Celibacy in Question – Again

In recent weeks news stories have appeared – again – concerning priestly celibacy: Was it the cause of the sex-abuse crisis?

A column in the National Catholic Register quotes some members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, who seemed to hedge the question, although that’s my inference:

Baroness Sheila Hollins [a Commission member] said any link between priestly celibacy and sex abuse is “complicated, and I think it would be much too simplistic to say celibacy is the cause of it, because in fact 80 percent of abuse happens in the family, where perpetrators are mostly going to be married men, but sometimes, of course, they may be other family members.”

The baroness is a professor of psychiatry at the University of London. And here am I, a layman without degrees in medicine or psychology, and I say that “complicated” and “too simplistic” are equivocations. And the allusion to married men is specious.

The incidence of sex abuse by priests before 1960 was low, and substantially lower after 2000 when dioceses began paying out large amounts of money in reparation (as much as $3 billion) for past crimes. Some may dispute that abuse by priests has essentially ceased even yet; I think it has. Anyway that’s not the subject of this column.

But celibacy was never the problem, because homosexuality is.

The baroness mentions that “80 percent of abuse happens in the family,” which is true enough, as is the “mostly . . . married men” part. She fails to mention, however (not her fault, she wasn’t asked), that 90 percent of cases outside the priesthood are heterosexual: men against girls.

We might expect when these crimes are committed by priests that they would have similar statistics, priests being men. Yet we know that at least 80 percent of clerical sex-abuse cases involved homosexual acts.

Pope Francis famously said about there being a homosexual “lobby” in the Vatican: “When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem. . .they’re our brothers.”

There’s much in that quotation to discuss, but since no statement by the pope has been more chewed-over, we’ll skip that here, except to say that it may be altogether wrong to speak of any sexual impulse as a tendency – as though sexuality has a hypothetical dimension; as though there isn’t a sex drive.

Frankly, the pope’s words were, as liberals often intone regarding “wrong” speech, chilling.

Recent ordination of priests in Seoul, South Korea [Ahn Young-Koon/AP]
Recent ordination of priests in Seoul, South Korea [Ahn Young-Koon/AP]
            Meanwhile, the only reason anybody talks about celibacy in the context of sex abuse is because they dread to speak about homosexuality.

At the end of this column, are links to three columns of mine about all this from a few years past. Look them over if you wish; space does not allow for much rehashing here. Those columns point out some of the errors of politically correct thinking that I believe are manifest in the 2011 sex-abuse report to the USSCB by John Jay College of Criminal Justice – the same errors, more-or-less, that may be behind the thinking of some members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

That John Jay report famously managed to assert that neither homosexuality nor celibacy were involved in the crisis. The bad priests were just a bunch of guys caught up in the Woodstock era who did all that “gay” stuff for the same reason men in prison do. I’m not kidding. This was the headline over at USCCB when the report was released:

John Jay College Reports No Single Cause, Predictor of Clergy Abuse

Baroness Hollins also remarked: “People don’t enter the priesthood and become child abusers; I don’t think that’s the case. I think that they had serious issues before entering holy orders.” Yes, ma’am. So let’s stop giving lunatics the run of the asylum.

As I wrote in 2010:

According to one scholarly journal, Archives of Sexual Behavior, the tendency towards homosexuality among pedophiles is fifteen- to twenty-times higher than in the population at large. The Journal of Sex Research has noted that the proportion of homosexual pedophiliac offenses “is substantially larger than the proportion of sex [offenses] against female children among heterosexual men . . .” And in a superb essay in Homiletic & Pastoral Review, Brian W. Clowes and David L. Sonnier make the important connection that in “the general population of males who sexually abuse minors, only one in seven molest boys. In the population of [sex-abusing] priests . . . six in seven molest boys.”

As I also wrote at the end of one those earlier columns, among the first actions taken by Pope Benedict XVI was the issuance, via the Congregation for Catholic Education, of instructions concerning homosexuals and admission to the priesthood:

[It is] necessary to state clearly that the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called “gay culture.”

By the way, this may indicate that our two popes disagree significantly, since one can hardly imagine Benedict saying, “Who am I to judge?”

Finally, let’s keep in mind that the data on abuse – i.e. on homosexual acts involving minors – tells us nothing about “gay” priests involved with adult homosexuals, defined as any man 18 and older.

Let’s not scuttle celibacy because some uninformed people claim it was causative in the abuse crisis. And let’s remember, in the words of Paul VI, that Jesus called his priests to a chaste life: “Thus they intend not only to participate in His priestly office, but also to share with Him His very condition of living.” Here are those links:

Nothing to Do with Homosexuality?

Something to Do with Celibacy?

The John Jay Report

Brad Miner is the Senior Editor of The Catholic Thing and a Senior Fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute. He is a former Literary Editor of National Review. His most recent book, Sons of St. Patrick, written with George J. Marlin, is now on sale. His The Compleat Gentleman is now available in a third, revised edition from Regnery Gateway and is also available in an Audible audio edition (read by Bob Souer). Mr. Miner has served as a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA and also on the Selective Service System draft board in Westchester County, NY.