Florida Rep. Mark Foley, who resigned Friday in disgrace after it was disclosed that he had written sexually explicit e-mails to an underage congressional page, now faces possible prosecution for crimes he had publicly crusaded against.
And aside from his legal problems, Foley, who was co-chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children and has spoken out against online child exploitation, has been branded a hypocrite for his indiscretions with minors.
Psychiatrists said his contradictory actions are consistent with those of a person struggling with an internal moral battle -- one that could cause someone to live privately on the "wrong" side of his own moral crusade.
"The righteous, fervent crusading against something often may represent an attempt to keep one's own impulses under control," said Dr. Jon Shaw, director of the division of child and adolescent psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Miami.
For example, if someone believes that harming children is a heinous crime but that person is also sexually attracted to teenagers, the person might fight against his or her own forbidden impulses by campaigning to protect children's rights.
So, it seems as if Foley was living in conflict, which is not necessarily surprising, experts said.
Foley's Behavior Not Unusual
The experts who spoke to ABC News said they did not have enough information to comment on Foley's actions or diagnose his psychological condition specifically. They agreed, though, that the whole story is puzzling, although not necessarily unusual.
Dr. Martin Kafka, a clinical psychiatrist at McLean Hospital in Boston and associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, said Foley's situation is similar to what he saw during the Catholic church sex scandals, when he worked with clergy who struggled with homosexuality.
"I've seen this before," he said. "Some of these men who were struggling with homosexuality actively chose to join the clergy in an effort to suppress their homosexuality.
"But it doesn't work ... try to suppress these behaviors," he said. "These people may find what they are doing morally repugnant, but they literally cannot help it. That's why they're sick."
Something similar happened with evangelist Jimmy Swaggart, who championed moral and marital purity but was caught paying for sex in 1988.
Of course, many people who defend children's rights do not exploit children. But the experts say it's not unusual for people to fight publicly against their own private impulses.
"Pedophiles might actively champion for children's causes as a way to try to control their own impulses, or as a way to sort of cleanse their sins," said Jim Cates, a clinical psychologist in independent practice in Indiana who has worked with pedophiles in his practice.
"Lots of people have a sense of morality and a sense of themselves that doesn't necessarily match up with their behavior," said Cates. "A person could have real convictions that children should be protected yet want to act in an inappropriate manner toward these same children."
The experts suggest that for someone battling these issues, the sexual, "immoral" desires toward minors could outweigh the power of any conflicting moral principles.
"Many people who have sexual impulsivity disorders have psychiatric disorders that interfere with their ability to make sound choices, and this can include some high-functioning people," said Kafka.