The sexual abuse scandals of Europe put Germany center stage last week as several incidents came to light that involve many years of physical and sexual abuse at a boy choir school in Germany operated by the Pope’s brother, who said he had no knowledge of the abuse in the years before he was director, as well as another incident in Germany involving reassigning a molester priest to another parish (where he again molested a child) during the period in which the Pope had been the Archbishop of the diocese in Munich.
Neither the Pope nor his brother are directly involved in the scandal and both claim they had no knowledge of the molesting and abuse, which of course might be true, but which is troublesome because it implies a “see no evil, hear no evil” attitude, which has been precisely the problem the hierarchy of the Catholic Church has with respect to rampant sexual abuse problems which have gone on for decades. When I was a young adult (some 50 years ago) I was aware that there was a hidden sexual abuse problem in the Church in Western New York where I lived at the time (it was quite openly discussed), and I find it incredible that the Catholic hierarchy insists it did not have know what was going on throughout the Church when the rumors were so widespread and that once claims were made against the Church it tried so hard to conceal what was obviously a large and ever increasing problem.
These incidents follow the scandalous story widely-reported ten days ago that a high Vatican official was involved in a prostitution ring that procured young male prostitutes for Church dignitaries.
The Associated Press carried the story earlier this month that the Vatican hierarchy was trying to squelch discussion that the church’s celibacy rule had anything to do with sexual abuse, after “one of the pope’s closest advisers, Vienna archbishop Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn …. called for an honest examination of issues like celibacy and priestly education to root out the origins of sex abuse.” The article reported that leading prelates at the Vatican were strongly denying that celibacy had anything to do with molestation.
Well, I guess we can agree with the prelates that celibacy does not “cause” pedophilia or ephebephilia or homosexuality. Of course that is not the issue here. Celibacy is not a natural or healthy state and if that is a requirement for entering the priesthood it is obvious that the priesthood and orders will have a large contingent of men with unhealthy sexual needs and behaviors. Social scientists tell us that homosexuality and pedophilia are not related. Pedophilia occurs with both women and men, gay and straight, but there is a higher reported incidence of pedophilia with men than with women, possibly because men may be more inclined to act on their sexual inclinations than women.
That said, to say that there is no relationship between the celibacy rule and the frequency of aberrant sexual behavior among priests is just not credible.
Some have commented that the way for the frequency of sexual abuse by priests to be reduced is to increase the monitoring of priests and to have a zero tolerance policy by the Church hierarchy, but I doubt that will happen and I think it is naïve to suspect that anything will change given the fact that the hierarchy consists of the same sexually repressed males in which this culture of acceptance and cover up has been the model for generations.
Whatever the reason for having a celibate priesthood in the past, it appears that the Church may need to face up to the fact that celibacy may be the least of the difficulties for Catholics. As for any theological reason to maintain celibacy, that seems strained at best. Women played a significant leadership role in the early church but that role was dismissed as irrelevant by those who at a much later time in church history advocated for celibacy. The point is that there is no theological or practical reason to continue the outmoded and unnecessary practice of celibacy in the Church.