James Carroll's Stereotyping
Can we please put an end to stereotyping celibate men and women? Can we stop lumping them all together as hateful and mean-spirited? Can we stop assuming that they are all the same?
No, apparently we cannot.
Here is James Carroll, a former priest and the author of Constantine's Sword, who was afforded an entire page in Sunday's Boston Globe, pontificating on how horrible celibacy is. Note the odd leap of logic in the following paragraph. Celibacy does not cause sex abuse. Celibacy does cause sex abuse.
No, celibacy does not “cause’’ the sex abuse of minors, and yes, abusers of children come from many walks of life. Indeed, most abuse occurs within families or circles of close acquaintance. But the Catholic scandal has laid bare an essential pathology that is unique to the culture of clericalism, and mandatory celibacy is essential to it. Immaturity, narcissism, misogyny, incapacity for intimacy, illusions about sexual morality — such all-too-common characteristics of today’s Catholic clergy are directly tied to the inhuman asexuality that is put before them as an ideal.
Immature, narcissistic, misogynistic, incapable of intimacy, and having illusions about sexual morality? This is what is "all too common" of today's clergy? Thanks, Mr. Carroll, for stereotyping me, and all the other good celibates I know, with those terrible terms. I eagerly await The Boston Globe publishing his description of other traits that are "all too common" in women, Jews, blacks, Muslims, gays and lesbians, and, well, fill in your own ethnic group or social minority or religious denomination. Carroll goes on:
Catholic priests find ways around the celibacy rule, some in meaningful relationships with secret lovers, some in exploitive relationships with the vulnerable, and some in criminal acts with minors....If a majority of priests is able to observe the letter of their vow, how many do so at savage personal cost?
Frankly, I'm sick of this crap. It's one thing to address the clerical culture that has given rise to the sex abuse crisis. It's one thing to take aim at an all-male clergy that has prevented women from entering into roles of leadership (and married men, too). It's one thing to investigate how celibacy contributed to a hermetically sealed world in which married men and women were seen as "less than," and therefore whose cries were not heard by bishops and religious superiors during when it came to sexual abuse. It's one thing to wonder how much a celibate world provided a refuge for men with sick sexual impulses. And, to be fair, some of his piece does try to do this, and Carroll, an intelligent commentator, makes some salient points.
But it's quite another thing to malign an entire group of people who live their promises of celibacy with integrity and their vows of chastity with love. And why, pray, has Carroll left out celibate women? Where are the evil Catholic sisters in his opinion piece? Are they immature, narcissistic, misogynistic (misanthropic?) incapable of intimacy and deluded about sexual morality, too? They live celibately, in case he hadn't noticed. Oh, but wait, Carroll likes nuns. "The nuns acted as if the reforms of Vatican II were real," he wrote approvingly, a few weeks ago. But how could they do that if they were celibate, and therefore immature, narcissistic, incapable of intimacy and deluded about sexual morality?
By the way, the vast majority of us priests don't "find ways around the celibacy rule," and if we did enter into "relationships" how "meaningful" would they be if they included living a double life?
Overall, the notion that a celibate lifestyle can be healthy seems to have escaped Carroll. For some examples to disprove his stereotypes, Carroll might look to people like St. Francis of Assisi, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese of Lisieux or, better yet, his great hero, Pope John XXIII. "I have spent my life trying to understand why John XXIII had such an impact on me," he writes in his book Practicing Catholic. "Even non-Catholics took to retelling the anecdotes that demonstrated his warmth and humanity."
Guess what, Mr. Carroll? Your hero, full of "warmth and humanity," was celibate.
Look, I don't think the all-celibate clergy will be around forever. (The recent entrance into the church of married Anglican priests is one indication of this.) But that doesn't mean that celibate men are evil. Some of them are the most loving, most generous and most caring men I've ever met.
No matter how dire the crisis we're in, stereotyping of any sort is wrong. One would have thought that the author of Constantine's Sword, a book on the church's persecution of the Jewish people would recognize the dangers of stereotyping.