By Genevieve Pollock
HAARLEM, Netherlands, 28 APRIL
If we want to address the problem of sexual abuse by
clergy, we need to go back to the teachings of "Humanae
Vitae," says a Dutch Catholic psychotherapist.
Gerard van den Aardweg has worked as a therapist for
almost 50 years, specializing in cases of homosexuality
and marital problems. He has taught worldwide and
written extensively on homosexuality and pedophilia, as
well as the relation of these issues to other topics:
same-sex attraction in the priesthood, "Humane Vitae,"
and the effects of gay parenting.
The psychologist's published books include: "Battle
for Normality: Self-Therapy of Homosexuality" and "On
the Origins and Treatment of Homosexuality."
Van den Aardweg has been a member of the Scientific
Advisory Committee of National Association for Research
and Therapy of Homosexuality since the organization was
founded in 1992. He is also the European editor of the
"Empirical Journal of Same-Sex Sexual Behavior."
In this interview with ZENIT, he speaks about the
role of psychology in cases of sexual abuse by clergy,
and the origin and resolution of these problems.
Part 1 of this interview appeared Tuesday.
ZENIT: Going back to the problems in the clergy,
would you say that the abuse arose more because men with
pre-existing tendencies were admitted to the priesthood,
or were there factors that contributed to this type of
behavior over time?
Van den Aardweg: A young man who is psychologically
and emotionally mature when he is admitted to the
seminary will never become homosexually or pedo-sexually
interested. If he feels sexually aroused and gives way
to his feelings, he will seek a woman.
The "orientation" toward boys or adolescents in
priests who have molested youngsters has never
originated during their seminary or priesthood years.
In some cases it may initially have been more or less
latent, weak; but then, there was always this obvious
gap in his feelings, the absence of normal heterosexual
In certain circumstances, confronted with some youth,
or during a period of disillusionment or loneliness, the
slumbering homosexual longing may be inflamed.
Another priest may always have been aware of his
attraction to males, but managed to live with it without
acting out. However, when he increasingly feels unable
to cope with the demands or disillusionments of his
profession, in a bad moment he may start either looking
into pornographic magazines
in our day, into a porn site on the Internet
or start drinking, to comfort himself; and indulging in
sexual fantasies, he goes from bad to worse.
Homosexuality is more than a sexual problem.
It is part of a rather specific variant of
personality immaturity, and among its most frequent
symptoms are a lack of character strength, inner
loneliness, difficulties in forming mature bonds of
friendship, anxiety and depression. Thus stress, in all
its forms, can weaken the man's resistance to
surrendering to his desires.
Other important factors that lower the threshold of
resistance are the absence of much needed personal
support and regular spiritual guidance; laxity in
interior, spiritual life; neglect of regular confession;
the bad example of other priests in the environment who
lead a double life; and being exposed to permissive
moral theories on sexuality in general and on the
normality of homosexuality.
In this regard, the critical attitude of many
theologians and prominent priests toward celibacy and
above all toward "Humanae Vitae" has been an efficient
factor in undermining the resistance of many priests to
sexual acting out, assuredly in the case of many with
As Pope Paul VI himself expected in this encyclical,
dissociating sexuality from propagation in the
relationship between man and woman would entail the
approval of other sterile forms of sex such as
Many sex scandals that finally ignited the publicity
wave in the United States, which is presently being
continued in Europe, and which provides such abundant
material for anti-Catholic propaganda, are a logical
consequence of decades of openly rejecting and tacitly
ignoring "Humanae Vitae" and the Christian view of
sexuality behind it by prominent priests, moral
theologians and bishops.
You cannot expect that many priests and religious
with weaknesses such as homosexual
and occasional pedophile
desires will persevere in their inner battle for
chastity when they constantly hear and notice that
almost everything is OK in heterosexual life, married or
not: "Why should I be the only one who is not allowed to
only occasionally give in to an innocent sexual pleasure
if I don't hurt anyone?"
ZENIT: The media seldom focus on the role of
psychology in these sexual abuse cases, but haven't
therapists generally been involved in either the
treatment of offending priests or in the advising of
Church authorities on how to deal with these problems?
What would you say about the role of psychology in these
Van den Aardweg: In spite of all present criticism,
there is no evidence that the majority of the cases of
sexual misbehavior by priests in the more remote past,
and even many during 1960-1980 were handled badly and
Often a prudent compromise was sought between the
need to protect minors, the "resocialization" of the
offender, and damage control for the parish, diocese,
institute and order or congregation.
or, at any rate, a series of conversations with
was one of the standard measures. This approach was not
different from the one used in similar cases in secular
institutes, save that punishment was ecclesiastical, and
Looking back, this handling may have been adequate in
many cases, but often it was not. One of the reasons of
the inadequacy of such procedures was the naοvetι of
Church authorities with respect to sexual deviations.
The tendency was to underestimate the seriousness of
offenses, and to believe that a well-intentioned
offender who, moreover, had gone to confession and
promised to correct himself, deserved charity and
confidence more than anything else, and had to be given
a second chance.
On top of that, Church authorities
no less than secular judicial authorities
shared an over-optimistic trust in the upcoming
psychological and psychiatric sciences. Relegating a
case of sexual abuse to a psychiatrist or psychologist
was seen as a rather solid guarantee against recidivism.
Which it decidedly was not, and still is not. The
long-term effect of psychotherapy or medication in many
cases of sexual offenders is minimal, also because the
motivation of a person to fight the hard battle with
himself can be rather artificial and dependent on the
pressure of the circumstances.
On the other hand it seems that, roughly since the
end of the '60s, the response to these offenses became
in many sections of the Church
not in all
ever more inadequate, weak, negligent.
The secular psychological trend was to emphasize the
mental sickness aspect of delinquents in general
their being patients, victims of upbringing etc.
rather than their responsibility for immoral behavior.
The element of discipline and punishment
in the case of priests and religious: penance
was not popular, and this went along with an often
glaring lack of consideration of the sufferings and
needs of the victims of crimes.
Psychology bears much responsibility for this
distorted, in fact, ideological view, and it has no
doubt deeply affected the way Church authorities reacted
to sexual abuses or accusations that came to their
attention, their conduct in regard to sex offenders in
the clergy, and the attitude of many prominent Church
people and theologians toward homosexuals in general and
homosexual priests in particular.
A powerful factor in this was also fear of the media,
of public opinion; not demonstrating "liberal" views on
this issue and being "intolerant" could prompt hostile
reactions within the media and within sections of the
Anyhow, not seldomly, authorities looked away when
"pedophile" or other homosexual behaviors of priests
were brought to their attention, and if measures were
taken, it was often too much with "the cloak of
charity:" no punishment, perhaps placement in a center
for therapy, and then without checking the effect.
ZENIT: Some criticize the Church because in the past
sexually abusing priests were allowed to return to
ministry while undergoing psychotherapy. Do you think
the therapists believed that this priest could
effectively be cured, therefore once again be trusted
with children or youngsters?
Van den Aardweg: This criticism is justified. The
responsible authorities in such cases are to blame that
they did not have the prudence to wait a couple of
years, check the results of treatment, and that they did
not personally and critically follow up the case. Their
too weak reaction was sometimes the easiest way out.
It is also true that in general, psychotherapists had
too much confidence in their insights and methods.
Indeed, psychotherapy can help a minority of people
with aberrant sexual penchants such as homosexuality to
change radically and a higher percentage to improve, in
so far that their feelings lose most of their intensity
and obsessive nature, and their overall emotional
stability has sizably increased. But that often takes
years, and the best results are with those who enter
therapy out of their own initiative and not forced by
the external situation.
Also, a therapy client may fare better during therapy
for a period of time, and that may occasion a therapist
to prematurely consider him fit for returning into his
former situation; however, under renewed inner and outer
stress the chances are not slim that he will slide back
in his old pattern.
We see this not only with persons with sexual
problems, but with a variety of other neurotics and
delinquents as well. Therefore, prudence prescribes
never to place someone with these former behaviors back
in the old situation for many years at least, as he
ZENIT: What is the current relationship between
Church authorities and psychologists in working with
pedophile/homosexual priests? Has this changed over
Van den Aardweg: It depends on the individual
authority, but also on the availability of qualified
Catholic psychologists. The European reality is that
only few psychologists work therapeutically with
same-sex attractions, for this branch of therapy is
almost outlawed in the European Union that has
officially embraced the gay ideology.
Therapy of sexual deviations is short of being
treated as a violation of human rights; universities do
not transmit knowledge on homosexuality other than the
politically correct ideological slogans, let alone would
or could they give therapy courses for professionals.
Only a few Christian therapists specialize in this
As for the Church, the interest in cooperating with
these Christian/Catholic psychologists and psychiatrists
is growing on the part of especially those bishops,
prominent staff members of seminaries, individual
priests and theologians who endorse the sexual morality
of the Church.
Others, who are insecure in their opinion on this
issue, or afraid of confrontations with the media,
liberal priests and faithful, or with their own
theologians, prefer to keep psychiatrists and
psychologists who treat homosexuality as a disorder at
arm's length. But I think something is changing for the
better in this area, however slowly.
On the one hand, more younger psychologists and
psychiatrists are interested in what we may call
"Christian, or Catholic psychotherapy," that is, methods
based on the Christian view of man, marriage and
sexuality, and sexual disorientations, and which
recognize the therapeutic value of "the religious
factor," conversion, the importance of an interior
spiritual life, and of the exercise of the virtues and
fight of the vices, for mental health and character
On the other hand, as more bishops, theologians, and
priests turn to the wholehearted propagation,
explanation, implementation, and defense of the full
Catholic doctrine on sexuality and marriage
or to put it simply, making "Humanae Vitae" a
substantial part of their re-evangelization activities
they naturally seek more of the advice and assistance of
Christian/Catholic psychologists, and this is already
here and there leading to a lively and mutually fruitful