Beware: Non-Celibates Writing about Celibacy

Oh brother. More lazy stereotypes about celibates. Bill Keller’s op-ed today in The New York Times “Sex and the Single Priest” (ha ha) says that pretty much all celibate priests are lonely and that celibacy “surely played some role” in the sexual abuse crisis. By his own admission, Mr. Keller hasn’t been an active member of the church since around high school. But that’s not the problem with his piece: former Catholics have written perceptively about the church. The problem is that Keller’s article is based largely on the opinions of two priests who left the priesthood and a sister who left her order, and his own speculation about what the celibate life must be like. That’s like writing a piece on marriage and speaking only to divorced men and women. “Yeah,” some of them might say, “married life stinks.”  

Maybe it would have been helpful to look at some actual data.  Sure, there is some loneliness in the priesthood--and there are problems in married life too. But the picture that Mr. Keller paints is ridiculous. In the latest survey on priests from the Center for Applied Research on the Apostolate in 2009, 95 percent report they would “definitely or probably choose priesthood again,” up from 79 percent in 1970. Wow. Must be pretty lonely. And as for celibacy “surely” leading to pedophilia and cover-ups, that overlooks the fact that most sexual abuse happens in families, many cases are found in schools and sometimes even in macho places like the Penn State football program. The reasons for the sexual abuse crisis in the church are complex. As they are in families and in schools. But no one says that (a) marriage, (b) teaching or (c) football leads to abuse. Celibacy must be the main culprit in the church, say pundits, because it's so “weird.” 

His comment that celibacy deprives "priests of experience that would make them more competent to counsel the families they minister" also would imply that a married person should of course never see a single psychotherapist or an unmarried psychiatrist, since they would be incapable of counseling a married person; or that a prison chaplain would need to have been incarcerated to be "more competent."  It's a limited notion of professional counseling.  

Overall, the article is rife with lazy stereotypes and flat-out guessing. (“The apostles had wives.” Really? Peter did--but all of them? Guess I missed those mentions of Zebedee's daughters-in-law. And, not to put too fine a point on it but Jesus was celibate.) 

Ironically, Mr. Keller likes Pope Francis a great deal and speaks of his overall approach to the church approvingly. But he somehow missed the fact that Jorge Mario Bergoglio took a vow of chastity when he made his first vows as a Jesuit in 1960, and made a promise of celibacy at his ordination in 1969. In short, he has been living celibately longer than Mr. Keller has been away from the church. Does the Pope strike anyone as a sad and lonely guy?

All I ask is that the next time that any pundit writes on celibacy it might be a good idea to talk to some celibates. 

Bill Freeman
3 years 3 months ago
You are serious? Celibates are not only sharing opinions about married/partnered life but CREATE doctrine (e.g., birth control, choice, divorce, same-sex marriage).
James Martin
3 years 3 months ago

Yes, I am serious.  Did I say anywhere in the piece that I think the reverse is a good idea?

Carmen Hartono
3 years 3 months ago
I just finished writing a book titled, 'Chronicles of a Catholic Housewife: Forty Years Toward the Promise Land,' which I believe counters almost every stereotype about a forty year marriage. A main incentive behind the book is the gratitude that I have towards the Church and how she keeps raising the standards of morality within the home. Without celibate priests bearing witness to the sacrifices needed within any vocation, I would have never evolved beyond the sexual revolution mentality upon which my husband and I originally based our marriage.
Greg Krehbiel
3 years 3 months ago
Very good article. However, on the question of whether all the apostles had wives, see 1 Cor. 9:5. Seems to me they did (except Paul). (Sorry, this was supposed to be a reply to the main article)
David Pasinski
3 years 3 months ago
In general, I believe your critique is worthwhile, Fr. Jim. However, as was mentioned, it is more than appropriate to point out how celibates have been defining marriage for centuries! We all know the teachings and commentaries that abound with only a rough basis in Scripture that have defined the "ends" of marriage, the manners of intimacy-sexual and other, and certainly regarding divorce (and the Catholic version through annulment), birth regulations, etc. If know-it-all editors overstep their competencies in speaking of celibacy, they only join the ranks of countless celibates who have waxed on about the "meaning" of marriage without attempting to live faithfully in that state. And p.s.... if we're going to parse again some NT texts, how about a review of that apparently very direct and clear one often cited by certain Protestant groups... "'Call no man on earth your 'father...' Father Jim"
Carmen Hartono
3 years 3 months ago
There was a time when I agreed with you, David. But after more than forty years of marriage, I have come to understand that marriage is one of only two sacraments recognised by the Church as a sign of God's living presence in the world. Only the priesthood is recognised as being as important as marriage. I now understand that the creative part of marriage far transcends earthly sexual practices.
David Pasinski
3 years 3 months ago
Thank you, Carmen, and I will look for that book. However, I still have the difficulty that could be paraphrased "Watch Out for Non-Marrieds Writing About Marriage. " I do not believe that one must be in state of celibacy or coupled (with all the variations of each) to be insightful and helpful to others in other relationships, but the rightful critique of Bill Keller seems to warrant some response. It is absurd to think that one need experience a situation to be helpful to another, but caution to all who attempt to define or advise others in how to live one's celibacy or married life faithfully and happily which is a challenge to all therapists and spiritual directors.
Carmen Hartono
3 years 3 months ago
The questions that you raise, David, are a matter of faith. I know that this is a very frustrating response to a person who might not share the same beliefs. The Church marriage laws are based on the words of Jesus, who also was not married. But he did listen to women, most especially his mother. And that is the basis of marriage, the total giving of self to the other. Jesus gave his very life for his friends. This is the greatest love there is. A married couple is called to give totally of self to the other, as Jesus did, who again was not married. And priests are also called to give totally of self to the Church. So in that they are experts in that from a theological perspective, they are married to the Church.
Bill Freeman
3 years 3 months ago
"The Church marriage laws are based on the words of Jesus, " And what words might those be?
Carmen Hartono
3 years 3 months ago
Bill, As I stated, this conversation is on matters of faith. Scripture is believed to be inspired by the Holy Spirit. The writer's memory of what Jesus said about marriage is believed to have been inspired by God.
David Pasinski
3 years 3 months ago
I admire your faith, Crmen, and share it. However, there are obvious points where we disagree. Issues of ecclesial marriage laws and birth control have dotted these pages for 50 years and remain ubsettled in the minds and practice of many clergy and faithful. I will not reference this column again, but it is not becasue we don't share a faith - just some interpretations of it.
Carmen Hartono
3 years 3 months ago
You are correct, David. The interpretation of what Christ taught is different among people that share the same faith. And I do not feel that everyone needs to agree with my interpretation. But I do believe that through dialogue, we might find that we agree more than disagree.
Carmen Hartono
3 years 3 months ago
P.S. Father Jim is not My Father. Any priest knows that we all only have One Father in Heaven. Nevertheless, many cultures use the names Auntie, Uncle, Pak, etc. to show a closeness and respect that is not well understood in the US.
Bill Freeman
3 years 3 months ago
Really? Then why is the largest religious denomination in the US ex-Roman Catholics? Please, smell the coffee. Unless Francis can do amazing things very quickly, this is not going to end well.
Carmen Hartono
3 years 3 months ago
I do smell the coffee...a lot...at all the after Mass coffee and donut gatherings, the Knights of Columbus pancake breakfasts, senior church socials...lots of coffee...and free. Can't say I have ever been to an ex-Roman Catholic coffee social. Is that the coffee you refer to, Bill?
David Pasinski
3 years 3 months ago
Good point and true enough... but what's "Pak"?
Carmen Hartono
3 years 3 months ago
In Bahasa Indonesia, elders are sometimes called Pak or Father.
Bill Freeman
3 years 3 months ago
The Church has lost ALL credibility in matters sexual and morality in general. IMHO, Its "teaching authority" is virtually destroyed -- particularly because of the WORLDWIDE sex abuse scandal and mafia-like coverup by the hierarchy. Just in this country alone, the church has paid out $2-billion to sex abuse victims and their attorneys, money that didn't fall from heaven but was given by parishioners. I recommend that the church remain silent on matters sexual and listen to the senses fidei and the signs of the times for the next 50 years.
Carmen Hartono
3 years 3 months ago
About a billion Catholics like myself might disagree with you, Bill.
Jim McCrea
3 years 3 months ago
I doubt that more than a very small portion of the alleged billion Catholics give a second thought to what the church teaches on matters sexual.
Carmen Hartono
3 years 3 months ago
The grace we receive through the sacraments calls us to follow God's Law on a sub-conscious level. We might not be consciously thinking about what the Church teaches, but the conscience still speaks to us strongly.
Therese Bertsch, DSW
3 years 3 months ago
Living in a "third space" enables celibates to struggle with, observe, and learn about the ways that conjugal love and erotica shape interpersonal power and relationships in a way that exists outside of the mainstream of those with an active sexual life (or who had an active sexual life). Celibacy also suggests to others, who encounter the celibate in their vocation, that they have a claim in the relationship related to total self giving. Practically, this does not mean each person encountering a committed celibate can count on unreserved and unlimited time. The mystery is the celibate attempts to love as God does, unreservedly, each person in their uniqueness. Of course this is the ideal and we may not have too many examples of this. I have lived long enough to see many priests and sisters working towards this ideal in their everyday encounters. This unique commitment attempts to move beyond the objective gaze of the other to the belonging to the other concretely. Without the ground of celibacy this is almost unimaginable - and something to strive for in real life. So is celibacy deprivation or gift? Both, what isn't? Celibates attempt to transcend their human longing in claiming this longing for the Kingdom. Sounds far fetched, so does the resurrection. One of the problems inherent in responding to a reductionistic view of celibacy is that the discourse is still locked into a reductionist model. One can only know what one knows. I feel the same way about homilies at mass. The challenge is to engage people in a dynamic understanding of celibacy, not to attempt to answer or disprove the constructions of those who render an impoverished explanation of celibacy. Celibacy is not an either or dialogue, and celibates are not in need of a defense. It is a way of expressing the relationship to Christ and the Body of believers. The way is not always clear and can change. There is a vulnerability - just as in any love - and a mystery to celibacy. The dialogue should actively and purposefully be shaped by that mystery and not in reaction to limited, often distorted constructs, and questions about celibacy. To talk about the mystery already reduces it.
Catherine McKeen
3 years 3 months ago
Since I approached near-apoplexy reading the Keller piece this morning, I'm relieved and thankful for Fr. Martin's smart, persuasive response. "Stereotypes and flat-out guessing" are exactly the right words to describe Keller's opinions. Why can't those who leave the church just get over it? Why keep attacking the thing you supposedly can't believe in?
Fran Rossi Szpylczyn
3 years 3 months ago
When I think of someone with a journalistic background like Bill Keller, I don't think I of someone who would write so boldly, based on such a weak foundation. Well, think again, I guess. The abuse scandal does not get off the hook in my mind, by any means, but the consistent false conflation of it with either celibacy or same sex attraction makes me insane. Perhaps because of my own childhood experiences in my own family - not to mention the sickening and regrettable proliferation of abuse in every walk of life. Most walks of which are not celibate. While I am not proud to admit this, I am ever reminded that over 20 years ago, before I returned to church, I sneered at the thought of celibate priests. Today, in a lifetime now surrounded by them, I find myself understanding this very differently. Twenty years ago I would have sneered, but I would have looked at a celibate Buddhist monk with admiration. I think we all might want to consider the source of our perceptions - and how they invade our minds wrongheaded thinking. And if I were a journalist, I might also go ask some people who actually live that way.
Carmen Hartono
3 years 3 months ago
You bring up an interesting point that what is sometimes admired in Buddhism is criticised in Catholicism. Perhaps the size of our Church makes it seem overpowering.
John-Paul Witt, SJ
3 years 3 months ago
Jim, thanks for the cogent response to this Op-Ed. We were discussing it at Bellarmine this morning, and this issue in particular seems like the easiest one to gain ground on for the agenda of the author, compared to women's ordination or a Catholic same-sex marriage for example. To me, the mission of authors such as this is to destroy an element of the prophetic witness of the Church - that states of life which are not the norm, or vocations that are not focused on acquisition, have value to contemporary society. Thanks again.
James Martin
3 years 3 months ago

Thanks.  The more I reflect on it the more I think that celibacy is almost completely misunderstood by those who don't know any celibates.  

David Pasinski
3 years 3 months ago
I think that that may well be so. It is intersting becasue women religious are gnerally so rightly highly regarded and their celibate commitment is appreciated and celebrated. There are religious and cultural reasons for that, I'm sure, but perhaps too, it is the accessibility of life style and service of women religious wherein their celibacy is seen of service to the community rather than that of many clergy whio sometimes - often wrongly - are perceived as isolating and privilege seeking for their celibate commitments. Much of that isn't fairand therefoe opens mento stereotypes,but some if is waaranted - as Cuzzins suggests.
Bruce Snowden
3 years 3 months ago
I suspect that those who scorn and scoff at a celibate life may themselves be so sexually involved in the superiority of human carnal expression , that they lack the moral sinew to measure up even to the possibility of admitting much less understanding the legitimacy of an expression of human love apart from the erotic tingle. Not even "for the Kingdom!" They suffer from self-imposed moral blindness.
William deHaas
3 years 3 months ago
Okay - agree that you pointed out the overgeneralizations of Keller's. OTOH, you have also used over generalizations and minimizations on a serious issue and you have inserted the usual shibboleths, myths, etc. You might want to access and study a number of works by Donald Cozzens who is a celibate and qualified to speak from both a theological orientation and life experiences. Let's name a few: - The Changing Face of the Priesthood - Freeing Celibacy - Sacred Silence - Notes from the Underground Both Keller and your responses are unnuanced and the (sexual abuse angle) diverts the discussion into hysteria. The history of ministry (non-celibate) is much longer than the disciplinary approach to ministry. (despite your lame reference to all of the *married* apostles and, in addition, comparing marriage to priesthood merely clouds the discussion - in fact, for more than a thousand years it was both/and rather than either/or. (and, let's be honest, celibacy was enforced for practical reasons that, in the long term, was probably the wrong solution to the initial issue). Celibacy is a charism; priesthood is a ministry. Priesthood does not require celibacy in order to function and support the church (the eastern half of the church?). Finally, your casual footnoting the CARA study glosses over the actual findings; who responded; and the questions themselves. In fact, most psychological studies of the US priesthood (dating back to the 1970s Kennedy study which the NCCB buried) indicates that living celibacy is fraught with issues and that a majority of priests (at some time in their careers) face loneliness, depression, and escape to outlets such as hobbies, alcohol, spending, frequent vacations, pre-occupied with time off, etc. The Kennedy study, in particular, indicated that the majority of US priests were psychologically undeveloped (probably a result of the minor seminary system, rigid college seminaries, lack of formation programs, total focus on academics vs. human development). Not sure that a duplicate of the study today would have different results? The discussion needs to be about ministry and the requirement of the charism of celibacy - is that necessary today? Interjecting personal experiences or marriage experiences only ignores the deeper questions and sidetracks an issue that the church needs to confront. Allow me to quote from Cozzens: "Wise counsel on how to live celibacy must acknowledge the problematic character of mandatory or obligatory celibacy (it is a gift and charism). For at the core of celibacy's breakdown - and it is breaking down - is the attempt by the hierarchical church to mandate a charism." Church legacy states that if a man is called to be a priest, God will supply the charism of celibacy. But, in truth, grace builds on nature and many men called to ordained ministry do not have the apptitude, temperament, or qualities necessary for the charism of celibacy.
Rob C
3 years 3 months ago
I've read three of the books you cite and reflect upon this topic often enough. What we really need is a renewed understanding of priesthood, charisms and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Much will fall into place if we actually put into practice what the best of our theologies of baptism, vocation, gifts, and the universal call to holiness hold. A celibate priesthood is not something that stands on its own. Nothing is ever as simple as it may appear. Therefore, arguments from "either side" alluded to in the above article are not very helpful. They deal with the "tip of the iceberg." There is much involved regarding celibacy that is interrelated and interconnected to many other realities in our ecclesiastical culture. Systemic (and cultural) change is what is needed and our Church's infrastructure is not yet ready to look at that seriously. It probably won't be until the current system in the West is gasping for its last breath. I want to hope that isn't true. I pray it's not true. But, maybe it needs to be true so that real systemic renewal takes place.
Roberta Lavin
3 years 3 months ago
A couple of people have referred to Buddhism and that what we admire in Buddhist we do not in Catholic celebates. The difference in Buddhism and Catholicism is that Buddhists can marry. Depending on the country there are many Roshi that are married.I suppose the difference is choice and recognizing the uniqueness of individual situations.
Carmen Hartono
3 years 3 months ago
But a priest chooses to become a priest and thereby freely chooses a celibate life.
Jim McCrea
3 years 3 months ago
I was always taught that becoming a priest is following a call from God, not just your choice. If one follows this call, one does not choose a celibate life (Eastern Rite priests and newly minted Ordinariate priests don't/didn't) if one is ordained into the Latin Rite ... one is FORCED into celibacy. This man understands: "Authority that commands, kills. Obedience that becomes a copy of what the other person says, infantilizes." Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Religious.
Carmen Hartono
3 years 3 months ago
I think it would be difficult to FORCE people to be faithful to a vow of celibacy or marriage. Sadly, just as spouses sometimes cheat, so do priests find it difficult to remain celibate. God calls us to be faithful, but He does not FORCE us into obedience.
Tom Wilson
3 years 3 months ago
Expect more and more of such drivel from ex-Catholics and other Catholic haters in the media, courtesy of your new Pontiff who has given the impression, intentionally or not, that all Church teaching and doctrine is now open for any and all change. Whomever holds the microphone wins in such contests; if you want to see what a Church that folds to popular opinion looks like, look to Hollywood and to the far left who dominate the editorial staff of the media. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions and who seems to be better intentioned than Pope Francis? I fear the Devil has infiltrated the Church, using "change" as a euphemism for "destruction."
Tim O'Leary
3 years 3 months ago
Very good article, Fr. Martin. However, I would have been surprised to see anything else from the "all the news that fits the views" New York Times. But, I agree it is especially surprising to worry about the joy of priests when it is so evident in Pope Francis. Our modern world has become so obsessed with everything sexual that a vow to stay celibate seems like starvation. The therapeutic mentality is everywhere telling people to "follow your bliss" yet unhappiness and depression have not decreased among the laity. The sky-high failure rate of marriages suggests the problem is not about sex but about keeping a promise ("until death do us part" has been replaced by "until I change my mind"). And you are completely right that all the sexual deviations today occur at vastly more common percentages among the sexually active. While there is no doctrinal obstacle to married priests, celibacy has been a discipline of Christian life ever since Jesus, Mary and Paul, and the Eastern Orthodox maintain the practice for Bishops. The clergy was ripe with scandal, simony, nepotism and debauchery when Pope Gregory VII (Hildebrand) made it a Church discipline for ordination. It may indeed be reasonable to reconsider the breadth of the discipline, at least for some vocations or new orders (certainly not all) but that is for the Magisterium to decide, not a protest movement or an opinion poll. Celibacy is about a freely chosen gift for the Kingdom and remains a symbol of the priority of the Gospel over transient worldly satisfaction.
Carmen Hartono
3 years 3 months ago
You bring up a lot of good points, Tim. Marriage is about commitment, not about having sex. And a priest should know what it means to be committed to his vocation. I also like what you said about comparing celibacy to starvation. Commitment to another depends on having self-descipline. I used to fast twice a week. I maintained this discipline for about ten years. Not only did I learn to control my appetite, but also my anger, and stopped craving "junk foods" that were making me sick. I learned the true meaning of the Lord's Supper.
ron chandonia
3 years 3 months ago
Still shaken by the Times column in which Keller defended the abortion of his own child, I share his view that he is a “lost cause,” and I do not believe he wrote this piece to improve the church he abandoned or “wish its people well.” But I also think he has a point about the potentially corrosive effects of mandatory celibacy. Yesterday the Times on the other coast did a long piece on a churchman whose social vision I have long admired: “For Roger Mahony, clergy abuse cases were a threat to agenda.” As I read the unsettling account of the cardinal’s downfall, I kept thinking that if he had had a wife and kids of his own, the fate of the children whose cases came to his attention would surely have been at the very top of his progressive agenda. In that sense, I believe, Bill Keller is correct that celibacy “surely played some role in the church’s shameful record of pedophilia and cover-up.”
Carmen Hartono
3 years 3 months ago
I have long wondered about the accuracy of what is printed in the media. I met Cardinal Mahony during an international catechetical conference in the spring of 2002. This was a time when the Bush Administration was pushing for war in Afghanistan and Iraq, but the Catholic Church was a strong voice for peace. It was beautiful being with 16,000 peace loving people from all over the world at a time when the papers were filled with anti-Muslim fear. After the conference, I looked for an article about the good works done by the church under Mahoney's leadership. But the only article printed was an accusation of sexual harassment. The charges were based on obvious lies, quickly dropped, but the war-mongers made a big dent into destroying the reputation of peacemakers.
Marie Rehbein
3 years 3 months ago
You must have been in some kind of peace bubble. Where I was, the war talk was overshadowed by abortion politics. If there was a strong voice for peace somewhere, it's not surprising that it was subjected to the other emotionally charged red meat subject.
Carmen Hartono
3 years 3 months ago
I did live in a peace bubble, Marie. Our local Catholic journal was highly criticised for printing what was said at the Vatican, and not what was promoted in Washington, DC.
David Pasinski
3 years 3 months ago
Carmen I, too, was proud of the stand of the American bishops which I presume also included Cardinal Mahoney. However, some of those accusations have stood the test of time and the courts with the huge settlements agreed to by the diocese and Mahoney own duplcitous role in the transfer of a known offending cleric. He deserves no praisse for that and it is a terrible stain on his record of defense of migrants and anti-war credentials. He was part of the network that allowed that abuse to fester.
Carmen Hartono
3 years 3 months ago
The sex abuse scandal is such a hot issue. I cannot even imagine the psychological damage suffered by the victims. But in the case of Mahoney, I am not convinced of the "terrible stain on his record." As Bishop of Stockton, he terminated two priests accused of abuse. By the time he became Archbishop, the "evil," as he calls it, had spread throughout Los Angeles, which is far from Stockton. It is hard to make a case that he was responsible for abuse that occurred before he came into office.
Patrick Thompson
3 years 3 months ago
But......there is no mandatory celibacy in the Catholic priesthood.....the Catholic Church is made up of 21 different Churches in Union with Rome......and only the Roman Catholic Church (except in the United States) is required to be celibate. If there is a large demand for a married Catholic priesthood why are the Eastern Rites not exploding. All within the rules..... Personally I desire to get married some day and I can not say I have any great desire to become a Priest. Any chance it's merely a different vocation? Even among the Orthodox there are great numbers of celibate monks who ultimately make up the episcopate.
Michael Barberi
3 years 3 months ago
Thanks once again Fr. Martin for a most insightful and necessary article. Clearly, the NY Times author is an example of a misguided and unsubstantiated argument taken to an irresponsible extreme. Fr. Martin is right to criticize exaggerated and untruthful journalism. Most of us know that there is always some truth in most arguments, but unless an article is balanced, well researched, substantiated and accurate, it will mislead many uninformed Catholics to irresponsibly criticize the Church and its mission. More importantly, it will lead some Catholics away from the Church. This is not to say that there should not be a healthy, respectful debate about certain Church teachings, practices and ecclesial structure. Rather, I want to make clear that bad journalism as well as bad theology and superficial moral arguments have no place in serious Christian discourse. There are abuses on both sides of the arguments on marriage, celibacy, contraception, divorce and remarriage, et al. What is important about disputed teachings or Church practices is to resist the temptation to "absolutize". For example, there is nothing wrong with a celibate priesthood. However, would voluntary celibacy unduly frustrate the responsibilities of priestly ministry and diminish the witness for a vowed public life? Can the RCC function effectively or better if celibacy was made voluntary? How do we argue against the fact that for the first 1000 years the Church functioned well without mandatory celibacy? Is a celibate priesthood definitive and irreformable?
Anthony Ruff
3 years 3 months ago
Lots of good points in here, Jim, and good response to overstated claims. But I must push back on your pushback to celibacy linked to child abuse. Sure abuse happens in families and schools and football programs. But we need to compare apples to apples, and we must be ready to face up to the facts, wherever that leads us. There is lots of abuse in public schools – but we have to look at how many hours children spend in public schools, how many school employees they are in contact with, and compare that (on a level playing field) with children’s hours in Catholic church activities and with celibate clergy. If (to pick hypothetical numbers) children have 40 times as many contact hours with public school employees but the rate of abuse is only 10 times higher than with celibate clergy, this would tell us that there is way more abuse in public schools, but proportionately the abuse if four times more likely to happen in the Catholic setting. Same with families – let’s compare family members’ total contact with children with that of Catholic priests. Of course there is way more abuse in families – but how much more, and is it proportionate? What we really need – but I’m not aware of such data – is a comparison of the rates of child abuse by married Protestant and Orthodox clergy with the rates among celibate Catholic clergy. I know of no proof that the Catholic rate is equal or lower, and I suspect it is higher. I can’t imagine that all these Protestant ministers have been abusing children and somehow the media missed it. The obvious difference between Catholic and Protestant clergy is celibacy. Am I the only one to notice that in so many horrid child-porn stings that hit the news, there are Catholic priests represented more than Protestant and Orthodox clergy, even though there are way more of the latter in the world than Catholic clergy? I have no doubt that celibacy is a healthy, happy way to live, nor that most celibate clergy by far do not abuse children. But whether the child abuse rate has been higher among Catholic clergy because of celibacy – I think probably so. Let’s get the data and find out, and until then let’s be cautious about claiming otherwise, and stop making tendentious comparisons. Anthony Ruff, OSB
Sarah Hubbell
3 years 3 months ago
You logic is flawed here. Comparing the rate of abuse in families to that of clergy based on the hours spent with family is a flawed argument. You are assuming that the chance of abuse is based on amount of opportunity based on contact time. However, just because my father had plently of contact with me as a child did not mean he was more likely to abuse me. He never abused me because he is not that type of person. The same can be said about the priest of my family's parish. The likelihood of abuse is based on the individual. You also have to be careful about the data you seem to be collecting. The media has a tendency to only report stories which will get the highest ratings. Which is more scandalous, a celibate priest having child pornography or a married protestant minister? You cannot criticize this author for making a claim without the proper data and then make the opposite claim also based on no data ir even worse, made up data which is conviniently formulated to support you claim. I would also be interested in seeing the real data. However, what you have come up with cannot be assumed to be a good representative sample of the whole population or even logically relevant.
Anthony Ruff
3 years 3 months ago
Sarah, you missed my point. Your father was not more likely to abuse you because he spent more time with you - that's exactly my point. "The likelihood of abuse is based on the individual" - that too is exactly my point. The question is whether the individuals in celibate ministry have been somewhat more likely to abuse. I think so, based on the little anecdotal evidence we have. Anthony Ruff, OSB
Gabriel Speciale
3 years 3 months ago
Anthony, I think you bring up some excellent points. I also think clericalism and celibacy are inextricably intertwined. I do not think celibacy evil or wrong in of itself. If one is called to a celibate life so be it. However, there may be people who have certain compulsions and deviancies who think that they are being called to celibacy and that the collar will prevent them from acting on this behavior. They are not called the priesthood and instead they are put in a position where they have contact with their potential victims and the power of the institution behind them (i.e. clericalism). So while I do not think celibacy causes abuse (and I think Keller makes broad generalizations because of his contempt for the Church), there is obviously some sort of connection. Why can't we talk about it?

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