Do Spiritual Direction
and Romance Mix?

Having a romance and dating in a romantic location masquerading as spiritual direction shows how the wrong context can make the so called ministry meaningless.

Romantic dates and spiritual direction do not mix. Ministerial dating in a location not fit for spiritual direction sends contradictory messages...that can only confuse the person you are directing.

The following example shows how one pastor's failure to define the context for spiritual direction lost him his pastorate.

(Click on the tabs below to open a panel. Reclick to close to minimize scrolling.)

Romance under color of spiritual direction

Father "Jim" was pastor of a well-to-do parish. As part of their training seminarians work for a year in parishes. They get to interact with the priests and the laity...with no romance involved...and they can all evaluate each other at the end of the year.

"Joe" was a 28 year old seminarian...personable nice looking and articulate...who came to stay at Father Jim's rectory for his parish training.

There was no other priest in the parish and Father Jim was eager to mentor Joe. He spent a good deal of time with Joe and enjoyed his company.

Joe was eager to learn the to speak...and listened carefully to all that Father Jim told him...usually in restaurants over wine and candle-lit dinners.

As a result of Joe's involvement in his training Father Jim was very pleased to give excellent interim evaluations of Joe to the bishop.

All went well until professionalism turned romantic. With no specified boundaries to rely on for guidance the plot thickened and then it sickened.

Father Jim felt close to his student and began to ask Joe where he had been when he was not at the rectory. He began to inquire why Joe didn't watch television with him. He made semi-humorous comments that Joe must have "a romance on the side" that takes him away on his free time.

Joe did not want to alienate Father Jim's goodwill and cause him to change his recommendations to the bishop.


This is how the power differential between the pastor and the student turns abusive. Without power over Joe's life and career in the church...Joe probably would not have complied with the pastor's sexual agenda.

So Joe began to spend more time with Father Jim.

Father Jim began to take Joe out to dinner

The 'business' part of the evening was to speak about Joe's spiritual development. Spiritual Direction is a private matter than cannot be forced on someone. But Jim went along to get along.

After these dinners...thinly disguised as spiritual direction...Father Jim always invited Joe to his room for a night cap. Joe's policy of compliance allowed sex abuse to flourish

A few years after he was ordained Joe had to leave his ministry and go into therapy for depression and alcohol abuse.

The depression was related to the sexual abuse during his year at Father Jim's parish.

And the alcohol abuse was the way he continued to deal with his memories of the sex abuse...just as he had done when it was actually taking place.

When the diocese confronted Father Jim his defense was that Joe used to drink too much as a seminarian in the parish and would then make sexual advances under the influence.

Asked why he did not include these things in his reports on Joe...Father Jim maintained that he attempted to deal with these matters in Joe's spiritual direction...which is a private matter.

Joe finally left the priesthood.

Father Jim still believes that spiritual direction is enhanced in the relaxed atmosphere of restaurant napery...candles... music...good food...drinks and wine.

In this example the lack of definition for spiritual direction and its proper context turned spiritual direction into romance and romance into spiritual direction.

This is absurd as all contradictions are. Just think if a home builder were to make windows and driveway interchangeable. He could then asphalt the window spaces and pave the driveway with glass!

According to an ancient Aristotle quote words must be defined so that communication and reasoning can take place. Chaos results when windows mean asphalt and driveways mean glass.

Spiritual direction is not only a ministry activity as we have defined it is also very much an activity that needs defined professional boundaries.

Ministers...and especially pastors...function pretty much on their own. 

Self-supervision is necessary for a ministry to remain authentic.

From this romance page you can go to sexual boundaries

Or you can...

FREE Newsletter
"The Boundary Hunter"
Sign up now...




Don't worry -- your e-mail address is totally secure.
We promise to use it only to send you
The Boundary Hunter