Sin and Sexual Development

You likely know about the continuing child abuse scandals plaguing the Catholic church in light of new allegations from Ireland and Germany. Some are wondering just how widespread the problem was and is. Andrew Sullivan, a gay Catholic, writes yesterday about the Catholic church tradition of seeing child abuse perpetrated by priests as a sin rather than a crime.

The interesting part of Sullivan's essay is his description of how homosexuality can produce later child abuse because it is denied a proper outlet with loving, consenting and committed partners. Now, Sullivan is no unbiased observer. As a gay member of his church he is a fierce advocate for gay rights. Regardless, his description of the experience of growing up gay within a religious community is worth thinking about:

[I]magine you are a young gay Catholic teen coming into his sexuality and utterly convinced that it's vile and evil. What do you do? I can tell you from my own experience. You bury it. But of course, you can't bury it. So you objectify sex; and masturbate. You cannot have sexual or even emotional contact with a teenage girl, because it is simply impossible, and you certainly cannot have sex with another teenage boy or you will burn in hell for ever ... so you have sex with images in your own head. Your sex life becomes completely solitary. It can be empowered by pornography or simply teenage imagination. Some shard of beauty, some aspect of sensuality, some vision of desire will keep you sexually energized for days.

Now suppose your powers of suppression and attachment to religious authority are also strong - perhaps stronger because you feel so adrift you need something solid to cling onto in your psyche. And you know you cannot marry a woman. But you want to have status and cover as a single man. If this is the 1950s and 1960s, it's into the Church you go. You think it will cure you. In fact, it only makes you sicker because your denial is buttressed by their collective denial. And the whole thing becomes one big and deepening spiral of lies and corruption.

Many of these tormented men have arrested sexual and emotional development. They have never had a sexual or intimate relationship with any other human being. Sex for them is an abstraction, a sin, not an interaction with an equal. And their sexuality has been frozen at the first real moment of internal terror: their early teens. So they tend to be attracted still to those who are in their own stage of development: teenage boys. And in their new positions, they are given total access to these kids who revere them for their power.

So they use these children to express themselves sexually. They barely see these children as young and vulnerable human beings, incapable of true consent. Because they have never had a real sexual relationship, have never had to deal with the core issue of human equality and dignity in sex, they don't see the children as victims. Like the tortured gay man, Michael Jackson, they see them as friends. They are even gifted at interacting with them in non-sexual ways. One theme you find in many of these stories is that until these screwed up priests' abuse and molestation is revealed, they often have a great reputation as pastors. As emotionally developed as your average fourteen year old wanting to be loved, they sublimate a lot of their lives into clerical service. But they also act out sexually all the time.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

5 thoughts on “Sin and Sexual Development”

  1. Does he mention PTSD and the reenactment of trauma? I think that is going on here too, a byproduct of this process over generations of priests who entered seminary in their teens.

  2. Although I'm a psychologist it is a huge field and I'm not an expert on sexuality or sexual development. That said, what he describes sounds very plausible, psychologically speaking.

  3. I have thought for years that what he says is true - but I lost my comment in the ether. I suspect I would not have been understood. I have written over a thousand posts on the subject but I am still writing. There is an anointing in our bodies that comes to us only through a real destruction - death and rebirth - or better resurrection. 'Life to our mortal bodies' as the misunderstood Paul dictated to Tertius and which was first performed by Phoebe. This charism is stronger than 'suppression' or solo fantasy. As I walked and cycled to work, a voice said to me - no I will not abandon you even though you lost your comment in the ether. And I said - how could you let all those generations go down the tubes without hope? And what will we do with all those men who blame women for their own male lack of self control? Or whatever other exploitation we care to name. And the voice said - thieves and prostitutes get into the kingdom first. I took that to mean that I didn't or couldn't know at the moment. But this one has known me and that's why I do such silly things as translate the Song of Songs.

Leave a Reply