Modern Psychology and Priest Sex Abuse


Sexual abuse of minors is a societal problem. The fact that it occurs less frequently among priests than among other segments of society does not lessen its damaging effects to the Church, especially given our culture’s animus against the Roman Catholic Church and their eagerness to use any scandal as a way of weakening the Church’s influence in society.

If repression is portrayed as psychologically unhealthy, it can be argued that Kennedy’s Psychological Investigations and its flawed psychology gave support and justification to beliefs that resulted in the sex abuse of minors. Erickson’s insistence that sexual intimacy was essential to successfully traverse developmental stage six, justified sexual acting out in general, but it also justified sexual activity with predominantly male minors, who because of their proximity were the targets of abusive priests.

Prior to Vatican II the Catholic community adhered to a rigid sexual morality. Sexual activity outside of marriage was strictly forbidden. Forces in secular society relying on the questionable research of Freud and Alfred Kinsey were promoting more liberal policies and even sexual liberation. Some theologians emphasizing “love over law” suggested that individual conscience could arbitrarily pick and choose any sexual behavior. The dissent against Humanae Vitae, unchallenged by the bishops, only encouraged and promoted the acceptance of Kennedy’s premise.

When Psychological Investigations was published in 1972, it relied on Erickson’s and Freud’s materialist psychology, which posited unrestrained sexual behavior as inevitable and healthy. Seminary formation programs as well as individual priests accepted Kennedy uncritically and in an effort to move beyond Stage Six and become normal through sexual intimacy began acting out sexually. Since priests, many of whom were homosexually inclined, had ready access to adolescent males, this vulnerable group of victims was disproportionately targeted. While some abusers were implicated in serial rapes many involved only isolated cases. Nonetheless most involved coercion and all were breaches of both the sixth and ninth commandments as well as the vow of chastity. The scandal, now involving hundreds of cases, has resulted in significant damage to efforts at evangelization in the United States, to say nothing of the staggering financial losses.

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