Monday, April 5, 2010


Last week I read an article on the Church/Sex story, titled "Pope Opens Solemn Holy Week Amid Sex Abuse Crisis." It's the usual story line: the Church didn't react fast enough or forcefully enough to predatory priests. For more on the painful subject, buy and read "The Faithful Departed," an honest and deeply troubling book.

EO was intrigued by a small quote near the end of the article. A Cardinal - identified in the article as a "liberal" - suggests that "mandatory chastity for churchmen should be thought over to prevent further abuse cases by clergy and help the church regain lost trust."

The Cardinal may have been "sound-bit," for all we know. "Sound-bit" is when you say something for one purpose, but a piece of your quote is used for another.


Rather than speculate on what the Cardinal actually had in mind, EO will just "think over" the actual language of the quote, which is safer. "Thinking over" stuff is almost always a good idea, except when you are "thinking over" sin. Then, not so much.

But I digress.

"I'll do the thinnin' around here!"
- Quick Draw McGraw
(photo credit)

EO can think of two different things the quote might mean: (A) requiring priests to be chaste actually causes them to become pedophiles, or (B) allowing priests to be married reduces the chances they will turn to pedophilia.

Theory (A) generally means that if you don't give people latitude to fornicate they will develop unhealthy sexual appetites. The flip side would be that if allowed to fornicate as they wish, people will wind up with healthy moral habits.

Smart people say so.

Sigmund Freud: "Let's Get It On."
(photo credit)

Cool people say so.

Marvin Gaye: "Let's Get It On."
(photo credit)

Bottom line: America has "Gotten It On" for the last 50 years, with genocidal results: a million abortions a year, a horrendous worldwide AIDS epidemic, a 70% illegitimacy rate in large segments of our society, explosions of rape, domestic violence, and pornographic abuse of women and children.

"Let's Maybe Not Get It On So Much."
(photo credit)

I would prefer not to import this wholesale into the priesthood.

Theory (B) generally means that if you let priests marry you can avoid having child molesters in the priesthood.

Problem is, two-thirds of child victimizers have been married. One-third of child abusers committed the crime against their own child. School teachers and married clergy may have higher incidencea of child abuse than Catholic clergy. The links supply a starting point, but there is plenty more.

So "married" is a truly lousy proxy for "won't commit child abuse."

Contrary to popular mythology, marriage is not something radically different from holy orders. It shares many of the same attributes, requiring chastity, faithfulness, sacrifice and endurance.

Priests who have problems with chastity in holy orders will have problems with chastity in marriage.

The problem is too little chastity, not too much.

There is ample room in God's kingdom for all his children, no matter what their struggles. God has a way to redeem all of us. But that doesn't give us a license to be stupid. EO does not try to minister to Sports Illustrated swimsuit models. He keeps a respectful distance from them.

The Catholic Church does not force anyone to become a priest, or to stay a priest. Someone who struggles with a sexual attraction to young boys should not be a priest. You need to work that out in another environment.

For the last generation Catholic seminaries have been thrown open to people who were living in violation of the Church's rules on sexual morality. During the same period many in the Church's hierarchy dealt with pedophilic priests by sending them to "treatment" centers, then putting them back on active duty, rather than following historic norms for dealing with priests with sexual problems.

Now chastity is to blame for the sex scandal?

This is like torching a store and then suing the fire company for not putting it out fast enough. Next we will start blaming gluttony on prayer and fasting.

Nero fiddling.
photo credit)

Excuse me while I curb my enthusiasm.

Celibacy and chastity don't cause perversion, any more than marriage cures it.

Successfully celibate priests mean that sexual immorality is not an uncontrollable outcome of the human condition. The VAST majority of priests are faithful to their vows. People in my generation hate the celibate priesthood because it stands as a quiet witness against our culture of sexual immorality.

The notion that chastity causes or contributes to perversion is unsupported and a little whacky. It is the type of "virtue is vice" accusation that characterized the first Good Friday.

So thank God for Easter.

(For more on the history of priestly celibacy in the Catholic Church,
see the Catholic Encyclopedia article.)


  1. God's ways are eternal, as is His mercy.
    There is a priest we knew years ago, who was greatly gifted and filled with the Holy Spirit. He is now in prison. We do not understand his choices.

    We still pray for him.
    Without Divine Mercy,
    where would any of us be?

  2. Excellent points well made. I would only add this other dimension to this problem. In America some 90% of the 2000 pedophile priests were homosexuals. That has remained a well guarded non-news item in the American press. It is now receiving the same non-treatment in the European press. The Catholic church, like liberal Protestants, assumed that homosexual predilection for pedophilia was a problem no different than the normal heterosexual struggle for chastity. They have paid an enormous price for that assumption. SRF

  3. The only issue as reader I would contend with is that the one country that had some of the most egregious cases of clergy-child abuse and the hierarchial cover up was Ireland, hardly an outpost of Haight Asbury/Swingin' Sixties culture.Certainly London, Amsterdam, Paris and a few other European cities had that going on back then, but Dublin,or County Mayo not so much.The Pill was only sold to married couples with prescriptions by physicians up until the 1980's, not quite the place for a Helen Gurley Brown or an Erica Jong. Abortion was outlawed in the Irish Constitution in 1983 strengthening an earlier 1861 Parlimentary law which criminalized the procurement of an abortion. The whole psychotherapuetic trend was not present in any signifigant way in Ireland during the 1950's, 60's and 70's as it was in the US. As the line from the movie the Departed put it, "I'm Irish. I'll deal with something being wrong the rest of my life." Freud supposedly said the Irish are the only people that can't be psychoanalyzed. Yes, stereotypes but there is something that seeking therapy wasn't very big in Irish cultural mores like it was here in the US. This was a country that until very recently kept pubs closed on St. Patrick's Day and Good Friday. A very Catholic country as one could find in postwar Europe.Yet many of abuse cases in Ireland go well back into the 50's and 60's long before "moral laxity" really seeped in on Irish life. See the Irish Commissions Report which stated the many institutions with the worst records on this had closed by the early seventies.

    I think some of this indicated a structural problem within the Church and that blaming the "hippies" for a lot of this can deflect a need for many Catholics and others to take a honest look at the situation. Remember for someone to besmirch the reputation of a priest or bishop like this in such a culture was beyond the pale so I think a lot of victims closed up about this.Even in America, to say something like this about a schoolteacher or coach in was simply outlandish and that "kid needs the back of the hand" for saying something like that. Also the Irish laws at the time left things like this in the authority of the Church not in the state so you could see how something like this could institutionally fester.

    I think it is important to point out that any time the Catholic Church or any other institution professes sympathy for, or apologizes to, a victim of pedophillia and then follows the statement with a “but …..” or a “however ……” this totaly negates the sympathy or apology expressed.
    In Civil & Common Law when one has wronged someone or some entity, the only defense is to throw oneself to the mercy of the court and to profusely and sincerely apologize; as well as making amends as best one can.

    While one can rightly criticize many of the cultural changes in the 1960's regarding "openess about our sexuality", this "openess" also shed some light on unjust things that have quietly gone on in the background between women, children and authority figures for decades. Because of the writings of 1970's feminists like Kate Millet, spousal abuse is not seen as quite so funny anymore. Ralph Kramden saying " Someday Alice, straight to the moon!" raising his fist would never get on a TV series today with a laugh track behind it.(Maybe if Quentin Tarantino wrote it, yes, but then he's all about irony and violence and pricking our assumptions about what we're repulsed by.) Recall about 20 years ago when the former Miss America, Marilyn Van Derbur, spoke openly about her childhood abuse and that of course broke open a whole discussion about a subject our culture kept a curtain over for decades. I don't think that could have happened before the 60's and 70s.

    Interesting blog to stumble across.

  4. Interesting perspective. I still don't see how chastity contributes to the sex abuse of minors.