Celibacy, sexual abuse and the Catholic Church

Getting married is a big deal. At the end of this year I plan to share my vows with the love of my life, and I can't wait to spend the rest of my life with her. We plan to wed in a well-known Catholic Church in the community where we both were born and raised and currently live.

I was raised in an activist family that does not necessarily agree with every religious value worshipped in the Bible or the Catholic Church. But deep down inside I have always wanted to get married in one. There's just something spiritually special about a church that in most cases brings working-class families together in a very social and cultural manner that I highly respect.

As a child I attended Sunday school, made my first communion and confirmation through the Catholic Church. My grandmother urged my mother to put us through, so she did.

These days the Roman Catholic Church is struggling with major troubles related to growing scandals and accusations of sexual abuse by its priests across the world. Many claim the church's hierarchy for decades led efforts to cover up for its alleged abusive priests.

Just this week, new reports indicate pedophilia cases are emerging in Latin America.

For example a priest fled from Bolivia to his family in Uruguay after a nun accused him of raping three children. A priest in Chile was charged with eight cases of sexually abusing minors, including a girl he had fathered. In March a woman in Mexico claimed that a deceased, scandal-tainted founder of a conservative Catholic religious order abused one of two sons she said he fathered with her.

According to a recent report by the Associated Press, its reporters found 30 cases of priests accused of abuse that have been transferred or moved abroad by the church. Some even apparently escaped police investigation. Many had access to children in other countries, and some abused again. The probe spanned 21 nations across six continents.

Feeding the controversy, Pope Benedict XVI's second-in-command Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's secretary of state, outraged many recently when he said homosexuality and not celibacy was the primary reason for the abuse.

I say all this to highlight major issues that I, and many others, have with the Catholic tradition and other religions that oppress people as sexual beings.

And what about the role of women in the church hierarchy? Why for centuries have the equal rights and opportunities of women who want to serve not been fairly granted?

It's true that there is a rich history and tradition of the Catholic Church helping the poor and fighting for the rights of impoverished communities in all parts of world. Notable Catholic leaders have stood up for the rights of working people against violent military oppression and some even died for social justice causes. The deeds and actions of such champions of the poor are cherished and many continue to be viewed as heroes of the working class.

But the question remains: When human beings are expected to live a life of celibacy how does such a lifestyle sexually repress one's natural element?

Could celibacy in the priesthood be one of the reasons behind the emerging sexual abuse cases? Pedophilia in all its evil forms is wrong, and I'm sure experts can analyze its deeper psychological roots.

But is it wrong to believe that it's un-human for people, whether of the religious cloth or not, to ignore sexual feelings?

I think that with all the sexual abuse cases sprouting everywhere that it's time the church consider enacting major reforms in its deeply rooted ideological traditions.

Why can't men and women who want to serve God's will express their natural feelings with another even if they happen to be sexual, which is a strong form of love? Does God not want us to explore deeper feelings of human emotion with each other besides our devotion to his higher power while serving the church?

What would it mean if one day the Catholic Church supported ordained men and women to lead lives that involved healthy partnerships while at the same time preaching the good word of the Gospel?

I'm not suggesting that my questions are the answer to eradicating pedophilia or child molestation in the Church.

I make the point because if priests and nuns could liberate their sexual feelings and not repress them then maybe, just maybe, there could be an outlet other than sexual abuse of children.

It's important to note that I respect people devoted to their religious faiths. In my line of work building relationships with the faith-based community is paramount to forging broad unity especially when it comes to addressing community empowerment and social justice.

I consider myself a spiritual person. I do believe in a higher force and the privacy of personal prayer. It's not hard to believe in God, believing is only the first step. And I do believe. More importantly I believe in doing too.

I just think it's time the Catholic Church rethink its repressive rule when it comes to celibacy. Most would agree it's unnatural and could potentially bring out the worst in people.

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  • very good article makes u think. many people do not no that when the catholic church started (about 2000 yrs ago) priests were allowed to get married! my understanding of the reason for the change is the priests would leave the church property to their families so the vatican had to change that. i think celibacy has nothing to do with pedophilia. (look at the child molesters who r married) but the crime is the cover up of these monsters who should have the book thrown at them. and they r not above the law in solidarity jim

    Posted by jim, 04/22/2010 8:24pm (6 years ago)

  • Also, the sex abuse was caused by four percent of priests (in the U.S.) but in 95 percent of the parishes. Way less than four percent of men are child rapists, or even potential child rapists. The 95 percent number speaks to the huge cover up that actually promotes the abuse. 95 percent of bishops were presiding over parishes where child rape occurred? Very bad.

    Also, everyone talks about the good work they do. If you want to give kudos to the Catholic Church for the good work it does in poor communities, then you have to be consistent: talk about all the good done by Hamas, for example. Sure, they're crazy theocrats who want to kill of the Jews, but the provide breakfasts to kids. The Nazis built the autobahn... The pope would have a good knowledge of that point

    Posted by Lenny Sanmartino, 04/21/2010 1:13pm (6 years ago)

  • It seems to me that advertising a job where you are forced into celibacy might attract a certain type of person who feels a bunch of guilt about certain tendencies. Then, when they come into that job and find out that such tendencies are, if not encouraged, at least shrugged off with a wink and a nod, you're creating a problem.

    Posted by Lenny Sanmartino, 04/21/2010 1:04pm (6 years ago)

  • The belief that allowing priests to marry would cut down on the child sex abuse may be well intended, but false. What about all the stories in recent years of high school teachers and coaches (of both genders) having sexual relations with students? How many of these teachers lead a celibate life?

    A majority of child sex abusers they themselves were a victim of abuse. I've noticed in ALL the stories written in the media about the abuse no one has ever written anything about the victims receiving any type of counseling. These people should be helped and all the money in the world will not make their life better unless they can live with themselves.

    Thank you for noting the work of the Church. They have been working with the poor of the Chicago Hispanic community for years. While most politicans talk a big game, and ignore the working class, they were there to help.

    Posted by detectivetom, 04/21/2010 11:02am (6 years ago)

  • Just a quick point: it's not that "many claim" that the church's hierarchy have covered up abuse scandals; it's proven fact. Dioceses across the country are going bankrupt because they've had to pay huge settlements to their scores of victims, and in some places, like New York City, the Catholic Church has led efforts to stop the enactment of laws that would lift the statute of limitations on child rape. Their argument? If such laws were to be enacted, the church would go bankrupt. The abuse has been documented, proven, around the word: the government of the Republic of Ireland issued a report in 2008 or 2009 confirming that more than 10,000 kids were either raped, tortured or put into forced labor by the church's officials. And there is documented evidence that the bishops knew about this and covered it up. Actually, "covered up" is the wrong expression; the bishops enabled the pedophilia. When they found out that priests were diddling kids, they moved them to other parishes--where there was a fresh crop waiting. And it's been shown that in at least one case, Benedict XVI, when he was Joseph Ratzinger, did the same thing; he moved a pervert priest out of his parish, into "therapy" and then back to another parish.

    On a different note: priests are not actually banned from marrying, condemned to celibacy, throughout the Catholic Church. The pope actually wears three hats (an ironic metaphor, of course): he is the Bishop of Rome, the Patriarch of the Latin Church and the Holy Father of the universal Catholic Church. The Latin Church is one of the churches--and the most well known--in full communion with the pope. It is the church that most of us think of when we think of "Catholic." The celibacy rules apply to that church, a division of the universal Catholic Church. There are about 22 other churches, with their own patriarchs, that are loyal to, and in communion with, Rome. They generally mirror other Eastern Christian Churches that broke with Rome during the schism, or after; the Eastern Catholic churches are the sections of the old church that remained within the folds of the papacy. They are somewhat self-governing (suis juris), and many of them have priests who marry. The upshot: there are married Catholic priests all over the world, just not in the Latin rite churches. (As a side note, as a way to lure conservative Anglicans into the Catholic Church, Benedict just created an Anglican rite in the Catholic Church; the priests there are also allowed to marry.) The point of all this is that it's not even universal Catholic doctrine, it's not an article of faith, that priests can't marry. It's simply the hangup of a few old men obsessed with celibacy. It wouldn't even be a hugely revolutionary change to allow priests to marry.

    It would be good if the pope said, "No more pedophiles, and let's let those western priests marry!" But what can you expect from someone, one of whom's main obsessions is with keeping condoms away from AIDS-ravaged Africa?

    Posted by Luke Matthews, 04/21/2010 1:56am (6 years ago)

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