Following Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone’s comments in Chile about a link existing between homosexuality and pedophilia in cases of clerical sexual abuse, both Church officials and secular figures clarified his statement. But Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, a psychiatrist with experience treating sexually abusive priests, told CNA that the cardinal's statement is accurate.
At a press conference last Monday evening at the Pontifical Seminary of Santiago, Chile, the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said, “Many psychologists and psychiatrists have shown that there is no link between celibacy and pedophilia.” Instead, they have found a “relationship between homosexuality and pedophilia,” he added.
Many gay rights organizations reacted vehemently to Cardinal Bertone’s statement, leading Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican Press office, to assert that “it obviously refers to the problem of abuse by priests and not in the population in general."
A statement from the French Foreign Ministry calling the linkage “unacceptable” was followed by a statement by Fr. Marcus Stock, the General Secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. “To the best of my knowledge, there is no empirical data which concludes that sexual orientation is connected to child sexual abuse,” he said.
“The consensus among researchers is that the sexual abuse of children is not a question of sexual ‘orientation,’ whether heterosexual or homosexual, but of a disordered attraction or ‘fixation,’” Fr. Stock added.
However, a U.S. psychiatrist with experience in treating priests with pedophilia disagrees that there is no link between homosexuality and sexual abuse of children. “Cardinal Bertone's comments are supported completely by the John Jay study report and by clinical experience,” Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons told CNA. “In fact, every priest whom I treated who was involved with children sexually had previously been involved in adult homosexual relationships.”
Fitzgibbons, who has been the director of Comprehensive Counseling Center in West Conshohocken, Penn. since 1988, has worked extensively with individuals suffering from same sex attraction (SSA) and priests accused of pedophilia. He also presently serves as a consultant to the Congregation for the Clergy at the Holy See.
In his 2002 “Letter to Catholic Bishops,” Fitzgibbons identified priests prone to sexual abuse as having suffered “profound emotional pain” during childhood due to loneliness, problems in their relationships with their fathers, rejection by their peers, lack of male confidence, and poor self image or body image. Fitzgibbons said that these experiences lead priests especially to direct their sadness and anger towards the Church, her teachings on sexual morality, and the Magisterium.
He also noted that priests who have engaged in sexual misconduct with minors suffer from a “denial of sin in their lives.” “They consistently refused to examine their consciences, to accept the Church's teachings on moral issues as a guide for their personal actions, or regularly avail themselves of the sacrament of reconciliation. These priests either refused to seek spiritual direction or choose (sic) a spiritual director or confessor who openly rebelled against Church teachings on sexuality,” the letter said.
When asked what sort of new information has become available since the publication of the letter, Fitzgibbons put an emphasis on narcissism. “This epidemic personality weakness in the west predisposes individuals to excessive anger, the worship of self, rebelliousness against God and His Church particularly in regard to sexual morality and sexual acting-out,” he said.
The psychiatrist also reviewed the findings of the John Jay researchers, who reported that 81percent of the victims of clerical sexual abuse were male, 51 percent of whom were age 11-14, 27 percent were aged 15-17, 16 percent between 8-10, and 6 percent were under 7 years of age, emphasized Fitzgibbons.
For priests who do suffer from SSA, “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,” advised Fitzgibbons. “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.”
Because of the link between homosexuality and clerical sexual abuse mentioned by Cardinal Bertone, priests and seminarians with same sex attraction have a solemn responsibility to seek help and to protect the Church from further shame and sorrow, said Fitzgibbons.