It’s not celibacy, but a distorted view of it, that leads to abuse
- Fr. Dwight LongeneckerFebruary 10, 2017
In the wake of Australian revelations about the scope of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy, some will once again wonder if celibacy is to blame. In reality, the problem isn't celibacy itself, but a distorted understanding of the call which led some priests to go disastrously astray.
With the release of a shocking report from Australia on accusations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests, the old question is bound to arise: “Is the discipline of celibacy to blame for sexual abuse of minors?”
The complicated question is dealt with in historian Philip Jenkins’s excellent study on the problem. Published in 2001, Pedophiles and Priests looks at the problem objectively, and his basic findings on the American church can probably be applied to the Australian situation.
Jenkins summarizes his findings in this article. He acknowledges the problem, but also points out press exaggeration and popular flawed understanding of the causes and possible solutions.
Jenkins also points out how the sexual abuse crisis spurred on progressive critics of the Catholic Church. “What else can we expect from a Church that keeps its clergy in a lifelong state of sexual immaturity,” they inveighed… “that denies the spiritual gifts of women, that preserves an authoritarian system?”
“The abuse issue illustrates the secretive workings of the hierarchy, the neglect of the laity, and the pernicious effect of celibacy,” he wrote. “For feminists, epidemic clerical abuse is precisely what their theories would predict of a patriarchal institution that permits unchecked sexual exploitation.”
The whole crisis is too complex to deal with in a short article, but it is worth examining one repeated and popular critique: that sexual abuse of children is caused by the discipline of celibacy. The usual formulation of this charge is the simplistic viewpoint that if the priests were able to have a proper, sexual relationship with a wife, they would not have abused children.
However, one only needs to nudge this seemingly obvious critique slightly and it collapses. Outside of Catholic clergy circles the majority of child sex abuse happens within the family-the perpetrators being married men. It is clear therefore that marriage, on its own, does not cure the problem of the sexual abuse of children.
Nor is the problem confined to Catholics. Protestants, whose pastors are able to marry, report similar rates of sexual abuse.
Neither does having an active sex life necessarily dampen the pedophile’s enthusiasm for underage partners. Convicted pedophiles are usually sexually voracious, and an obsession with sex may actually intensify the desire for young victims.
Furthermore, the majority of sexual abuse of minors among Catholic priests was committed against boys and adolescent young men. In other words, there was a homosexual dimension to the abuse. Clearly, these are not men who simply “need to find a good woman.”
Their particular appetites were not likely to be cured, or controlled, by marriage.
The simplistic charge that the discipline of celibacy causes sexual abuse is easily dismissed. However, the question is not so straightforward. One needs to consider the complexity of the call to celibacy itself.
The original reason for the discipline was both spiritual and practical.
St. Paul encouraged his followers to remain celibate so they could please God alone and not be encumbered with the demands of wife and family. (I Corinthians 7:7) The priest or monk accepted the discipline of celibacy as a kind of military or athletic discipline.
Through celibacy he controlled his physical desires and dedicated himself completely to the cause of Christ. In addition, through celibacy the priest conformed his own life more perfectly to that of Christ the Great High Priest.
While these ideals are sublime, one can’t help wondering how many men were also drawn to the priesthood or religious life because they understood very well that marriage was not for them. We see celibacy as a great self denial, but perhaps it was all too easy, not only for some men to accept celibacy, but also for other, already celibate men, to accept them into the community.
For whatever reasons, they found celibacy not a burden, but a relief. Rather than doing the hard work of recognition and integration of their sexuality, they escaped into the seeming safety of celibacy.
No doubt many of these men, by the workings of grace and self discipline, turned the vow of celibacy into the high calling it was intended to be. Rather than an escape from reality, the call to celibacy became their path to integration and a mature sexuality and self understanding. Unfortunately, many others failed, and their stunted or distorted sexuality drove them to choose immature, unhealthy and abusive behaviors.
If this is so, then the problem is not the vow of celibacy per se, but a distorted understanding and practice of celibacy.
In his weighty study of the subject, Celibacy in Crisis, Richard Sipe regards the discipline of celibacy as inherently flawed, concluding, “Only a thoroughgoing reform of the celibacy/sexual structure of the church will really address the problem of sexual abuse.”
However, in a more positive chapter, Sipe analyzes the achievements of celibacy, recognizing the large number of men in his study for whom the discipline of celibacy was their path to greater human maturity and Christian sanctity. By a unified life of prayer, work, service and community their vow of celibacy became one of the tools to a secure and stable life of service.
In our sex-crazed society, we sometimes forget that all of the baptized are called to that sexual self discipline we call chastity. For Catholics, the only legitimate sexual relations are between validly married husband and wife. Pope St. John Paul II himself acknowledged, “Chastity is the work of a lifetime.”
All of us are called, through self discipline, to integrate our sexual instincts into the fullness of our humanity. Marriage is one path to this goal. Celibacy is the other. Those who are called to vows of celibacy reveal this path to the whole church.
That some who followed that path went disastrously astray should not require the complete abandonment of the path, anymore than those who have distorted and destroyed marriage should make us abolish that sacred gift.
The last stats I read indicated that sexual abuse by clergy is around 4% across all denominations.
I am not satisfied with any of the analyses I have read. They treat the priests as if they were cabbage, measured weighed and catalogued. There is some usefulness in researching how such cases were handled in days past if for no other reason than to evaluate the effectiveness of the various approaches. It is tempting to lay this event at the feet of Vatican II and the libertine approach to sexuality that flowed from it. Whether or not it was newly formed priests or legacy clerics from just prior may be immaterial for two reasons. First, there was precious little resistance to the catestrophic and apparently incorrect directions taken in the name of Vatican II. So the clergy already in place welcomed and advanced the false conclusions. They were laying in wait to upend the Church in every possible way so the poor recruits being blamed for this catastrophe were merely doing what they were told. Secondly, since sin is in our nature no one is immune from participating in nearly any sin. The Israelites had crossed the sea on foot and seen The Burning Cloud with their own eyes yet they still built and worshiped the Golden Calf. Priests who were told that practically everything they had belived was hogwash were left with a gap in their world construct to fill. They filled it with themselves exactly as men have always done.
Our problem is that the higher ups in the Church think it is a bad thing to fire a priest or remove him to a place where he has an extensive remaking. When we hold back our correction we kill them with our kindness and allow their infection to spread.
Instead of the Pope focusing his time and efforts on misguided schemes like giving Holy Communion to adulterers, he should focus his efforts on the celibacy issue. Until 1139 Anno Domini, secular clergy typically were married, whereas regular clergy were not. This should be studied. I see married Anglican priests with children who are fantastic priests, although I don't know how they do it. As husbands and fathers they tend to be more traditional in their views. It might also be a means of infusing a more virile element into the clergy, although I am not saying that all priests are wimpy, but many are. In my former parish a priest who swished down the aisle and wore eye makeup (I kid you not) did us all a favor when he ran off with his boyfriend.
There are too many today who, when it comes to this subject, traffic in conjecture and unsubstantiated rumors along with misinformation, in order to arrive at a certain conclusion, in addition to supporting their arguments with dubious, if not manifestly incorrect, statistical inferences.
Celibacy as it pertains to the Catholic priesthood, involves the renunciation of marriage for the sake of the Kingdom of God. A person who becomes a Catholic priest voluntarily gives up the opportunity to marry. In marriage, the spouses make a gift of themselves to each other. The person who chooses to becomes a priest makes a gift of himself to the Church. Both vocations represent covenantal agreements between the persons involved and God Himself. In addition, we are all called to to be chaste, whether called to celibacy or to the vocation of marriage. Chastity is a virtue which is to be practiced by all - both those who are married and those not married. Anyone who is a practicing Christian true to God's teaching is to practice chastity. Chastity can mean one abstains from all sexual intercourse , or in the case of those who are married, sexual activity which is sinful and not in accordance with that which is permissible and God-ordained. Any Catholic who is not married and desires to be true to God's teachings, must be celibate and practice chastity. A person, whether a priest or a wedded spouse, can both become unchaste, but that does not necessarily affect their calling in life. It represents the interposition of a sinful choice or choices which can be repented of, confessed and forgiven.
Cannot the attack on celibacy be considered as a veiled attack on the Church itself ,whose patron, St Joseph we hold to be true, was celibate when married to the Blessed Virgin, as she herself was.
In the first Christian millennium, married priests no longer lived with their wives after ordination, as has been well documented.
Sorry, you are mistaken. For an example, read the Venerable Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English Church. Venerable Bede makes it quite clear the priest lived with his wife and children with no hint that such conduct was unusual or proscribed.
Just because the Eastern churches do something doesn't mean it should be copied by the Western churches. While I do think opening up ordination to those who are already married would give some relief in some regard, it wouldn't solve everything.
I can think of several people who would pursue seminary if the priesthood were opened to married men in the Latin church. Considering the numbers at most Latin parishes, financially, it could perhaps work, but there are other dynamics to be considered, what about the wife and kids if the priest passes away first? Surely it's not charitable to just leave them on their own.
Because celibacy in the priesthood is a discipline and not dogma of the Church, it is not an attack on the Church or Christ Himself. (Both married and unmarried clergy are well documented as mentioned into the 1100's for the Latin church). The self-inflicted vocation crisis in the Latin church will only end once the Liturgy is taken seriously, and the Faith is taken seriously again, but we're seeing a return to the 79's which I don't want for the Latin church, they've had enough to endure.
Here's a description of the history of celibacy.
Apparently Blogger no longer takes links.
I thought it was self explanatory.
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