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Local Psychologist Discusses Causes of Sexual Abuse

Dr. Eduardo Azcarate, a clinical psychologist and the director and founder of the Youth Apostles Institute in McLean, recently discussed the sexual abuse scandals that have occupied the minds of many in the Church in the last few months. Azcarate likened the flood of abuse allegations to a dam breaking. "When a dam opens up, all kinds of things come out," he said. "When people see this bandwagon forming, it gives them a sense of security that they can publicize this type of situation and not be labeled as a bad person. It takes people a long time, perhaps a lifetime, to recoup from these problems." A society that is more open about sexuality and the issue of abuse has also perpetuated the tide of allegations, Azcarate said. At the same time, however, he noted that most of the cases coming to light are old. "This seems to be a rash of old cases of abuse; I don’t see many cases from the last 20 years or so," Azcarate said. "I’m not saying that it’s not a horrible thing, but perhaps this is a blessing that these incidents are coming to light." In trying to determine the reasons why a priest, or any adult, might commit such a crime, Azcarate pinpointed psychosexual immaturity as one of the root causes. "The perpetrators of these horrible acts are people who have some doubts about their sexuality," Azcarate said. "They have questions about their sexuality that have not been worked out." Azcarate pointed out that most of the abuse cases being reported have involved adolescents rather than young children. He explained that a psychosexually immature person would feel more comfortable around an adolescent due to the youngster’s perception of the experience and maturity of the adult. "The abuser perceives a degree of authority over the victim," Azcarate said. "And oftentimes, the victim himself has emotional and psychological difficulties that make him more vulnerable." In addition to actual psychological disorders, Azcarate blamed a lack of education and supervision for many of the abuse cases that have come to light recently. "Parents are not addressing the issue of sexuality with their children," he said. "Both on the level of teaching their children about healthy boundaries, and on the level of creating an environment that allows children to ask questions about their sexuality and explore their doubts and feelings." Lack of parental supervision of children’s interaction with other adults has also led to abuse. "If your child was spending hours every day alone with the priest without an explanation, wouldn’t you start to wonder, start to ask questions?" Azcarate asked. He asserted that the job of educating children about human sexuality is first and foremost the responsibility of the parents, and that parents need to be informed as to what to say to their children. "But there will always be those parents who fail in that responsibility," Azcarate said. In terms of remedying the situation, Azcarate affirmed the importance of the bishops’ call to education in the context of formation of conscience. "It is the responsibility of the Church through faithful Catholics, to serve as a vaccination against the ways of the world," he said. "Children need to know about human sexuality, certainly in an age-appropriate context. These are delicate subjects to address, and if the children don’t hear it from their parents or those faithful to the Church, they will hear it from their peers or the media." Continuing formation in human sexuality is also important in the seminaries, Azcarate said. "Sexuality is a lifelong learning experience for everyone," he said. "Formation in human sexuality in the seminaries needs to be more than just one class. There’s been very little openness about this problem until now, but I think things are being done." Azcarate also responded to those who would say that a candidate for the priesthood who describes himself as having a homosexual orientation is not fit to be a priest. Returning to the issue of a certain maturity with regard to sexuality, Azcarate placed the onus of responsibility on those who screen and evaluate candidates in the seminaries. "It is the responsibility of those screening candidates to determine the individual’s psychosexual maturity," he said. "Even if we agree that the psychosexually mature ideal is a heterosexual, I think the emphasis should be on the degree of psychosexual maturity and the ability and willingness of the candidate to live a life of celibacy." Azcarate continued, "I think it’s an extreme statement to say that anyone with a homosexual orientation is incapable of being a priest," he said. "But if there is a candidate who is a homosexual who is trying to hide it, or who is not comfortable himself and still has questions about his sexuality, then that particular person has no place in the seminary." He emphasized his agreement with Belleville Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who said he would not wish to see the priesthood filled with homosexually oriented men. But Azcarate also pointed out that such candidates may need greater supervision and direction during their seminary years.

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2002