Counseling for a Lifetime

Father Jeffrey Keefe, O.F.M. Conv., a priest ordained in 1952, is also a member of the Franciscan Order, founded in the 13th century by St. Francis of Assisi. In addition, he is Father Jeffrey Keefe, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, who continues to provide a counseling service and remains swamped with work at age 88.

Subsequent to his ordination to the priesthood, Father Keefe obtained a graduate degree in education with a minor in biology as well as a graduate degree in theology.

After teaching for seven years, Father Keefe returned to graduate school to obtain a doctorate in clinical psychology in order to evaluate incoming candidates for the priesthood or religious life and assess their psychological stability for this life.

Father Keefe completed a three-year graduate program of studies at Fordham University in New York City and then took another year to complete a dissertation. He next interned at Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital in New York City, then the largest psychiatric hospital in the world.

Subsequently, Father Keefe spent the next five years on a Fellowship at Staten Island Mental Health Society, Inc., which is a clinic for emotionally disturbed children, and also served at the adjacent St. Vincent Hospital of Richmond where he assisted in outpatient psychological services to adults.

Father Keefe grew up on Syracuse’s Northside and returned to Syracuse in 1970 to be stationed at the Franciscan Friary of Assumption Church.

Though the Conventual Franciscan Order was motivated to have Father Keefe complete screening and evaluations for its own candidates, Father Keefe’s work burgeoned. With the passing of time, he has found himself working for several male and female religious orders as well as several dioceses throughout the United States and Canada. Not too infrequently, a religious order would actually fly a candidate to Syracuse. As a result, to date, he has completed evaluations of about 2,200 candidates.

For each candidate, Father Keefe gives a series of paper and pencil tests which takes about three hours to complete. The testing is followed by individually administered tests and an interview. After putting together these data and writing a report, Father Keefe offers a feedback interview with the candidate. All in all, each evaluation takes about 10 hours. The purpose of the screening is to assess that the candidate’s psychological health and suggest areas of growth.

Father Keefe has also found that his background in biology is a help because each person evaluated is a composite of physical, psychological and spiritual components.

When he returned to Syracuse, he also initially worked as a counselor at the former Onondaga Pastoral Counseling Center headquartered at the Methodist Church on East Genesee St. He was then director of the former Personal Resource Center, a psychological service, run by the Syracuse Catholic Diocese.

Father Keefe points out that some individuals prefer to see a counselor who shares the same religious values as they do. Also, a given psychological problem may be intertwined with one’s spiritual life.

Father Keefe has also taught psychology courses through the years: pastoral psychology at St. Anthony on the Hudson Major Franciscan Seminary in Rensselaer, N.Y.; adolescent psychology at the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Ind.; and Notre Dame College, now part of St. John’s University, on Staten Island, N.Y.

He points out that depression might rank as “the common cold” of psychological problems. However, he sees an increase of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to ongoing wars and increased domestic violence due to family disintegration.

Father Keefe believes that cognitive therapy, initiated by Aaron Beck at the University of Pennsylvania in the mid 1980s, has become a helpful therapy. According to Father Keefe, “Beck came up with the notion that we all have an individual set of automatic thoughts, and we tend to interpret everything that happens to us in terms of those automatic thoughts.

“Let’s say, for example, that a person goes out to his car in the morning, and the car won’t start because of a mechanical problem. The person may become upset and then enlist a number of automatic thoughts which are applied to the situation.

“For example, the individual might favor the notion, ‘Another bad day,’ or ‘Nothing good ever happens to me.’ Beck’s approach was to identify those automatic thoughts and then urge the client to come up with an alternative way of looking at the situation. For instance, a more positive approach would be for the individual to say, ‘It’s not the end of the world. I will have to get the car fixed. It will be an expense and a difficulty, but it is not a disaster.’”

However, in Father Keefe’s judgment, affect-focused dynamic psychotherapy, which has been the new thrust in psychotherapy in the last 20 years, is a more potent therapy. Affect-focused dynamic psychotherapy, which focuses on the emotions rather than on the intellect, has been proven to be beneficial and helpful for many clients.

In regard to the current news about clergy sex abuse, Father Keefe maintains, “It is certainly a sad situation. It is one that makes all priests ashamed and unhappy to see what has happened, particularly during the 1970s and 1980s.

“I believe the sexual abuse problem resulted in large measure from the situation the Catholic Church found itself in after the Vatican II Council which was held in the early 1960s. Some untoward and very liberal views became prominent in some Catholic circles, and the attitude gained ground that morals were basically relative. In addition, catechesis became somewhat careless. Laxity in morals in some circles was dubbed progressive thinking.

“But I will also say that, in my judgment, the press has overplayed the extent of the problem among Catholic clergy. Public school teachers have a substantial rate of sexual abuse of minors, as do physicians, police, fathers and stepfathers or live-in boyfriends.

“In fact, sexual abuse of minors has become almost an epidemic problem. Thus, I think sometimes people focus on scandals among clergy, yet they avoid other more egregious records of abuse.”

Since 1980, Father Keefe has also been involved with Courage, a Catholic outreach to homosexual persons who are trying to follow the teachings of the Church in regard to sexual morality. In the late 1970s, he was an adjunct Psychology professor at the St. Anthony on the Hudson Major Franciscan Seminary in Rensselaer, New York, along with Father John Harvey, a theology professor, who founded Courage. The two professors became acquainted and together gave seminars on homosexuality in Albany and Cleveland.

Father Keefe also assisted Father Harvey when he began the first Courage support group at the Mother Seton Shrine in the Battery of Manhattan. Today, there are more than 100 Courage chapters in the United States and others in eight foreign countries. Courage also holds a national conference each year. Father Keefe is in close contact with the London Courage group and visited there recently.

In 1997, Bishop James Moynihan of the Syracuse diocese, now retired, asked Father Keefe to begin a Courage chapter in the Syracuse diocese.

Father Keefe was also engaged to write an essay on the Catholic Church’s teachings about homosexuality for the most recent edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia. He has also written chapters for works on the question of homosexuality from both a scientific and Catholic ministerial standpoint.

In addition, he has written articles with regard to what he considers every pastoral minister needs to know about homosexuality. A two-part article appeared in The Priest magazine, June and July 2011 issues.

Father Keefe does some counseling with homosexual clients who strongly desire to move to predominant attraction to the opposite sex, to predominant heterosexuality. He cites clients who pursued this goal in psychotherapy and are now successfully married.

Father Keefe periodically joins a telephone conference of a dozen psychotherapists in order to discuss individual cases of men seeking change. It includes therapists in Jerusalem, Switzerland and Germany, and others around the United States.

Father Keefe is a member of The National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). Founded by Father Joseph Nicolsi, the approximately 1,000 therapist members follow an affect-focused approach to help their clients move toward heterosexual development that had been blocked by early life trauma.

Unhappy and untoward events occur, especially in the early life of a boy, that can undermine his sense of masculinity and, through the buildup of shame, shift his attraction to the same sex. The members of NARTH do not hold that a person is born homosexual, that it is impossible to change, or that to try to change is harmful. They admit that some genetic factors may be predisposing but not predetermining.

“A common pattern would be the under-involvement of the father as father and the over-involvement of the mother with the boy. Another element would be that the mother demeans the father to the boy. All three factors spawn same-sex attraction.”

In a therapeutic setting, the psychologist looks for those patterns and tries to uncover both the patterns and the feelings that were sparked by and joined to those patterns. Father Keefe maintains that affect-focused dynamic psychotherapy has been particularly helpful in releasing blocked heterosexual attractions.

To date, Father Keefe has had more experience in helping homosexual men than women. Why? He finds that women are much more cautious about revealing their homosexual tendencies, for they are fearful that their homosexual orientation might become widely known by others. Moreover, women clients do much better with a woman therapist, men with a male therapist.

However, Father Keefe also notes that attitudes are changing nowadays because people are accepting homosexuality as an alternative life style much more than they did in the past. Nevertheless, in his judgment, homosexuality is a developmental anomaly. Father Keefe maintains that when sexual desire fails to match sexual anatomy, it is evidence of a psychological problem.

Explains Father Keefe, “There is no evidence that people are born homosexual or heterosexual. Sexual orientation is a condition that develops. The so-called homosexual gene is a myth. In 2008, the American Psychological Association admitted that the beginnings of homosexuality could not be explained genetically. That is a major admission because, up to recent times, the Association held that sexual orientation was genetic.

“Up until 1973, scientists viewed homosexuality as a disorder, but now homosexuality is viewed as simply an alternative sexuality,” continues Father Keefe. “As a result, in 1973, homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). However, three years later, a poll was taken among psychiatrists, and 70 percent said that they still considered homosexuality to be a psychological maladaptation.”

Father Keefe is also active in parish ministry. He occasionally writes commentaries on Sunday Scripture readings for The Catholic Sun, the Syracuse diocesan newspaper.

Since 2002, Father Keefe has served as spiritual director of North American Lourdes Volunteers, founded by Marlene Watkins of North Syracuse. She organized the first American group of volunteers to visit Lourdes to assist the seriously sick and handicapped. Now a Public Association of the Faithful, North American Lourdes Volunteers sends 20 groups of pilgrims and volunteers to Lourdes each year. Father Keefe has accompanied groups 10 times to date and also serves on the Board of Directors of this expanding ministry.

In addition, Father Keefe provides spiritual direction for individuals who wish to deepen their spiritual life, form a more intimate relationship with Our Lord and Savior, and grow in Christian perfection based upon the biblical injunction: “Be you therefore perfect as also your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

In regard to current moral issues, Father Keefe follows the pope and those theologians who maintain that the biggest cultural problem today is that society largely has adopted the view called Relativism, whereby all morality is subjective.

Explains Father Keefe, “What an individual personally decides is right or wrong becomes that person’s basic criterion. The result follows that any objective assessment of morality is absent.”

Thus, according to Father Keefe, “The root problem is that many people fail to accept any kind of authority in making moral judgments. The difficulty is both philosophical and theological.”

MR. ALBINO, a writer-photographer, lives in Syracuse, N.Y.