Q & A – Jan 30, 2010

Dear Father Jim 

My brother in law
has a question that he has been wanting to ask a priest for years and is afraid
to ask. He keeps wanting me to inquire for him- so here it goes:

He has paranoid schizophrenia, takes a lot of meds and has no plans for a
relationship with a woman. Even though he is heterosexual, his only sexual
outlet is masturbation. He also wants to be a very religious Roman
Catholic, he feels conflicted by the whole act of “roughin up the
suspect”… I know that masturbation is one of the “Offenses Against
Chastity” in your Catholicism – (right?) How is this addressed though in this


In terms of your question and the
“roughin up the suspect” – (I’m assuming that your saying your brother in law
is afraid to bring this up in confession?)  here’s the Catholic
perspective and my own pastoral approach.

The Church teaches that the only
place for physical sexual expression is in a heterosexual marriage.  So
any deviation is considered “sinful”.   But the Church also
understands people are human, sinful creatures – we fall short of the ideal
(hence we consider the sacrament of reconciliation/confession a gift that
Christ left us, as we keep trying…)

In the context of your brother in
law’s mental disability, the Church also would teach/understand that would
lessen his culpability.  That’s not to give an excuse to continue with the sinful behavior.  It would be meant as a counsel to help focus on how  the person keeps trying to avoid this sinful temptation/behavior rather than
focus on that they’ve “failed” and may continue to/have more difficulty than others not struggling with a similar disability.

Perhaps you can help him by finding a sensitive priest who could gently help him through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  We often think about confession solely as confessing on our sins, which can be a painfully challenging thing to acknowledge.  But an essential thing in that Sacrament that we as Catholics often forget about. I think it’s St. Augustine who said God loves us – right now – right where we’re at, right in the midst of our sinfulness and struggles… but loves us enough that he doesn’t want to leave us there either. Hope that’s helpful,

Father Jim