Rod Dreher asks about the failures of pastors, the most recent spectacular flameout being Billy Graham’s grandson, Tullian Tchividjian, the pastor of Coral Gables Presbyterian Church. Why?

In addition to fallen human nature, pastors have special vulnerabilities.

Some men are attracted to the priesthood or ministry because they are narcissists and enjoy being the center of attention. Narcissists do no care how they hurt other people. Such minister are attracted to megachurches and the media, and Americans in particular like narcissists, as the cult of celebrity demonstrates. Protestants, who center their attention on the preacher, are vulnerable to a cult of personality, perhaps more so than Catholics (except in regard to recent popes, some of whom have encouraged a cult of personality).

Ministers and priests, narcissists or not, often feel that other men regard them as feminized or effeminate. To prove their masculinity, they may engage in sexual conquests.

Even sincere, well-intentioned men are vulnerable to transference. Freud recognized this phenomenon, and psychiatrists are especially vulnerable to it. Ministers and priests are dealing with hurting, emotionally charged women. They can easily fall into, if not love, lust.

Transference has been described as unconscious feelings that are transposed onto another significant individual. In the strictest sense, this occurs only in therapy settings, but in a more general sense it occurs throughout life. The experience of transference might be thought of as a means used by the brain to make sense of current experience by seeing the past in the present and limiting the input of new information. Freud noticed the unusually and sometimes irrationally intense feelings that developed between patients and their analysts. He initially conceptualized the transference as the patient’s attempt to repress childhood experiences. Later he observed that feelings of love not only occurred in the past outside the therapy session, but also during the analysis itself toward the analyst.

Sexualized transference is any transference in which the patient’s fantasies about the analyst contain elements that are primarily reverential, romantic, intimate, sensual, or sexual. As early as 1915, Freud addressed this phenomenon in his paper, “Observation on Transference Love.” He described transference love as occurring when the patient openly announces love for the therapist.

At the time Freud wrote about “transference love,” the field of psychoanalysis was under attack by the public. Some of these attacks centered on reports of sexual experiences between analysts and their patients. Freud struggled with whether transference came from the real relationship between the patient and therapist or if it was entirely unreal (i.e., displaced feelings from other relationships).

Cautious pastors guard against this phenomenon. Billy Graham made it policy never to be alone with a woman. A married friend, who used to be a minister, taught at a Catholic seminary and warned his students never to touch a women during counseling, even to console her. Priests have to be alone with women in a confessional or counseling setting, and this is dangerous.  He told them always to remember that the guardian angels of both priest and penitent wee in the room with them. The students laughed at him. See the newspapers for the results of their disregarding his advice.

Then there are the priests who go after adolescent boys.

Richard Sipe thinks that the priesthood attracts homosexuals who are immature and stuck in adolescence. Such priests may be older, but they are attracted to adolescent boys of their own emotional level.

The battle against spiritual entropy is endless.


Leave a Comment