An examination of the connection between mandatory celibacy and the sexual abuses of the Catholic Church
The recent history of the Catholic Church has been scarred with the bright red marks of scandal and controversy. The sex-abuse scandal is the most recent, and perhaps the most damaging of all the scandals in modern history. According to CNN, “Allegations of church-based sex abuse are increasing across Europe, including in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland. New abuse allegations have surfaced in Brazil, home of the world's largest Catholic population.” This is a grievous and terrible offense, made even more dastardly by the nature of the alleged crimes against children. The current leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI, has especially been under scrutiny with accusations of his involvement in scandals in his home country. The Church stands in a very dark light. Shrouded in mystery to much of the world, many have condemned the organization of the Church as superstitious and corrupt. History would seem to be on their side. The Catholic Church has never been free of controversy, and indeed, many Catholics seem to make it their aim to stir up as much social unrest as possible, as in the case of Guy Fawkes, or the Jesuits of revolution-era France. The popular solution to this controversy is for the Church to abandon her teaching on celibacy, which many laud as the reason for the abuse of priests. The psychologist Felix Schottländer claimed that “the source of almost every known form of neurosis lies in refusal to accept one or more of the three fundamental conditions of human life: having a body, having sex and being a social creature” (Görres 31). Nonetheless, as a religious organization, the Catholic Church has many virtues to speak for her, and in a spirit of mercy, one must pause before passing judgment on the Church as a whole. Regardless of one's personal religious opinion or affiliation, it would be a terrible injustice to make demands or accusations of the Catholic Church without a thorough analysis of the situation. For the Church to redeem herself, the result of this analysis will put forth sufficient reason and facts to believe that celibacy is not the cause of the sex abuses among the Catholic clergy. It is necessary first to scrutinize the history of celibacy in the Catholic priesthood. The next step is to allow the Catholic Church to defend herself by putting forth the reasons for the celibacy of her priests. After this, a logical and psychological examination of the relationship between the nature of celibacy and sexual repression must take place, of which an important questions to consider are alternate reasons for sexual abuse from members of the clergy.
The Catholic Church holds that celibacy is something which Jesus himself condoned, and is, in fact, a practice in the imitation of his virginal life. However, the roots of celibacy in the priesthood have been under much scrutiny, as to if celibacy in the priesthood is rooted in suppression and denial of the self. In order to draw a conclusion as to the connection between Catholic celibacy and the sex abuses, the history of the practice of priestly celibacy should be examined Much of the historic abhorrence for the sexual act has its source not in true Catholic theology, but in the heresies of the early Church, such as Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, and Manichaeism. These dualist doctrines taught that the body was evil and interfered with the soul's ability to attain a more holy union with God, especially sexual intercourse. Their influence subtly made its way into the thoughts and writings of many doctors of the Church, including Saint Augustine who was so convinced of the inferiority of sex that he viewed Marriage as a lenience for sinfulness. Saint Jerome also considered a married bishop who had children while serving as bishop was guilty of adultery, supplanting his dedication and his vow to serve God with earthly concerns. There was even an antimonian heresy, Nicolaism, in the first century which taught that as long as one abstained from marriage, clergy were allowed to exercise their sexual desires as they wished. However, though celibacy was held in high favor, it was common practice for bishops to be married until the fourth century. Various councils, including the council of Elvira in 306, The Council of Nicea in 325, and the Council of Carthage, contain statements in their canon forbidding the marriage of those in clerical offices. In 1123, the first Lateran council forbade priests from entering into marriage and that marriages in which priests were already involved were null and void, and sixteen years later, at the second Lateran council, all priests who refused to comply with the measures enacted by the Nicean and the Lateran councils were to be stripped of office, and their masses to be declared invalid. However, these councils were legitimate as far as the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church was concerned. The Eastern and Byzantine Rites, which are both in full communion with the Pontiff in Rome, understand celibacy in the following sense: “Neither our Lord, nor the apostles, nor St. Paul, expressed a command that the ministers of the word and the community of believers in Jesus be unmarried or abstain from the sacrament of marriage or its rightful use” (Bilaniuk 32). There has been little change since, and today in the Catholic Church, celibacy is mandatory for priesthood in the Latin Rite, and in no other. Thus, celibacy seems not to be a necessary factor of Catholic priesthood, and was in fact a more recent addition to the canon of Church law. Nonetheless, the history of the virginal priesthood is not a forceful suppression or a denial of the sexuality of a priest, for the option still remains for a man to become a priest within full communion with the Catholic Church, and be married as well. It would seem, then, that the Catholic Church is not responsible for the repression of the sexuality of men, but that any repression which takes place is the free decision of the individual, and thus the sexual abuses of the clergy cannot find their source in an institutionalized repression. In the view of the Theologian, R. J. Bunnik, however, “optional celibacy does not only mean that every priest is free to choose his own state of life; it also means that we leave the Holy Spirit to show us the variegated forms of tomorrow's ministry” (Bunnik 86). Essentially, according to Catholic theology, some are called by God to a life of life-long virginity, and others to the married state, whether or not within the context of the priesthood. The next step, therefore, must be to examine why the Catholic Church holds celibacy to be a venerable, life-long condition.
The Catholic Church, though its foundations are not rooted in a tradition of mandatory clerical celibacy, nonetheless holds that virginity for the kingdom is a completely valid, beneficial, and beautiful way of life. The reasons for priestly celibacy are many and varied, though the some that come foremost to mind are the principle of availability and the complete dedication to God. As to availability, priests must be attentive to the people in a way which is impossible for a married man to do so. A single priest can be supported by the rectory of a Catholic parish, and it would be impossible on such a meager budget as is the majority of Catholic churches to provide house and care for a family, keeping in mind that the priest is not meant to have any other occupation than his clerical profession. A priest can also go into instances of famine, natural disaster, social upheaval and disease where it would be a great failure as a husband and father to bring his family. It is also a great offense to the family of such a supposed priest to consider his obligations to his parish, which he is under oath to fulfill, and would leave his wife and children in a state of almost single-parenthood. In the words of Ida Görres, “It is something quite different for a girl to decide for the sake of 'free' motherhood, to condemn her child in advance to being half-orphaned from birth” (Görres 52). It is indeed so that much of the reason and motivation behind the mandatory celibacy of the priesthood is the confused notion that sex is a license for evil. However, this is not, and never has been the understanding of the marital union. The Catholic Church in fact teaches that the union of the spouses in Marriage is an image of the divine Trinity, a divine oneness that is inseparable and holy. In like manner, the priesthood is a marriage, of the priest in the person of Jesus, and the Church, the Bride of Christ. Therefore, according to the Church, “both ways of life, marriage and virginity, are two different realizations of the sacramentum on different planes of the mystery of the Union” (Görres 24). Even in the perspective of all these reasons for celibacy, none of them can nor should stand on their own without considering the priesthood in the light of the virginal priesthood of Christ. The very nature of the priesthood is action in persone Christe, in the person of Christ. The priest is the idea of the angelic man who offers his entirety to following the example of Christ in every measure possible. Celibacy is not denial, but a free offering of the sexual self for God and for mankind. In this offering, men and women do not lose their sexuality, it flows out in a continual replenishing which cannot be exhausted. In fact, the call to be chaste is a universal call which every Catholic is subject to in different measures, such as chastity in marriage, otherwise known as faithfulness, or the chastity of children and unmarried persons. The Catholic Church in her theology bases her commitment to upholding the value of celibacy on the foundation of a spiritual and almost reverent understanding of human sexuality. In one sense, the Church regards sexuality with much greater serenity and sanctity than most of the world, which would reduce sex to a biological function. In this way, it is difficult to consider the Catholic Church at fault for the sexual abuses of her ministers, due to the reverence and purity with which she treats sexuality. It is the personal theological, emotional, or psychological defect of the individual which is the root and propagator of any error which may occur in the setting of the priesthood.
There are many myths concerning the priestly sex scandal, one of which is that a large percentage, sometimes even the majority, of Catholic priests abuse children. Sadly, this view of the issue is based more on rumor and prejudice then on fact. According to a variety of research, ( Loftus and Camargo, 1993; Jenkins, 2001; W. V. Robinson, 2002; Goodstein, 2003) only 2% of Roman Catholic Priests abuse minors The sexual abuses that have occurred in the Catholic priesthood are at the same or less percentage of the clergy as percentages of other men in religious positions of other faiths and generally at a lower percentages than non-religious men in close contact with minors. Another misconception is that all priests who are abusers are pedophiles, and a similar myth is that those priests who do abuse minors are homosexual and that they sexually-abused hundreds of victims. While it is indeed true that a vast majority of priests who do violate children choose boys, 90% of abuses occur with adolescent males, and not pre-pubescent boys, and are thus not pedophiles. The stereotype of the priest who abuses innocent alter-boys is a perverse and disturbing fabrication. The majority of those who abuse also do not affiliate themselves as homosexual, but heterosexual, and cite ease of access, decreased chance of exposure, and fear of pregnancy as the main reasons for their choice of victim. The sentiment that priests who have abused children have abused vast numbers of victims is the result of a few select cases which dominated the press in 2002, in which the offenders had over one hundred victims each. However, current data suggests that those priests who have offended have abused no more then 8.6 victims, of which the majority of cases have been fondling, not penetration. More evidence for the integrity of the Church versus the individual is the data which suggests that 66% of sexually-abusing priests were victims of sexual abuse themselves in their youth. According to Kenneth M. Adams of Royal Oak, the main reasons behind troubled sexuality in priests are insecurity about family of origin, incest, or other abuse, interruptions in the ability to attain relationships and form emotional attachments, identity crisis in the realm of sexual maturity, or addictive or compulsive sexuality, often under the influence of shameful sexual notions. He is also of the opinion that the priesthood attracts those with such complexes as an escape or relief. Thus it is, that the person, and not the institution, has the defect, and must seek change and treatment through the proper means, including psychological counseling.
The most prevalent beliefs, however, are that the Catholic Church has not done enough to counter the instances of clerical sexual abuse, and that sex offenders cannot be rehabilitated successfully. This is the basis behind the current attacks on Pope Benedict XVI and the demanded removal of all priests and bishops who have dirtied their hands in the mess in the past. However, this is not an accurate portrayal of the Church's efforts, which include the preventative measures taken by psychological testing prior to admittance to the ministry, and the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. While it is true that many bishops have been lax in their addressing of sexual abuse among their peers, the vast majority of dioceses in America have been vitally effective in the removal and treatment of offenders. With regards to the successful treatment of abusers, in studies conducted by the Saint Luke Institute in Maryland, only 4.4% of priests who were treated for sexual abuse relapsed into destructive behavior. Thus, the removal of all priests who have offended in the past based on the notion that all sex offenders who have offended in the past will offend again is misguided and unjust. In this light, the Catholic Church does not seem the offender, but the 2% of her priests who are in great need of psychological help.
In conclusion, it is not the case that there is sufficient evidence to believe that the Catholic Church, and even less so that celibacy, is the cause of the sexual abuse which has been unveiled internationally. Nor has it been evidenced that the Catholic Church blatantly ignores or dismisses instances of sexual abuse as a rule. The facts do not support such an accusation, and instead, such factors as childhood abuse and psychological abnormalities in the individual are to blame. However, one of the most pressing questions to consider now is why the abuses of the Catholic clergy have been made such an subject of public outcry when the abuses of men who are husbands, fathers and high-school coaches have a much, much higher percentage of occurrence, and are usually far more brutal. Why is it the case that the Catholic Church has been an object of slander and revulsion, when pornography is a multibillion dollar industry and has claimed the innocence, bodies, and lives of thousands of young women? Why is there no spotlight on this, or other, social corruptions? There seems to be an imbalance of weight in the scales of public justice, a weight which seems to make the Catholic Church a scapegoat for anger and mistrust. The Pope's aid was indeed correct when he likened the attack on the Pope to the anti-Semitic propaganda of pre-war Germany, where Jews were made out as villains and amoral persons, becoming the whipping-boy of Germany's rage and poverty in the aftermath of the Treaty of Versailles. Public opinion is a dangerous thing, which may do much good and much harm in the same blow. It is important, therefore, not to condemn when injustice calls for action and not to wound when scars call for healing. It is time to help those who have fallen to stand back up on their feet and continue on, not smear their faces further into the mud. Let he who has never sinned cast the first stone.