Magazine article Anglican Journal

Addicted to Porn: Understanding This Destructive Behaviour

Magazine article Anglican Journal

Addicted to Porn: Understanding This Destructive Behaviour

Article excerpt

THE CASES ARE high profile, shocking and mystifying to former flocks and colleagues of the priests charged. Last September, Roman Catholic Bishop Raymond Lahey, former Roman Catholic bishop of Antigonish, N.S., was charged with possession and importation of child pornography after being stopped at the Ottawa airport. Just weeks before, he had been lauded for negotiating a $15-million settlement for victims of sexual abuse by priests in his diocese.

In another case last December, a well-known priest in the Anglican diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador was charged with five counts of possession and distribution of child pornography. Toronto undercover police investigators alleged they received pornographic images of children over the Internet from the Rev. Robin Barrett, rector of the Goulds parish, near St. John's. Both cases are still before the courts.

Most baffling to many observers is how a priest could engage in behaviour that harms children. One common thread appears to be the ability to compartmentalize or separate conflicting behaviours, says an expert who treats clergy with addictions, including pornography.

Sam Mikhail, a psychologist and clinical director at the Southdown Institute in Aurora, Ont., said addicted clergy compartmentalize their dual lives to cope with serving parishioners while privately feeding a harmful compulsion.

Southdown, a non-profit facility that opened in 1965, treats clergy with a spectrum of mental health problems. Most clients are Roman Catholic, but the Salvation Army, Seventh Day Adventists and Anglican churches use the facility, too. (It is unknown if either Lahey or Barrett are being treated at Southdown, as the facility does not comment on patients.)

Another common theme among clergy who consume child pornography is that many refuse to consciously acknowledge that children are involved against their will, observed Mikhail.

In a typical case of pornography addiction, a priest will commence treatment at Southdown after being referred by a superior. Sometimes clergy will come forward on their own; often they are caught.

The institute begins treatment with a comprehensive psychological and emotional assessment, and history of psychiatric problems. Five different professionals, including a psychiatrist, a psychologist and an addictions counsellor, examine the patient.

Psychologists administer the Abel test, which looks at a person's predominant sexual interests. …

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