Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Celibacy and Priest Sexual Misconduct

When I was becoming Catholic, it seemed to me that celibacy was weird... why would you insist that your leaders remain unmarried? There was just something fishy about it. After all, God commanded us to be fruitful and multiply. The Israelite priests were married. Paul gives the rules of a married clergy in II Timothy and Titus. 
Yeah... those suspicious Catholics, always sneaking in extra rules, they are just like those Pharisees that Jesus called out and railed into them as hypocrites, snakes and white-washed tombs....yeah! Come on! read your Bible Catholics!! I had very little compunctions towards diplomacy at that time in my life. I was, after all, a Biblical scholar and I knew..... 
And look what happened, just what I would suspect... Priests gone sexually rogue.
So, there are a couple of things I want to throw into the discussion. These are not to excuse sexual misbehavior, nor to ignore victims or to exculpate priests who were found guilty of abusing people under their authority. Of course, anyone who deliberately abuses a child need to be prosecuted. Anyone who rapes a child needs to be given a chance to repent, signed with the cross and then stoned. God have mercy on their souls for my belief is they should come before God’s judgment swiftly so they cannot destroy anymore little ones. Or we could just do what Christ suggested and put a millstone around their necks and throw them into the sea. So please do not suggest that I am being soft on crime.
We need to understand what type of person does such crimes and why, so we can stop them by pro-active prevention. So looking at statistics can be helpful.
The first question: Does celibacy have any relational cause to child abuse? (Please refer back to the post before this for statistics.) 
My first reaction was yes! Of course, it is obvious.... these men are sexually repressed and eventually the stress manifests itself by abusing the children they have contact with.
I am not totally rejecting that instinct as completely erroneous, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed I was making too broad of assumptions. If we begin seeing people who are sexually abstinent as potential sexual time-bombs, we then have to put a lot of people into that category: military, widows and widowers who choose not to remarry, all old maids and bachelors. It doesn’t seem just to place under suspicion all unmarried people. 
We must be very careful how we categorize. 
A high percentage of people who are convicted of child abuse have clinical depression. Are we to be suspicious of all those who admit depression? A number of people who are convicted of child molestation were using illegal drugs? Should those who take drugs be under suspicion as child molesters?
71% of all priests accused of molestation were born between 1930 and 1949..... what conclusions can we draw from this statistic?
But doesn’t it just make sense that a grown man, vowed to perpetual sexual repression would finally crack? Yes, it makes sense.... but how would that crack happen?
What I have heard is that normal men who explode from sexual repression usually pick a consenting grown up, not a child-- the sin results in fornication, not pedophilia. Are there any reports of heterosexual military men bursting with sexual tensions resorting to little boys instead of women (especially when there are women available and willing?) And I know there are many women who have Thornbird fantasies and would be willing to help out a sexually repressed priest.
Sexual temptation rarely takes a normal, healthy attraction to the opposite sex and twists it to an attraction to a child/teenager of the same sex. Yet, look what is happening in the Catholic Church. Priests are sexually abusing boys. 
Look at these stats for sexual victims under 18:
Heterosexual male perpetrator abuse rates (distributed by gender) are 80% females, 20% males. 
This is completely reversed when it comes to the priests’ victims. They are 80% males. That statistic is more in line with homosexual predators. This would suggest that the problem in Catholicism is homosexual priests. So, if we insist that these same priests were married to females, we would run into a different set of problems, because they would still be homosexuals.
The difficulty is that the rate of molestation in priests is less than or equivalent to married men. 
If we could successfully screen out all potential homosexual priests and allow only heterosexual married clergy, the statistics would then reverse and those who were abused would simply switch genders and little girls would be the victims instead of little boys. 
The problem is not celibacy or married clergy. The problems lie with why a person would sexually abuse a child and how can you predetermine who would do these things and then prevent it. This is a formidable task, and to date there has been no satisfactory way to deal with prevention.
If Catholic priests are not abusing at a higher rate than other groups, why the spotlight on the Catholic Church?
There are many suggestions, but all I can say it thank God!! Please, dear Lord, shine the spotlight on our sins so we can see and repent and make amends. Think of all the little children who will not be victims because this was brought into the public eye. So, even though many innocent priests will be implicated by association from this and that is yet another tragedy of the abuse, the Catholic Church will recover and continue just to find another boil coming to the surface to be found and lanced ad infinitum until we are all saints standing before Christ at His Second Coming. Where sin abounds, grace abound even more.
Having said that, I do think there is one explanation about: Why Catholicism--why pick on the Catholic church?
Alleged US victims have received $475,674,835. Lawyers who represented them and the church have made almost $38.5 million. In many instances the lawyers walked away with 62% of the settlement.
What conclusions can we draw from these figures? There have been investigative reports suggesting that lawyers will only take suits against Catholic clergy because Protestant denominations simply do not have the ability to pay out large sums, if any. The Catholic Church is backed by insurance and assets that have the capacity to pay out millions to alleged victims. This sounds cold-hearted, but it is a charge that should at least be considered.
Why would the church require their clergy to be celibate--if there is even the slightest causal relationship, shouldn’t the requirement be dropped?
Yes! If they ever find there is any connection, I would say the church must reconsider celibate priests. The great thing is that at any time the Catholic Church can change the requirements. Priestly celibacy is not a dogma, only a discipline which can be overturned at any time. 
The first Catholic church requirement for a celibate clergy was a local council that only was in force for Spain in AD 306. Attempts were made to spread the practice to the whole church but were unsuccessful. The eastern churches adopted a celibate clergy in the 5th century. There was no uniformity in church law until the First Lateran Council in 1123---Why then? In the hopes of reforming the clergy. That is interesting to note. I could find no information about why celibacy was considered the antidote to the problem, but I can imagine what the problems might be. So, the irony is that the demand of a celibate priesthood came from the reforming priests themselves to combat some type of abuse.
Why make a rule that is not Biblical?
Someone told me that the Catholic pedophile scandal is due to the church disobeying scripture. Well, just like so many Christian doctrines, the scriptures have proof-texts for both sides of this issue. While I agree that scripture does not demand that clergy remain celibate, a priesthood that does choose to remain unmarried have a biblical basis.
Old Testament priests could marry and Paul does command that bishops have only one wife, but certainly marriage is not mandatory because Paul himself was unmarried.
When the disciples were questioning Jesus about marriage (Matthew 16), he laid down some pretty rigorous demands: “Who ever divorces his wife, except for “porenia” (Greek for illicit sexual intercourse) and shall marry another, commits adultery: and he that marries her when she is put away commits adultery.” The disciples threw up their hands and said something like, “well then who would want to get married under those circumstances?” 
Jesus replied, 
For there are eunuchs that were so born from their mother's womb: and there are eunuchs that were made eunuchs by men: and there are eunuchs that made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it. 
Jesus said there would be those who gave up marriage with its sexual intimacy for God’s Kingdom. Not only that but He said those who could do it, should do it--those that are able, let him receive it! Sounds almost like a command. 
Jesus himself chose the path of celibacy and surely those who follow in His footsteps do not deserve our condemnation. Priests feel they are offering up the highest sacrifice they can make for God, that of having their own family, to completely give themselves over to serve the Body of Christ in His church--to be father to the fatherless, father to the child of divorce and those children who simply slip through the cracks of society. That commitment and sacrifice deserves much praise, not scorn.
Look at Paul and his views of celibacy in I Corinthians 7:
It is good for a man not to touch a woman.  But, because of fornications, let each man have his own wife... Yet I would that all men were even as I myself. ...Howbeit each man hath his own gift from God, one after this manner, and another after that. But I say to the unmarried and to widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I... I think therefore that this is good by reason of the distress that is upon us, [namely,] that it is good for a man to be as he is.  Art thou bound unto a wife? Seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? Seek not a wife.  But shouldest thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Yet such shall have tribulation in the flesh: and I would spare you. But this I say, brethren, the time is shortened, that henceforth both those that have wives may be as though they had none... But I would have you to be free from cares. He that is unmarried is careful for the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord: but he that is married is careful for the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and is divided. [So] also the woman that is unmarried and the virgin is careful for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married is careful for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. And this I say for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is seemly, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction. ...But he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power as touching in his own heart, to keep his own virgin [daughter], shall do well. So then both he that giveth his own virgin [daughter] in marriage doeth well; and he that giveth her not in marriage shall do better
It is hard for me to accept that Paul really only meant that advice for a short period. Especially because when he wrote this letter (around AD 55 when he was in Ephesus)  the church wasn’t under severe persecution as they would be around AD 64. To Paul, remaining unmarried was a better choice for a Christian than that of being married. 
The Bible does allow for celibacy. It is not a deviant way to live, nor is it unbiblical.  It is almost impossible for us in the decadence of our culture and those of us who are called to marriage and children to understand anyone who would voluntarily choose to be celibate for Christ. But they have been doing it since the time of Jesus. 
Let us now unify in praying for the healing of the victims, the scandal that envelopes our Christian brothers and sisters in the Catholic church and Her priests, and that the perpetrators publicly repent, be prosecuted and that truth will be made manifest.

1 comment:

Brendan said...

I agree that the rule of celibacy needs to be quashed. Their is a beauty to the natural sexuality of people that shouldn't be artificially repressed. There is nothing wrong with a leader in the church living a life that reflects his or her parishioners. Noticed I add "her." The Catholic Church should also abolish is opposition to female priests.
I believe all of this will happen in time. There will come a day when it will seem too odd and weird to most Catholics to have things continue as they are.

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