ways: in an extrinsic dependency in which he garnered worth and meaning by meeting external standards of perfection, or in a mutual dependency in which he won acceptance through obedience to the will of another;
- with age and demonstrable success in the Order some experienced Jesuits were able to move into relationships of shared independence. These manifested different degrees of sharing, as such was mutually agreed upon, but without commitment or real trust in the relationship. Ultimately, the relationship continued or discontinued at the will of the individual religious.
Given the above, Jesuits could be expected to act out of the following:
- Some were emotionally immature and simply unable to relate maturely to men or women, but especially women.
- Some with age and experience tried to break out of this emotional immaturity, but did so according to their pre-entrance level of maturity, usually adolescent but often pre-adolescent.
- Other Jesuits, especially those with rigid personality structures, kept control of their emotions through repetitious addictive behaviors. These grew into neurotic patterns firmly maintained by anxiety generated in interpersonal situations in which the person felt inadequate.
- For most of these men, power and position and reputation substituted for healthy relationships to themselves and with others. When, however, power or position or reputation were challenged or threatened or lost, then the repressed loneliness would escape. The person, a Jesuit and a religious man, would revert to neurotic and immature methods of relating in an attempt to find both meaning and consolation.
Why did men dedicated to religion, to religious lfe, to a life of celibacy act out sexually in unhealthy and sinful and even illegal ways? Is the answer not obvious? And the training of other clerics, both secular and religious, in most relational ways mimics the Jesuit experience. Sexual scandal spreads throughout the clerical and religious ranks across today’s world.
Celibacy may work for a person who wants to be celibate and who has integrated his emotional and sexual life into his personality. If not, then celibacy may, given the right circumstances, become an insidious tool for violence.