Saturday, October 8, 2005

Psychological Evaluations of Seminarians

At some point the evidence vs. the psychological evaluation has to come to the fore. What good are they? How accurate are they?

Knowing the facts of the Erickson case posted throughout this week, and now hearing from the diocese that every time he was sent to a psychologist he received a glowing report, and add to that the number of abuse cases where those charged were sent to a psychologist who at some point declared them "okay" to return to ministry one has to seriously question the effectiveness of this "science" in dealing with issues that matter this much.

There is an added caveat here, I have experience of reading these reports from my days as a faculty member at a major seminary. One report received read: "This candidate has an abnormally high libido and will find it nearly impossible to lead a celibate life." The rector read the report and added a cover letter that he sent to the bishop dismissing the report essentially by saying "the psychologist does not share in the Christian faith," in fact the psychologist was a devout Jew. The rector also made the decision not to use this psychologist in future cases, even though he was considered to be among the best by his peers. The seminarian, who tested with the high libido, ended up being ordained, had a number of affairs--some conducted in the church parking lot and eventually left to marry. Much pain could have been averted if the psychologist's report had been heeded.

Given this experience I wonder if more sympathetic psychologist aren't searched the way the courts find sympathetic professional witnesses to bolster their cases and the blame rests on those who really do not want to face the truth but want to hear only glowing reports.

I wrote a piece in The Priest magazine almost fifteen years ago that made the conclusion that if seminaries really weeded out those not capable of living a celibate life were asked to leave that the numbers would plummet overnight--but we would have an accurate picture of those who are called and gifted as celibates versus those who think they are called and are not gifted with this charism of the Holy Spirit.

In the case of the psychologist who examined Erickson, the press should turn up the heat on them. Children have been sexually abused, two men murdered and Erickson himself tragically has committed suicide because they either didn't apply their craft rightly or were more concerned about giving the kind of report that the diocese liked to receive. Either way, they should answer for the tragedy that has unfolded because of their inability to correctly diagnose a very sick individual.

From the Winona Daily News:

6. Were there any additional psychological evaluations required of Erickson?

As required by the admittance process at St. Paul Seminary School of Theology, Erickson was evaluated in September 1996. The psychological evaluation stated: "The allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior do not appear to be significant in the context of this gentleman’s overall psychological makeup. He does not appear to be predatory or exploitative in his overall orientation and he does not seem to be a high risk for acting in a sexually aggressive or manipulative manner in the future. The alleged sexual misconduct behaviors he described to us appear to be benign."

That psychological evaluation indicated that Erickson was a heterosexual and that the major concern was that he might be vulnerable to women who would take romantic or affectionate initiatives with him.

Upon the conclusion of his theological studies, the rector and faculty of St. Paul Seminary recommended that he be ordained as a priest.