Cardinal Bertone and the importance of formation

A not-so-clever comment? A slip of the tongue? Or a grain of truth?

Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, Secretary of State of the Vatican, who is visiting Chile this week, addressed the abuse issue yesterday. On of the things he said is that there is a link between pedophilia and homosexuality:

“Many psychologists and psychiatrists have shown that there is no link between celibacy and pedophilia but many others have shown, I have recently been told, that there is a relationship between homosexuality and pedophilia.”

Now, I have no background in anything resembling medicine or psychology, and neither, it seems, does the cardinal (“I have recently been told”). I can’t say anything with any certainty about the truth of this matter. But it is striking that the majority of abuse cases in Catholic institution involve young boys. There are some homosexual elements there, it would seem. But that’s for smarter minds to figure out.

I don’t believe that Cardinal Bertone is correct here, and what’s worse, he has not been clever in making this connection while admitting that he does not really know what he is talking about. It is statements like this that get picked up by the media, torn out of context and used to further damage the Church. You would think that an experienced man like Cardinal Bertone would be smart enough to realise this. Media training would not seem to be a luxury, even on the highest levels of the curia.

Candidates for the priesthood are, if things are done correctly, thoroughly psychologically tested, not only to see if they really have a vocation to the priesthood, but certainly also to judge if they are suitable for a priestly life, which includes living celibate. It is problematic when a  man is unable to not act upon his sexual desires, be they hetero- or homosexual (or pedophiliac, for that matter). And in my uninformed opinion, that is where the problem lies: in the past decades men have been accepted into seminaries and formation houses who were not ready or suitable for that. And now we are faced with the results of that. Not to say that all men who are not able to live celibate go on to abuse minors, of course (there have also been cases of priests entering into sexual relations with adult women (or men) on a basis of mutual consent).

But imagine this: you are a priest and the Church asks that you live celibate. But you can’t: for various reasons you are unable to refrain from acting upon sexual desires. You can’t go out and find a girlfriend because you’re a priest. So what do you do? You keep it secret, find hidden ways to satisfy your sexual urges. Some men will target the easily available: people, children, under their care…

And that is why it is so very important to be as certain as one can (both the candidate and those responsible for their formation) about the psychology and suitability of the candidate for the priesthood. It is tough, difficult, but then again, that is what formation is. Christ calls some men to be priests, to represent Him in the Eucharist and the other sacraments, to transcend their human nature. That is no easy task, and we can use all the help we can get.

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