The editorial board of the New York Times declared it had identified the source of “The Catholic Church’s Unholy Stain.” It names pedophilia and asks: “How have so many pedophiles been allowed into the priesthood?”
The question was purely rhetorical because the board had an answer ready. It cited the usual grounds: “the all-male priesthood and the celibacy imposed on Catholic priests; the elitism, careerism and clericalism of the church hierarchy; the lack of transparency or accountability among bishops.” Most damning is “the power a man of God has over a child.”
Every parent knows instinctively that sexual abuse of the young and vulnerable is an evil that cries out for punishment, swift and severe. Anything less mocks the harm done by abusive priests. Equally inadequate—and blameworthy—are expressions of sympathy for the abused that disguise the elephant in the rectory. The first responsibility is to call things by their right name.
Ignoring the Issue Will Prevent Addressing It
To casual readers, duly angered, the Times’ charge sounds about right. More thoughtful ones, however, will hesitate over the word pedophilia. With few exceptions, sexual abuse by priests has been visited overwhelmingly upon pubescent boys, and young men, most often teenagers. This is pederasty, not pedophilia. And pederasty is endemic to gay culture. (For an unsparing indictment of that culture by a gay man, read Jason Hill’s “Loveless, Narcissistic Sex Addicts” in The Federalist.)
Without intending to, the Times’ studied determination to ignore homosexual predation as the culprit parallels the Catholic Church’s dilemma. How is the hierarchy to work at “restoring trust, instituting accountability, and eradicating the cancer of sexual abuse” without acknowledging a subject inoculated from judgment by reigning opinion?
Homosexuality has been normalized, officially approved, ratified, and okayed. Since the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the roster of mental disorders in 1973, activists have parlayed homosexuals into a protected species, more like black rhinos or orangutans than moral beings. The church’s ancient description of homosexuality as an “objective disorder” is dismissed as the last gasp of the 19th-century Society for the Suppression of Vice.
Why Celibacy Isn’t the Problem
Before going any further, stop for a moment on the matter of celibacy. The credibility of the priesthood is in the dock when celibacy is presented among root causes of sexual predation. To say that it is imposed suggests it is something done to a man against his will, more like castration than a free choice. Yet no man is forced to become a priest. Priestly celibacy is both a free choice and a free gift.
Unchosen celibacy, by contrast, is the condition of many men—and women—who are celibate by happenstance: no opportunity for marriage presented itself; marriage was disallowed by health problems, disability, or disfigurement; a spouse was removed by divorce or death. Many single people live without alternative. Yet no one would be so doltish as to believe unsought singlehood leads to rapacity.
Just so, it is grossly simplistic to present marriage as a cure for sexual predation. Andrew Greeley, both priest and sociologist, was a passionate, outspoken advocate for victims of abusive priests. No naïf, Greeley was also a vigorous defender of the celibate life: “Anyone who thinks that marriage or sexual relations solve many male (or female) problems has not paid much attention to the human condition.”
The church is not a museum, as Pope John XXIII quipped. We are called to live in, to leaven, the times in which we find ourselves. Perhaps the pressure of numbers on vocations will cause the discipline of priestly celibacy to be relaxed in the by-and-by. But that is for conscientious men to decide for reasons beyond the ken of a Times’ editorial board. And it would not abolish the beauty or efficacy of a celibate vocation, faithfully and joyfully lived.
Meanwhile, the words of moral theologian Bernard Häring still resonate. In 1996, two years before he died, Häring wrote that celibacy, rightly understood, is not a form of ascendance over laity: “To the contrary, celibacy expressed as ‘life in Christ’ and ‘love in Christ’ is the sum and center of the priestly celibate life.” He concluded:
An especially one-sided philosophy or psychology that emphasized self-fulfillment is unlikely to find meaning in sexual continence. Above all, it is joy in the Lord, coupled with generous service to the Gospel on behalf of God’s people, which gives sexual continence its deeper meaning, thus making it a positive experience. However, only persons of deep faith can come to this realization.
Read more at The Federalist