Celibacy Does not Cause Pedophilia
One factor you don't see listed by the National Review Board in their 2002 report to the U.S. bishops on the causes of clergy abuse is celibacy. Because celibacy does not cause pedophilia. But that hasn't stopped otherwise thoughtful pundits and commentators, and among them even some Catholics, from opining on celibacy as a cause of the crisis.
Around the same time as the National Review Board released their findings, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice concluded a nationwide study, reporting that around four percentof American priests between 1950 and 2002 had been accused of abuse. Even one case of sexual abuse is too much, but that figure is half that of the overall percentage for American males, which, according to Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, is one in ten. (In a recent Newsweek article, Margaret Leland Smith, a researcher at John Jay, estimated that the figure is closer to one in five.) "We don't see the Catholic Church as a hotbed of this or a place that has a bigger problem than anyone else," Mr. Allen told Newsweek.
And, as Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea, a psychologist and expert on child sexual abuse, and Virginia Goldner, also a psychologist, noted in a hard-hitting book entitled Predatory Priests, Silenced Victims, the sexual abuse of children has also occurred among Protestant ministers, Jewish rabbis, Islamic clerics, Buddhist monks, and Hare Krishna officials.
None of this has stopped commentators from excoriating priestly celibacy as a primary cause of sexual abuse.
But doing so makes little sense. For one thing, if four percent of American priests were accused of abuse, it means that 96 percent of priests have not been accused of anything and are leading healthy, productive lives in the community. (Bluntly put: if celibacy causes abuse, why aren't the other 96 percent of priests pedophiles?) For another, 30 percent of abuse takes place within families, yet few sane people point to marriage as a cause of child abuse. When schoolteachers abuse children, few sane people say that teaching leads to pedophilia. Many widows and widowers, not to mention some single men and women, are celibate. No one suspects them of pedophilia.
So why is the celibacy of Catholic priests singled out?
James Martin, SJ