Church tackles sex addiction in ranks Institute offers aid to troubled clergy

February 15, 1993|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,Staff Writer

SUITLAND -- As a hospital chaplain, Father Adam can relate to chronically ill patients for reasons that most of his colleagues who wear the Roman Catholic collar cannot.

"I was an alcoholic and a sex addict," says the 45-year-old cleric. "I know what it is to have a disease, to work toward recovery, what effort it takes to get well again."

When he arrived at the St. Luke Institute here as a patient eight years ago, Father Adam -- a pseudonym he uses to protect his identity -- was an overweight, vodka-guzzling priest yanked from his parish by church officials who learned of his sexual involvement with teen-age boys.

In nine intensive months, he was on the road to recovery, his unbridled passions reined in, his vocation reformed. Then, as now, Father Adam represents the Roman Catholic Church's most troubled clergy and its most troubling pastoral problem, sexual misconduct by priests. St. Luke's, on the other hand, offers the church hope in rehabilitation and restoring faith in a hierarchy accused in the past of unwitting complicity.

Upon Father Adam's release from St. Luke's, his superiors offered him a job as a hospital chaplain, an assignment that did not include St. Luke's.

It was an assignment aligned with the facility's policy of "never" permitting a patient to perform direct services to children at the conclusion of treatment.

The only Catholic psychiatric hospital of its kind in the nation, St. Luke's serves clergy with problems that include depression, chronic alcoholism and eating and sexual disorders. Since 1980, about 600 clergy -- men and women from 96 dioceses, including Baltimore -- have been treated at this former Catholic convent in suburban Prince George's County.

"We're here to help people move away from their abusive practices, not to hide them," said the Rev. Canice Connors, a psychologist and St. Luke's executive director.

From Albuquerque, N.M., to Boston, victims of sexual abuse by priests have accused church leaders of being unknowing accomplices in past incidents. Former altar boys have charged the church with perpetuating the cycle of abuse because an offending priest would often be sent for spiritual counseling and then transferred to another parish where he abused others.

Increasingly, the church has responded to these allegations with a commitment to deal with wayward clergy quickly and make reparations for their misconduct. On Feb. 22-23 in St. Louis, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops will convene a special church conference on clergy sex abuse that will be chaired by St. Luke's executive director.

St. Luke's espouses a modern-day mission to an age-old problem. It treats sexual misconduct as a mental disorder, an addictive behavior able to be controlled but not cured. The regimen of therapy -- often accompanied by daily doses of a drug that inhibits sex drive -- is akin to the treatment prescribed by the psychiatric community's experts in the field.

The demon often is denial, an offender's refusal to see his behavior for what it is. In Father Adam's case, however, the cleric quickly admitted his twin compulsions of booze and sex when confronted by his superiors.

"I was an isolationist, [had] low self-esteem, could not build intimate or satisfying relationships with people and thought I would get the gratification and intimacy needs met by acting out sexually," Father Adam said.

His drinking predated his ordination 20 years ago. Beer, bourbon, Margaritas, the drink didn't matter. He eventually settled on tumblers full of vodka, sometimes a half-gallon in a sitting. At St. Luke's, his regimen involved detoxing from the booze, coping with his sexual impulses, grappling with anger, learning to understand and change his behavior.

"Mine did not start out to be abuse of minors. Mine was basically just cruising for anonymous sex on the streets," said Father Adam, whose sexual addiction surfaced in his mid-30s.

"What I really wanted was the intimacy and the nurturing. There's a buildup in the addiction process. It's an insanity that speaks to your brain -- if you could only have more sex, better sex . . . then you'll have what you want. It will forever let you down.

"That was the trickery behind it. After the fact, I would want to die. "

While at St. Luke's, Father Adam began taking Depo-Provera, a drug that inhibits sex drive.

"It allowed me to be comfortable spending time with people and finding out I could socialize with people without being preoccupied with having sex," Father Adam said of the drug he took for two years.

"I arrived there pretty toxic. I was not really in touch with how much harm I had done to others, especially the boys. As I detoxed, my mind got very clear. I was asked to detail my sexual pattern of acting out. It was then I got in touch with how damaging [I had been] to these individuals. That was very painful for me to face."

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