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James Martin, S.J.March 30, 2010

The sexual abuse crisis that continues to rock our church is about many things: power, secrecy, sin, crime, stupidity, sickness, and so on.   One thing that it is not about is chastity.  While lay men and lay women (not to mention parents) would have doubtless done a better job at blowing the whistle on child sexual abuse, celibacy itself does not cause pedophilia or ephebophilia, as some commentators aver.  (Nor does homosexuality, for that matter.)  Once again, I'm distinguishing between a closed culture of celibate males and celibacy itself.  Most sexual abuse takes place in families, but no one is suggesting that being married somehow causes pedophilia.  Much of this stems from a misunderstanding about celibacy and chastity.  Here's a piece I wrote a few years back in the Times that addresses that misconception.

At the heart of many of these misreadings, perhaps, is a fundamental misunderstanding of celibacy. In general, many Americans -- many American Catholics for that matter -- view celibacy as at best misguided and, at worst, masochistic. The unspoken question is: What kind of sick person would willingly give up sex? This is not a surprising reaction in a culture that prizes sex and sexuality and places such an emphasis on sexual expression.

In this current crisis, however, the value of celibacy is not the issue. It seems odd to have to point this out, but the vast majority -- the overwhelming majority -- of priests, sisters and brothers who take vows of celibacy keep their vows. And the vast majority of these men and women lead healthy and productive lives in service to the church and the community.

Celibacy is not only an ancient tradition of asceticism, but more important, it is an ancient tradition of love. Celibacy is, in short, about loving others. Those who opt for celibacy (or to use religious terminology, those who feel 'called' to embrace it) choose it as a manner of loving many people deeply, in a way that they would be unable to if they were in a single relationship. It is certainly not for everyone. And it is not a better or a worse way of loving than being a married person, or being in an exclusive relationship with one person.

The criminal acts of a few do not negate the value of celibacy, any more than spousal abuse or incest can negate the value of marriage or marital love. And even if women or married men were admitted into the Catholic priesthood, celibacy would inevitably remain a choice for many. Because for many -- myself included -- it is not a disciplinary restriction, it is the best way they have found for living a meaningful and committed life.

The pedophilia scandal is about sick priests, bishops who have made tragically wrong decisions about responding to criminal behavior and the silence of the Catholic Church on this matter. One might of course argue that the inclusion of women or married men into the ranks of leadership in the church would encourage greater diversity, more openness and therefore a changed clerical culture, but again, this is largely a question of culture, not of celibacy per se.

Throughout the history of Christianity, celibacy has been part of a religious life dedicated to serving others. Jesus of Nazareth was celibate, as was Francis of Assisi, and so were more recent and much-admired figures like Pope John XXIII and Mother Teresa. All of these people are model celibates: not because of their unhealthy approach to life or because of some perverse notion of sacrifice, but rather for the way in which they understood love.

Read the rest here.

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James Lindsay
12 years 3 months ago
Some theologians would disagree with you about the celibacy of Jesus Christ. Indeed, if he was the working Rabbi of Caphernum for a time, a wife would have been a job requirement.

You are correct that chastity, homosexuality and celibacy are not issues in the current scandal (which is not a crisis unless there is evidence that abuse is ongoing). What is required to bring justice to the victims is different from what must happen in the Church regarding its other sexual issues (some of which are inter-related). This is not to say that the fourth century view of sexuality which has seeped into current teaching need not be challenged on its own merits.

The clerical culture is in definite need of reform, as I say elsewhere at http://www.examiner.com/x-20951-DC-Progressive-Catholic-Perspectives-Examiner~y2010m3d30-Is-the-Roman-Catholic-Church-in-crisis. Using this scandal as a motive for reform puts the victims in the position of poster-child for an agenda that is not their primary concern. More importantly, the requirement to bring justice to the victims does not ameliorate the need to bring Church governance from a medieval model to a non-profit corporate model - at least with regard to how it conducts most of its non-priestly functions.
12 years 3 months ago
As an longtime advocate for the end of mandatory celibacy for Diocesan priests of the Latin Rite , I will continue to always praise , honor, respect the charism of priestly celibacy and pray for it's continuance as a blessing to all the Faithful.. faithful celibates will always be the paratroopers of the priest corps.
Now invite  back the 25 thousand priests [US] who had to leave because of the celibacy requirement. If even 10% accepted as part time ministers,  a  thousand US Catholic parishes would be spared from being closed in the next year or so. .
David Pasinski
12 years 3 months ago
I agree in general with the basic thoughts and evaluation of this article and the two comments thus far as my own letter in the NYT last Friday suggested. It deserved more explication, but brevity is appreciated more!
As a former (now, "married")priest yet very active in my parish and very public in our community in my background, I only wonder about the point of returning which is something that I would have never "left" if I could have continued as a priest 17 years ago when I married.
Yet now...I could never support formally the official teachings on birth control, women's role (and lack thereof), divorce and remarriage, the unerstanding of other religions and tradtions, or reception of the Eucharist. While I would very much be glad to be of priestly service in the saraments and other dimensions, my 15 years as a hospice chaplain allowed me far greater freedom and the ability to move with Catholics and many others in ways that the Church would not sanction. Would I like to "return" to priesthood? Yes. Could I "return'? No... not the and maintain a sense of integrity even though I choose to identify very actively with the Catholic community.
12 years 3 months ago
"The sexual abuse crisis that continues to rock our church is about many things: power, secrecy, sin, crime, stupidity, sickness, and so on".

I would argue that the sexual abuse of children and adolescents is a funtion of only one thing: infidelity. Faithless priests are priests who are disloyal to the magisterium in ways too numerous for counting.
Jim McCrea
12 years 3 months ago
Sorry, Maria.  You definition of faithless priests is sadly a part of the problem.  The idea that a priest's faithfulness is conditioned by his loyalty to the magisterium is so very wrong.
A faithless priest is one who is loyal to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Sometimes a faithful priest HAS to ignore the magisterium! And so do the rest of us.
How many of us know priests (and lay people), active in parishes and dioceses, who compromise their core beliefs so as to carry on the good work they are doing within church structures? Whether the issue is Eucharistic inclusivity, option for the poor, a thinking laity, married clergy, women’s ordination, homosexuality, contraception, our Church fosters a culture of keeping quiet so as to keep going. Sometimes the pressure from above is overt, but we are all subject to that subtlest form of institutional intimidation which everyone registers without it having to be articulated. We watch the few who persist in standing against it being marginalized or pushed out altogether; their whole lives can be taken apart. Many, both young and lifelong church-goers, can no longer accept it and are walking away. Meanwhile those who slip into capitulating to it progressively deform their spiritual integrity.
Of course, the Protestant tradition and secular society have long picked up the tenor of hypocrisy about Catholicism. After Vatican II, though, many of us felt we were on the way to being freed from it. But the volume now seems to be ratcheting up again. How can we commit to the Church we love without dancing to this particular tune?
Molly Roach
12 years 3 months ago
I have to agree.   I've been noticing once more how much we Catholics are apt to change the subject when confronted with something so thoroughly evil as the sexual abuse of children and covering it up.  Maybe it's that we think, "but we're good people so let's look for an answer in another direction."  Or something like that.   What this is about is the sexual abuse of children and the way in which our bishops have covered it up.  Celibacy, a long and much honored discipline in more traditions than our own, cannot be held as the culprit for our current state of anguishing disarray.  We have have to focus people, and face the thing head on.
Jim McCrea
12 years 3 months ago
"A faithless priest is one who is loyal to the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
Arghhhh -
s/b " - who is NOT loyal to the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
12 years 3 months ago
I thought the magisterium was comprised of sacred teaching, inclusive of the Gospels, along with sacred tradtion; however, if I am wrong, I am open to correction.

Molly-Yes. Let us face it head on . The victim profile? [See NY Times Docs Social Work Assesment-if you can stomach it]. Male post-pubertal, every one.
12 years 3 months ago
RE Post # 8-I am, of course, referencing the deceased Fr. Murhpy in Wisconsin who sexually abused deaf boys.
12 years 3 months ago
While I agree with much of what Fr. Jim M. says of the gift of celibacy, there are other views I've encountered that are somewhat different.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Fr.Jim Sullivan of the Brooklyn Diocese in 2004.  Fr. Jim S. had been a licensed psychologist and was in charge of a Center for Consultation for 26 years counseling priests and religious.  He said: ''Those of us who are for married priests are not against celibacy for those who choose it freely, for those who have the charism.  But I believe they are very few....The struggle with sexuality was all too common.  To have celibacy imposed as the price to follow a call to the priesthood was -and is- a terrible injustice. So we're not saying there shouldn't be celibate priests.  Fine, if a man has a calling to that. God bless him!  But don't impose it.  And those who have not been given that charism should be allowed to marry.''
Father Jim S. was a wonderful interview.  He went to his Eternal Reward a few years ago.
Marie Rehbein
12 years 3 months ago
All pedophiles are narcissists, though not all narcissists are pedophiles.  That said, narcissisistic people are usually abusive to someone somewhere in some way.  The Catholic Church does not have more narcissists in it than does the general population.  However, the management style of the Church does give whatever narcissists it does contain more power to do damage to others.
12 years 3 months ago
If the victims are post-pubescent and male, then we are dealing with a gay issue, as opposed to a pedophilia issue, at least as far as I understand the psychiatric distinction.

The distinction is important because the coverup can be seen as a homosexual conspiracy, as opposed to a priestly conspiracy, as it were. That is, the failure to report the offenses is not a Church-sanctioned protection of priests; it is a homosexual protection of their lifestyle where post-pubescent boys are deemed fair game, notwithstanding the current illegality of the age of consent. The problem is not celebacy; the problem is placing gay priests in such close contact with the objects of their sexually promiscuous desires.
Jim McCrea
12 years 3 months ago
If a man has sex with another man while in prison, are we dealing with a "gay issue?"
Or are we dealing with available sex under abnormal circumstances?
12 years 3 months ago
If the prisoners having sex were gay in the first place, it's a gay issue. Supposedly heterosexual guys who have gay sex are gay or bisexual; putting them in abnormal situations just puts them in a situation where they are compelled to act on their homosexual urges.

Dale Rodrigue
12 years 3 months ago
I don't think anyone is blaming celibacy as the only cause of the problem.  Rather celibacy should be optional, for those who have the forte and aspirations to live that charism.  I think that religious men do much better living that charism because they are in community and have a community family that can support them and be there for them when they need them.  However, diocesan priests are usually alone, live alone and don't have that fellowship and most importantly, support, found in religious community.  I hear there is much despair when the lonely priest goes to his empty rectory to have lunch alone after being with everyone at Sunday Mass.  Give these guys a break.  Also,  the bishop posesses full apostolic authority and ''shares'' his ministry with the priest and deacon who doesn't share full apostolic authority. Women who are called can also be ordained priests and deacons and share this apostolic authority without any compromise to the bishop's apostolic authority.  It's time to resurrect Phoebe the deacon (diakonos) in  Romans 16:1.  But that's another story.
Robert Sauer
12 years 3 months ago
Count me among those who are in favor of optional celibacy for the priesthood. Additionally, I have no problem with (married) female priests. On the topic of celibacy, it seems to me that those that embrace it as a lifestyle do so because they are more comfortable with it than in an alternate way of living. It doesn't make it superior, just different. It perplexes me that the Church pronounces that the ONLY way its "privileged" members (preists and religious) can serve is in a celibate fashion. Too bad.

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