Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Remarks on "Emotional Immaturity in Priests" by Conrad Baars, M.D.

Let me preface these remarks of Dr. Baars by saying that the problem of “emotional immaturity” is not caused by celibacy in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. In fact, according to Baars, “caelebs” or celibacy is a condition of maturity sine qua non for both married life and ministerial priesthood since celibacy is an anthropological state of self-mastery and self-possession necessary for the giving of self as gift, be it to God, be it to a spouse of the opposite sex. Concretely, he says “the person mature enough to commit to either the married or religious state of life must already have become a free, self-possessed, unique masculine or feminine celibate – for that is precisely what caelebs means: singular and alone!”
[1] But to be able “singular and alone” in the sense of the achievement of autonomy, one must be affirmed by significant others. Appositely, Ratzinger asserted: “the root of man’s joy is the harmony he enjoys with himself. He lives in this affirmation. And only one who can accept himself can also accept the thou, can accept the world. The reason why an individual cannot accept the thou, cannot come to terms with him, is that he does not like his own I and, for that reason, cannot accept a thou.

“Something strange happens here. We have seen that the inability to accept one’s I leads to the inability to accept a thou. But how does on go about affirming, assenting to, one’s I? The answer may perhaps be unexpected: We cannot do so by our own efforts alone. Of ourselves, we cannot come to terms with ourselves. Our I becomes acceptable to us only if it has first become acceptable to another I. We can love ourselves only if we have first been loved by someone else. The life a mother gives to her child is not just physical life; she gives total life when she takes the child’s tears and turns them into smiles. It is only when life has been accepted and is perceived as accepted that it becomes also acceptable. Man is that strange creature that needs not just physical birth but also appreciation if he is to subsist…”[2]

Celibacy is not the cause of psychological immaturity. It is the condition of becoming psychologically mature. To be celibate is to be master of oneself. It is a condition of making the gift of self, since one cannot give what one does not have. One must possess self.

Benedict XVI explained celibacy in terms of the priestly tribe of Levi not being apportioned any part of the Promised Land. Their portion was to be the Lord Himself. As such, celibacy is superior to the sacrament of matrimony as already being the state of self-gift to God that matrimony is ramping up to. He said:

“The solely pragmatic reasons, the reference to greater availability, is not enough: such a greater availability of time could easily become also a form of egoism that saves a person from the sacrifices and efforts demanded by the reciprocal acceptance and forbearance in matrimony; thus, it could lead to a spiritual impoverishment or to hardening of the heart.

“The true foundation of celibacy can be contained in the phrase: Dominus pars - You are my land. It can only be theocentric. It cannot mean being deprived of love, but must mean letting oneself be consumed by passion for God and subsequently, thanks to a more intimate way of being with him, to serve men and women, too. Celibacy must be a witness to faith: faith in God materializes in that form of life which only has meaning if it is based on God.

“Basing one's life on him, renouncing marriage and the family, means that I accept and experience God as a reality and that I can therefore bring him to men and women. Our world, which has become totally positivistic, in which God appears at best as a hypothesis but not as a concrete reality, needs to rest on God in the most concrete and radical way possible.

“It needs a witness to God that lies in the decision to welcome God as a land where one finds one's own existence. For this reason, celibacy is so important today, in our contemporary world, even if its fulfilment in our age is constantly threatened and questioned.”[3]

Spousal love of husband and wife is a progressive development of self-gift that will find its full achievement in the Parousia. Hence, celibacy is not a cause of psychic deficiency but of psychic perfection. The deficiency is the lack of affirmation that impedes achieving the state of celibacy for both matrimony and for the Kingdom. In that light, consider these remarks of Conrad Baars:

“More often than not the priest comes from a ‘fine Catholic home,’ a strict one with little emotional love. Spurred on to develop his character, train his will, and grow intellectually, his emotional growth lags behind. Neither minor nor major seminary were capable of closing this ‘maturity gap’ through authentic affirmation, and trained[4] – the word is used deliberately – him to function without the benefit of the emotional life. The consequences of this unbalanced formation have been largely disastrous.

“In our clinical practices we have seen many priests with obvious identity problems. Priests who were uncertain in their attitude toward life, felt unloved, lonely and depressed, and whether they realized it or not, awkward in their interpersonal relationships. Psychosexual immaturity expressed in hetero-or homosexual activity was often encountered. Many experienced difficulties in matters of faith, or suffered from severe scrupulosity, while a growing number of them seriously considered leaving the priesthood. Virtually all of these priests were non-affirmed men, suffering from severe to moderate Emotional Deprivation Disorder, with or without associated obsessive-compulsive repressions, scrupulosity or chronic alcoholism.

“Happily, many of them responded to our therapy by gradually maturing emotionally, acquiring a feeling of personal worth and dignity, and becoming more sure of themselves in their interpersonal relationsh8ips. Their sexual problems gradually disappeared without analytic scrutiny. Their faith and religious sentiments also benefited from their growing emotional maturity, and in the course of a few years they became happy priests capable of bringing joy and happiness to those entrusted to their pastoral care.

“Other priest who had married after leaving the priesthood sought help because of sexual impotence, depressive states and psychological conflicts and difficulties with their spouses. At times, both of them would have been only too happy if their marriage could have been dissolved. This is not surprising because in a non-affirmed priest, the search for affirmation is likely to express itself in an intense and virtually irresistible desire for tactile contacts, the very first expression of affirmation meaningful to his undeveloped emotional life. In choosing a partner he is therefore bound to make a serious mistake both in his thinking and in his feelings, and he will enter marriage devoid of the emotional capacity to establish a mutually meaningful and satisfying relationship.

“Related to this is the fact that many former priests seems to have found their partner among women either much older or younger than they, suggesting the possibility that either they enter into a relationship with an older woman in the hope that their need for affirmation will be gratified, or they prefer a younger woman with whom they can relate more comfortably on an equal level of relative emotional immaturity.

“Our clinical observations over many years have convinced us that priests in general – and some to an extreme degree – possess an insufficiently developed or distorted emotional life, while at the same time they must be considered to belong to a group of men whom nature has endowed with superior intelligence and sensitivity. In some, the causes for their emotional underdevelopment go back to childhood and remain unrecognized during the seminary years. Others enjoyed a fairly normal childhood but became emotionally disturbed through misguided ascetical practices in the seminary. Whatever the causes, however, it is a fact that the majority of today’s priest with psychological trouble suffer from some degree of non-affirmation. A smaller, but not insignificant number of priests are seriously incapacitated by obsessive-compulisve repression. Many show the symptoms of both types of disorder, often combined, at least in North America with chronic alcoholism.

“These findings also explain why the Church as a whole finds herself in a crisis. Because of the preist’s special position as mediator between God and humankind, the effects of his non-affirmation on other peple will be far more radical and widespread than in the case of the non-affirmed single or married layperson. A priest without identity without a firm sense of self-worth, cannot reveal to others their personal worth. Because he cannot affirm, he cannot love others in a way whipch strengthens both them and the Church.

“Moreover, as a non-affirmed priests depends for his sense of personal worth on the people around him, he lives in constant anticipation of what they expect from him, is fearful of displeasinf them, afraid to assert himself or to defend the truths of his faith except on a purely intellectual level. Desirous of being loved by all, he may remain silent when it is his duty to point out the errors contained in other faiths, new schools of thought, popular movements or modern osystems of education. Instead of being a source of strength and jy to the people he chose to serve, the non-affirmed priest may be said to be at the mercy –whether for good or evil, - of all with whom he comes in contact.

“Priests who remain happy in their work possess an innate sensitive appreciation of the sense goods of this world under the ready directin of intellect and will, and likewise,. An emotional appreciation of spiritual goods. IN other words, they are able to direct themselves quite easily at the objectum prout substat rationi. This necessary capacity to deny themselves certain sense goods without becoming unhappy does not seem to have been given sufficient consideration in the selection of candidates for the priesthood. In priests so disposed, the need for concrete goods will increasingly give way to a growing delight in the spiritual, with and ensuing greater expansion of mind and spirit and an ever growing happiness.”

[1] Conrad Baars, M.D. “I Will Give Them a New Heart,” St. Pauls (2008) 150.
[2] J. Ratzinger, “Principles of Catholic Theology,” Ignatius (1987) 79-80
[3] Benedict XVI, Address to the Roman Curia, December 22, 2006
[4] Baars borrows the distinction between “training” and education” from Robert and Mary Joyce whom he quotes from extensively later in the book. They say: “Training is an inadequate method of developing man’s emotional and mental life, precisely because the human creature is not an animal! Education is based on respecting children as human beings, on giving them the freedom within a prepared and safe environment with an adult to act as a guide rather than a trainer. Only in education, never in training, are children allowed to be and to become what they really are: uniquely themselves. Only when affirmed by mature parents and educators, i.e. loved for what they are [not for what they can do], even for their “otherness,” and allowed to assimilate spontaneously in their own tempo their whole being into their mental and spiritual life, only then will children find their unique identity and fulfillment, never to be plagued by an identity crisis in later life!” (158-159).
[5] Conrad Baars, op. cit. 16-19.

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