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Psychological testing is being used in many Catholic seminaries throughout the United States as a weapon against conservative candidates.
Instead of psychology being used for the good of the individual aspirant and for Holy Mother Church, it is being used to weed out traditional-leaning candidates.
Gay gatekeepers on seminary admissions boards have become adept at using psychological reports, tests and pseudo-psychological euphemisms to keep out traditionally minded straight men. Some of these rejected aspirants told me that their psych report said they were "too rigid, too intolerant and just not the right type of man to be a priest!"
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the "bible" of psychologists) does not use such nonscientific terms as "rigid" and "intolerant." Nevertheless, these terms are employed to help keep good men out of the seminary. But such dispositions are certainly not psychoses or even a minor form of mental illness.
Despite the practice being contrary to the Code of Canon Law and being antithetical to Jesus' way of recruitment, this misuse of psychology continues. Nowhere in the course of Our Lord's active ministry did Jesus require a potential disciple to sit down for a day of rigorous psych screening before becoming a follower.
Bear in mind, I am not against the use of psychology for the betterment of man: the diagnosis and cure of mental illness. I am against psychology being used as a weapon.
No mere psychological report, standing on its own, should preclude someone from the reception of Holy Orders.
The Code of Canon Law only precludes someone from the sacrament of ordination if they present themselves for the sacrament while in a state of grave sin or if the person "labors under some form of amentia or other psychic illness due to which, after experts have been consulted, he is judged unqualified to fulfill the ministry properly (canon 1041).
The word amentia is a Latin term for the lack of a sound mind. Etymologically, it's not too far off from our English word "dementia." Understandably, if a man should be diagnosed with some neurological disorder, it would be imprudent on the part of any bishop to ordain him.
Similarly, there are many psychic illnesses that a competent psychiatrist may diagnose a man with, which would preclude him from being ordained. But one shouldn't be precluded from ordination simply because he is of a conservative bent or some see him as "rigid."
My recent interaction with some seminary applicants showed that this biased, unfair screening is indeed happening. While offering spiritual direction to these men, I discovered that psychology was used as a weapon against their matriculation into seminary.
Two cases stand out. To protect their anonymity, I'll describe their experiences in general terms.
The first man, in his mid-20s, who self-identified as "leaning conservative," applied for admission to what is considered to be a conservative seminary.
As is now routine, this seminary requested that he obtain a psychological report. He complied with the seminary's request and met with the psychologist.
When the time came for this man to see the admissions board, the candidate was summarily rejected.
The applicant explained to me that the board said that, based on the psych evaluation, he was not "suitable seminary material." When he asked for a copy of the report, the board told him that it doesn't give applicants a copy — explaining that it was "for their own good."
I helped him obtain a copy, which disclosed he was officially rejected because he suffered from dysthymia (low-grade depression) and took a low-dose antidepressant.
In other words, the dismissal was not based on deficiencies in his moral character or a lack of piety or a violation of canon law.
Indeed, he had submitted a letter from his pastor, attesting to his good standing in his parish, as well as other recommendations attesting to his good moral character and piety.
When I heard why this young man had been rejected, my gut response was to shout, "Who in America today is not suffering from dysthymia?"
If the young man had schizophrenia or was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, then that would be another matter. But dysthymia? I know some very good priests who suffer from this condition and take antidepressants.
But it became clear that the man was not actually rejected because of dysthymia; it was because of his traditional, conservative leanings. The diagnosis was used as a pretext to screen him out of a priesthood ever-increasingly hostile to traditional candidates.
Another man also recently shared his discouraging experience of being booted based on weaponized psychological testing.
This man, who is in his early thirties and is also of a conservative bent, applied to a so-called conservative religious order. Even before having the customary preliminary conversation with the community's admissions director, he was instructed to get a psych exam from a psychologist whom the religious community recommended.
He complied, and, as part of the routine of completing the psychological work, signed the consent form required by HIPPA law to have the confidential report forwarded back to the religious community.
Shortly after his meeting with the psychologist for the workup, he received a phone call from the community's admissions director. The director said that his psychological test revealed some "red flags."
The director indicated one of the tests administered showed that he had the "propensity" to become a "sex abuser." The man later learned that this was based on the unreliable "Abel assessment."
Just as I did with the first candidate, I helped him obtain a copy of the report.
The report revealed that the psychologist had completed an hour-long interview with the applicant and administered the MMPI, the standard personality test, as well as the unreliable Abel assessment.
The significant thing about the man's psych report was that his results showed nothing abnormal. There were no "red flags." Not one. No evidence whatsoever of serious neurosis or mental illness.
Even the questionable and unduly expensive Abel Test showed nothing out of the ordinary. The psychologist had even signed off on the report to this effect.
Instead of being upfront with the candidate, the admissions director used the "red flags" argument as a ruse. I suspect that the religious community's gatekeeper had issues with my directee's military background. If so, the claim of "red flags" was a wimpy way for this director to reject an otherwise qualified aspirant. After discussing this discovery with my directee, we both concluded that it was best for him to look at different religious communities.
But let's return to this new screening tool called the Abel assessment — too often used and abused by vocation directors. Research into this test shows that it is too often unreliable and used against conservative candidates.
One priest, a respected clinical psychologist, told me that "the Abel test is just bunk!" Another clinician who completed the Abel training at the behest of her employer told me that after the tutorial, she was left with more questions than answers.
I started getting inklings of how psychiatry can be used as a weapon when I myself was a young man discerning a vocation.
When I first joined the Franciscans in 1979, the friars did not, at that time, require their applicants to undergo psychological testing.
But by 1995, when I sought admission into Mundelein Seminary in the archdiocese of Chicago, things had changed considerably, and a completed psychological was required for admission. The seminary claimed that this was to screen out "undesirable" candidates.
To be accepted, the vocation director had me undergo a psych exam. The director at the time was Fr. Terrence Keehan — who has since become famous for, among other things, "blessing" his congregation with a guitar instead of with the Blessed Sacrament.
Fortunately, God granted me some savviness in this endeavor. In 1995, as director at the Clearbrook Center for the Developmentally Disabled, I became aware of the flimflam that occurs with psychological testing.
I learned that psych reports in the mental health industry are used, in large part, not for the care of the patient but for billing purposes. As most mental health care requires big bucks, upon admission and discharge, psych reports are carefully screened by the administration, as the funding for the facility largely depends on these reports.
The analysis of a psychological review requires diligence. It is complicated, and if it is not done carefully, problems arise.
Keehan recommended that Dr. Marc Slutsky administer my preadmission psych evaluation. Slutsky showed up 45 minutes late for the appointment.
The testing included a 45-minute interview, as well as the Rorschach test and the MMPI. It did not include IQ testing or any other cognitive function tests. At Clearbrook, psychologicals that included the full gamut of IQ tests and personality tests were half the price that Slutsky charged. I knew this firsthand as director, as I signed off routinely for these sorts of expenditures.
When I asked Slutsky for a copy of his report, his response was, "Oh, for the archdiocese, this is generally not done."
To this rebuff, I made the rejoinder, "As the client who paid for this report, I would like a full copy. I can easily make a complaint against you at the department of mental health, whose staffers I know personally."
I did not exaggerate my point one bit. As the director for a couple of dozen facilities funded by the state's mental health department, I did have friends in high places in the home office in Springfield.
Subsequently, I got word back from the archdiocese that they had received the psych report and my physical and were ready for me to see the admissions board. My board experience was rather perfunctory, and after about a 45-minute conversation with the three faculty members who comprised the board, I was given the green light for admission into Mundelein.
But passing the admission board was not so easy for other men who applied. From other seminary aspirants, I learned how psychology was used to weed out some who were deemed "undesirable."
In the winter of 1995, when I was going through the hoops of being admitted into Mundelein Seminary, one of the programs I participated in was called "Insearch," designed to encourage spiritual conversation about the priesthood among the aspirants. My group, consisting of about 12 men, met weekly at the cathedral rectory to talk about our aspirations to become priests.
I was one of the older participants in the group. At age 35, having my own home and a new car, many of the younger men confided in me over issues they faced in the admissions process.
One applicant, 10 years my junior, confided that during his board, it was shown that his psych report labeled him as "rigid." And because of this label, he was turned down. I explained that there is no such psychological diagnosis as "rigid," and such terms are not to be found in the DSM.
As he had no copy of the psychological exam used against him at his board, he had no recourse whatsoever to challenge what was said. His case was profoundly sad, and this was my first observation of psychology being used not to man's aid but to a man's detriment.
This sincere man who could've been a faithful shepherd to God's flock dropped out of our Insearch group after his misgivings with the admissions board. Discouraged, he shelved the pursuit of the priesthood. For a number of years, we kept in touch. And despite this vocational setback, he remained a faithful Massgoer and practitioner of the Faith.
I got by as a Mundelein seminarian by steering clear of gay seminarians. I holed up in the library completing first an S.T.B., then a Master of Divinity and, lastly, starting a licentiate in systematic theology.
I was at Mundelein Seminary in the mid-90s. Michael Rose wrote his landmark book Goodbye, Good Men about just such a time and place. Rose's book uncovered the radical liberalism that has infiltrated the Church, roadblocking good candidates for the priesthood.
With the gatekeepers on admissions boards using psychiatry to prohibit many good men from entry, it begs the question: Who do they let enter? What kind of men are given a green light for the priesthood? Sadly, the compromised vocation directors and admissions offices admit, in many cases, men who are far from good. And in time, these same men won't become good priests. But this is for another article.
A final note to applicants: As a matter of best practice, I would advise no one to sign a consent form that allows a psychological evaluation (or even a physical one) to be forwarded to anyone without first perusing the report thoroughly and retaining a hard copy for one's own records.
Weaponized psychology is a demon that has taken up residence in too many of our seminaries and chancelleries. It's time to exorcise this demon. To fully do so, clerics have to demand that seminary boards and chancellery staff be better and call them to task when a cleric's civil or canonical rights are violated.
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