Narcissism leads abusers to double life

January 23, 2012
DEBORAH GYAPONG
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS

Bishop Raymond Lahey's double life while serving as a bishop in the Catholic Church might partly be explained by narcissism say experts who have worked with troubled or accused priests.

In December, the forensic psychiatrist who examined the 71-year old bishop told Lahey's sentencing hearing, he was a homosexual who had been involved in a "number of one-night stands" before entering a 10-year relationship with a man that he hoped to continue when he got out of prison.

Lahey is not a pedophile, or an ephebophile (an exclusive attraction to peri-and post-pubescent boys), though he is attracted to teenaged boys, the court heard. Nor does he need psychiatric treatment.

Lahey has also confessed to being addicted to pornography, with more than 150,000 images or videos on his computer.

"What causes a man to maintain this kind of double life for so long is basic narcissism, the idea that I'm entitled to this, I can do whatever I want; if I want to lead a double life I'll have a double life," said psychologist Peter Kleponis.

ADDICTION ESCALATES

Kleponis has worked with priests who have sexually abused minors as well as with men addicted to pornography, which is his specialty. As with any addiction, one develops a tolerance and porn addiction can veer into fetishism, violent sex or child porn in order to get the same thrill, he said.

Narcissism can grow as priests climb the ladder and become bishops, thinking of themselves as a prince of the Church who is above everything, he said.

"Narcissism is very common in addicts, because even though they know what they are doing is bad, and know it is wrong, they decide, 'I'm going to do it anyway,'" Kleponis said from his office in West Conshohocken, Pa.

Kleponis and his colleague Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, a psychiatrist who is a consulter to the Congregation for Clergy in the Vatican, have worked in dioceses across the United States.

"Severe narcissism is a major reason why a priest or other men choose to sexually abuse a minor," Fitzgibbons and co-author Dale O'Leary wrote in the article "Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Clergy" in the August 2011 issue of the Linacre Quarterly, the journal of the Catholic Medical Association in the United States.

"Not having one's needs met during childhood can create a situation in which a person believes they must meet their own needs."

In a separate article, Kleponis and Fitzgibbons said in treating large numbers of seminarians, priests and religious for more than 35 years, they have learned there is "a direct link between unresolved anger from childhood and later rebellion against the Church's teachings on sexual morality and sexual acting out."

WOUNDED PRIESTS

"Some men are more susceptible to sexual temptations because they suffer from psychological conflicts of loneliness and sadness, weaknesses in male confidence, excessive anger, anxiety, selfishness, and/or having a history of childhood sexual abuse," they wrote.

All of those factors "make it harder to resist temptations to self-pity, narcissism, envy, rebellion against authority, substance abuse, sexual fantasy, masturbation and sexual acting out."

Fitzgibbons, who wrote an open letter to the U.S. bishops at the height of the sexual abuse crisis in 2002, said at the time that those who were treating priests who engaged in pedophilia or ephebophilia found that those priests "almost without exception suffered from a denial of sin in their lives."

"They were also unwilling to admit and address the profound emotional pain they experienced in childhood of loneliness, often in the father relationship, peer rejection, lack of male confidence, poor body image, sadness and anger," Fitzgibbons wrote.

Their anger was often directed at the Church, the pope and other religious authorities. This also led to their treating others, including children, as objects.

Richard Sipe, who spent 18 years as a Benedictine monk and priest, and has authored eight books on clerical celibacy and/or the clerical sexual abuse crisis, said the Lahey case did not surprise him.

"It's very easy for priests as they move up in administrative levels to establish a sexual life," Sipe said from his office in La Jolla, Calif.

Those with double lives can be either homosexual or heterosexual, he stressed, noting the recent resignation of Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala after revelations he had fathered two young teenaged children in an ongoing relationship with a woman.

A myth has been perpetrated that priests and bishops do not have sexual lives, Sipe said. "There are volumes of case histories that record this kind of behaviour."

Sipe said Lahey's case seems to be paradigmatic of a priest who was underdeveloped sexually and as an adult began casting about the way an adolescent would as he discovers his sexuality.

"It is actually alarming, they're still adolescents in terms of their curiosity," Sipe said. Many of the priests who became involved with children were "immature men looking around for a meaningful relationship and they got caught in a sexual trap."

EASY OUT

During the 1970s and earlier, before being "out of the closet" was socially acceptable, some men went into the priesthood so no one would ask them why they never married, said Kleponis.

In the 1970s, there was more homosexual activity in seminaries than there is now, and some men who became sexually active with other men in seminary continued to remain so after ordination. Some became seminary rectors, he said.

Kleponis is not finding this tendency to run away from or hide one's sexuality is as prevalent in priests 50 and younger.

"Younger seminarians are there because they feel it's a vocation; they are not there to hide their sexuality and have no intent of leading a double life."

Lahey's type of double life is an exception, not the rule, however, among his age cohort.

HEALTHIER PRIESTS

Kleponis predicted a "much healthier Church and healthier priests."

"There is hope. There is change," he said. "There is still more purification and purging that needs to be done. It's not over yet."

Catholic teaching and sacraments provide a great help to those priests who seek healing for the hurt and anger of past loneliness or difficult relationships with their father or male peers during childhood, Kleponis and Fitzgibbons say in their article.

Sipe said more needs to be done to train priests on how to live out their celibate vows successfully.

Though he received a dispensation to marry, he said celibacy is a wonderful gift to the Church. But secrecy and cover-up over failures needs to be replaced with a full understanding of human sexuality and ways to live a celibate lifestyle in a spiritually fruitful way.

Canon lawyer Father Francis Morrisey, who has advised the Catholic Church in Canada on sexual abuse, when asked if Lahey's kind of double life is common, answered: "I certainly hope not."

"Oftentimes, provincials or superiors are the last persons to know what's going on," he said.

Morrisey said most Catholics were shocked by the revelations. "I'm just hoping the Holy See will be able to address this situation rather quickly so it's not left hanging and Bishop Lahey will be able to get on with his life."