Predators in Church a Minority of Sex Offenders

Article excerpt

Can ordained sex offenders be treated successfully enough so they can be trusted back in the church community? That depends on the kind of offender, say experts who have worked with such clergy.

The most common type of offender acts under stress, says Mary Wells, a Toronto-based social worker and consultant. She helps develop misconduct policies for churches and assists with investigations.

"By far the majority involved in misconduct lack the skills to identify dynamics in relationships," Mrs. Wells said. "Things get away from them. They are under some life stress; they rationalize that their behaviour is okay. Very few involved in misconduct are predators."

Predators have many victims and are immune to the feelings of the people they have exploited, she said.

Schools of theology are partly to blame for the deficiencies of the first group, she said. Clergy are seldom given the tools to identify the dynamics of what's going on.

"Most clergy I see can be rehabilitated," she said. "That doesn't mean the impact on the exploited person is less."

Dr. Richard Gilmartin, a Toronto-based psychologist who has treated clergy sex offenders, uses similar categories but adds a third.

Predators are usually resistant to treatment and represent a continual threat, he said. They must be removed from any possible contact with potential victims. Their numbers are relatively small.

A second group of offenders he calls "naive."

"They feel they can express their affection physically," Dr. Gilmartin said. "They have very little understanding of boundaries. They are naive about relationships and get into situations."

Because they are clergy, however, they are responsible for those "situations" even if parishioners seduce them, for example. These people need to be educated to understand the concepts of power and transference and to become psychologically sophisticated, he said.

Seminaries tend to address sexuality only from a moral standpoint, he said. They must also focus on relationships and intimacy.'

"When they offend, these people are relatively easy to treat," he said. "Treatment is mainly about helping them to understand the impact on others and the effects of their offence."

The biggest category of offender is that of the psychologically needy, he said. Many of these clergy are emotionally immature and may enter relationships with teenagers without understanding the inappropriateness. Many clergy have difficulty forming and sustaining intimate relationships, he noted.

"They tend to use sex as a way of achieving intimacy."

Even more common than immature clergy, however, may be those who are fighting depression. "Many people jump into a highly stimulating behaviour as a way of avoiding depression. Clergy aren't supposed to be depressed, especially not males."

People looking to avoid depression may turn to alcohol or drug abuse, gambling or Sexual acting out. …

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