The topic of clergy sexual abuse has been part of the curriculum at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary for more than a decade.
Psychologist Susanne M. Harvath, the seminary's associate coordinator of human and pastoral formation and associate professor of pastoral theology, noted in an interview last week she has been teaching about the subject since she first joined the seminary staff in 1990.
Clergy sexual abuse is covered in differing degrees from personal, pastoral and theological perspectives, said Father Matthew J. Gutowski, spiritual director and assistant professor of moral theology in the seminary's School of Theology. Among the courses taught by Father Gutowski, who was interviewed with Harvath, is one on marriage, family and sexuality.
The topic of clergy sexual abuse comes up in Father Gutowski's courses and other theology classes such as "Marriage, Holy Orders and Priestly Celibacy." It is broached during discussions on the virtue of chastity and a priest's call to celibacy, in terms of the Pope's teaching on the "theology of the body" and in the Church's teaching on sexuality. Theology courses stress the immorality of the act and its sinful nature.
A standard part of Harvath's classes on human and pastoral formation, she said, is to hand out copies of the Missouri statutes on sexual abuse and the Division of Family Services' guidelines for reporting sexual misconduct of adults involving minors.
"Our students understand the legal and moral applications of that," said Harvath, a member of the archdiocesan advisory committee that investigates allegations of clergy sexual abuse of minors. Seminarians are taught that clergy sexual abuse is a crime and that the Church will report individuals committing this crime to proper authorities.
In her classes, pedophilia, which is an inordinate sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children, and other sexual disorders or addictions, are defined and warning signals are identified. The subjects, she said, are discussed "in a very frank, personal way." Harvath contended seminarians "are probably better prepared to deal with this issue" today than many social service agency staff.
The seminary not only teaches about inappropriate sexual behavior, but stresses the importance of what it means to live a healthy human and spiritual life, Harvath and Father Gutowski pointed out.
Said Harvath, "We're teaching healthy relationships and healthy support systems and support groups, and good spiritual direction and a healthy prayer life and exercise," in addition to eating and sleeping right. "We're approaching it from all angles."
Added Father Gutowski, "We want them to be healthy and holy human beings living life in a holy way."