November 9, 2018

Monk who studied clergy sex abuse works in celibacy formation

Benedictine Brother John Mark Falkenhain, left, speaks on Oct. 25 with archdiocesan seminarian Liam Hosty in the auditorium of the Mother Theresa Hackelmeier Memorial Library at Marian University in Indianapolis. A licensed clinical psychologist who has researched clergy sexual abuse, Brother John Mark gave a presentation that day on the current clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Church. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Benedictine Brother John Mark Falkenhain, left, speaks on Oct. 25 with archdiocesan seminarian Liam Hosty in the auditorium of the Mother Theresa Hackelmeier Memorial Library at Marian University in Indianapolis. A licensed clinical psychologist who has researched clergy sexual abuse, Brother John Mark gave a presentation that day on the current clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Church. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

As Benedictine Brother John Mark Falkenhain concluded an Oct. 18 presentation at Marian University in Indianapolis on the current clergy sexual abuse crisis, he exhorted his listeners to help bring a solution to this troubling aspect of the life of the Church today.

“We really do need everybody in the Church to not walk away from the problem, but to do everything that we can as a Church to solve this and hold everyone accountable to be a better Church and a better people,” said Brother John Mark. “It hurts. But conversion often is a difficult process.”

Brother John Mark knows well the difficulty and hurt brought about by clergy sexual abuse. More than 20 years ago as a lay Catholic, he researched the phenomenon on his way to earning a doctorate in clinical psychology at Saint Louis University in St. Louis.

Spending years researching some of the worst behavior of priests and religious, though, did not prevent him from later discerning that God was calling him to religious life.

Brother John Mark entered Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad in 2002, the same year in which a clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Church broke into the open.

“I had spent much of my adolescent and young adult years around religious brothers and priests in high school, college and graduate school,” Brother John Mark said in a recent interview with The Criterion. “I was able to see them for who they are: generous, earnest and sincere, even if sometimes flawed, men who reflected in many ways the person I experienced myself to be—not holy and perfect, but seeking God and striving for holiness through prayer and hard work and community.”

The formation he received after he entered Saint Meinrad and his previous research in clergy sexual abuse has put Brother John Mark in a good position to assist in formation for celibacy at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad, Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis and several other seminaries and religious communities across the country.

Brother John Mark’s education, formation and work as a licensed clinical psychologist in Indiana and Missouri has helped him see improvements that should be made in formation for celibacy.

“It became fairly clear to me that while the Church was not ‘creating’ sexual offenders, there was still more we could, and should, be doing to ensure that all those pursuing a life of celibacy were getting the formation they needed to be emotionally and psychosexually healthy,” he said, “and to discern a life of celibacy based on proper motives and with the proper freedom that comes with adequate knowledge and honest acceptance of who one is as an emotional and sexual person.”

Since the 2002 clergy sexual abuse crisis, the Church in the U.S. has made significant strides, Brother John Mark noted, in developing policies to prevent abuse of minors in Church ministries.

Changes have also been made in the way men are formed for ordained life and ministry.

“In the last 15 years, our celibacy formation programs at Saint Meinrad have expanded in terms of time, resources and level of organization, and I’ve been pleased to be a part of that,” said Brother John Mark, noting that a broad range of topics are addressed in the programs. “These, in addition to a strong grounding in the theology of celibacy, are all important dimensions of our current formation efforts which have been pointed out to us by the research on sexual offending and psychosexual health.”

He also noted that evaluating potential seminarians and those seeking to enter religious life requires a careful balance between acknowledging that every person has flaws and can benefit from formation with recognizing the need to screen out those who might be more likely to become offenders.

Brother John Mark particularly emphasized the importance of dioceses and religious communities providing “systems of support and accountability” to help clergy and religious, “flawed and vulnerable human beings like the rest of us who, while capable of ongoing growth are also vulnerable to various psychological and spiritual ills that cannot always be foreseen or prevented.”

“I do believe that we are learning from the research on clergy offenders and from past experience how better to screen our candidates,” Brother John Mark said, “how better to form candidates, and how better to help the young men in our charge to discern whether they are genuinely called to the life of celibacy, self-gift and the humble use of power and influence that the priesthood and religious life demand.”

In addition to his research on clergy sexual abuse and service in forming seminarians and religious for celibacy, Brother John Mark is a fellow in human formation for the Saint Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Md., a mental health education and treatment organization for priests and religious.

All of this research and experience helped Brother John Mark author a soon‑to-be-published book, titled How We Love: A Formation for the Celibate Life.

“I have really grown to recognize that the goal of the celibate life—like every vocation in the Church—is growth in our capacity to love,” he said. “Celibates love in different ways than married men and women and parents and even single people in the Church, but love in the form of laying down one’s life for God and others is the goal.”

He knows from experience that this is the case in his own life as a celibate religious.

“[It] has challenged me and forced me to lay down my life in unexpected ways for others, and has driven me to a deeper and more intimate relationship with God, which I hope spills over into my interactions with my confreres, students, friends and family,” Brother John Mark said. “It has been a great privilege to help form young men and women in this way of life, and hopefully to contribute in my own way to the healing of the Church and the restoration of peoples’ faith in the Church.” †


Related: Demanding program of human formation shapes future priests amid Church crisis

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