Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Is Celibacy the Right Answer for Priests?

With relative certainty it can be said that 90 to 93% of Roman Catholic priests in the United States do not get sexually involved with minors. The discrepancy between those numbers and the report of the Bishops' Commission (4% priest abusers) can be reconciled and justified if one accounts for the under reporting of victims and perpetrators plus the reports from well monitored areas like Boston and New Hampshire where the figures of abusers runs over 7 and 8%. Many religious communities sustain a population of abusers at 10%. Where the safety of children is concerned it is necessary to give a wide berth rather than restrictive estimate to the dangers they face.

Of course sexual activity of any adult with a minor is criminal. In addition it is clearly a violation of celibacy that is expected of Catholic priests. To pretend that sex with minors is the only or even the most frequent violation of celibacy by Catholic priests and bishops is a fiction of the fifth magnitude.

I have never disputed the power of the ideal of celibacy—the complete and unflinching sacrifice of one's sexual life for the undivided service of others.

Nor have I ever advanced or advocated the argument that simply discarding the rule of mandatory celibacy will make priests more sexually responsible or mature.

The crisis of celibacy is far more complex than any change in law alone can remedy. But celibacy is undeniably a problem for priests.

To understand the problem of clerical celibacy and to debate cogently it is only right to seek what is known about how celibacy is practiced by those who profess it. And a great deal is already known.

A study of Swiss priests published on May 12, 2003, revealed that 50% of that clergy had mistresses. Father Victor Kotze, a South African sociologist conducted a survey of the priests in his country (1991) and found that 45% had been sexually active during the previous two year period.

Pepe Rodriguez published his book length study of the sexual life of clergy in Spain (La Vida sexual del Clero 1995). He concluded that among practicing priests 95% masturbate; 7% are sexually involved with minors and 26% have "attachments to minors;" 60% have sexual relations, 20% have homosexual relations.


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