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Church in Crisis

Expert says abuse policy should extend to bishops


To access the full text of Katherine DiGiulio’s interview with Leslie Lothstein click here.

The director of a mental health network who has treated hundreds of victims of sexual abuse by priests and the priests who commit abuse considers such crimes to be so damaging to victims that they can be considered a form of “soul murder.”

Leslie Lothstein said, “Your spiritual life is the most important part of your life, your internal life, because it connects you to the deepest parts of yourself, and if you feel your soul has been murdered, how are you going to relate to other people, how are you going to love?”

Lothstein is the psychology director of the Institute of Living, which is part of Hartford [Conn.] Hospital’s Mental Health Network. He made his remarks during a lengthy interview with Katherine DiGiulio. A portion of the interview was used on “Crossroads Magazine,” a television program sponsored by the Hartford archdiocese.

Lothstein said that he thinks sex abuse of minors by Catholic priests may be perceived as being more common than abuse by Protestant ministers because “the structure of each of the Protestant denominations is quite different, so when a minister acts out with a teenager or with a child, they are immediately identified and suspended if not thrown out of ministry.”

While pointing out that each case is unique, Lothstein said that many of the priests who have sexually abused minors have much in common.

Seminary training isolates Catholic priests from women, he said, and is “patriarchal and hierarchal. They are infantilized by their teachers, by the bishops and cardinals. … They don’t develop the kind of psycho-sexual maturity they need to deal with their own urges and inner experiences.”

In seminary it’s made clear to them that they aren’t to have intimate relationships, he said, and “that’s counterintuitive to everything we know about healthy psychology. ... What happens is that many of these men grow up psychosexually immature and they don’t have a depth of understanding of relationships, and all of a sudden they’re ordained and have power.”

Sexual abuse of children often occurs, he said, “in the first two years after ordination.” Many older priests avoid working with young adults, and so they will often “immediately put the younger priest into ministries with the youth. ... All of a sudden, the lack of psychosexual emotional development in these priests emerges as a kind of regressed state, so they’re with kids, the excitement is invigorating, the energy is vital and they get involved with it.”

Lothstein said that the priests he has seen face a broad range of sexual conditions: Other than pedophilia and ephebophilia -- a sexual attraction to teens -- he’s seen priests for sexual fetishes.

More troubling to Lothstein is “compulsive womanizing,” which he considers a “second level of crisis that no one’s discussing.” Priests who have sexual relationships with married women violate not only their vow of celibacy but the sacrament of marriage, he said. “We’ve had priests who have gotten women pregnant who had abortions.”

Lothstein has little patience for the view that most priests who abuse minors are homosexual: “It’s not a gay issue,” he said. “As a clinician, I can tell you that the gay priests I treat are having sex with age-appropriate men. They may be violating their celibacy, but not with children. Data are that most pedophiles are heterosexual.”

As for the bishops’ new Charter for the Protection of Children, he agrees with its provision removing from ministry priests who have ever committed sexual offenses against minors.

However, the charter “doesn’t go far enough,” he said, because there is no provision to identify and punish bishops who’ve “conspired against victims of clergy abuse.”

To access the full text of Katherine DiGiulio’s interview with Leslie Lothstein click here.

National Catholic Reporter, August 16, 2002