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The Questions They Didn’t Ask

October 18, 2011

Last week, as part of my application to enter the diaconate, I had to undergo an extensive battery of psychological tests.  This included several multiple choice tests, a written self-narrative in response to a series of questions, and two projective psychological tests (e.g., the Rohrshach test).    One interesting feature of the exam is that the examiner (a clinical psychologist) had to review the self-narrative with me, and for a fixed list of questions required me to answer them again orally.  This was not for all the questions, and he explained afterwards that this list had been designated by the archdiocese for special treatment.

I was not surprised by some of the questions that were asked twice in this fashion:

1)  Have you ever abused children?

2) Do you have problems with drugs?

3)  Have you ever had problems with mental illness?

One question did surprise me (though perhaps it should not have) since all the men in my class have been married for at least 15-20 years:

4)  Are you a homosexual?

One question was worded oddly and might have used more amplification:

5)  Do you have any sexual addictions?

As I pondered the questions on the drive home, however, what struck me was the questions there were not asked.  First, there was nothing directly related to domestic violence.  I imagine that a careful reading of the standardized personality tests, combined with the projective psychology tests, could  discern the personality traits associated with an abuser.   But I think that this would be a much more important question to bring to the fore than “are you gay,” especially given the prevalence of domestic violence in America.   The question on abusing children was worded a bit more broadly, but in answering it the intent did seem to be pedophilia and not domestic violence.

This is closely connected with the second question that was missing:  none of the highlighted questions touched on my motivations to become a deacon.    Men are probably motivated by a number of different things:  while we are all called to the same ministry, the Holy Spirit will prompt each of us differently.  But there may also be baser motivations:  a desire to hold a place prominence and power, the desire to be a cleric (and enjoy the benefits of clericalism), a need to be in control.   Some of these are related to the traits of abusive men, particularly (if my understanding is correct) the need for control.    Again, it may be that the standard personality tests can be used to screen for these problematic motivations, but I thought that this is an issue that  should be more prominent in the testing.  There was one written question about obedience and authority, but the intent was to determine if I had problems submitting to the authority of the bishop.

Now you may think that a direct question such as “Do you see being a deacon as a way to get  more respect and authority?” would not be useful, since the answer would be “no” even from people who do see it that way.  I felt the same way about the questions above.  But in a conversation with the examiner, he said that very often on these self-narrative questions the written answer will be something ambiguous like “no, not really” and when he asks the question again orally all manner of things being to spill out.   And he said that if the oral answer is disingenuous, the projective exams often pick something up.

The third question that was not asked may not be appropriate for a psychological exam, but given the very detailed sexual history that the self-narrative required, I did find it surprising that none of the questions asked about birth control use.   There was one written question that asked generally “have you engaged in any sexual practices that the Church does not approve of” but this was not one of the questions that was foregrounded by oral questioning, and the examiner passed over this question as he was reviewing my answers.  (Besides the required questions, he did stop frequently and engage me on other questions, mostly to clarify my answer or to elicit further information.)

One might cynically say that a question on birth control does not get asked because the archdiocese does not want to know the answer.  (For what it is worth, my diaconate class averages 2.8 children per couple—with the majority of couples having two or three children.)    But, more broadly, this does raise an interesting question:  what about the intimate lives of married deacons should be foregrounded?    It is one thing to ask a series of yes/no questions for candidates for the priesthood, since celibacy is pretty straightforward.  But the experience of married deacons is going to be much more complicated.  What should the archdiocese be looking for in married men entering public ministry?  What are the warning signs that should be searched for with extra scrutiny, and what can be safely left to individual confessors and spiritual directors?   More generally, what should be the red flags the archdiocese should search for with additional scrutiny?

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34 Comments
  1. Julian Barkin permalink
    October 18, 2011 11:00 am

    Well this is quite telling. I agree with David on his viewpoints. It’s a shame that those questions were not brought up considering that the diaconate is the only married Holy Order in the Church, and shows that there is a greater focus on preventing sexual abuse/homosexuality after the recent sex scandals highlighted in the Church.

    It does also show some bright spots too; the fact that they asked David a question about obedience and authority. While it was meant to be for the Bishop, it could also show how likely a person will be willing to be true to the Church’s teaching and the Magisterium, when coupled with the “seeking position of power” question.

    Finally David, congratulations on moving up from the secular third order to a Holy Order. It is definitely a logical step considering being a devoted third order must have involved a number of practices and hones a disposition for such work in the Church. Perhaps in a quick comment or in future you can expand upon why you have chosen to be a deacon.

  2. October 18, 2011 2:09 pm

    This was really interesting to me. For several years, I have taught in our formation program for the permanent diaconate, soI certainly knew that the men had to do “psychologicals,” but I had no idea what they were asked. I have sometimes wondered about the birth control issue. Occasionally someone mentions in class, “We wanted more kids but couldn’t have them,” indirectly alluding to the question, but in fact, only a small number of our candidates have more than two children, and what they think of birth control right now is probably not what they thought of it when they were younger.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
      October 18, 2011 2:20 pm

      I have no idea if the questions I was asked are used in other dioceses, but I suspect that some version of them are. I would be interested in hearing specifics from elsewhere.

    • brettsalkeld permalink*
      October 18, 2011 8:40 pm

      I know SO many older couples with two or three kids whose attitude towards birth control is not what it was when they were younger. I suppose one could be cynical and say that it’s easy to be pro-NFP after menopause, but my experience is that there is a lot of regret out there.

      • Melody permalink
        October 19, 2011 5:37 am

        Are we assuming that someone with “only” two or three kids necessarily used artificial birth control? (Rhetorical question, Brett. I know you don’t hold this view). That’s one thing that bugs me in discussions on this subject. A lot of people seem to think that if you’re using NFP right, it really shouldn’t work very well.

      • brettsalkeld permalink*
        October 19, 2011 7:22 am

        My parents have 5 kids and their attitude towards birth control is not at all what it was when they were younger. ;) They are among many Catholics in their generation who were never really informed about Church teaching.

  3. James permalink
    October 18, 2011 3:27 pm

    In the application process in our diocese, these are in part the impediments named that could keep a man from applying to diaconate inquiry:

    _ Insanity, a diagnosed mental illness or addiction;
    _ Commission of apostasy, heresy or schism;
    _ Being ordained or in perpetual vows as a member of a religious order;
    _ Being married outside of the church or being in an invalid marriage;
    _ Commission of voluntary homicide;
    _ Performing, financing, procuring or cooperating in an abortion;
    _ Attempting suicide;
    _ Self-mutilation including vasectomy or tubal ligation;
    _ Impersonation of an ordained minister;
    _ Involvement in any activity that would be unbecoming to the clerical state or that
    would bring scandal to the Church

    There is also a full psychological profile, background check, and pre-requisite classes before a man and if married, his wife, are accepted into the diaconate inquiry. The questions you have described for the profile sound very similiar to the questions I remember.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
      October 18, 2011 4:09 pm

      Yes, I should add that earlier in the process I had a private interview with the director of the program in which I had to sign a statement saying that there were no canonical impediments to becoming a deacon. I only remember a couple, but they were similar to the ones on the list you give, except I do not remember the question about heresy.

    • October 19, 2011 6:16 am

      Self-mutilation including vasectomy or tubal ligation

      I can understand why a vasectomy would be disqualifying, but why oh why can’t a man get his tubes tied??? I can think of only one possible reason.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
        October 19, 2011 7:34 am

        Ummm….men don’t get their tubes tied: that is a procedure done on women. So, I guess I am missing something here.

      • October 19, 2011 8:31 am

        David,

        When I said I could think of only one possible reason why men couldn’t get their tubes tied, the reason was that men don’t have (fallopian) tubes. What is tubal ligation doing on a list of disqualifications for the diaconate?

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
          October 19, 2011 9:10 am

          Sorry, I guess I am slow. The way the question was asked of me was in the third person: have you ever obtained for another person an abortion or sterilization such as having her tubes tied.

      • Mark Gordon permalink
        October 19, 2011 8:57 am

        Funny, DN! I don’t think DC-U got the joke.

    • Mark Gordon permalink
      October 19, 2011 8:58 am

      In 1989, eight years before I reconciled with the Catholic Church, I had a vasectomy. Later, when I was coming into the Church, I sincerely confessed the procedure as sinful and received absolution. I was also advised by my spiritual director, my confessor and another that a surgical reversal of the procedure wasn’t required to fulfill my penance. Still, I’ve lived with regret that the other children God hoped to give us never existed, and I think often about who they might have been and what they might have added to the life of our family. This regret has only grown more acute as my son and daughter have grown into adulthood.

      That’s a long, embarrassing way of getting to my point: I am shocked that a diocese would dismiss out of hand the application of a man who had had a vasectomy, without consideration of the context and circumstances.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
        October 19, 2011 9:12 am

        If I remember correctly, this and the few other points were referred to as impediments: they might not absolutely prevent you, but they would slow the process down.

        Of course, I remember years ago, when I considered becoming a Franciscan Friar, I was told that an absolute impediment to becoming a Friar was if your parents were not married in the Church. I could never get a satisfactory answer to why that was the case.

      • Ronald King permalink
        October 24, 2011 8:19 am

        Same with me Mark. Vasectomy in ’87 after a girl and a boy and my spouse’s remark “…no more brown-eyed babies” filled with sadness and regret.

  4. Melody permalink
    October 18, 2011 4:54 pm

    Wow, the questions have changed a bit since my husband entered diaconate formation; of course that was 14 years ago. He had to answer a questionaire called the “Deacon Perceptor” which included some questions of a psychological nature; but it was more aimed toward finding out where he was in his spiritual life; and if he was oriented toward service of the Church and other people.
    I am a little surprised at some of the items in the list that James quotes. The first one doesn’t seem to differentiate between full-blown psychosis and problems with things such as depression or anxiety; which a lot of people have been successfully treated for. Also the 3rd item; there is a man in our deacon community who is a professed religious brother who has also been ordained as a deacon; it didn’t seem to be a problem.
    It also seems that there might be things in one’s past, which were repented of and confessed; should they disqualify one permanently?
    David, I agree with you that domestic abuse may be an issue which should be addressed. Except how would the question be phrased…”Have you ever beaten your wife? (a) never (b) seldom (c) only when she nags me about my drinking…”

  5. Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
    October 18, 2011 8:09 pm

    David,

    This is a great post, and you have just begun to un-pack its implications. I remember my own psychological battery at the hands of a priest of the Archdiocese of Miami who died of cancer shortly after administering the whole thing. It was all very mythological in those days. Not so many precise questions. Pictures for which you had to write a story. (I forget the name of that famous test) But somehow I feel that the central issue then as now, is the following. And I swear I am not trying to be flippant. If you admit to having ever had really hot sex, you are out. That was the vibe. That the sexual realm is, for most people, just a realm of fantisized exaggeration seems not to matter. What they want is the not-to-hot-to-trot.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
      October 19, 2011 6:11 am

      From one of the follow up posts I have generated, I learned that the specific tests administered are left to the Diocese and (presumably) the psychological consultants they select. So I guess that each diocese will have its own emphasis. But I must admit, I did not pick up a “hot sex” vibe in mine.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
        October 20, 2011 11:38 pm

        David,

        I don’t know exactly, but aren’t actually making my point. Not to get too graphic here, but sex is “hot” by its very nature if it is remotely good. Let’s leave aside the existential factoid that maturity and/or world-weariness brings that it is often not. My point is that to the extent that one is “into” it, it is “hot”. The very process of such test discourages such realities. Thus euphemisms like “the marital embrace.” ironically, at one time Catholic cultures were amongst the most “earthy” about all these maters. Somehow that was all drained away.

  6. brettsalkeld permalink*
    October 18, 2011 8:37 pm

    Yes, the phrasing of some questions leaves something to be desired. In our marriage prep, I got flagged for answering “I don’t know” to a question relating to drug use. (I wish I could remember the exact phrasing.) The priest took us aside and looked at us very seriously and said we needed to talk about something from the test. We were pretty worried. Turns out that the scantron machine only wanted a “no” answer and the fact that I had absolutely no experience of the issue in question did not mean I could answer “I don’t know.”

  7. brettsalkeld permalink*
    October 18, 2011 8:44 pm

    Thanks for sharing this David. This is really interesting and important stuff.

  8. October 18, 2011 11:22 pm

    Really interesting post. Thank you.

  9. October 19, 2011 1:11 am

    The Catholic Church is more and more immature about sexual issues and these sort of tests only confirm that. Far from erecting a bulwark against abuses and scandals, they are building the basis for further immaturity.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
      October 19, 2011 6:13 am

      I am not sure why you think that these tests reflect “immaturity” on sexual issues. A few of the questions were odd, but the great bulk of the exam seemed quite reasonable.

  10. digbydolben permalink
    October 19, 2011 1:11 pm

    Modern Catholic Torquemada: “Mr. Hopkins, are you a homosexual?”

    Gerard Manley Hopkins: “What is a homosexual?”

    Modern Catholic Torquemada: “A homosexual is a male or a female who is attracted to a member of his or her same sex. Are you attracted to a member of your sex?”

    Gerard Manley Hopkins: “These days, I am attracted only to Jesus Christ.”

    Modern Catholic Torquemada: “That’s not what I’m asking you Mr. Hopkins. Do you have an erotic attraction to the body of another male?”

    Gerard Manley Hopkins: “I believe that Christ is a male.”

    Modern Catholic Torquemada: “Does that mean that Christ’s body causes physical stirrings in you?”

    Gerard Manley Hopkins: “I do not know how to separate the physical from the spiritual.”

    Modern Catholic Torquemada: “Come now, Mr. Hopkins, don’t be coy.”

    Gerard Manley Hopkins: “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be–and, yes, I am deeply attracted to the Body of Christ.”

    • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
      October 20, 2011 11:29 pm

      Digby,

      LOL.

      Did you see the South Park episode where Cartman writes Christian Rock songs by taking whatever sentimental love ballad involving the word “baby” and inserting the word “Jesus” for it.

      If one’s spiritual intuitions are not a lot more complex and interesting than sexual desires then there is something very wrong. And not necessarily with the spirituality. Sex should be self-limiting. If it is expansive then it is not sex anymore. It is something else.

      • digbydolben permalink
        October 21, 2011 11:17 am

        Your last paragraph is so true, Peter Paul–and with the adoption of the late thespian pope’s “Theology of the Body” we now have a Church that is so obsessive about human sexuality that it would “cleanse” itself of the often homoerotic imagery of some of its greatest mystics, like Hopkins, and like Bernard of Clairvaux and John of the Cross. It really is hopeless.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
        October 21, 2011 5:13 pm

        digby,

        I share your pessimism. But at the risk of sounding like a politician on the stump: I’m an optimist. The thing is with the Roman Church historically it is not even that hard. It is such a rich tradition, with many very complex thinkers in its “ranks” over the centuries. It can surely think or pray or evolve out of this impasse. When I first left the church I embraced a kind of Buddhist non-theism as a reaction. I was so sick of what I realize now is the bad side of religion. Slowly I realized that there was nothing intrinsic to religious experience per se that has to make it rigid or limiting, and that I can enjoy it and benefit from it in all possible ways open to me. Such is always based on one’s own limitations; but what isn’t in life?? And that absolutely no tradition, (save tropes of nihilsim or extreme skepticism as I later thematized the matter) was in any way intrinsically unfree or destructive. I am truly unconflicted at this point in at once sincerely blessing others for their belief, but reserving the right to see the manifestations of that belief as amenable to friendly criticism. Or in the case of reactionaries, withering criticism.

        As a totally side issue I will bring up an issue that I have addressed online several times, and it seems hard to believe for many Catholics. I knew several guys in the seminary who were vastly more atheistic or doubting than I ever was. The moral tug of theism was always great in my soul. These guys were quite cynical about the whole thing. And several I see are big machers in various dioceses. Thus it is not inconceivable to me at all that people can pretend for their whole lives. I saw it up close. I am glad that I was never capable of that kind of pretending. I always wanted to happy.

  11. Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
    October 22, 2011 10:13 am

    digby,
    I share your pessimism. But at the risk of sounding like a politician on the stump: I’m an optimist. The thing is with the Roman Church historically it is not even that hard. It is such a rich tradition, with many very complex thinkers in its “ranks” over the centuries. It can surely think or pray or evolve out of this impasse. When I first left the church I embraced a kind of Buddhist non-theism as a reaction. I was so sick of what I realize now is the bad side of religion. Slowly I realized that there was nothing intrinsic to religious experience per se that has to make it rigid or limiting, and that I can enjoy it and benefit from it in all possible ways open to me. Such is always based on one’s own limitations; but what isn’t in life?? And that absolutely no tradition, (save tropes of nihilsim or extreme skepticism as I later thematized the matter) was in any way intrinsically unfree or destructive. I am truly unconflicted at this point in at once sincerely blessing others for their belief, but reserving the right to see the manifestations of that belief as amenable to friendly criticism. Or in the case of reactionaries, withering criticism.

  12. digbydolben permalink
    October 23, 2011 10:11 pm

    Peter Paul, except for the sanguine attitude toward institutionalized religion, I am myself now exactly like you: I feel free to investigate all religious traditions–particularly all of their mystical traditions–and to “follow” more than one of them at the same time. Also, like you, I’d never claim to be a “recovering Catholic,” because I revere the tradition in which I was raised. What I’ve noticed, however, is that its leadership has become far more negative, defensive and reactionary than it was in the heady days of my post-Vatican II youth. Most American Catholics who remain very active in that Church are glad to see the back of the John XXIII-Paul VI Church, but I miss its ecumenical spirit and its implicit optimism. At the beginning of his reign, Pope Wojtylwa said “Fear not,” and then he began immediately to put his Church into the posture of the greatest defensiveness and opposition to the modern world it had known since Pio Nono. That spirit is the opposite of the beatific joyfulness of the Church’s greatest mystics, and so I, like a lot of other folks, have left, to find bliss, if it’s still possible to find it, among the Sufis or the non-Bramanical Sanatana Dharma, or the less-puritanical Mahayanists, etc. And always, of course, Teresa of Avila or Francis of Assisi pulls one back, and then Josef Ratzinger pushes one away. Ultimately, though, I am absolutely certain that “God is one,” and that He “saves” all who call out one of HIs many names.

  13. Ronald King permalink
    October 24, 2011 8:20 am

    David, Did he administer the MMPI?

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
      October 24, 2011 9:28 am

      I believe so, if one of those M’s stands for Minnesota. Or at least he used the first 370 questions of it.

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